“Catch Me If You Can”

I have some new information to share about the wood-paneled station wagon that I just learned about this past weekend. If you recall, this is the car that was seen by the young teens who used to ride their dirt bikes and 4-wheelers through the woods near Jacob’s abduction site. The gentleman I spoke to this weekend was also a part of this group, and he had a few more interesting tidbits to share about the station wagon and the man in the woods.

First of all, I believe we have two different sightings here, possibly three. As I reported in my original post titled, “The men in the woods,” this group of boys saw an older man with a notebook sitting off in the brush, just inside the entrance to the woods. They didn’t think much of it and proceeded on to the party pit to have a quick smoke. On their way out, they saw him again. He had moved closer to them at that point, and they wondered if maybe he had been following them.

Another member of this group reported seeing another man in the woods… this time up in a tree. He said he was younger and thinner than the first man. He wore a baseball cap and had a clipboard. The boys saw the man while they were riding their dirt bikes through the woods that day. Later, they noticed him again, but this time he had moved to a different tree. Weird.

The gentleman I spoke to this weekend had more to add to the story. He used to live south of St. Ben’s, just off College Avenue. He says he and his friends used to ride their dirt bikes and four-wheelers in those woods nearly every day. He also remembers seeing a guy up in a tree, but the man he remembers seeing was older, possibly in his 50s. He was wearing a blaze orange hat and was definitely not an art student. This guy seemed out of place, like he didn’t belong there, and none of the kids had ever seen him before.

There are two interesting things this young man was able to add to the story. First, he says there was a field road that ran from College Avenue (just across from the cemetery) all the way over to 16th/91st Avenue. It ran along the south end of Klinefelter Park and was a straight shot all the way to the abduction site. Another interesting thing this guy remembers is about the car. On the day he saw it, it was parked just off 16th/91st Avenue on the approach/field road which would later become Dale Street. He remembers the car being light blue, possibly a station wagon, but he couldn’t remember if it had wood panels or not. What he DOES remember seems significant. The car had two distinct bumper stickers. One said something about Ole and Lena; the other said, “Catch Me If You Can.”

OK… back it up a bit.

1989-catch-me-if-you-can-poster1Catch Me If You Can was a Hollywood movie that was filmed in the St. Cloud area during the fall of 1988. It was directed by Stephen Sommers, a St. Cloud native, and pre-premiered there on August 24, 1989. It’s a low-budget “muscle car” film about a group of high school teens who are trying to raise money and save their school by betting on illegal car races. Much of the footage was filmed at Apollo and Cathedral High Schools, and included several local residents who served as extras in the movie. The film officially premiered to a national audience on October 14, 1989, just eight days before Jacob’s abduction. (Click the movie poster on the right to read more about the film.)

The interesting thing is… two months after Jacob’s abduction, police asked for the public’s help in finding a station wagon with a “Catch Me If You Can” bumper sticker that was seen near the Wetterling’s residence in the days just prior to Jacob’s abduction.

All three of the following newspaper articles were published on December 22, 1989:

From the St. Cloud Times:

The Jacob Wetterling Task Force also is trying to find a suspicious car that was seen in the St. Joseph area about a week before Jacob, 11, was seized Oct. 22 at gunpoint.

The car recently came to authorities’ attention after residents of an apartment building near the Wetterlings said they had seen the car parked for most of a day. Because it was about two months ago, they couldn’t provide an exact day, Gigler said.

The car is described as a dark brown, four-door station wagon dating to 1970. It had a luggage rack and considerable rust on the fender and doors. The car reportedly had a black and orange sticker that said “Catch Me If You Can.” The movie was filmed in the St. Cloud area and premiered here last summer.

From the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

In another development yesterday, investigators were trying to locate a 1970s-model full-sized four-door station wagon seen three days before Jacob’s abduction on the rural road where he was kidnapped.

The dark brown station wagon is said to have a luggage rack and a missing molding on the passenger side. A rear bumper sticker reads, “Catch me if you can,” an apparent reference to the title of a movie shot two years ago in St. Cloud.

“We feel that with the bumper sticker it’s a local vehicle,” Gigler said. A bulletin was sent yesterday to alert police agencies to look for the car.

From the St. Paul Pioneer Press:

In a related development, authorities said they are looking for a full-size, brown, 1970s 4-door model station wagon seen in the woods west of the Wetterling abduction site three days before the kidnapping. The car did not belong to anyone in the neighborhood and police want to question its owner, Gigler said.

The wagon had a luggage rack, missing body molding on the passenger side and a rear bumper sticker that read, “Catch Me If You Can,” a reference to a movie of the same name filmed in St. Cloud. The movie previewed in St. Cloud this August, leading police to believe the car belongs to an area resident. St. Cloud is about 6 miles east of St. Joseph.

I’m unclear whether this lead about the station wagon came from the boys who witnessed the man/men in the woods, or if it came from another source. I’m curious whether the “dark brown” station wagon was confused with the “dark brown wood panels” that the boys remember.

At any rate, my main question is this. Where did these bumper stickers come from? Were they handed out at the private premiere in August? Or, maybe later, at the public premiere on October 14th? Or, maybe they were handed out during the filming of the movie, back in November of 1988? Where were they printed? Where were they distributed? At the high schools? Movie theaters? Convenience stores? Does anyone else remember getting or having one of these bumper stickers? If we can figure out that much, maybe we can figure out where the driver of the car got his bumper sticker.

And one more question… does anyone know which apartment building the police were talking about in the St. Cloud Times article above? If this is the same station wagon that the boys saw down by the woods, I wonder what he was doing at that apartment building. Did he live there? Or was he just staying with an acquaintance?

A little help here… please comment!


NEXT: A wilderness trek for Jacob…


  1. Great points made Olivia!

  2. But Olivia he was wearing a mask when he abducted Jacob. In Jared’s case he was not wearing a mask and had pulled up to him in his car asking for directions. Why would someone who thought they’d be recognized not wear a mask and if they were wearing the mask why then take it off? Also what other crime could the abductor have committed that would have given him life in prison. And he seemed to make all the same threats in every abduction at least having some kind of signature wouldn’t it make sense that if he had moved and repeated elsewhere he would have been traced to that location.

  3. Hmmmm. Stephen Sommers is my mom’s cousin. I could try to put the two of you in touch.

  4. I had a thought about this possibly being a sticker from a video store. Video companies have always put out free posters, ads, keychains, shirts, etc to promote their new releases.

    But I checked and the movie wasn’t released on video until 1990 (after the stories were published). So it has to be from movie-theater promotion (or production). It had been released in theaters a few months before the stories.

    That’s why it’s important to figure out more about the sticker…

    – Was it a studio-based promotional sticker?
    — Local print-shop made? By whom?

    – Who had access to them?
    — Extras?
    — Set crew?
    — Handed out at theaters as a local promotion?
    — ???

  5. My mom works for a printing company in Shakopee and she said they do printing for movies all the time. She is going to ask around to see if they did any jobs around that time. If not she will try to figure out who has the capacity in the area to do bumper stickers. Anyway if you fjljljlind out who printed the sticker you can find out the customer and then figure out where they were distributed. Another possibility is the person could have worked for the printing company and grabbed one of the stickers. My mom gets products that have slight defects all the time.

  6. Joy – More detail on bumper sticker. According to my mom only a large printing company would be able to produce a multi-colored and detailed sticker. It requires a very expensive machine (either a Nilpeter or Mark Andy) because there is an undercut so the sticker can be peeled open. These machines cost roughly 3.5 million dollars. Either Quality printing in Elk River or Imagine Print Solutions in Shakopee would be good places to start. Imagine has been in business for at least 27 years, not sure about the other.

  7. I know that after Heinrich’s arrest, this case seems closer than ever to reaching its conclusion. But in reading through this blog, it’s the car details that are most curious to me. People remembered several unfamiliar cars with jacked up rear ends… one a station wagon (they described it as orange, but a dark shade wouldn’t be so different from brown in the right light). Now this movie about muscle cars.

    Is it possible that there was a group of men who got together to modify their vehicles? Whether it was Heinrich, his brother, and Hart or another group. It’s possible that they all had more than a shared interest in cars… if one of them hinted that they were a pedophile and others expressed curiosity about it as well, there could have been a ring of them all working together – perhaps some as scouts, some as abductors, all sharing in the abuse. All with jacked up or otherwise modified vehicles. It sounds like these were junk cars (rusted and in otherwise poor repair) that they could get for cheap and use to tinker with.

    This could also explain the different men people saw. The two men in the trees. The old man buying soup and crackers. The man in a cop-like car (perhaps an old one bought on the cheap at a public auction or found in a junk yard) that Kevin saw passing by the scene before the cops even arrived.

    Dan has specific memories of two different cars whipping around his yard that day. All told, it’s too many cars for just one person. This sounds like something that started in Paynesville, probably with a single perp, and then branched out into a ring of abusers who found each other through some common thread.

    Has anyone found a connection with a group of gear heads/amateur mechanics in the area who might know more about the vehicle aspect of the crimes? Even just a junkyard or parts store whose proprietor might have had some shady regulars?

Leave a Reply