The party in the woods

For those who have followed this blog or studied the Jacob Wetterling case, there’s been one nagging question that we all seem to keep coming back to. Who in the world would have been waiting for those boys on that isolated dead-end road in the middle of nowhere?

I’ve always been of the belief that someone overheard the boys on their way TO the Tom Thumb that night and knew they’d be coming back that same direction. In my head, there was no way anyone could have had enough time to see them at the Tom Thumb, figure out where they lived, get ahead of them, stash a car, and then patiently wait for them to pass by. No way. In my head, it had to be someone who had some business being on that road that evening.

I’ve also never bought into the theory that someone had been stalking Jacob in the days, weeks, or months prior to his abduction. These boys had never been allowed to go to the Tom Thumb after dark before, so what are the chances an abductor who was stalking a specific child would get so lucky that his intended target would come waltzing right by on a dark, moonless night while his parents just happened to be away for the evening? Nobody gets that lucky.

But, here’s the deal. I’m rethinking things a bit. As it turns out, there were plenty of people on that dead-end road that weekend… and maybe even that very evening. There were twenty-five to thirty of them, in fact. High school seniors. At a party. In the woods.

Yep.

When I first talked to Kevin and he told me about the “party spot in the woods,” I had in mind that these parties had taken place way back in the early 80s. Kevin had been in his young teens when he remembered being there… around 1980-1982 or thereabouts. So, I figured this party spot didn’t even exist anymore in 1989.

It wasn’t until I recently heard from another group of young men and learned about “The men in the woods” that I even knew there was more than one party spot, or that they were still in existence in 1989. But again, I knew these boys weren’t old enough to drive at that time, so they mostly biked the trails and hung out in the woods during the day, not at night.

Fast forward to now. I recently heard from a 42 year old man who said, not only were those party spots still in use during the fall of 1989, but that he was actually there, at a party, on the very night Jacob was abducted.

Wait… what?

Here’s the message he sent to me:

On the night Jacob Wetterling was abducted, I and about 25-30 of my friends were at one of the party spots on the east side of 16th Avenue, across and north of the abduction site. We were drinking and partying, when all of a sudden we saw flashlights and I heard someone yell, “Cops!” This was probably about 10:30 or so.

We all took off on foot, some of the locals running home, and the rest of us running to our cars, which were parked off the road, in the woods, out of sight. We had no idea there had been an abduction. We just thought it was the cops busting our beer drinking, which was fairly common.

Someone must have squealed on us, because the next Tuesday at school (we had Monday off), we were all rounded up and questioned individually by the FBI. As far as I know, none of us saw anything, and it never went anywhere, but it surely doesn’t jive with some of your investigation and what the police have reported. The truth is, the woods around the abduction site were full of drunk and drinking high schoolers that night who scattered in all directions at a high rate of speed within an hour or so of Jacob disappearing. We could have left tracks down the driveway, along the shoulder of the road, on the bike trails, etc.

Wow.

I have tried very hard to verify whether this party actually took place the same night as Jacob’s abduction, or whether it took place the night before, on Saturday, October 21st. Either way, it seems significant, and it led me to rethink things a bit.

I asked the man who had emailed me if he could tell me exactly where this party spot was on a map. I sent him a historical map from Google Earth (thank you Jordan V.) that shows exactly what this area looked like in 1991, just two years after the abduction. (See map below.) You can see where the new roads are overlaid, but at the time, it was mostly just woods and farmland along 16th/91st Avenue. After some discussion, we figured that, most likely, the party spot was located in the woods where Jefferson Lane is now located (just north of Rassiers’ property). Click the map to view a larger version.

StJoe_SatelliteImage_1991

I asked if there was ever some random, out-of-place creeper who showed up at these parties, offering to sell drugs or alcohol to the kids. He didn’t think so. As far as he knew, they were all just beer drinkers… good, normal, high school kids. But, it was definitely possible, he admitted.

I also began to wonder whether some creeper may actually have been stalking THEM… hiding off in the woods and waiting for an opportunity to assault or kidnap an older teen. Then, when Jacob and the other boys happened along that Sunday night, he saw a new opportunity and decided to go to Plan B instead.

With everything I’ve learned about what was happening along that road in the days and weeks just prior to Jacob’s abduction, it certainly makes me wonder what was really going on. Suspicious cars roaming the neighborhood… strange men with notebooks lurking in the woods… young boys being chased by a car on their way home from the Tom Thumb earlier that summer. You have to admit. It’s a lot of weirdness for one little isolated, dead-end road in the middle of nowhere.

And here’s one more interesting tidbit that just adds to the weirdness. You may recall that Jacob’s friend Aaron was riding a scooter on the night of the abduction, while the other two boys were riding bikes. That’s because Jacob’s bike had actually been STOLEN the night before. He had been staying overnight at a friend’s house when his bike was stolen right out of his friend’s yard. (The friend lived just north of the woods on the WEST side of 16th/91st Avenue.) That’s why Jacob had borrowed his mom’s ten-speed that night and Aaron had taken the scooter. (For what it’s worth, the police eventually found and questioned the guy who had taken Jacob’s bike, but still… what a weird coincidence.)

I’d be interested in hearing from any other members of the Apollo Class of 1990 who were at this party and could verify whether it occurred on Saturday night or Sunday night. Drop me a line using the form on my Contact page. Anyone who gave a statement should be able to call and request a copy of it from the Records Department at the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office. The phone number is (320) 259-3700.

Of course, if you have important information to share, please contact the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office at (320) 259-3700, or the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-THE-LOST.

As always, thanks for #ThinkingJacob.

The party in the woods – Part 2

34 Comments

  1. 2 thoughts….well, maybe 2 and a half. I was just in St. Joseph / St. Cloud this weekend, I was totally engrossed with the area given Jacob’s abduction. I didn’t’ realize I had a friend who grew up in St Joseph/Cold Spring area. That said, reading this post, 2 things really stand out:

    1. I grew up in a smaller town where we had parties in the woods around the same timeframe – cops always knew, it was really a matter of whether things were ‘in control’ or not that would result in them busting it – if someone was ‘watching them’, I would think they would know that cops showing up would be a possibility, making it risky to try and abduct/sell, etc.

    2. it’s the ugly elephant in the room – WHY would the FBI, or even cops, want to question kids so shortly after? The FBI? Recently, there’s been a lot of missing people/deaths id’d by DNA, but a common thread is about how in the late 80’s LEO didn’t treat cases as seriously as now much less the FBI. The speed in which the FBI/LEO were engaged has always seemed a bit strange. Also, given the area had had so many incidents of creepers, how in the world were the FBI so quickly engaged? It’s always been an thought that a LEO could be involved…which could explain some questionable actions.responses. Maybe a LEO breaking up a rave happened to run into Jacob that night and ……

    I say this because i remember we all knew there were creepy LEO who just always happened to know where the parties were, and always were either a little too ‘cool/hip’, aware, and around and usually liked young girls, but was this something different? The Party in the woods makes me think this was never a ‘stalker’ but more of an opportunity crime, and Jacob and friends happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time…and with Jacob being the oldest, and maybe even looking older (not sure, heard the reports about him playing hockey and maybe he looked/seemed older than his age).

  2. What troubles me is that there was no public “communication” between the Paynesville reports and the local law enforcement/FBI concerning like crimes, i.e. a stranger stalking kids in both locales. And that no one was arrested for questioning the Paynesville incidents! I don’t know the details, but something doesn’t sound right. The two towns are so close together, how was there not something done as far as setting a trap for the stalker… I am certain the person is local or those were his “hunting grounds” because he wasn’t concerned with the local enforcement catching him……just a thought.

    Around 1995-98 there was a rodeo in the woods up by Grand Rapids. My friend organized it. I helped out. After most people left and it was dark, a few of us were drinking free “leftover” beer. I was about to leave with a girl who was getting her stuff, and a strange burly/husky 200-250 pound white haired man about 50-60 approached me and grabbed my crotch. This was quite strange and I backed off quick as I was shocked and I didn’t know how many other people he may have had as backup. I am thin, but 190 pounds and look younger than my age, and am a good fighter, but, I also was all of a sudden “very” drunk like I had been “roofied” (pill you put in someone’s drink). I was able to get the hell out of there, with the help of someone else driving, and back to my hotel room only to pass out (which was quite strange). This has always bugged me and maybe it was just another fricken weirdo, but……it was strange enough that it still makes me queasy. He was brazen, as I am not that approachable or am not an easy target (but I was isolated that night when he grabbed me in the crotch) and he most likely was from the area and was targeting me or others in that rural/woods setting by the Mississippi. Anyhow… good luck finding the abductor, God Bless the Wetterlings, and great job on the Blog and keeping looking.

  3. Ven (and Joy for confirmation):

    If you’ve read the post where Joy tells Kevin’s story, you might recall that he spoke to Joy of a man at the Tom Thumb that night who claimed to be a “medical cop,” whatever that is. Ven, that might fit your theory. Joy, has that man ever been identified? Has there ever been an effort to identify what agency a “medical cop” in plain clothes would have belonged to in small town Minnesota?

    Thank you.

  4. Most people are pretty set on the fact that Jacob was taken on foot. He had to have been taken somewhere and eventually they would reached a road or a house. Presumably someone would have noticed a man is a ski mask carrying a small boy wouldn’t they? Which direction did the man and Jacob walk off in? North, south, east, or west?

  5. You know, I have followed this case for years. I always wanted to be the one that found out some information or could help solve this or would see him somewhere or would have some sort of “vision” to solve it all. None of this ever happened. I’m around the same age that Jacob would be today. I am from Minnesota, live in the suburbs of Mpls and live here and that’s about all for the similarities. This case always pulls at my heart and my brain though. I want to try and read and research and find out what I can. Joy has done something I have always wanted to–I’m very proud and thankful for her and I hope this can get solved.

    The idea of the party in the woods interests me. He was abducted in the fall—I would guess that leaves alot of land/woods open. Were the fields cut? I am assuming all the leaves would have fallen by now? What was the temperature? Not sure why this would matter but if it was more barren and open you think this person who took him would have a hard time hiding, he must have had a car, or he lived close by. There were bloodhounds, helicopters, Police, horses, searchers, FBI….They found nothing? No witnesses? Why would this guy risk going up to 3 pre-teen boys? That’s incredibly bold. He was desperate. Anyways, I found this link interesting for a timeline: http://globegazette.com/jacob-wetterling-investigation-timeline/article_2b0e6832-84d0-11df-85ff-001cc4c03286.html

  6. I live near Cold Spring and a couple of weeks after Jacob disappeared, my boyfriend {who is my husband now} and I were sitting at a table in a bar in St. Joe when we overheard a conversation between two men about how to get rid of a body. Find a freshly dug grave at the nearest country cemetery, dig down a few feet and bury the body. No one will suspect anything afoot because many country cemeteries do not sod over the graves immediately. Instead, they plant grass seed on the graves. I remembered getting the goosebumps at the time because both men were very creepy. I did report this tip but nothing ever came out of it.

    Anyway, I have always suspected that there could be a serial killer stalking college-aged young men in the area because several from this area have also disappeared. Recently, there is a case in Fargo where a young man has disappeared. Perhaps, the stalker didn’t get the chance to abduct any of the young men that were at the kegger party so he instead abducted Jacob by mistake? Anyway, maybe I watch too many shows like Criminal Minds and CSI but this new information strikes as being more than a coincidence.

  7. Maybe I’m totally wrong here or the protocol was different in 1989 (I was 9 then and not at all familiar with the law at the time), but isn’t it mandatory that the FBI intervene in all cases of missing juveniles? I am almost 100% sure that’s the law now. I’m reading about the kidnapping/murder of 16-year-old Skylar Neese in West Virginia and the FBI was brought in on that case within the first 24 hours. That could explain the quick FBI response in this case. The message was a bit ambiguous about some things, though. What did they question the teens about? A party, drugs, a missing kid? I doubt the FBI cared about some teenagers just drinking in the woods. They wouldn’t question them for that. It had to be regarding Jacob, right?

  8. Another thing, if Kevin’s car and the other car Dan mentioned took different paths, wouldn’t there have been 2 sets of tire tracks? Connie, I think you should let the authorities know, that could be a helpful tip.

  9. Joy I would like to think that you have something there to look into further for sure . I assume law enforcement has been all over that but for this to be new news to us seems a little strange if that many people were there and knew about it ,was it a secret ? anyway it does seem like the kind of place a creepy molester might like to hang around . also couldnt help but think of the B brothers . I read here that one kid seen them in the area that night , MB talks about being there in an interview , he mentions a guy name Lou ,were they hanging around partying too ,just a thought , I know you will keep digging ,trying to find the people from the party . maybe someone knows something they are finally willing to tell,

  10. I heard that too Jim! In fact, I think this information was brought to the Stearns County Sheriff (Kostreba), and he claims it was thoroughly investigated in a 1999 St. Cloud News Paper Article. I don’t know, but it couldn’t hurt to have this looked into further!

  11. This is just speculation, but I believe that the B family in question lived in St. Cloud and had ties to relatives living in Paynesville and Richmond. The boys, RB and MB, may well have attended Apollo high school and would have been of age to attend the party. Credible or not, MB has confessed to aiding in the abduction.

  12. Can anyone tell me what that black rectangle is on the right hand side of the map at the 3:00 position?

  13. Also, both MB, and RB, are serial pedophiles, as was their father. This is fact, and on public records.

    There’s also a witness that saw both B brothers in the ditch that night, just before the abduction took place. It’s time for a little oversight, and hopefully the FBI will further investigate.

  14. Jean From Boston |

    I had never heard this before, but it’s really good information. One of the great mysteries is how this man knew where to hide and wait for the boys. Maybe this is why the next door neighbor was a person of interest for so long. It’s quite possible that this kidnapper was hanging out in the woods that night, and saw the boys going to Tom Thumb. All he had to do was wait for them to come back. Good detective work! Thank you for keeping this case in the spotlight. Sooner or later, I really hope that the truth comes out.

  15. Joy I’m not sure if this suggestion has ever been made in the past but this keeps nagging at me. Has there ever been a time where ALL (or as many as possible) of the young men involved in these incidents, including the Paynesville incidents, got together at the same time and talked about what they remember?

    Understandably they may not want to go over all this again, but if it were possible to arrange then with everyone talking about what they remember, some common denominators between the victims and what they were involved in at the time or who they knew, school, sports etc might come up in conversation. Or even what vehicles they remember seeing. Everyone talking together might help jog someone’s memory. After all no one other than the perpetrator would have the kind of knowledge these young men would have. By combining resources and memories maybe new information would emerge. Maybe the person(s) responsible would finally be identified.

  16. This does make a lot of sense. Remember one of the Paynesville incidents where kids were hanging out in the woods/riverside and one of them tripped over a guy who was hiding and watching them? And then wasn’t it Trevor or Aaron who heard a noise in the area of the abduction site on the way to the Tom Thumb?

  17. Why has photography of the abduction site never been released? We’ve never seen the entire print field and all of the tire tracks. If a man forced a child into a vehicle there would be prints behind the childs. It was noted that there were 40 something prints of Jacobs on the driveway. Where are the abductors prints? Was he somehow cunning enough to walk in the weeds off the driveway all the while threatening Jacob with the gun? Either way, he would have had to climb back into the vehicle. There MUST be a single print from the abductor on that driveway. For 25 years to have passed and to have not released that singular photo is the biggest travesty (other than Jacob being abducted) in this case.

  18. Okay here is the problem was there a party going on the night that the two boys ran away from the guy chasing them down after they had left the tom thumb? If yes than the next question would be just how many parties were going on out in the woods? The frequency? If no then that would completely omit any theory that the parties in the woods and the abductions are related.

  19. Derek it doesn’t matter how many parties were going on I the woods if the guy was actually one of the partiers , party maybe is the wrong word , often I know a group of buddies will just meet up hang out somewhere .maybe smoke a few joints a few beers ,their are places like that in every town if you listen to MB tape interview he certainly sounds like he is making stuff up ,he contradicts himself at least once but he could be just stepping around the truth , Fact they were seen in the ditch near the abduction site that evening
    I am interested in knowing , did the B brothers know D.A.H.

  20. I think I can explain the footprints, one it was dry not wet so any small breeze is going to move the top layer. two Jacob was shifting weight trying to resist digging into the dirt he wasn’t just walking along. Where as the abductor who is short and stocky can walk a short careful pace but can still drag Jacob along without shifting his weight leaving a footprint behind. and three the bottom of his shoes if there a year old those things are probably so worn on the bottom there like snow shoes. Remember when he was chasing the boys in his car and he just pulls into their driveway and turns on his brights. He didn’t exit as quickly as possible he took his time. This guy is in no rush. We see this again with Jared and with the kid in the apartment never is this guy in a hurry to get out of there. He makes a careful exit rather than quick. You also have to realize that there’s a good possibility that Kevin drove over a lot of that not only are his tires messing up the crime scene but because the dirt was so dry he is also pushing outward as well. And lets face it the cops probably did their own fair share. But seriously if you really believe that this guy walked off with Jacob and didn’t enter a vehicle then you have to explain all those other kidnappings and various attacks with the same kind of logic. Like why did he have a car when he attacked Jared. Isn’t it more likely that he stashed a car in every attack rather than assume that he lived in the area of Paynesville and then St. joseph and merely just walked to the attack sites.

  21. *Jim*
    It’s very possible that DAH did know the B brothers. The Bs have many relatives that live in the Paynesville area, the same area where DAH grew up. If we use their past to profile them, along with their father’s criminal record, we can guess that they had a rough home life, exactly the type of kids that DAH would associate himself with. I’ve wondered, myself, if there is a connection between them, but as far as I know, there is no evidence to suggest it. However, DAH was the type who would hang out with a bunch of high school aged kids at a party, he would have been that older dude that always shows up at a party, the one that hangs around younger people and buys them beer and drugs. So, if you are trying to tie DAH and the B bros together, we can speculate that they all knew each other, the B bros may have even been victims of DAH.

  22. To Renee: The small rectangle shape at “3PM” to the right side of the the photo is a man-made wild life water hole dug out in the early 1960s. It was the big attraction in the area at the time for a Summer swim or just some fun…even though it was a bit dangerous. It was quite deep with an island left in the middle. I haven’t been close to it for years but it sure does show up on the photo and seems to have retained the original rectangle shape.

  23. When I think about way Jacob’s abductor took him, I keep thinking about how easily Trevor and Aaron could’ve missed seeing a car pulling away from the scene. It was dark, they were running for their lives, and to save Jacob’s life. The noise of running through a field, heart pounding, breathing hard could drown out a car driving away from them. If the car was dark colored and had its lights off, it might not have been seen. Especially if the boys didn’t turn back until they were a distance away. Also, if the abductor parked a ways down the driveway, perhaps by the time he got Jacob into the car and turned around by the farm house and drove back up the drive the boys had gotten to a place where they could no longer see the road. That makes sense when I think about the dogs losing Jacob’s scent part way down the driveway. I can’t think of any other reason why the dogs would lose his scent.

    I thought I read that a sock was found a 100 yds from the scene. Did anything come of the sock?

    Thank you Joy

  24. Thank you. It jumped out at me for some reason. Any chance you know who initiated it?

  25. To Renee: I’ve questioned the date of the wild life hole with others. There is some debate about what it was before it was dug out…..it sounds like it could have been a natural swamp pond before digging took place. The land owner has been Robert Sis for a long time. It still lists his name in the 2014 plat book. He is the one that had it dug out. He had ideas for the land in that area….for years he had an old semitrailer placed like a garage along highway 75 to the Northeast of the hole. It slowly fell into ruin over the years. Whatever the case, the water hole remains and the question is obvious….right? Does it have any connection to our focus here? Years ago, the hole was filling in from erosion and beavers were doing their thing big time. Like any search, nothing is found unless the search is redundant with failsafes built in. And obviously, something must be there to be found.
    From all accounts, searches of the area have been redundant but without failsafes. When an area is searched, one’s goal should be 100% confidence in the results. Was this water hole area searched to this standard? Unless a real legit reason exists to do so, it just isn’t possible…..for lots of reasons.

  26. Re: anne | February 25, 2015 at 9:14 pm
    I don’t think that would be a good idea. Getting all those people together to chat and recollect things would just result in memory contamination. They’d end up probably all being useless as witnesses.

    Re: the B brothers
    I’d like to learn more about this independent witness seeing the B brothers in the ditch shortly before the abduction. I’ve never read about that before.

  27. This doesn’t have anything to do with the party in the woods, but I just read a story online today about an attempted kidnapping of a child in a small town in Washington State–a security camera captured a man running away, carrying the child. Fortunately, he was chased and set the child down in an empty lot. The suspect ran away. It was the small town aspect of this case that reminded me of the Paynesville cases.

  28. Donavon Mickelson |

    WOULD ANYONE HAVE ANY IDEA WHAT THE NUMBER 23 WOULD MEAN IN THE WETTERLING ABDUCTION? It may mean nothing but if someone has any idea, please let me know. Thanks.

  29. Highway 23 is a major route which goes through St. Cloud ….through then but now around Rockville….through Cold Spring…..through Paynesville….etc.

    October 23 obviously would be an important date because it follows October 22.

    There were 2 boys left after Jacob was taken from the 3 of them.

    Several other possibilities relating to ages of the boys or dates.

    Highway 23 seems to pop up first for me…..

  30. Re: Donavon
    Could it be referring to the road MN-23? It runs from New London, through Paynesville, Richmond, Cold Spring, up to St. Cloud where it intersects with 75 which would take you straight to St. Joseph. Perhaps the kidnapper lives somewhere along there? This is a complete guess is the dark. Didn’t someone claim to see a kid along a road shortly after he was kidnapped? I’m not sure what road it was and I can’t seem to find where I found the information. Why are you asking about the number 23?

  31. Donavon Mickelson |

    Thanks; I was aware of a couple of those things but keep that number in mind as there may be some connection. If something else comes to mind let me know.

  32. Correction to an earlier post in this section – I found out tonight I was wrong about the land owner containing man-made rectangle water hole in the picture at 3:00. I stated the land owner to be Robert Sis but I’m wrong.
    He owns land further West along highway 75. I talked to them and they never owned the land containing the water hole. The current land owner is Gary Klein and it sounds like it goes back within the family….but at this point I do not know how long. I’m sorry about the mistake and will have to figure out how I made it. The area is basically flat and is mostly swamp land with fewer and fewer trees. As I have experienced recently, people can easily slip in and out of this area undetected and leave their garbage behind. Even though some areas are within a mile of a major highway, they are quite remote due to swampy conditions. Back in 1989, I would seriously doubt this area was searched on foot or horseback with conclusive results. Searchers on the ground seemed to only search where it was relatively easy going…. A few years ago, a man was in the area and would have died if not for his cell phone. He was hiking through the area and slipped into one of many swamp holes …. Got stuck and couldn’t do a thing except call for help. If he would have not had a phone, he could have easily been “consumed” by the mud and never found.

  33. Thank you for sharing..very interesting. I wonder if there is a way to search the mud holes/swamp areas. Sonar or something? Renee

  34. In a interview Jacobs freind Aaron says he heard rustling in the. Bushes by the road that gave him chills on the way to the store so could be man that knew they would come back but in the middle of no where with a mask n gun seems like he would know exactly where to find what he was looking for, there has to be some kind of evidence tho, never give up.

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