25 Years

Wow… where to begin. It’s been such a whirlwind year, and I’ve been overwhelmed trying to decide how to write this blog post. It’s incredibly hard to put into words what the 25th anniversary of Jacob Wetterling’s abduction means to me. But, I definitely have some things to say, so here we go.

This Wednesday, October 22nd, will mark 25 years since Jacob Wetterling was taken at gunpoint from a rural road in St. Joseph, Minnesota. It was just after 9pm, and Jacob was returning home from a local convenience store where he had gone to rent a movie with his friend, Aaron, and his younger brother, Trevor. They were just a few blocks from home when a masked gunman stopped them, ordered them to put their bikes in the ditch and lie face-down on the ground. One by one, they were asked how old they were, then Trevor and Aaron were told, “Run toward the woods and don’t look back, or I’ll shoot.” When they got far enough away and dared to look back, Jacob and the gunman were gone. He has not been seen since.

This past Tuesday, six billboards went up in locations near Jacob’s abduction. They say “STILL MISSING” and show a picture of Jacob in 1989, along with an age-progressed picture of what he might look like today at age 36. They also include the number for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, 1-800-THE-LOST. Anyone with a tip is encouraged to call the hotline. You may remain anonymous.


Along with the billboards, the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office, together with Jerry and Patty Wetterling, the FBI, the BCA, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) gave a joint press conference. Patty and Jerry both spoke, and we were encouraged by the words of John Ryan, President and Chief Executive Officer of NCMEC, who said that in a five year time span, from 2009-2013, over 160 kids had been found who had been missing between 11-20 years.

Wow. Wouldn’t that be something.

The fact that all these agencies are coming to the table after 25 years is both encouraging and hopeful. I think it is a testament to how active this case really has been, especially in the past year.

I also think there’s an interesting phenomenon that has started to occur. I didn’t catch it at first, but it started to gel after I was reviewing some of the comments and messages I’ve received on my blog over the past few years. It seems there’s a common phrase I keep hearing over and over, and it comes from a generation who is just now beginning to realize how much Jacob’s disappearance has impacted their lives. It goes something like this… “Now that I’m a parent myself…”

You see, these are Jacob’s peers who have been talking to me. They’re in their late 30s now, hovering toward that monumental 40th birthday. They’re busy chasing kids, life, and the American dream. But, when they finally get a chance to slow down and reflect for a moment, I think they’re starting to realize something. At this point in their lives, they are now very close to the same age that Jerry and Patty Wetterling were when Jacob was taken. And for them, like all of us, that is an unbearable thought.

But something is different this go-round. This generation thinks and acts differently than any generation before them. They have something that is innate and instinctive to them. It’s called technology… and they know how to use it.

In the past few years (and the last year in particular), I have seen this investigation explode because of the power of the internet. From blogs and forums, to Facebook and Twitter, people are talking and sharing more than ever before. And more than that, they’re demanding answers.

Throughout the past year, I have seen victims reach out to other victims, encouraging each other to come forward and share their stories. For many, it’s the first time they’ve ever spoken openly about their experience. It is raw, and emotional, and hugely impactful. And while these memories are deeply painful for all of them, they have agreed to do it for the same reason… because now they are parents themselves.

We admire Patty and Jerry Wetterling for all they’ve done to make this world a better and safer place for our children. In 1990, they started a foundation in Jacob’s name to raise awareness about childhood abduction (now called the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center). They helped pass the Jacob Wetterling Act of 1994 which required states to implement a sex offender and crimes against children registry. They have reached out to other families of childhood abduction, and in 1998, helped found Team HOPE, a national support group for families of missing children. Today, Patty serves as the Director of Sexual Violence Prevention for the Minnesota Department of Health, and is also the Chair of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

For these things and more, we admire and respect the Wetterlings. But it’s more than that. We also see them as parents, just like ourselves, so we grieve for them, hurt for them, and wish so badly there was something we could do to help.

The truth is, Jacob could have been any of our children. He was an 11 year old boy, doing what 11 year old boys do. He was taken from a kind and gracious family who loves him, and who did everything they knew to keep him safe. So, how does a boy like Jacob get taken from a small town like St. Joseph, on a country road that was just blocks from his home?

Not OK.

Not then, not now, not ever.

Jacob, we will never forget you, and we will never stop searching and demanding answers. As Minnesotans, we consider you one of our own… OUR son. Our Jacob.

The Jacob Wetterling Resource Center reminds you to keep your porch light on this Wednesday, October 22, and to also do something kind that helps build hope in our children. They offer a list of 25 suggestions you might try to honor Jacob and his family.

And, as always, please keep the tips and prayers coming. Thanks for #ThinkingJacob with me.

NEXT: From a former bulldog…

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Jennifer’s story

In the fall of 1989, Jennifer was 22 years old and a senior at the College of St. Benedict in St. Joseph, Minnesota. She had picked up a part time job at the local Tom Thumb convenience store, and worked there from 6pm until midnight a few nights a week.

On October 22, Jennifer was working the night Jacob, Aaron, and Trevor came into the store to rent a video. She is the last person to see Jacob before he was abducted.

This is her story.

Jennifer’s parents didn’t like her working at the Tom Thumb so late at night, and her bike ride home took her along a particularly long, dark stretch of road. She figured she should be able to pick up a waitressing job somewhere in town, so ironically, Jennifer had just given her two week notice to her manager that very day.

There was another young man working with her in the store that night. The two of them worked their shift just like any other night… nothing seemed unusual or concerning.

When Jacob and the two other boys came into the store, Jennifer remembers them picking out some candy and a video. Major League had already been rented, so the boys decided on The Naked Gun instead. Jacob signed his name on the video rental receipt, Jennifer put their Blo-Pops in a bag, and off they went. Just another transaction on the cash register… no big deal.

It wasn’t until about 11:25pm when two local FBI agents came into the store that Jennifer and the other young man on staff had any idea something was wrong. The officers didn’t come right out and say that a child had been kidnapped, but Jennifer definitely got the impression that’s what had happened given the nature of the questions they were being asked.

I asked Jennifer whether she remembers seeing any police cars go by that night. She said she remembers seeing police cars go by, but does not remember hearing any sirens or any helicopters all night long… even after returning home. She remembers waking up to the sounds of helicopters flying low over their campus the next morning, but she didn’t hear any the night before.

I also asked Jennifer if she remembers seeing the “scary bald guy” in the store who witnesses say had been skulking around and scaring customers around the same time as the boys were there. She said no, she doesn’t remember that… if those accounts are true, they didn’t come from her. She also doesn’t recall anything about Kevin coming into the store and talking to a “medical cop,” but she said it could have happened if the other young man working that night had been the one at the counter at that time. She may have been in the back or in the bathroom when that exchange took place.

Jennifer’s part in all this really takes place two weeks later. It was Sunday, November 5th, and it was her last day of work at the Tom Thumb, since she had just given her notice two weeks earlier.

The store was filled with pictures of Jacob, missing posters, yellow ribbons, etc. There was also a collection jar for donations on the counter. Everyone was on high alert, and Jennifer had been very active in all the prayer vigils and other “Jacob events” taking place in St. Joseph.

Around 9pm, an older man in his 60s came into the store and was acting very strangely. He was almost bald with receding gray hair, a gruff voice, and a rude demeanor. He seemed to just be wandering aimlessly around the store, so Jennifer asked if he needed help. He said he was looking for some soup… Campbell’s soup. “I’m going to need about six cans of that,” he told her. Jennifer told him where it was, but he just seemed really “out of it,” so she came out from behind the counter and brought him over to the soup.

When they got there, he asked her if there was something called “chicken noodle” or something like that? Jennifer pointed out the chicken noodle soup, then picked out six cans for him. Next, he asked, “You have any of those, um… saltine crackers?” She thought he was really weird… like he had never seen a can of Campbell’s chicken noodle soup or a package of Saltine crackers before. Again Jennifer had to lead him to the crackers in a different aisle and point them out. He said “I’ll need about two boxes of those.” She picked the crackers off the shelf for him, just as she had the soup.

After she rang up his purchases, the man pulled out his wallet, which was THICK with cash. He noticed the donation jar and said, “So, do you think they’ll ever find that boy?” Jennifer replied something like, “Yes, I hope so,” and the guy laughed and said, “They’ll never find that boy.” As he turned to leave, he passed another customer and asked the same thing… “Do you think they’ll ever find that boy?” He laughed again and made the same remark… “They’re never going to find him.”

Everything about the guy said “red flag,” so Jennifer hurried to the window after he left and took note of the car he was driving. She didn’t get the license number, but she remembers it was a big, fancy, dark blue car… similar to a Lincoln Continental.

3_compositesAfter this exchange took place, Jennifer suddenly became an important part of the investigation. She remembers working closely with FBI agents, and also worked with a sketch artist to put together a composite of the suspect. Her sketch is the second one in the photo on the right.

The first sketch is the “scary bald guy” from the Tom Thumb who witnesses say had a piercing stare, a gruff demeanor, and very odd behavior. He was seen standing outside the store near an ice machine at about 9pm. He did not speak or make any purchases, and no vehicle was seen. Authorities say the same man was also seen at a Quik Mart in Avon earlier that day.

The third sketch is of a man who tried to abduct a 9 year old boy in New Brighton on November 8. The boy was riding his bike near his home when the man ordered him to get into his car. The boy sped away, but the man followed him to his home and did not leave until the boy’s mother walked outside.

After seeing all three sketches together in a newspaper article on November 23, 1989, Jennifer admits that the first one, not her own, was actually a better representation of the guy she saw.

In all these years, Jennifer does not remember being contacted by anyone from Stearns County to follow up on this case. She remembers working with the FBI in the months following the abduction, but at no time in the past 24 years has she ever talked to anyone from the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office. She even called in once herself to follow-up with a lead, but in that case, a meeting that had been set up between herself and investigators was later cancelled, and then never rescheduled.

In February 2004, Jennifer agreed to be interviewed by FOX 9 News out of the Twin Cities. It was during that interview that Jennifer was finally able to meet Patty Wetterling for the first time. It was a raw and emotional meeting that held even more meaning for Jennifer since she was an elementary school teacher and a mother herself by then. Like all of us, she so badly wants to provide answers for the Wetterling family.

(Click here to download a transcript of the 2004 FOX 9 news story…) …

It was yet another crazy coincidence that brought Jennifer and me together. A mutual acquaintance who knows us both encouraged Jennifer to give me a call. That phone call was incredibly hard to make, and I want to thank Jennifer for sharing her story, even though I know it is still excruciatingly painful for her to relive these memories.

On that note, I’d like to thank all the people who have been brave enough to come forward and share their stories with me over the past two years. It is still my firm belief that someone out there knows something that could help solve this case. That one person may not even know they hold the key, so by sharing these stories and keeping the dialogue going, there’s a good chance that, together, we might truly make a difference.

So… keep sharing, keep hoping, keep praying… and keep #thinkingjacob.

*** SIDEBAR ***
I just spoke to one of the producers from The Hunt tonight who is currently taking tips at the show’s hotline. CNN is re-airing several episodes of The Hunt this evening, including Jacob’s story, which will air at 12 midnight. So, if you still haven’t had a chance to catch the show, set your DVR or make yourself some strong coffee. You don’t want to miss it a third time!

I asked how many tips the show had generated so far, and I was told they have taken 111 tips so far on their hotline and they continue to get more calls every day. When I checked last week, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children had also received over 100 tips, and that was soon after the show aired. As for me, I have received over 70 tips which I continue to pass along to law enforcement. Thanks again to everyone for caring and getting involved!

Again, if you have a tip, please call 1-866-THE-HUNT, 1-800-THE-LOST, or the Stearns County Sheriff’s Department at (320) 259-3700.

NEXT: 25 years…

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John Walsh and Jared on WCCO Radio

Once again, thanks to everyone who has been following this story, and for those who have taken the time to either leave a comment or send a private message on my blog. The overwhelming response to Jacob’s story on CNN’s “The Hunt with John Walsh” last Sunday is a true testament to the number of people who still care very deeply about this case, and for the Wetterling family.

I hope everyone had a chance to read Patty’s article that she wrote for CNN, “Five questions for my son’s abductor.” I read it as I was getting ready to leave work last Friday, and I ended up having to wear my sunglasses out of the office because I couldn’t stop the tears. (Never mind the fact it was raining… lots of weird looks.)

As I’ve gotten to know Patty over the past year, I can tell you that she is truly amazing. She’s the current Board Chair of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and the Director of the Minnesota Department of Health’s Sexual Violence Prevention Program. However, I can tell you that she is also kind, compassionate, and gracious. I am lucky to know her… she is a true American hero. Yet, at the end of the day, she is a mom, just like me, who has suffered a terrible, incomprehensible loss. She has never stopped searching for her son, never stopped fighting for answers, and never lost hope that someday the answers would come.

Today, Esme Murphy of News Radio WCCO 830 interviewed John Walsh from “The Hunt,” and Jared, the 12 year old boy from Cold Spring who was abducted just nine months prior to Jacob. Tips continue to come in, and, according to Walsh, the key to cracking this case will be for local law enforcement to collaborate with outside agencies to bring fresh eyes to the case.

Again, if anyone has a tip on Jacob’s case, Jared’s case, or the 1986-1989 Paynesville incidents, please call 1-866-THE-HUNT, 1-800-THE-LOST, or the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office (320) 259-3700. Thanks for caring and getting involved!

Click below to listen to today’s WCCO podcast of Esme Murphy’s radio interviews.

NEXT: Jennifer’s story…


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Five questions

Patty Wetterling posted an article on CNN’s web site yesterday. It’s titled, “Five questions for my son’s abductor,” and it is one of the most powerful, heart-wrenching things I have ever read. I’m sharing it here in the hopes it can reach as many people as possible.


Editor’s note: Patty Wetterling is a tireless advocate for families of missing children, including her son Jacob Wetterling, who was abducted in 1989 when he was 11. Jacob’s story will be featured on “The Hunt with John Walsh” Sunday at 9 p.m. ET.

(CNN) — October 22 will mark 25 years since my son Jacob was taken from his family as he rode his bike home with his brother and a friend on a rural Minnesota road.

Jacob was a fun, active, athletic, kind, 11-year-old boy who loved peanut butter and football. He was most known for his sense of fairness.

Not knowing what happened or who abducted Jacob has left so many unanswered questions for Jacob’s father, sisters, brother and me.

If I had the chance to talk face to face with the man who took my son away, here’s what I’d want to know:

Patty Wetterling has spent the past 25 years raising awareness about missing and exploited children.

Patty Wetterling has spent the past 25 years raising awareness about missing and exploited children

Who are you?

I believe that somebody knows. It’s time to quit protecting the bad guy, even if it is a family member. It’s time to speak up for Jacob. Please tell me who took our son.

If YOU are the abductor, it’s time to tell. You can’t feel good about this. Find some peace. Please write back.

The unwavering search for our missing kids

Is Jacob still alive?

Sometimes the phone rings and there is no one there. It’s probably a telemarketer or a wrong number, but my heart cries out, “Jacob, are you there?” I save articles of “kids” who came home after long periods of time: three months, nine months, four years, 7½ years, 10 years, 18½ years.

It CAN happen. I don’t know, so I hope and pray that you got away, Jacob. We need you back. We love you more than the flowers love the sun and the rain. My heart wants to believe you’re OK.

Please give us some answers.

This age-enhanced image shows what Jacob Wetterling might look like today in his mid-30s.

This age-enhanced image shows what Jacob Wetterling might look like today in his mid-30s.

What made you think you could steal a child?

Jacob is so deeply loved and missed by his mom and dad, brother, sisters, cousins, neighbors and friends. I have read a lot about kidnappers and child molesters and I know that you are all people, human beings that need help.

Maybe you feel bad. Maybe you told someone, but I still live with so many questions — like, how could you? And how could anyone still keep the secret? You can free yourself of carrying this. Please explain this to me.

2009: Jaycee Dugard’s story gives hope

Why didn’t you let him go?

What happened? You probably had other boys that you victimized and released. I think you meant to let him go and something went terribly wrong. I need to know what happened. Please talk to me.

What was the last thing that Jacob said to you?

Jacob had a keen sense of fairness and always stood up for people who he thought needed an ally, a friend. He probably would have befriended you too. I need to hear his voice again or to hear the last words he said if he can’t speak to me himself. Please tell me.

More on Jacob’s story from CNN.com…

NEXT: John Walsh and Jared on WCCO Radio

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Eleven cases and counting…

A few announcements before I begin…

First, set your DVRs for Sunday, August 31, 8pm CST for the season finale of “The Hunt with John Walsh” on CNN. We got the official word last Friday, so we’re very excited to get Jacob’s story out in front of a national audience and see what happens.

I’m curious how they’ll put the story together since there’s not one known suspect to actually “hunt” in Jacob’s case, but I’m sure it will be great. John Walsh even got his first official capture last week, so if you missed the dramatic shootout between Charles Mozdir and NYC police, check out the story on CNN:


Second, I misreported some information in my “Tidbits” blog post a few weeks ago, which I have since corrected. I stated that I had recently learned about three additional Paynesville incidents that I hadn’t heard about before. One of the researchers from John Walsh’s show had relayed the information on to me, but the details were off just a bit.

On Tuesday, December 9, 1986, the Paynesville Press reported the following front page story (note, this article ran five months BEFORE the May 26, 1987 article that talks about the five Paynesville attacks):


Assault incidents reported

Two incidents on two separate occasions involving 13-year-old boys have been reported to the Paynesville Police Department.

The first incident was reported in August of this year and the second reported on Nov. 30.
On both occasions, the victims were attacked from behind and were verbally threatened. Neither of the victims were seriously harmed, according to the Paynesville Police. However, the second victim was sexually assaulted.

The Paynesville Police is cautioning parents to advise their children not to be out after dark because of the two incidents.

The Paynesville Police don’t know if the two incidents are related. There are currently no suspects in the investigation.

If anyone has any information concerning these two incidents, they are asked to contact Crime Stoppers, where a person giving information can remain anonymous, or contact the Paynesville Police.


Because this story ran BEFORE the article from May 26, 1987, I assume these two incidents from 1986 were already included in those five that were reported in May 1987.

Using this information, I’ve now compiled a list of ten separate Paynesville incidents, including two we haven’t found yet (August 1986, and Spring 1987). If anyone can help fill in the blanks, please comment below or visit my “Contact” page to send me a private message. In the next few weeks, the Paynesville Police Department will be working with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to look at these incidents more closely, so any help you’re able to provide would be greatly appreciated!

  1. March 9, 1986 – Attempted drive-by abduction of 12 year old boy near G&T Foods
  2. June 1986 – Three kids playing hide-n-seek at middle school playground, Town & Country Days
  3. August 1986 – By the river? At the middle school playground?
  4. November 30, 1986 – Alley between the middle school and hospital
  5. February 14, 1987 – Ben Franklin, downtown, 122 West James Street
  6. Spring 1987 – By the river? At the middle school playground?
  7. May 17, 1987 – By the hockey rink at the Catholic church, two boys riding bikes
  8. Summer 1987 – By the river #2, camping incident, man spying on group of boys
  9. September, 1987 – By the river #3, man in parka with orange lining, Lyndall Avenue
  10. Late 80s or early 90s – Boy chased from middle school to his aunt/uncle’s house

View Paynesville Incidents, 1986-1989 in a larger map

Now, onto incident #11.

I received a message on my blog from a woman who had grown up in Paynesville and was 14 years old when Jacob was abducted. She is fairly certain this incident took place the summer before she started 9th grade, so that would make it the summer of 1989.

She is also the sister of the boy from incident #9 above. He was the one who was chased off his back porch by a man wearing a dark parka with orange lining.

Here’s her story.


One night, I was late for my curfew. I had been uptown at Papa’s Pizza with my friend and heard the 10pm whistle blow, so I knew I had to hurry home.

Normally I would have taken James Street home because it was lit, but since I was late, I decided to take the alley home instead because it was quicker. It went behind the Post Office (Bank of the West), and Haines Electric. When I got to the alley by Haines Electric, I was coming behind the first house on the right. They had a row of lilac bushes that was in the shape of an L, but there was a gap at the “joint” where they kept their garbage cans.

As I was passing that spot, suddenly the garbage cans got knocked over and a man came running out after me. I was so scared that I couldn’t even scream. I remember I could hear the gravel spinning under my tires, and I made some kind of sound. I think that’s when he realized I was a girl. I was kind of a tomboy, had short hair, and was riding a boy’s bike, so I’m pretty sure he thought I was a boy. He ran after me for about 20 feet, then he stopped. I remember looking back and knew it was a man’s stature. He was taller than me and was wearing a long dark coat.

I told my parents immediately when I got home, but I’m not sure they believed me… they maybe thought I was making it up because I was late. So, it never got reported. I’m pretty sure it was a Friday night… probably toward the end of summer. I remember having a light jacket on.


Again, thanks for following along. If you have any information regarding these or similar incidents around the Paynesville area during this time, please contact the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office at (320) 259-3700. You may also contact the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-THE-LOST.

NEXT: Five questions…

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This crazy journey


It’s hard to explain why I keep at this. For the past four years, I’ve been searching for Jacob Wetterling… a boy I’ve never known, from a town I had barely heard of. I researched and blogged about this boy for about three weeks in 2010, then put his case on the back burner for two years while I moved on to happier writing topics.

During that timeframe, I…

Purchased a set of old love letters on ebay

Took a sabbatical

Got to see Oprah

Wrote and published my first book

Put my first pet to sleep

Sold my business

Started calling myself a writer

Wrote a screenplay

Got some perspective

Wrote a poem

Got invited to make a speech

Reunited a pair of long-lost brothers

Returned a phone call

…and here I am… right back at it again. Full circle, baby.

Truthfully, I can’t fully explain what has brought me to this place. It’s been a long and winding journey with no real destination in sight. I’ve met a lot of good people along the way… people like me who care deeply about finding Jacob. We have put in a ton of time, spent a lot of our own money, and defended our sanity more than once to concerned family and friends.

The question is why.

Well, I guess I can’t answer for everyone, but here’s what I believe. In this search for Jacob… I somehow ended up finding myself. Somewhere along this crazy journey, I found my voice, my passion, and my purpose. That’s it, I guess. Pretty simple, really.

Oh, and maybe just one other thing… I really do believe we can find him.

Keep the thoughts, tips, and prayers coming…


NEXT: Eleven cases and counting…

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Sorry… it’s been a while. The truth is, I’ve been mulling a lot over what to write about next. It seems I have a million details swirling around in my head, and it’s hard to focus on any one of them at any particular time. So, with that in mind, I decided to just write them all down in no particular order. I’m shooting straight from the hip here, so bear with me. We’ll see how it turns out.

First, this is just a reminder that John Walsh’s new show, “The Hunt,” premieres this Sunday, July 13, on CNN. It airs at 8pm CST, so make sure you do the math for your own time zone and set your DVRs appropriately. Jacob’s case will not be the first show. We were told it will probably air in September, and maybe even as the season finale. I’m not sure though… I’ll let you know when I hear something more definite.

I’ve spent the past several months focusing on the Paynesville incidents, and I have just a few more details to report.

First, there were two incidents that were reported by the Paynesville Press on December 9, 1986. The dates of those incidents were August 1986 and November 30, 1986. In both cases, the victims were attacked from behind and verbally threatened. The second victim was sexually assaulted.

Another article was published on May 26, 1987, almost six months later. This is the article that mentioned the original five cases, so I assume the two cases from August and November 1986 were included in those five. However, that doesn’t jive with the timing of our other incidents, so there may still be two that we haven’t found yet. In comparing the May 26, 1987 newspaper article with our existing list (below), I believe the two we haven’t found yet would be two additional incidents that took place “by the river,” and “at the middle school playground.” I also believe the June 1986 incident was not included in either newspaper article.

Here’s the list:

  1. March 9, 1986 – Attempted drive-by abduction of 12 year old boy near G&T Foods
  2. June 1986 – Three kids playing hide-n-seek at Middle School playground, Town & Country Days
  3. August 1986 – By the river? At the middle school playground?
  4. November 30, 1986 – Alley between the middle school and hospital
  5. February 14, 1987 – Ben Franklin, downtown, 122 West James Street
  6. Spring 1987 – By the river? At the middle school playground?
  7. May 17, 1987 – By the hockey rink at the Catholic church, two boys riding bikes
  8. Summer 1987 – By the river #2, camping incident, man spying on group of boys
  9. September, 1987 – By the river #3, man in parka with orange lining, Lyndall Avenue
  10. Late 80s or early 90s – Boy chased from Middle School to his aunt/uncle’s house

Finally, here’s a quick update on one of the assaults I had previously blogged about… the one where the boy had a lock of his hair cut off by the attacker. Previous to his attack, that boy had been talking to a friend of his just outside the window of her house. Suddenly, according to the friend, the boy just stopped talking. It turns out the guy had grabbed this boy from behind, right in the middle of his conversation, and dragged him into the alley behind the house. Who does something like that?? Brazen.

Now, moving away from the Paynesville incidents for just a bit, I want to put the focus on St. Joseph again. Here are a few tidbits I’ve picked up from commenters on my blog.

First, there has been some debate over whether the police had their sirens on when they first responded to the call. I received a message from one commenter who said he was working that night at a business right on Minnesota Street, which is the main drag through St. Joseph. He was sweeping the parking lot outside, when he suddenly saw one cop car after another speed past him, headed toward the Tom Thumb. He recalls it vividly… police/troopers speeding through town at 80-100 MPH, lights on, but no sirens.

Second, here’s another tidbit I’ve mentioned once before. At the time of Jacob’s abduction, there was another boy who lived on 91st Avenue, who felt maybe he had been the intended target of the abduction that night instead of Jacob. He was 14 years old at the time, and unlike Jacob who had never been allowed to go to the store before after dark, this boy and his 12 year old friend had spent nearly every night that summer going to the Tom Thumb after dark.

Here’s his story. One night, he and his 12 year old friend were coming home from the Tom Thumb, maybe around midnight. They were on Baker Street and were taking a left onto 91st Avenue, when a car came from behind them and suddenly started coming faster and faster. As they got closer to the 12 year old’s house, they cut through the ditch, across his front yard, and into the open garage as fast as they could. The car followed them into the driveway, then backed straight across the road into the neighbor’s driveway, and flashed its bright lights on the two boys. The car stayed like that for about two minutes before the boys finally ran into the house.

A couple weeks later, the boys got brave and decided to head to the Tom Thumb once again. It was late, and this time, they noticed a car going from mailbox to mailbox… very slowly… like he was getting information from each residence.

The boys remembered the car looking similar to a Pontiac 6000, but they disagreed on the color… one said blue, the other said red. For this reason, they felt like maybe they weren’t believed when they told their story to the police just few days after Jacob was abducted.

This young man also had a few other interesting tidbits to share. First, regarding the party spot back in the woods… he remembers where that was. It was back by Palmerscheim Pond and Klinefelter Park. There was a road back there where people would party. He also mentioned it was possible to get a car through there… it was all woods, but with a little off-roading, you could weasel your way out.

Second, on the night of Jacob’s kidnapping, this young man’s family didn’t know anything had happened… they never heard a thing. No sirens, no helicopters… nothing. He remembers waking up the next morning to the sound of police dogs barking outside his bedroom window. His dad, however, swears up and down that about the time Jacob was kidnapped, the family dog was barking in the woods behind their house, which butted up to the Del-Win Ballroom. There were a lot of trails back there, but no way to get a car out… neither there, nor behind Rassiers’ place.

So, those are my tidbits for now. I’ve been doing a lot of research, making a lot of phone calls, and trying not to get too overwhelmed with all the details. I’ll try to write again soon, but in the meantime, keep the tips, comments, and prayers coming. And thanks again for following along.

NEXT: This crazy journey…

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Another incident and some exciting news

Thanks again to everyone who continues to follow and comment on my Jacob Wetterling story. I have another incident to report that took place in Paynesville sometime during the late 1980s or early 1990s. I’ll share that in a moment, but first I have some other big news.

John Walsh from America’s Most Wanted has a new show called The Hunt coming out on CNN next month. He became interested in the new leads that have been generated in Jacob’s case, and is going to feature the story on his new show! His production crew was in town last week and interviewed Sheriff John Sanner from the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office on Tuesday, Patty and Jerry Wetterling on Wednesday, and Jared and me on Thursday. Here’s a picture of me with the crew — John, Vitaly, and Chris — who came to my house to do the interview last week.


Walsh’s new show will premiere on July 13, 8pm CST. Here’s a snippet from the official press release from CNN’s web site:

The Hunt with John Walsh, a documentary-style, non-fiction program will take advantage of Walsh’s unique statue and perspective in television journalism and will tell stories of ongoing international criminal investigations in which the suspect is a fugitive at large. Through interviews with victims, loved ones and law enforcement and the exploration of new leads, The Hunt will provide the public with salient information to help in the fugitive’s apprehension. (Produced by Zero Point Zero Productions)

If you’re not familiar with John Walsh, I encourage you to Google his name and read his amazing backstory. After his son, Adam, was abducted and murdered in 1981, he went on to become an advocate for victim’s rights and launched America’s Most Wanted in 1988. In the 25 years that AMW was on the air (first on FOX, then on Lifetime), that show managed to track down 1,203 fugitives. That’s an impressive track record.

Watch a video interview with John Walsh…


I’m hopeful that by sharing Jacob’s story once again in front of a national audience, somebody might come forward with a piece of information that could help solve the puzzle. I’ll try and share more information about the show as it becomes available. You can also follow John Walsh on Twitter at @JohnWalshAMW.

Now then… on to another Paynesville incident.

I learned about this story from a 34 year old man who grew up in Paynesville and now lives in Minneapolis. He doesn’t remember exactly what year this incident took place, but he’s pretty sure he was in middle school at the time, so that would put it somewhere between 1990-1992. However, it may also have taken place when he was a little younger, so possibly late 1980s as well.

Here’s his story.

I was waiting for my Dad who picked me up from wrestling every night. He works in St. Cloud, and that night it was taking him longer than usual to get home. Possibly traffic.

I stood out in front of the Paynesville middle school, and sooner than later, I was by myself.

I then saw a long, dark, old green car (possibly brown) with an off white roof. It was driving around the block over and over. It was one of those old cars with a REALLY long hood.

I remember being a little creeped out that it kept circling. I didn’t see it for a while and felt relieved until I saw a figure walking down the sidewalk from the playground area toward me. He got closer and closer, and I could not make a face out because it was dark.

I started to walk away. He got faster. I got faster. Then he got faster again.

I ran to my aunt and uncle’s home who lived about 3-4 houses down from the school and barged into their house. When I peeked out the door, the husky guy briskly walked by and had a black ski mask on.

My dad came shortly after, and we immediately went to the police station.

One interesting note… this young man wrote a paper about his incident when he was in high school. He and his parents have been trying to find it to see if it might include more details or clues, but so far, no luck. (He did mention he got an A on it though!)

Also, here’s one final thing. A lot of people keep asking me who I think did this. The answer is, I don’t know. But since I learned about these Payneville incidents last summer, I’ve been operating under the assumption that one person is responsible for all of these attacks — Jared’s and Jacob’s included. That means the suspect would have to have a tie to all three locations – Paynesville, Cold Spring, and St. Joseph. That narrows the field pretty quickly and leaves us with a short list of strong possibilities. But… who knows. Jared and I continue to talk to people and are grateful for the help we’ve received so far.

Thanks again for following along and for “thinking Jacob” with me.

NEXT: Tidbits…

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Two more incidents

After a much needed break, I’m back in the saddle again. I think by now I have received close to 100 comments, tips, and private messages since our story about the 1986-87 Paynesville incidents first aired on Twin Cities news stations three weeks ago. It was a full time job just trying to field all the comments, pass the information along to the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office, and follow up with people as time allowed.

Again, I’d like to thank everyone for caring and getting involved. I can’t say enough how kind and accommodating the people of Paynesville have been in helping unravel this mystery. Most are amazed they had never heard about it before, but here’s the thing. The grown-ups may not remember these incidents, but if you were a kid living in Paynesville during that time, you can bet they remember it.

The kids called this guy “Chester the Molestor.” They may not have known the exact details of the attacks, nor even the boys involved… but they knew this. There was a guy who was dressed in black, hiding in the bushes, jumping out, and molesting kids after dark. And they were terrified.

Just to back up for a second… the original newspaper article described five attacks in Paynesville during 1986-1987. According to the article, the attacks happened in the following locations:

  • By the river
  • In the hockey rink area
  • Downtown Ben Franklin area
  • Middle school playground
  • Alley between the middle school and the hospital

Here’s the map again, so you can see where these incidents took place.

View Paynesville Incidents, 1986-1987 in a larger map

In my last article about these incidents, “The 1986-87 Paynesville incidents – an update,”, we had found the victims involved in the attacks that took place by the hockey rink, Ben Franklin, and the alley. (We had also found a new one altogether.) However, we were still missing two… the one that took place by the river, and the one that took place at the middle school playground. We believe we have now found the people involved in the attack that took place at the playground, and another group of young men who were involved in an incident that took place by the river.

Here are their stories.

Middle School Playground
This is most likely the first of the reported attacks and took place during mid-June, 1986. It was “Town and Country Days” in Paynesville, and two boys, ages 12 and 13, were hanging out at the middle school playground with another girl their age. The young man I spoke to remembers that his older sister was coming to pick them up at 10pm, so he figures it must have been around 9:30pm when this incident happened.

The three kids were playing “ghost” which is a game like hide-and-seek. They were all three hiding when suddenly one of the boys started to yell for help. He was hiding behind a “triangle piece of playground equipment” that was located by a side door of the school.

The other two kids went running over to help their friend. When they got there, a guy who was dressed in all black took off running. He was wearing a coat, but they couldn’t say exactly what kind. According to the boy who had yelled for help, this man had snuck up from behind, grabbed him, and shoved his hands into the boy’s front pockets.

The kids were really scared and afraid to walk anywhere in the dark, so they decided to just stay together under a street light and wait for the older sister to pick them up.

The mother of one of the boys took them both to the police station to file a police report. The boys met with two officers, but neither felt like they were believed or taken seriously. The general takeaway from the meeting was that the boys shouldn’t have been out after dark, and the guy was probably just trying to steal the kid’s wallet.

Paynesville Middle School playground. The equipment has been updated over the years, but the side door (on left) is still in the same place.

Paynesville Middle School playground. The equipment has been updated over the years, but the side door (on left) is still in the same place.

By the River
We’re not entirely sure on the date of this attack, but the young man who relayed the information to me believes it was the summer of 1987, which would mean it took place after the article was published in May 1987. If that’s the case, this would… again… be another incident altogether.

There were at least 4-5 boys who went camping that day. The group was camping on the northeast side of the railroad bridge next to AMPI (Associated Milk Producers, Inc.) They hung out there a lot… it was across the railroad tracks, and if you forged through the trees, you came out to a clearing where the river curved a bit and made a shallow sandbar.

They all knew about “Chester the Molestor” at this point, and one of the boys had even been involved in one of the previous attacks (he was the one who had been riding his bike with his friend and went for help when the guy came running out of the pine trees by the hockey rink).

(Note, they are the first to admit this wasn’t the smartest decision they had ever made. However, they were young, rebellious, and feeling invincible. They felt they had strength in numbers and were willing to take the risk.)

It was after dark when one of the boys decided to head back up the hill toward AMPI to grab a can of pop from the pop machine. As he went to jump over a log, he lost his balance and grabbed on to a stump to steady himself.

It wasn’t a stump.

It was a guy… dressed in black… who had been spying on the group.

The boy ran all the way back to the camp site to warn the others. They were terrified, but even worse, they were trapped. The camp was surrounded by water on three sides, and there was only one way out… back up the hill. They decided their best defense was to stay together as a group, so that’s what they did. They sat in a circle with their backs to each other, holding their pocket knives… all night long.

The mother of the boy involved in this incident did bring him into the police station to file a report. However, like most of the others, the report no longer exists due to the statute of limitations on the case. If you have any information regarding these or similar incidents around the Paynesville area during this time, please contact the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office at (320) 259-3700. You may also contact the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-THE-LOST.

Railroad bridge, looking  east toward AMPI. The camping spot was to the left, on the northeast side of the bridge.

Railroad bridge, looking east toward AMPI. The camping spot was to the left, on the northeast side of the bridge.

AMPI, located next to the Crow River and along the railroad tracks in downtown Paynesville.

AMPI, located next to the Crow River and along the railroad tracks in downtown Paynesville.

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NEXT: Another incident and some exciting news…

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Holy media blitz!

First of all, to everyone who has commented, emailed, or called in with a tip in response to our news story about the Paynesville incidents in 1986-1987, THANK YOU. By Friday of last week, KARE-11 reported that the Stearns County Sheriff’s Department had received over 30 tips, and I know I have forwarded at least that many myself. The response has been overwhelming, and I would especially like to thank the people of Paynesville for stepping up to the plate and facing this media storm with grace and compassion. It has not been easy.

Before our story aired on WCCO last week, my blog was averaging about 80 views per day. By Tuesday May 13, that number had jumped to over 30,000. (Yes, you read that right, I said THIRTY THOUSAND.) And that’s a day before our story with Esme Murphy on WCCO had even aired.

Fox 9 aired a story about my blog on Monday, May 12; KARE-11 had picked up the story by Tuesday, May 13; our story with WCCO aired in a two part series on Wednesday, May 14 and Thursday, May 15; and on Friday, May 16, Jared and I took part in a live radio broadcast with Esme Murphy on the Chad Hartman Show on News Radio 830 WCCO.

Since then, Esme Murphy has been following this story and has been researching new leads. You can follow her ongoing newscasts here: http://minnesota.cbslocal.com/personality/esme-murphy/

I am hopeful that these new tips will provide a breakthrough in these cases. As I stated in my radio interview, it’s not OK that this happened. These cases may be 25-27 years old, but that doesn’t make it OK. It was never OK, and it’s obvious by the incredible response to this story that others feel the same way. People are stepping up, taking a stand, and demanding answers. It’s that simple. These victims deserve answers, and they also deserve our support and respect. They are the real heroes here; they are the brave ones.

One question I’ve been asked repeatedly over the past two weeks is, “How did you ever get started writing about Jacob Wetterling?”

Well… there’s a long answer and a short answer to that question. I’ll try to explain the long answer below, but here’s the short answer:

I didn’t find this story; it found me.

In 2010, I started this blog because I was looking for a creative outlet that would keep me writing on a regular basis. I had recently uncovered a mystery involving an old, ramshackle beach cottage named Villa am Meer that I started researching and writing about. I loved how the story unfolded online, with people commenting and sending feedback as I wrote.

When that story started to come to a close, I began looking for another mystery to write about. It was the summer of 2010, and though I didn’t know it at the time, I was teetering dangerously close to what would soon become a full-blown mid-life crisis (or mid-life recovery, as I like to refer to it). I suspect everyone goes through this when they reach their 40s… it has something to do with reevaluating your life and wondering if you’re in the right place, doing the right things with the gifts you’ve been given.

I Googled “Minnesota mysteries” (or something like that) and found a lot of ghost stories that sounded intriguing but terrifying. I decided that was not my thing. I started researching a murder that had taken place in my county back in the 1970s, but that turned out to not be my thing either. I decided I wanted to write about something hopeful… something that might have a happy ending. And that’s what brought me to Jacob.

I had just begun researching the Wetterling case, when suddenly, out of nowhere, a news story came on TV about a possible break in the case. They were searching a neighbor’s farm, just up the road from the Wetterlings’ residence. I watched in disbelief… I couldn’t believe the uncanny coincidence.

I decided it was a sign.

On October 23, 2010, the day after the 21st anniversary of Jacob’s abduction, I needed to go to St. Cloud to buy a birthday present and decided to take the back road through Cold Spring and up through St. Joseph. It got real for me that day as I drove past the spot where Jacob was taken. It was real, and emotional, and impactful. I suddenly had a passion to find answers.

From there, it has been one crazy coincidence after another that has kept me on this journey. Believe me, I have tried to walk away. It has been scary, emotional, and frustrating. There are times I’ve have had to stand up for my integrity and my intentions, and I’ve gained a new respect for people whose careers require them to deal with tragedy and heartbreak on a daily basis. Somehow they have learned to set emotion aside and get on with their work, but I admit, that has not been an easy lesson for this mom of two boys.

Trust me when I say that good things have come from this recent media blitz. Good tips have come in, people have come forward, and we have discovered at least two more incidents that took place in Paynesville, and possibly others in surrounding areas. I will share what I can in the coming days and weeks, but for right now, this mom needs a break.

Happy Memorial Day.

#rememberingjacob #thinkingjacob

NEXT: Two more incidents…

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Live radio interview with Esme Murphy on WCCO

Yesterday, Esme Murphy interviewed Jared and me on the Chad Hartman Show on News Radio 830 WCCO. We spoke to her during the entire first hour of the show, then Patty Wetterling called in and shared more information during the second hour of the show.

Esme Murphy, WCCO

Esme Murphy, WCCO

I’d personally like to thank Esme Murphy for her heart and dedication in covering this story. She originally wanted to air it last October when she first learned about the Paynesville cases on my blog, but we didn’t feel we were ready yet. Jared felt strongly that victims needed to be contacted personally in order to respect their privacy and their boundaries. We were afraid that any intervention by big media would only make things worse instead of better.

So, we put her off for seven months while we researched these cases and talked to Paynesville residents. It wasn’t until another Minneapolis news station started looking at the case that we finally agreed to talk to Esme Murphy.

She has been respectful and kind, and has taken the time to research the details in order to get the facts straight. I’m especially appreciative to her for working with us every step of the way to cover the story the way we wanted it covered. Thanks Esme.

To download the MP3 files and listen to the full podcasts, click the following links:



NEXT: Holy media blitz!

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Part 2 – WCCO-TV covers Jared’s story

Esme Murphy, WCCO

Esme Murphy, WCCO

Nearly 25 years later, everyone remembers Wetterling’s name. But many have likely never heard of Jared. Just nine months before Wetterling disappeared, a stranger kidnapped that 12-year-old boy in nearby Cold Spring.

Six weeks after Jacob Wetterling was kidnapped, FBI Special Agent Jeff Jamar announced they had knowledge of the other victim.

Jared, speaking publicly for the first time in years, told WCCO-TV’s Esme Murphy, “This guy stepped out of a vehicle, said ‘I have a gun I am not afraid to use it. Get into the vehicle.’”
The man who had a police scanner in his car drove Jared to this remote site, sexually assaulted him, then let him go.

“I was told to run don’t look back or he would shoot,” Jared said.
His description of the kidnapper’s threat is almost identical to the one described by Jacob Wetterling’s friend, Aaron.
“He grabbed Jacob and told me to run as fast as he could or he would shoot,” Trevor Wetterling said.

For Jared, the weeks after the Wetterling abduction were filled with grueling interviews with law enforcement.

“They brought me to a point where I broke down, just mentally broke down. They wanted the answer and I didn’t have the answer,” Jared said. “My parents made that decision we should move.”
Jared left Cold Spring, and for 25 years anniversaries passed with no answers and no arrests.
“I learned how to focus on other things,” Jared said.

That all changed last August when Jared was contacted by Joy Baker, the author of a detailed blog on the Wetterling case. Baker had uncovered newspaper articles about a series of sexual assaults in Paynesville in 1986 and 1987, two years before Jacob Wetterling and Jared’s kidnappings. Paynesville is just a few miles from where both boys were abducted.

The police reports and newspaper articles cited by Baker reveal striking parallels between the cases. The boys were all attacked as they headed home on bikes, they were sexually assaulted, the attacker wore a mask, had a low voice and threatened victims with a knife or gun.

Jared believes the same person who took him not only took Jacob Wetterling but is also behind the Paynesville attacks.

“When I first saw them, there was a big sigh that I am not the only one who had made eye contact with this person,” Jared said.

For the past nine months, Jared has worked with Baker to try encourage witnesses to come forward.
“I think it’s time for people to share their stories,” Baker said.

At the same time, Jared worries about the Paynesville victims.

“I apologize to the victims and people that we have already talked to, that we are going to talk to about bringing up 27-year-old repressed memories,” he said.

Over the years Jared and Jacob Wetterling’s mother have become friends.

“I am so grateful to Jared and Joy digging,” Patty Wetterling said.

She too is hoping someone will come forward for the Paynesville victims, for Jared and for her son.
“I do think there is a strong possibility they could be connected,” she said. “Every one of these victims needs answers. Are they tied to Jacob? Let’s find out.”


The Stearns County Sheriff’s Office is now actively investigating all of the Paynesville cases to see if they are connected to Jacob Wetterling’s disappearance.

If you have any information about the Paynesville attacks or the Wetterling case, please call the Stearns County Sheriff at (320) 251-4240. You can also call the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-THE-LOST.

NEXT: Live radio interview with Esme Murphy on WCCO…

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WCCO-TV features 1986-1987 Paynesville cases

Esme Murphy, WCCO

Esme Murphy, WCCO

New Developments Revealed In Jacob Wetterling Abduction Case
May 14, 2014 10:00 PM

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — There is a new development tonight in one of Minnesota’s most infamous unsolved crimes: the abduction of Jacob Wetterling.

A masked stranger grabbed the 11-year-old as he biked home from a store in St. Joseph nearly 25 years ago. Now, WCCO-TV has learned that a cluster of at least six unsolved sexual assaults on boys were never looked at as a possible lead in Wetterling’s case.

Those attacks happened two years prior to Wetterling’s kidnapping, just 30 miles away in Paynesville. They are now being investigated by the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office.

This new development in Minnesota’s most notorious kidnapping case begins in the most unlikely of places.

For four years, Joy Baker, a blogger from New London, has written a detailed blog about the Wetterling case. Last summer, her research uncovered articles in the Paynesville Press in 1986 and 1987. They detailed six unsolved sexual assaults on boys just two years before Wetterling’s abduction.

“The police chief is asking for the public’s help in finding this guy who has been assaulting 12-16 year old boys,” Baker said of one article. “What went through my mind is that they have to be connected. How many psychopathic pedophiles can exist in a 20-mile radius?”

WCCO-TV asked Patty Wetterling if she had ever heard of the Paynesville cases and showed her two of the original police reports from the Paynesville attacks.

“We did not know about these cases until Joy Baker put it on her blog, and it was like, ‘Wow,’” Patty Wetterling said.

Those reports, as well as the newspaper accounts, list a series of striking parallels with Jacob Wetterling’s kidnapping. He was abducted at 9 p.m. as he rode his bike home from a convenience store with his brother and friend. The Paynesville attacks also all happened at night as the victims were heading home.

In two cases boys were attacked while riding bikes. They were sexually assaulted. The attacker sometimes wore a mask, which in one case was described as made from candy-striped, indoor-outdoor carpeting. He had a low, gruff voice and he threatened the boys with a knife or a gun, saying he would blow their heads off.

“Some of these were taken from a group of boys. That is really rare,” Patty Wetterling said. “The threat of a gun, the age of the victims, they were close to Jacob’s age. I do think there is a strong possibility they are connected to Jacob’s case.”

While two of the Paynesville victims were questioned by law enforcement after Jacob Wetterling disappeared, one Paynesville victim, who is now 40 and did not want to be named, told WCCO-TV he and other victims he knows were not, and that to this day they feel their cases both individually and as a group were overlooked.

Patty Wetterling said it’s frustrating to learn so many years later about the Paynesville cases, but she is also understanding.

“It was a different world back then. We didn’t have the Internet, we worked hard so that each law enforcement agency had a fax machine,” she said.

Current Stearns County Sheriff John Sanner agreed the lack of Internet and the fact that small town law enforcement agencies often acted independently may have kept the Paynesville cases from becoming a significant part of the Jacob Wetterling investigation.

“We can’t look back. We are actively investigating these cases now. We want anyone with any information to come forward no matter how small. You could hold the key,” Sanner said.

Sanner stressed there is another unsolved case that investigators have always linked to the abduction. Just months before Jacob Wetterling disappeared, a stranger kidnapped a 12-year-old boy named Jared in nearby Cold Spring. Jared told WCCO-TV the threat his kidnapper left him with: “I was told to run, don’t look back or he would shoot.”
Jared is speaking out for the first time in years. On Thursday, hear why he’s convinced the same man is behind all of these unsolved crimes against boys.

If you have any information about any of these cases, please call the Stearns County Sheriff at (320) 251-4240. You can also call the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-THE-LOST.

NEXT: Part 2 – WCCO-TV covers Jared’s story…

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The 1986-87 Paynesville incidents – an update

New here? Start from the beginning

Last summer, I met and interviewed Jared for the first time. He was the 12 year old boy from Cold Spring, Minnesota who was abducted and assaulted in a town just 12 miles away and only nine months prior to Jacob Wetterling’s abduction from St. Joseph.

Not long after I met Jared, I discovered an article in a 1987 edition of the Paynesville Press that talked about five recent attacks on young teenage boys. In that article, local police were asking for the public’s help in identifying a man who had been accosting boys between the ages of 12-16. The first incident took place in the summer of 1986, followed by two more in the winter of 1987, and then two more in the spring of 1987.

The five incidents that were mentioned in the article sounded eerily similar to both Jacob’s and Jared’s attacks. In the article, Sergeant Bill Drager (now deceased) stated, “After this guy grabs the boys he tells them, ‘Don’t turn around or I’ll blow your head off.'”

Here’s a map I created so I could get a better sense of where all these attacks took place:

View Paynesville Incidents, 1986-1989 in a larger map

Since learning about these cases, Jared and I have been working very hard to find answers. In January, Jared wrote a Letter to the Editor of the Paynesville Press, asking for the public’s help in finding the victims of these attacks, or anyone with details that might link his case to these. After many months of gathering research, talking to residents, and tracking down victims, we finally have an update to report.

The stories are startling.

Victim #1 was attacked at about 12:45am on February 14, 1987… Valentine’s Day. He lived in an apartment above one of the downtown buildings, and had just returned home from dropping off a friend. When he opened the door to the building, a man was standing on the stairway that led to the upstairs. He was wearing a dark blue down-filled coat, and a “candy-striped face mask” that looked like it had been made out of short shag carpet. The suspect grabbed the boy by the neck and threw him to the floor. When he started to scream for help, the suspect told him to be quiet or he would kill him. After the attack, the man asked what grade he was in, then stole his wallet and took off running. He was about 5’10” to 5’11”, kind of heavyset, and spoke in a deep whisper. The boy guessed his age to be mid-30s and felt he had been waiting for him to come home.

Victim #2 was riding his bike home after dark on a weekend night and was attacked in the alley between the middle school and the hospital. The suspect had been hiding in some pine trees. After the attack, the suspect pulled out a knife and cut off a lock of the boy’s hair. The man then told him to run away and not look back or he would blow his head off.

Victim #3 was attacked while he and his friend were riding their bikes just after midnight near the hockey rink at the Catholic church. The boy thought he heard someone running into the street when suddenly, someone grabbed him by the throat and pulled him off his bike. The boy screamed while his friend went for help. This time the man was wearing dark blue or black clothing and his face was blacked-out. The boy continued to yell, and finally the man let him go and ran away. (NOTE, there are two very important details about this attack. First, this victim is the same person as Victim #1. It turns out he was attacked twice. Second, the victim felt he was not the intended target for this second attack because he lived six blocks away, but his friend lived in an apartment just kiddie-corner from the Catholic church. The friend is 100% certain the guy got the wrong kid, and that’s why he was let go.)

Victim #4 was also attacked while he was returning home after dark. He was 14 years old and had been hanging out downtown with his 16 year old brother. It was September 1987 and their parents were away for the weekend, so their older brother (age 19-20) was staying with them to watch over the house. The family lived off River Street on Lyndall Avenue, just blocks from downtown. The younger brother was on his bike, and as he neared the alley that led down the hill to his house, he thought he saw someone dart across the dark alley. By this time, all the kids knew about “the molestor,” so he got scared and started biking slower, waiting for his brother to catch up. When he saw him coming, he continued on his way, left his bike in the yard, and started up the porch steps. Just then, he heard someone bump into the aluminum lawnchairs on the porch. Terrified, he took off running back up the alley, being chased by the suspect. When the boy reached his older brother up on the street, the suspect suddenly stopped when he saw there were two of them. Luckily, he was directly under a streetlight where the boys could get a good look at him. While they were unable to identify his face because it was blacked out, they have a vivid memory of what he was wearing. He had on an old 70s-era parka – the kind with a fuzzy hood and bright orange lining. It was unzipped, so they’re clear about the color of the lining. I’ve included a sample photo below. (NOTE, what’s important about this attack is that it occurred AFTER the original five incidents that were mentioned in the newspaper article. So, four months after police had already warned the public about this guy and asked for their help in finding him, he was STILL attacking kids in the same town using the same M.O.)

So, of the five cases mentioned in the article, we have now found the victims of three of them, plus a new one altogether. We are still missing information about the attack that took place at the middle school playground, and the one that was “down by the river.”

What’s most disturbing about these cases is that they were not random. In every case we found, the victim was either attacked at or near his own home. The suspect knew who the boys were, where they lived, and when they would be on their way home. Also, it’s interesting to note that the attacks all happened after dark on a weekend night, after the boys had been hanging out downtown. Papa’s Pizza was a popular hangout because of the arcade games.

Prior to these cases, there was also another incident that took place in 1986 by G&T Foods in downtown Paynesville. Here’s the text from the article that ran in the April 1, 1986 edition of the Paynesville Press:

On March 9, 1986, the police department received a report of a possible attempted child abduction. While walking near G&T Foods, a 12-year-old boy was asked if he wanted a ride, then asked if he wanted to go to “toyland”. The boy said “no” to both questions and continued walking. The suspect’s car was described as and old blue four-door, square in size.

We’re hoping that by sharing these stories, someone might come forward with a piece of information that could help solve these cases, and possibly Jared’s and Jacob’s as well. We are especially thankful to the young men who were willing to share their stories with us for this article.

Anyone with information is encouraged to leave a comment below, or call the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office at 320-251-4240.

NEXT: WCCO-TV features 1986-1987 Paynesville cases…

Former Ben Franklin store, downtown Paynesville

Former Ben Franklin store, downtown Paynesville

Alley between the hospital and the middle school

Alley between the hospital and the middle school

"By the hockey rink" - south side of the Catholic church, looking east

“By the hockey rink” – south side of the Catholic church, looking east

Former G&T Foods building, downtown Paynesville

Former G&T Foods building, downtown Paynesville

Crow River

Vintage 70s-era parka with orange lining

Vintage 70s-era parka with orange lining

NEXT: WCCO-TV features 1986-1987 Paynesville cases…

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“Embracing the Past”

New here? Start from the beginning…

Thanks to all of you who have been following my Jacob Wetterling story. It’s been almost a year since I started this blog topic (the second time around), after I was contacted by Dan Rassier last January. Since that time, I have learned a lot about this case, thanks in part to witnesses like Dan, Kevin, and Jared who have been willing to share their stories with me.

From the beginning, my goal has been to stick to the facts and eliminate wrong or misleading information. So far, this has worked out well. I truly believe this case is solvable, but only if people are willing to come together and share their stories.

Times have changed a lot since 1989. Information moves faster than ever before, and we must take advantage of this because, unfortunately, time is not on our side.

Next fall will mark the 25th anniversary of Jacob Wetterling’s abduction. However, one week from today, on January 13, 2014, we will also observe another important milestone in this case… the 25th anniversary of Jared’s abduction. He was “the other boy” – the 12 year kid from Cold Spring who was abducted and assaulted 9 months prior to Jacob.

I’ve gotten to know Jared over the past several months, and as we’ve collaborated on his case, I’ve noticed him evolve from a casual contributor to an impassioned man on a mission. In fact, it was his persistence that led me to discover an article from a 1987 issue of the Paynesville Press that mentioned five other cases of assaults on young boys that sounded surprisingly similar to his own. (If you missed that blog post, read it here.)

Since that time, Jared has been working closely with the Stearns County Sheriff’s Department to learn more about these cases from 1986-1987. Unfortunately, eyewitness accounts have been lost or destroyed over time, so Jared is now reaching out to the public for help.

Just this week, Jared submitted an article to the Paynesville Press that will run in tomorrow’s paper. I’m including a copy of the article below, as well as a Google map which shows the approximate locations of each of the 1986-1987 incidents. (I compiled this information from archived newspaper articles and input from longtime Paynesville residents.)

We are hoping this information will shed new light on these cases and bring renewed hope to the victims. Anyone with information is encouraged to call the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office 320-251-4240 (answered 24/7), or email sheriff@co.stearns.mn.us (reviewed daily).

View Paynesville Incidents, 1986-1989 in a larger map

Embracing the Past

On Friday, January 13, 1989 I was the victim of an assault. I was 12 years old and lived in Cold Spring at the time. An unknown man approached me in a car, asked for directions, and abducted me. Twenty-five years have passed and I’ve dealt with many emotions through the years… a time of being scared, a time of anger, a time of solitude and loneliness, a time of resolution… but still waiting for closure.

I’ve learned to deal with my past. I moved on, but never forgot.

Recently I discovered that Paynesville had some similar incidents take place back in 1986-1987. There were at least five attacks on 12-16 year old boys with details similar to mine. I’ve been investigating these attacks and am trying to learn more details from victims or anyone else who lived in the community at the time. Paynesville is a small town. People know people. I hope something may come from this.

The similarities between the cases are as follows:

  • Suspect is authoritative in manner
  • He threatened the use of a knife or gun
  • In most cases he wore a mask
  • Boys were all similar ages
  • Suspect took keepsakes from victims
  • Most of these assaults happened in or around downtown

Around the same time these attacks happened, there was a sexual predator from around the area who was arrested and convicted in 1990. He is still locked up. He had a history of using drugs or alcohol to subdue his victims. Over the years, I did line-ups with this man and was questioned extensively to see if I would recognize him. He was never charged in my case and, to this day, he denies any involvement.

So who did this? I’m at the point in my life where I’m wondering if I’ve done everything I can to help solve this investigation. I would like to find and talk to these other victims. Maybe it seems like it’s easier to forget and move on, but we need to understand we’re a part of something bigger.

Because of the similarities of our two cases, I’ve been involved with the Jacob Wetterling investigation for 24 years. Now I need your help. The only way these cases are going to get solved is by people coming together and sharing their stories. The Stearns County Sheriff’s Office needs new statements from victims. Anyone who knows any information about the incidents in 1986-1987, or any other attempted attacks, is encouraged to come forward.

Twenty-five years ago, this man left me with these words, “It’s OK to talk about this, but if they come close to finding me, I’ll find you after school and kill you… before they find me. Now run, and don’t look back or I’ll shoot.”

I have lived with the stress of this event all my life, and in ways, it defines who I am. I suspect other victims live with the same stress, and I would like to speak with them. People with information can call the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office at 320-251-4240. If you are a victim, they will refer you to me.

NEXT: The 1986-87 Paynesville incidents – an update

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A possible break?

New here? Start from the beginning

It’s that day again… October 22. A few years ago, this day would have come and gone without much thought on my part. Another day, another dollar, another deadline. However, since I started blogging about a certain story three years ago, October 22 now holds a special place in my heart.

That’s because today — October 22, 2013 — marks the 24th anniversary of Jacob Wetterling’s abduction.

Twenty four years? How can that possibly be? It’s hard to believe, but Jacob would be 35 years old today. That smiley kid in the yellow sweater would be 35 years old. But, instead of running his kids to football practice or lamenting over the debut of our new Vikings quarterback, Jacob remains a memory… forever 11 years old… never aging… and never found.

When I first started writing about Jacob three years ago, I was hopeful I could somehow make a difference. I really believed if I could talk to the right people, get the facts straight, and keep the conversation going, that maybe someone somewhere might hold the key that could unlock this 24 year old mystery.

No go. After a lot of effort, the fact remains the same. Jacob remains missing. The case remains unsolved.

But today… maybe just maybe… the key is closer than we think.

Not long after I wrote my last blog post, “Jared’s story,” I was researching a different story when I ran across an old 1987 newspaper article from the Paynesville Press. (Paynesville is a small town about 30 miles from St. Joseph.)

It ran on the front page. Here’s the article:


Local police seek help in accosting incidents

The Paynesville Police Department is seeking public support in apprehending a man that has been accosting young men in the Paynesville community. So far there have been five different incidents reported.

Sergeant Bill Drager, Paynesville Police Department, said, “We need help, all the help we can get.”

According to Sgt. Drager, the incidents began last summer, there were two more incidents during the winter, one incident occured this spring and another last week.

The police are taking these incidents very seriously.

Sgt. Drager stated, “After this guy grabs the boys he tells them, ‘Don’t turn around or I’ll blow your head off’ and in at least one instance he used a knife.” The man then makes sexual advances to the boys.

The young men that have been assaulted range in age from 12-16 years of age. “The kids are scared,” Sgt. Drager said.

There doesn’t appear to be any pattern to the area that the attacks take place. One incident happened by the river, another in the hockey rink area, downtown Ben Franklin area, middle school playground, and the alley between the middle school and the hospital.

The last incident happened when two young men were riding their bikes home. One young man was grabbed off of his bike and the other young man went for help.

In every instance, the young men had been downtown before they were accosted. “It think he’s picking them out downtown and then following them home or lying in wait for them to go home,” Sgt. Drager said.

Every instance occurred on a weekend night after dark — between 9:30pm and 2:00am.

The suspect wore a mask on several occasions. Sgt. Drager said one young man described the mask as looking like it was made out of indoor-outdoor candy-striped carpeting.

The man is supposedly 5’11” tall, not fat, but chunky. In the last incident, he had blackened everything — so that you couldn’t make out anything on his face. He can run fast, according to witnesses.

The police are encouraging people to call in if they see anything strange or suspicious. “If someone is lurking around or walking on your property — call us,” Sgt. Drager said. “We want calls — that’s preventative more than anything,” he added.

Sgt. Drager also said, “I don’t know if the public’s going to go for it or not, but we may have to go to a curfew.”

There really are not rules to follow if you are accosted. Sgt. Drager suggested, “Holler and run away if you can — it worked the last time.”

Sgt. Drager is also considering talking to the school administrators so that teachers can help make students aware of what is happening.”


These five assault cases took place between 1986 and 1987… the last one occurring just a year and a half before Jared was assaulted. If you read Jared’s story, you’re probably in full agreement that the M.O. is eerily similar… hockey rink… kids downtown… threat of a gun… authoritative manner… stocky build…

I read the article to Jared over the phone, and he couldn’t believe it. He wanted to know more. So, I emailed the Stearns County Sheriff Department and told them Jared wanted to meet with them so he could learn more about his own case.

Since then, a lot has happened. The Stearns County Sheriff’s Department is now actively investigating these cases. If you have any information, please contact the Stearns County Sheriff’s Department at 320-251-4240 (answered 24/7), or email sheriff@co.stearns.mn.us (reviewed daily).

As for the rest of us, here’s another way we can help. Today, in honor of Jacob Wetterling and all the other missing children, leave your front porch light lit throughout the day and “let your light shine:”



The Jacob Wetterling Resource Center is asking individuals to commit to leaving a porch light lit on Tuesday, Oct. 22 to create hope and light in the world in honor of Jacob Wetterling, who was abducted on Oct. 22, 1989, in St. Joseph. The case remains open and unsolved. Jacob’s story has left an indelible mark on the hearts of thousands, if not millions, of people throughout Minnesota, the United States and the world.

JWRC has always asked families to leave a porch light on to honor Jacob on Oct. 22. In addition to turning on an outside light, JWRC encourages individuals to let their own lights shine. Help a neighbor, talk to your child about safety, support a local child-serving organization, the ideas are endless. There is no greater way to honor Jacob than to create a more hope-filled world.

It’s very rare an abductor comes forward to confess to a crime like this one. but in most cases, the abductor tells someone what they did. If you are able to shine a light into this case by coming forward to law enforcement with information that will lead to answers, JWRC encourages you to take that step. Leads on Jacob’s case can be called into the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 800-THE-LOST.

The JWRC, originally called the Jacob Wetterling Foundation, was founded in 1990 by Patty and Jerry Wetterling following their son’s abduction near St. Joseph. (www.jwrc.org). JWRC has a proven history of educating families and communities to prevent sexual exploitation and abductions of children and also provides victim assistance to families of the missing.

Jacob’s legacy continues to be honored through JWRC, a program of the Gundersen National Child Protection Training Center. Their mission is to end all forms of child abuse, neglect and exploitation through training, education, advocacy, prevention and awareness, providing care and treatment for children, families and adults.

NEXT: The 1986-87 Paynesville incidents – an update…

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Jared’s story

New here? Start from the beginning…

    He was a twelve year old kid living in the small town of Cold Spring, Minnesota, when he was abducted and assaulted by a stranger one cold winter night in January 1989. The assault took place just ten months before Jacob Wetterling was abducted, in a town less than 10 miles away. And like Jacob, Jared’s abductor was never found.

    I had a chance to meet Jared a few weeks ago, and we’ve talked several times since. He agreed to talk to me in the hopes that, even after 24 years, one small overlooked detail might be all it takes to jog someone’s memory and unlock this 24 year old mystery… and possibly Jacob’s as well.

    Here is his story.

    On January 13, 1989 (Friday the 13th), Jared was ice skating with a group of friends at an outdoor ice rink at Pioneer Park in Cold Spring. There were about ten of them in all – a mixture of guys and girls – and Jared was on his first date with his 7th grade girlfriend. After skating, the kids decided to go to the Side Cafe downtown for some hot chocolate and a bite to eat. Sometime between 9:30-9:45pm, they started heading for home. One of the other parents offered Jared a ride, but he declined. “That’s OK,” he told them. “I can walk.” It was only a quarter mile or so. No biggie.

    As he was walking home along the sidewalk, a man in a car approached him going the opposite direction. The man stopped, rolled down his window, and asked Jared if he knew where the Kraemers lived. (They were a well-known family in Cold Spring at the time – business owners – who lived just a few houses away from Jared.) As he was approaching the car giving directions, the man stepped out of the vehicle, seemingly interested in what Jared was telling him. “Yeah, just go down this block,” Jared said, pointing, with his back to the man. Suddenly, the man grabbed Jared’s shoulders from behind, told him he had a gun “and wasn’t afraid to use it.” Next, the man told Jared to pull his stocking hat over his eyes, and forced him into the back seat. He was very authoritative and spoke in a deep, gravely voice.

    “This can’t really be happening,” Jared remembers thinking to himself. “This must be a joke.”

    The guy drove him around for a while, heading west on the back roads toward Richmond. He finally stopped at a secluded spot about four miles away. When it was over, Jared’s abductor suddenly got angry and said he was late for an appointment at the Red Carpet. (Though Jared was too young to know it at the time, the Red Carpet was – and still is – a popular bar/nightclub in St. Cloud, about 20 miles away.)

    Jared remained in the back seat while they headed back toward Cold Spring. Then, Jared did something he thinks may have saved his life. Quietly, under his breath, he began to recite the Lord’s Prayer.

    The man asked Jared if he knew who he was. Jared said he did not. “It’s OK to talk about this,” the man said. “But if they ever come close to finding out who I am, I’ll find you after school, and I’ll kill you.”

    He stopped the car just outside of Cold Spring, at the top of Bell’s Hill, about two miles from Jared’s house. The man grabbed Jared out of the back seat, and told him to run. “Don’t look back or I’ll shoot,” he told him.

    Jared ran. All the way home. The only time he stopped was to hide whenever a car went by.

    When he finally arrived home, it was 11:30pm… about an hour and a half from the time he had been abducted.

    Here are some other details Jared remembers:

    • The guy was stocky, about 5′ 8″ with husky shoulders, and weighed between 180-190 pounds.
    • He had a low-pitched, raspy voice.
    • He had big ears that stuck out in the back.
    • Early news reports stated that the man was wearing “military fatigues and black military boots,” but Jared discounts this description. “He didn’t look like he just came back from Fort Ripley or anything,” he said. The man’s pants were baggy… like cargo pants, possibly military-issued… but not “camouflaged.”
    • He had a portable police scanner that resembled a big walkie talkie. It sat on the console between the front seats. At one point, one of the responding officers unclipped his police radio from his belt and showed it to Jared. “Like this?” he asked. “Yeah, like that,” Jared replied.
    • The car was a mid-to-late 80s, dark-colored, 4-door sedan, with automatic transmission.
    • At one point, the man told Jared not to bother trying to get out because the back seat had child safety locks.

    As part of the investigation, Jared was asked to reenact the drive from Cold Spring to Richmond to determine the location of his assault. Detectives from Stearns County drove him around at night while he sat in the back seat and told them which direction to turn. He believes he was finally able to determine the location when he recognized a distinctive farm light in the distance.

    Then, on October 22, 1989, Jacob Wetterling was abducted in St. Joseph, Minnesota, a town just ten miles away from Cold Spring. Suddenly, the search for Jared’s attacker intensified exponentially:

    • The FBI became involved and took over the interviews.
    • Jared was taken to several different auto dealers and asked to sit in the back seats of many cars, trying to find one that seemed familiar.
    • Every time a new pedophile was arrested, Jared was asked to come in and view another mugshot.
    • He participated in at least nine lineups.
    • He took a lie detector test and submitted DNA.

    All along, Jared and his family were cooperative with the investigation. However, after one particularly grueling interview, Jared’s parents said, “No more.” Detectives had interrogated him like a criminal in order to determine if he was lying. It was too much for any 13 year old boy to have to bear. Yet, he kept on, determined to do whatever he could to help find Jacob.

    Then, there was “the sketch.” It’s the one we’ve all been staring at for almost 25 years.


    In my last post, you may recall there were two different composite sketches generated with Jared’s help. The first was done by a local sketch artist in the weeks just after his assault. However Jared admits it’s the second sketch he feels is the most accurate. That drawing was done by a professional FBI sketch artist who was flown in from Washington, D.C. to help with the investigation. Jared worked with the artist for approximately 10 hours, answering questions and agonizing over every detail to make sure the sketch best resembled the man who assaulted him.

    So, why are we sharing this story? Because we need your help. Someone knows this man. He is someone’s son, brother, uncle, father, cousin, co-worker, neighbor, or roommate. He is a criminal, a child molestor, and most likely a repeat offender.

    Here are some more characteristics to ponder:

    • If Jared’s attacker was in his late 40s or early 50s in 1989, he’d be about 65-70 years old now.
    • He seemed to know his way around Cold Spring and Richmond pretty well, taking the back roads, rather than the main highway.
    • He drove a newer 4-door sedan, similar to a Chevy Celebrity or Buick Century with child safety locks in the back seat.
    • He was controlling and authoritative, with a deep raspy voice.

    If you have any insight to share, leave a comment below. Or if you’d rather speak directly to law enforcement, please contact the Stearns County Sheriff’s Department at 320-251-4240 (answered 24/7), or email sheriff@co.stearns.mn.us (reviewed daily).

    NEXT: A possible break?

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A few answers

New here? Start from the beginning…

In my blog post dated June 8, “The suspicious cars,” I included an article from the St. Paul Pioneer Press dated November 25, 1989. In the article, police were asking for the public’s help in identifying three suspicious cars that were seen near the Tom Thumb in the days and weeks prior to Jacob’s abduction. The article included two composite sketches, but it was unclear which sketch went with which car. I felt this was important, because after the article ran, an art student came forward to say he was the one driving the smaller, red car and had been in the area looking for things to sketch. He was quickly ruled out as a suspect.

So, which of the two composite sketches was the art student?

IMAG0056_revI was alerted to a similar article that ran in the St. Cloud Times that gives us the answers. It ran one day earlier than the Pioneer Press article, on Friday, November 24.

Here’s a transcript of the article:


FBI seeks tips on 3 drivers

Cars were seen near Jacob’s home

By Kirsten Haukebo
Times Staff Writer

Authorities are seeking information on three cars seen in Jacob Wetterling’s neighborhood before the 11-year-old was abducted at gunpoint Oct. 22.

Sketches of drivers of two of the cars also were released.

FBI spokesman Byron Gigler said the drivers were not prime suspects.

“After intensive investigation in that neighborhood, these vehicles are ones that were pointed out as not fitting in. We’re very anxious to identify the drivers of the vehicles,” he said.

Jacob was biking near his home with his brother and a friend the night of the abduction. The boys were passed by several cars on the dead-end road that evening. Only one of the drivers has been located by authorities.

One of the vehicles sought by investigators is an older maroon car with rectangular or square taillights, described as looking like a 1976 Pontiac Catalina. the rear-end of the car was jacked up. It was seen on 90th Avenue about six weeks before the kidnapping, two weeks before and one week before.

It was seen parked twice at night on the avenue and both times the car left after a resident approached. The driver was seen once in the daytime and had a dark, full beard and was wearing a cap.

A sketch of that driver (No. 1) was based on numerous interviews with witnesses, Gigler said.

A second car was seen in the week before the abduction near 95th Avenue and Seventh Avenue SE, a neighborhood which lies across a field and to the west of the scene of the abduction.

The car was a small, red, older model with white trim, about the size of an American Motors Pacer or Gremlin. It had large rear tires, or a jacked-up rear end. the car had a dealer logo-type license plate on the rear, possibly with a white background and red and blue letters.

An artist’s conception of the driver is sketch No. 2. He wore glasses and a cap and had medium-length hair.

The third car is a red-orange station wagon, possibly jacked up in the rear. That car was seen during the day on Oct 21 or Oct. 22 near Kiwi Court, where the Wetterling family lives. A similar car was seen after dark on 91st Avenue on Oct. 22 about the time the boys were traveling to and from a nearby Tom Thumb store, where they had gone to pick up a video.

Observers did not provide a good descrption of the driver of the station wagon, so no sketch has been done, Gigler said.


So, now we know “Sketch 2” was the art student who was ruled out as a suspect. He was the one driving the smaller, red Pacer/Gremlin. That leaves “Sketch 1” as the person who was driving the maroon car… the one neighbors I spoke to had a very bad feeling about.

St. Cloud Times November 24, 1989

It’s interesting to note that the person in Sketch 1 looks a lot like this sketch we’ve all seen a thousand times before, sans beard. This sketch was actually generated from a description given by “Jared,” the 12 year old Cold Spring boy who had been abducted and assaulted 9 months prior to Jacob’s disappearance:


Interestingly, the sketch above was the second composite drawing generated with Jared’s help. It was released on December 14, 1989, nearly a whole year after his assault. However, in the weeks immediately following Jared’s assault (which occured on January 13, 1989), there was a different sketch of the same man… also generated by Jared… and, presumably with a fresher memory:


And while we’re on the subject of composite sketches, it might be a good time to clarify a few others we’ve seen from this case, time and time again. Take a look at one more article from the St. Cloud Times, dated November 23, 1989:

St. Cloud Times November 24, 1989

St. Cloud Times
November 24, 1989

The guy in the first sketch was the mean, scary guy from the Tom Thumb who was seen outside near the ice machine just 15 minutes before Jacob was abducted. He leered at customers, never made a purchase, and was also seen at another convenience story in Avon, earlier the same day.

The guy in the second sketch was also seen at the Tom Thumb, but two weeks later, on November 5. He was laughing and joking about the abduction, and said something to the clerk like, “That boy will never be seen again.”

The guy in the third sketch tried to abduct a 9 year old boy in New Brighton on November 8.

Following the release of these three sketches, a fourth sketch was released which attempted to combine all three previous sketches of the gray, bald-headed, 50-something white guy. Here is that sketch:

A combination of three previously-released composite sketches (above).

A combination of three previously-released composite sketches (above).

I’m still trying to track down a few key people who I think could answer more questions for me. In the meantime, keep sending your thoughts and suggestions my way. I’m especially interested in speaking to people who have first hand knowledge of this case.

As always, thanks for following along and “thinking Jacob” with me.

NEXT: Jared’s story

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The suspicious cars…

New here? Start from the beginning…

Sorry for the lapse between blog posts lately. We have a son who just graduated from high school, so things have been a bit crazy here. However, I’m back in the groove and ready to kick things back into high gear.

Another reason this post has taken so long to publish is that it has gone through several revisions. I have worked very hard to build trust with the people whose stories I’m sharing here. That means, before I publish anything, I always encourage them to preview my posts to make sure I have all my facts straight. And, as I’m sure you can imagine, this can be a laborious, time-intensive process that involves several rounds of writing, rewriting, and proofing. In the end though, I think the time and effort are worth it. There is good information here… much of which I had never heard before.

I recently had the opportunity to speak to one of the neighbors who used to live near the Tom Thumb in St. Joseph. Though she wasn’t an eyewitness herself, she remembers hearing about several suspicious cars that were seen in her neighborhood in the days and weeks prior to Jacob’s abduction.

As you can see from the screen shot below, the Tom Thumb (which is now a vet clinic) was located just to the east of a residential neighborhood. At the time, it wouldn’t have been uncommon to see several kids buzzing around on any given night. It was a quiet, family-friendly neighborhood where everyone felt safe.

That is, until October 22, 1989… the night Jacob was abducted.

The Tom Thumb was located in the building where the vet clinic is now located.

The Tom Thumb was located in the building where the St. Joseph Veterinary Clinic is now located. Click photo to see a larger view.

If you have followed this case from the beginning, you may remember there were early reports of a small, red “Chevette” that was seen in the area (and at the Tom Thumb) just prior to Jacob’s abduction. It was also seen over by the Del-Win, where the National Guard Armory is now. When this information was made public, an art student came forward to say he was most likely the person seen driving around the neighborhood in a red car. He had been in the area looking for things to sketch. Police verified his story, then quickly moved on to cover new leads.

However, the neighbor I spoke to wonders if police may have moved on too quickly. If the art student drove a small, red car, then what about the other car (or cars) neighbors had reported seeing? There was one in particular that was darker and larger… possibly maroon… with distinctive tail lights. What ever became of that lead?

Again, I was reminded that, in the days immediately following Jacob’s abduction, all information related to any unfamiliar vehicles in the area was shared with the FBI and police. A few neighbors even gave eyewitness statements, which are included in the official case file.

I wondered if I could take a look at those official statements. So, I contacted Captain Pam Jensen of the Stearns County Sheriff’s Department, the lead investigator on the Wetterling case since 1999. She told me that anyone who made an official statement in this case could request a copy of it through the records department at (320) 259-3700. However, for those whose information was included as part of a report but not an official statement, they may be out of luck. However, Captain Jensen said they were welcome to check.

So, without direct access to any official eyewitness statements, I was a bit stuck. I wasn’t willing to put any wrong information out there about these cars, so I decided to do a little digging. I went back and searched a bunch of old newspapers to see if I could find any information about the suspicious cars that had been spotted in the neighborhood near the Tom Thumb.

Lucky for me, I found a fantastic article published in the St. Paul Pioneer Press on November 25, 1989 (about one month after the abduction). In the article, authorities are asking for the public’s help in identifying three different cars that were seen around St. Joseph in the days and weeks prior to the abduction.


St. Paul Pioneer Press (MN)
November 25, 1989 Section: Metro
Edition: AM Metro Final Page: 8A


The task force investigating the Jacob Wetterling kidnapping is seeking public assistance in locating and identifying three vehicles and their drivers who were seen at or near the abduction scene before and on Oct. 22, the day Jacob was taken from his St. Joseph, Minn., neighborhood.

Several vehicles drove past Jacob, his brother and a friend while they were going to or returning from a Tom Thumb store near their home.

“We’ve been able to verify the existence of all the vehicles in the area except these three,” FBI spokesman Byron Gigler said. “It’s the type of neighborhood where you don’t get much through traffic because it is, basically, a dead end street.”

The three vehicles all had one item in common – their rear ends apparently had been jacked up. Sightings by witnesses all occurred in the early evening or at night.
“We’re not saying this is our man and this is our car; we’re just saying we need to locate and identify them,” Gigler said.

The task force, composed of the FBI, Stearns County deputies and Bureau of Criminal Apprehension agents, also released composite drawings of the drivers of two of the three vehicles. An artist’s drawing of the third driver was not available.

The first car is older. It is maroon – the color of a Minnesota State Trooper’s uniform – and has rectangular or square tail lights, and appears similar to a 1976 Pontiac Catalina. Like the other cars, its rear end was jacked up.

FBI agents said the car was seen on 90th Avenue near the Wetterling home about six weeks before Jacob’s abduction and again a week before he was kidnapped at gunpoint. On two occasions, the car was seen parked at night on 90th Avenue, but it left when a resident approached. The driver was seen once during daylight and a composite drawing was made based on that sighting.

The second car is an older smaller car that is about the size of an American Motors Pacer or Gremlin. The car is red with white trim and has large rear tires and a jacked-up rear end. Dealer or logo-style license plates – they may have had red and blue letters on a white background – were mounted on the rear of the car. It was seen a week before the abduction in an area west of the abduction scene.

The third car is a red-orange station wagon with a rear end that may have been jacked up. The car was seen during the day on Oct. 21 or Oct. 22 in the area of Kiwi Court in St. Joseph. A similar car was seen after dark near the abduction scene on Oct. 22, about the time the boys would have been going to and from the store.

Stearns County authorities and the FBI said people with information on the vehicles should call the task force’s 24-hour phone at 612-259-3981. Callers should provide as much information as possible, authorities said.

Illustration:2 Drawings
These are composite drawings of drivers of two of the three cars investigators seek more information about in the Jacob Wetterling kidnapping case.

Copyright (c) 1989 St. Paul Pioneer Press




So, if you’re like me, you’re probably wondering what a 1976 Pontiac Catalina looks like. I was also curious what kind of tail lights a 1976 Pontiac Catalina had. I Googled it and found the following images:

1976 Pontiac Catalina

1976 Pontiac Catalina




You probably also latched on to the fact that all three of these suspicious cars may have been “jacked up” in the back. What are the chances of that? The year was 1989 after all, not 1979. I wondered what kind of person drove a jacked-up car in 1989. It seems to me it would be a younger “gear-head type”… 20s to 30s vs. 40s to 50s.

Of the three cars described in the article, I also wondered which one had belonged to the art student who was eventually cleared. I may be wrong, but I believe it was the smaller red Geo Metro or AMC Pacer that was driven by the art student. Not sure about this though. I will try and find out. I’m also not sure which of the men in the composite sketches above goes with which car. I’ll try and find that out, as well.

So now… I have to admit… after learning all this information about the suspicious cars that were lurking around the area just prior to Jacob’s abduction, my theory about the case has changed a bit. I was always “of the camp” that believed this was a crime of opportunity, not a carefully thought-out plan carried out by a seasoned stalker. However, now I’m not so sure. I’ll discuss this more in my next blog post.

In the mean time, feel free to share your own thoughts about these cars. Also, if you happened to live in St. Joe at the time and witnessed one or more of these suspicious cars, I’d be especially interested in talking to you.

NEXT TIME: A few answers…

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Esme Murphy interviews Patty Wetterling on WCCO radio

New here? Start from the beginning…

WCCO TALENT PHOTOS 2013One day after Dan Rassier’s story aired on WCCO-TV, investigative reporter Esme Murphy continued her story on WCCO-Radio. This in-depth podcast includes a lengthy interview with Jacob’s mother, Patty Wetterling, who is now the director of the sexual violence prevention program at the Minnesota Department of Health in St. Paul. She also serves as the board chair of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in Washington D.C.

Special thanks to Esme Murphy for “shaking the tree” as Patty would say. Keeping Jacob’s case in the spotlight is the one thing all of us can do to help solve this case.

So, please keep “thinking Jacob.” Keep talking. Keep listening. Keep praying. Someone, somewhere knows something.

And maybe you’re the one who holds the key to the puzzle.

Play podcast

NEXT: The suspicious cars…

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