Wow. What to say.

It’s been a little over a week since authorities announced they had DNA evidence — a 100% match — that proved Danny Heinrich from Paynesville is the man who abducted and assaulted 12 year old Jared from Cold Spring. That attack happened just 9 months prior to Jacob Wetterling’s abduction, leading authorities to now name Heinrich an official Person of Interest in Jacob’s case. In all likelihood, he was also the man responsible for the string of attacks on juvenile boys that took place in Paynesville between 1986-1989.

This news came as a huge shock, and for the past week, I’ve been reeling and trying to make sense of it all.

Over the past two and a half years, Jared has become a good friend. We talk often, compare notes, and generally keep each other sane. This has been an incredibly crazy journey for both of us, and it’s been nice to have a companion along for the ride.

Now, after all our endless hours of research, interviews, phone calls, texts, and emails, Jared finally has his guy. No question about it… a 100% match. The news is still sinking in, and it’s taken me over a week to really process it. Emotionally, I have been all over the place. Happy, sad, pissed, confused, exhausted… you name it. This is BIG CRAZY NEWS and it’s a lot to take in. Did we know about this guy? Yes. Was he on our radar? Not really. I do remember mentioning to Jared that we should talk to him at one point. I think the conversation went something like this, “Well, what the heck. Let’s just go knock on his door and see what he has to say.” (And this, my friends, is why I’m in marketing and not police work.) Thank goodness for divine intervention and short attention spans; that interview never happened.

Emotion aside, I’ve also had a ton of questions swirling around in my head following Heinrich’s arrest. Here are just a few:

  • What about the tire tracks? In 2003, Kevin came forward and said he’d driven through the crime scene and left his tire tracks in the driveway. After that, authorities said the tire tracks were now accounted for and they were, instead, looking for a local person who probably took Jacob on foot. But, now we know authorities matched Heinrich’s tires to the tracks left in the driveway way back in 1990. So, does that mean there were two sets of tire tracks? What the heck?
  • In early reports, Jacob’s abductor was described to have been wearing black shoes or boots. Granted, the kids were scared and unsure, but they did say the man who took Jacob was dressed all in black. So, does it make sense then that he’d be wearing colored tennis shoes with white stripes? Who knows. But weird, right? Does that mean there might have been more than one abductor?
  • How did Heinrich know the Kraemers? They were neighbors of Jared’s when he lived in Cold Spring, and that’s the name Heinrich used when he stopped to ask for directions. The Kraemers own Tom Kraemer, Inc., a name widely associated with rolloff dumpsters in our area. These dumpsters often appear at construction sites. Did Heinrich ever work construction, or for TKI? If not, why did he pick that name?
  • Why Cold Spring? If Heinrich WAS the man responsible for the attacks on young boys in Paynesville, then what brought him to Cold Spring on that cold January night in 1989? Was he stalking Jared? Or, did he just happen to see a group of kids walking from the ice rink to the Side Cafe, and then waited to see if any of them would walk home alone?
  • Why did he choose the place he did to assault Jared? Obviously, the guy was a planner… a cold, calculating POS who didn’t leave anything to chance. He doesn’t seem the type who would just grab a kid off the street and then say to himself, “OK then… now where to?” I’m sure he didn’t just happen upon that spot… but why there?
  • In Jared’s case, the guy had a 4-door car with child proof locks in the back seat. The assault took place in the back seat. However, at the time Jacob was kidnapped, Heinrich owned a small 2-door car with no back seat. So, if he did take Jacob, where did they go? What happened?

And, this is where I start to fall apart. I can’t bring myself to “go there,” so I just stop. But, in order to solve this case, that is exactly the type of police work that needs to be done by people who are a lot better at it than me. As a mother of two boys myself, I simply can’t handle it. I am so eternally grateful for the people in law enforcement who are able to “go there” and do the work. I’m sure it is often a thankless job with long hours and little recognition, but I am personally so very thankful for the men and women who are doing the hard work to get answers for the Wetterling family.

In spite of all my questions and ruffling of feathers over the years, it was Jared who had the perseverance and fortitude to keep the investigation going, and it was ultimately a good piece of police work that finally cracked the case. And in all seriousness, none of that would have ever happened if the Wetterlings had not gotten involved and insisted that Stearns County, the FBI, the BCA, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children all come together to look at the bigger picture. As Patty said in her statement last week, “When good people pull together, amazing things happen.”

So then, good people, consider that your battle cry. If you knew Danny Heinrich or have any information you can share with investigators to help solve Jacob’s case, please call the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office at (320) 259-3700 or the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-THE-LOST.

Off the top of my head, here are a few questions that may be particularly helpful:

  • Why St. Joseph? Other than his place of employment at the time (Fingerhut), did Heinrich have any other ties to the area?
  • Why 91st Avenue? This is a quiet, dead-end road. What would have brought him there?
  • Besides the Ford EXP, what other cars did Heinrich have access to in October 1989? What did his parents drive?
  • If Danny Heinrich did take Jacob, where would he have brought him?

If you can think of more questions, please leave a comment and I’ll add to the list.

Once again, I cannot thank you enough for following me along on this journey. Five years ago, who knew any of this could actually make a difference. Looking back, well, just… wow.

#ThinkingJacob

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72 Comments

  1. Honestly… no offense Curious Georgia… but I don’t think the voice connection would be very accurate. A lot of voices sound similar and plus Heinrich’s voice may have changed over the years as he has gotten older. During the abduction he may have changed the tone of his voice a little or had a cold that could have altered his normal voice as well. Even if Trevor, Aaron, and Jared could recognize his voice I don’t think it would prove much in terms of finding enough evidence to convict Heinrich.

  2. Your work has been tremendous Joy. Your diligence and persistence is obvious and the work put forth is paying off. I completely agree with you and the other commenters: ANY detail could be pertinent to the case, even if you think it’s insignificant. I pray for resolution, I pray for peace.

    My 8 year old son had mentioned the man’s credit card statement — could be worth checking into that month if available. I agree on questioning the brother more. If the two lived together he surely had to stumble upon the binders of pictures and/or know of his brother’s activity from time to time. Also, did Heinrich work the following day if he was employed? I think having Aaron hear Heinrich’s voice might help. What vehicle was registered to Heinrich and his brother(s)?

  3. I agree that an attempt at voice recognition with the other boys would be important.

    I just want to say that I sure hope someone in law enforcement feels compelled to apologize to Dan Rassier. I can’t imagine what he has been through. Not that an apology can make up for what he and his family have been through, but it would be a nice start. Dan, if you are reading this please know many of us knew you were innocent. Knew it!!

    I keep thinking about the bins of clothing. Why did he keep them? Are they from victims?

  4. Curious Georgia |

    I agree that Dan Rassier needs an apology; public preferably. I hope someone in the sheriffs dept or FBI has enough character to offer an apology. My heart hurts thinking of how his parents were treated.

  5. As scary as it would be for Trevor and Aaron to hear it, I do think there is a real key in having Danny say those words and let them hear…I suppose there is some reason why that would not be considered enough final proof it WAS him (sad, huh? Imagine if you were a victim and KNEW the voice was that of your offender and yet nothing would really be done about it!). I know they have said in the child porn they found, Jacob’s picture was not found, but I read they DID find videotape of coverage of his story – which I find very creepy and not to be overlooked as significant. Was there footage of any of the other assaults or other news stories whatsoever? If it was just about Jacob – well, HELLO!! The shoe print and tire tracks, as someone else pointed out, are so very significant because they BOTH exist. Were it one or the other that matched Danny – then of course there would be a lot of doubt. But come on – THEY BOTH MATCH. The chances of that happening and it NOT being him are slim to none! I was 20 at the time Jacob was taken. I know have 4 kids and one is a boy who is 12. He is full of life and sweet and wonderful…just the way Jacob was. I am praying some justice is served here and the Wetterlings can have some peace. Thanks for your work, Joy!

  6. My first thought was to tell dee ef gee to go to hell but I won’t…I’ll just think it…this is about Joy’s emotional journal also …the highs and lows of trying to make sense (which she has ) of the madness we have all felt during the long years Jacob has been missing…ive been emotional and I’m not nearly connected as she…let’s keep our focus positive and keep tthinking Jacob….

  7. I just want to say that I really admire all these positive messages and curious thoughts. THIS is why there is hope. This is proof to me there is more good in the world than bad. You guys ALL are wonderful. I know in my heart Jacob did not go missing for no reason and that somehow someway this will not stay a kept secret. He will rest in sweet peace. One day the light will hit EVERY aspect of this and the questions will just fade out.. @Joy ive not seen many negative comments toward you but ehhh screw those negative thinkers, weve got bigger fish to fry. Thanks for doing this. You are brilliant and I love your thoughts and reading them, I WISH I could have the guts to let people read so many of my personal thoughts and wonders. I WISH! 🙂 So much love to you and your family. You are just great!!! Joy the GRRRrreat!

  8. Joy, I was struck by one of the maps of the abduction area that you’ve posted on your blog. You’ve asked: Did Heinrich have any ties to St. Joseph? Recent articles on Heinrich mention that he was in the National Guard. On your map, I see that the St. Joseph Armory was just around the bend from the Tom Thumb. Is it possible that there were National Guard exercises during the weekend of the abduction, and is it possible that even though Heinrich didn’t live in St. Joseph, he would have had reason to be at the Armory? The investigation attempted to find attendees of the Del-Win Ballroom Polka Fest for that date, which was near the Armory, so I would guess (and hope) that authorities checked out who was at the Armory the day and night of the abduction. It’s probably a long shot, probably unrelated, but I was struck by the proximity of the Armory to the Tom Thumb, and of learning that Danny Heinrich, the recently named person of interest, was a member of the National Guard.

  9. It is reported that Danny Heinrich was a member of the Minnesota National Guard in the 1980’s. If I remember right, the MN National Guard was heavily involved in the search for Jacob. Has anyone looked to see if Danny Heinrich was part of that search?

  10. Curious Georgia |

    Excellent question, Lisa. That would be good to look at I would think.

  11. Camp Riley is where the national guard does their drills. It is located in Little falls which is 39 minutes from St. Joseph. It is 53,000 acres.

  12. Kathryn excellent question about the St.Joseph Armory being right around the bend from Tom Thumb. Maybe he had been there and saw the boys coming up the road. I heard he was in the Nat. Guard, but hadn’t heard about a St. Joseph Armory. Something to check into

  13. Your writings caught my radar when the word dumpster came up, would there be a reason he may need one?? Who knows. Black boots….the national guard wear black boots.

  14. Great work Joy! I am new to reading about Jacob after so many years but as a dad and human being, my heart breaks for the Wetterling family.

    Regarding the tennis shoes/boots question…Could the abductor have worn long black shin guards? I would think they could have been confused for boots especially in poor lighting conditions. When I think about a kid being overpowered by a grown man, kicking is probably a common means of escape. Possibly the abductor had experienced this in an earlier attempt.

    I searched military shin guards and came up with the following photo but there are many other examples too.

    http://dismagazine.com/uploads/2011/03/8108_Knee-Shin-Pads-e1300732762621.jpeg

  15. Heinrich was a member of the national guard unit in Willmar. Most units drill at their armory; he wouldn’t have been likely to be at the armory in St. Joseph. All units train at Camp Ripley at some point and some units are based there. But most units in the MN National Guard do their weekend drills at their home unit’s armory in whichever city or town that unit is in, if that makes sense. The news has reported that the St. Cloud guard unit was part of the search for Jacob. Heinrich was unlikely to have been a part of that unless he participated as a volunteer.

  16. I was a 7 year old living in the Twin Cities when Jacob disappeared. I remember learning of his kidnapping and seeing his picture all over the news and all over the front page of the Strib. He was 4 years older than me, and I thought how could this happen to a kid who is so happy (which I judged not based on personally knowing him, but rather based on his smile in his now famous picture). I wondered how could this happen to a kid who was older than me, and who I saw as invincible. How could this happen in a safe, small town where nothing is ever supposed to happen?

    Now, I’m 32, I am married, and I have a child of my own, but when I see that picture of Jacob, it’s like time has stood still, and I’m a 7 year old girl again wondering how this could happen to an older kid that I look up to. As a mother myself, I can’t even imagine the pain that Patty and Jerry Wetterling suffer every day not knowing what happened to one of their children. As a sister, I can’t imagine the pain that Jacob’s siblings feel not knowing what happened to their brother. I admire their strength and will to carry on, and hope that they know that the entire state of Minnesota, if not the country, is always behind them in their search for Jacob.

    I found your blog just recently, following the announcement of Danny Heinrich’s arrest for child pornography and his status as a person of interest in Jacob’s disappearance. I wanted to get up to speed with the status of the investigation, so I read all of your currently available posts about the Jacob Wetterling investigation. I admire all of the research you have done in your quest to try to aid law enforcement in solving this case. Like so many others, I find it so frustrating and disheartening that 26 years later, we still don’t know what happened to Jacob or where he is. With that in mind, I do have several questions about the case after reading all of your currently available Wetterling posts:

    1) Maybe this is common knowledge, but what led investigators to interview Danny Heinrich in the initial 1989-1990 investigation about Jared’s abduction and assault and the Wetterling disappearance in the first place? Why was he suspected then? Was it the sketch that was produced based on Jared’s description? Was it the information about the car that he drove when he assaulted Jared combined with the information about the car and the tire tracks on Rassier’s farm after Jacob’s abduction? Did he have a KNOWN history of child molestation prior to the assault on Jared (it didn’t seem like it given that he wasn’t picked up when the Paynesville molestations were occurring)?

    2) Jennifer – the Bennie who worked at Tom Thumb – has she been interviewed again since the arrest of Heinrich? Was Heinrich the man in the Tom Thumb looking for soup and saltines after Jacob’s disappearance and then laughing while saying that Jacob would never be found?

    3) I read the contents of the search warrant for Heinrich’s Annandale house (http://heavy.com/news/2015/10/danny-james-heinrich-jacob-wetterling-arrest-suspect-missing-family-facebook/). It discusses the search warrants that were previously exercised for Heinrich’s father’s house in Paynesville Twp, and the items that were found there. I found the location of his father’s residence on Google Maps, and noticed that it’s near a large lake (Lake Koronis). Heinrich was living at that house at the time of Jacob’s abduction. There are also several large lakes around Richmond, near where the warrant suggested Heinrich had taken Jared before he assaulted him. There’s another lake outside of St. Joseph called Kraemer Lake, which I recall being the name that Heinrich gave Jared just before abducting him. Given the disturbing statement that the man in Tom Thumb said to Jennifer all those years ago, have or will searches be conducted in or around any of those bodies of water for Jacob? I know there are a lot of lakes in that part of the state, so it’s probably not practical without more information…

    5) Finally, I’m concerned about the WCCO news story that I just read from yesterday about an arson that occurred in a home that Heinrich had a history of visiting all those years ago. The fire was started in a basement storage area just a few weeks after Jacob’s abduction. The thing that concerns me most is that all of the evidence from that fire was disposed of. I wonder what they do with the debris that they clean up from fire scenes. Even though they did not save it, is there any possibility that that evidence could be recovered from some location where companies that clean up fire debris send that debris? Or is it mixed in and buried under 26 years of newer debris from fire cleanups? http://minnesota.cbslocal.com/2015/11/12/is-wetterling-person-of-interest-connected-to-a-1989-arson/

    I am relieved that Jared has been able to get the answers for the crime that was committed against him all those years ago. As for Jacob, the evidence – circumstantial or not – is certainly stacking up against Heinrich, but the crucial pieces of the puzzle that link him to Jacob, such as Jacob’s clothes, photos of Jacob, etc. are still missing. Of course, it would be easiest for all of us if Heinrich would just confess to the abduction and fill in the details that occurred after the fact, but given his history of denying crimes that he committed (such as his assault on Jared), it just doesn’t seem likely that he’s going to start talking now. It’s so frustrating. Surely, he understands that Jacob and all of the boys that he victimized are sons with loving parents, possibly brothers with loving siblings, and friends. As Patty has said again and again, it’s time to bring Jacob home.

  17. Good points, KAK. One thing that I read just a day or two ago was that when Heinrich was originally questioned in 1989 he ‘lawyered up’ and then he was not charged and let go. Would someone do that if they had nothing to hide? I don’t think so.

  18. I find it interesting that no assaults occured after jacobs abduction. Am I wrong? If that is so, that indicates to me that perhaps jacob remained alive because heinrichs behavior changed. A sex addict always needs his “fix”.
    One good thing about the arson is that obviously they found no fatalities in that fire. What was being hidden? Doesn’t make sense as obviously it wasn’t porn stuff because there was tons of that in his home. So the question remains, what was the fire about? How did it get started, by a cigarette? Interesting to see what the fire chief thinks started that fire. Did heinrich smoke? The victims mention smoke smells on the perps hands. What about the mental issues with heinrichs brother? Did he have a raspy voice also? Did he smoke? It will take a village to solve this crime. I have to say I think Joy in herself alone is a village. What a remarkable woman, to of uncovered as much as she has and to of stayed with this. It only takes one person to change the world. Joy is that change! Thank you Joy, you are truly a blessing!

  19. Hey Joy: just heard you on the star tribune website. You are getting better and better at this…hang in there,

  20. Curious Georgia |

    It seems hard to believe, if Heinrich indeed is Jacob’s abductor, that he could have kept him alive and no one in that small town would not have known. It seems more likely that it would have been too risky to act again after the manhunt for Jacob ensued and a composite drawing of the suspect was released. It had been pretty easy to continue to grab boys in Paynesville and not be pursued too seriously by the police but it was a different story with Jacob’s abduction. Before Jacob’s abduction,It appears that the molester moved to other towns outside of Paynesville not because of police action so much as starting to be recognized by the boys he had previously accosted.

  21. According to the recent report by WCCO, the suspected arson at a Paynesville home that Heinrich is known to have visited happened early Sunday morning, November 12, 1989. According to the search warrant for Heinrich, when he was questioned on 1/24/1990, he said he was unemployed at the time of Jacob’s abduction and couldn’t provide an alibi, but he said he was not in St. Joseph that weekend. He spent his Sundays “driving around Paynesville, washing clothes, or watching a movie….After consulting his records, [Heinrich’s] last day of work at Fingerhut Corporation was 10/8/1989 and he was unemployed until 11/12/1989 when he started at North Star Mailing in St. Cloud, MN.”

    The day Heinrich gave for starting his new job is November 12, 1989, the same day of the suspected arson. The arson happened early that morning. We aren’t given a specific time; “early morning” could mean any time from 12 a.m. on. Of course, we don’t know that Heinrich had anything to do with the arson, and whether starting a job that same day means he is less likely to be connected to the arson, or if he had a reason now that he would be working again to go to that house before he started his new job. The search warrant says Heinrich moved out of his residence that same month, 11/89, and doesn’t give the exact date that he moved, but it says he lived at his residence “through November 1989,” so he must have moved at the end of the month. He moved into his father’s residence.

  22. Donavon Mickelson |

    I recall shortly after the abduction of Jared that the abductor had boots on like someone in the military. I thought it was important then and still believe it is.

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