Posts Tagged "St. Joseph Minnesota"
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.
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
3 CARS, DRIVERS SOUGHT IN WETTERLING CASE Wayne Wangstad, Staff Writer
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.
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:
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.
Finally, I’m still trying to find out the name of the store clerk (or clerks) who was/were working at the Tom Thumb that night. If you can help me out with that, please email me privately at email@example.com.Read More
I feel like I have been part of something significant this weekend. Bright and early Saturday morning, at 8am, I met Dan Rassier and Kevin the-tire-track-guy at Panera in St. Cloud. The two of them had never met before and were anxious to hear each other’s story, “straight from the horse’s mouth.” What I thought would be an hour long conversation turned into a two hour conversation, and then a three hour conversation. And lo and behold, I wasn’t the one doing any of the talking.
These two men have been put through the wringer. Police and the media seem to have pitted them against each other over the past nine years, stirring up suspicion where none previously existed. So, it’s no surprise they seemed a bit guarded with their words as we began our conversation. But, as they began talking and answering each other’s questions, the cloud of suspicion seemed to lift, and a willingness to share information soon emerged.
Above all, we share a common goal. We want to find out what happened to Jacob. Our hope is that if we can put the facts out there, in order, exactly as they occurred, maybe someone can add to the story. And maybe that someone will have just the piece that will finally solve this 23 year old puzzle.
So, here we go. Let’s start with Dan.
Dan Rassier lives with his parents on the family farm. Their driveway is across the street from the scene of the abduction. Here’s a map from one of my previous posts:
As it happens, Dan’s parents are away on a European vacation, so he is home alone for the week. After teaching a private saxophone lesson earlier that morning, Dan decides to spend his day organizing his extensive record collection. (I wondered why that would be an all-day affair, so I asked him exactly how extensive his record collection was. “Hundreds?” I asked. “Thousands,” he replied. It turns out he has crate after crate of old 33 RPM albums.)
So, after his saxophone student leaves, Dan settles in for a long day of typing. He sits at a desk in his bedroom and decides to open the window because it’s a beautiful fall day… unseasonably warm, with a forecasted high near 70 degrees. He types. And types. And types.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, a big tan-colored car (possibly a 1972-1978 Monte Carlo with a white vinyl top) comes racing down the driveway. When it reaches the farmyard, the car whips a u-turn (dust flying everywhere, like a stunt car), and goes racing back out of the driveway. He has never seen anything like this happen at their farm before.
Dan isn’t exactly sure what the make/model of the car was, nor is he exactly sure if it had a white vinyl top, but he’s very certain about the color… tan/amber. The car pictured here is a 1978 Monte Carlo that I grabbed off the Internet.
As early afternoon yields to late afternoon, Dan decides to take a break from his typing and go for a jog. (Note, Dan is an avid runner and still participates in several races each year.) He takes off through the back fields and heads toward the Del-Win Ballroom which is located immediately north and west of his property. (In those days, the neighborhood that existed just north of Dan’s property was not there; it was all woods at that time.) There was a Polka Fest taking place at the Del-Win that day, and the place was packed.
After running through the Del-Win parking lot and taking note of the Polka Fest, now in full swing, Dan cuts back over to 91st Avenue and heads toward home. He remembers stopping at the farm mailbox and picking up the paper, then continuing down the driveway toward his house. Nothing is out of the ordinary. It’s a beautiful day.
After 23 years, Dan is a bit vague on what time he returned from his jog, but he assumes he showered and probably made something to eat for supper before returning to his typing. At any rate, it’s dark out when he hears his dog, Smokey, start to bark (Smokey is an outside dog). The window is still open, and Dan hears a car coming up his driveway. He shuts off his light so he can see who it is. He’s a little unnerved, wondering if it’s the same car he saw earlier in the day.
It’s a different car this time. This one is small and dark – possibly dark blue or black. It pulls in and makes a u-turn in exactly the same spot as the previous car, and while it’s not moving as fast and furious as that car, it’s still moving along at a pretty fast clip. In the passenger seat, Dan sees a woman, (or possibly a child) staring out the passenger window with his/her hands cupped over his/her eyes. (NOTE, Dan is the first to admit he’s a little fuzzy about his memory of the passenger staring out the car window. Very early in the investigation, within weeks of Jacob’s abduction, he agreed to be hypnotized to see if he could help uncover more information. He’s not sure if his memory of the woman/child in the car was a result of being hypnotized, or if this is something he recalled on his own.) Regardless, Dan is again certain about the color and size of the car… small and dark… possibly a small sedan or hatchback.
I asked Dan if this happens a lot… people turning around in his driveway. No, not really, he says. However, he explains that young couples used to park along their driveway all the time and “make-out.” It seems it was a “Lover’s Lane” of sorts. Often he or his parents would come home after dark and come upon cars parked in their driveway with people inside. They would never see the cars until the headlights came right up on them. (Keep this in mind as we re-visit the “getaway car theory” later in the story.)
Not long after the second car swings through and leaves, Dan gets ready for bed and goes to sleep. He has to work in the morning, so he assumes the time was around 10pm.
He is awakened by the sound of Smokey, the dog, barking again. I ask him whether he heard any sirens go screaming past his house, and he says no, he never heard any sirens. (There may be an explanation for this later in Kevin’s story.) The dog continues to bark, so Dan finally decides to get up and see what’s going on. He looks out his west bedroom window (which faces up the hill toward the woods), and sees several flashlights shining up by the woodpile. He’s concerned that people are stealing wood, so he decides to investigate further and heads downstairs. He leaves the light off and steps outside. Smokey the dog is still barking like crazy and he sees that there are actually SEVERAL people with flashlights down by his woodpile… and they’re not kids. He realizes he’s outnumbered, and decides to call 911.
The 911 operator tells Dan a child has been abducted at the end of his driveway and that the people with flashlights are cops searching for the missing child.
When Dan learns this information, he does NOT go back to bed. He got dressed, grabbed a flashlight, and went outside to see if he could help. I asked him if he talked to any of the police officers that night and he said, “Yes, I spoke to an officer on the road, up the hill. I didn’t know who he was for 23 years.” He explains that it was just last December when he went in to the Stearns County Sheriff’s Department to request to look at the affidavit they used to execute the search warrant in 2010. He spoke to Sheriff’s Deputy Bruce Bechtold who told Dan he was the officer he had spoken to on the road that night. He remembered seeing Dan walking up the hill with a flashlight in hand. (This was never reported before, and proves that Dan was, indeed, home that night.) They speak briefly, and Dan offers to search the outbuildings on his property.
He heads back down the road/driveway and searches the outbuildings. Every one of them. You would think there would be cops everywhere, but Dan said there were not. A helicopter was searching the woods and fields around his house, but as far as he knows, there were no cops who came down into the yard all night… just the few up by the woodpile earlier.
Dan doesn’t know what more he can do, and he realizes he has to work in the morning. It’s very late, he’s tired, and he decides to go back to bed.
Stay tuned. I’ll share Kevin’s story next time.Read More
I have a few more thoughts about the Jacob Wetterling case. After this, I’m hoping to move on to a new mystery – a happy one with a happy ending. Surely there must be a happy mystery that exists somewhere. If you know of such a thing, let me know.
(New here? Start from the beginning…)
Several people have wondered what the weather was like the night Jacob was abducted. I wondered the same thing, so on the day I drove through St. Joseph a few weeks ago, I made a stop at the St. Cloud Library on my way home. I wanted to check the microfilm for the local newspaper on the day after Jacob was abducted (October 23, 1989) to see if I could find any information that hadn’t been included in recent news reports. Click here to read the article.
As for the weather… here’s the skinny. After making a copy of the October 23, 1989 newspaper article, I rolled back the microfilm to one day earlier so I could look at the weather report from October 22, the actual day Jacob was abducted. It had been a clear, beautiful day for late October, with a high near 70 degrees. The evening sky was clear with a waning moon in its third quarter. That means it was a half moon; the full moon had been one week prior.
That being said, the question rolling around in my head was… even though the boys said they never saw a car, could a car have been parked in the Rassiers’ driveway a little further down, so the boys couldn’t see it in the dark?
In 2003, the investigators discounted the “getaway car” theory when a local resident came forward to admit the tire tracks found by police in the Rassier’s driveway that night were most likely his. But why were authorities so quick to discount this theory and instead, focus on the “local-resident-who-escaped-on-foot theory?” Was it because it was Dan Rassier, himself, who’d been the one to tell police he’d seen a car turn around in his driveway that night, and then speed away at about the same time Jacob was abducted.
If Rassier witnessed the car from inside his house, that must mean the car pulled all the way into his property to turn around. That’s because you can’t see the end of the driveway from the house; it’s hidden by trees/woods. If I understand it correctly, the local resident (Kevin) who inadvertently left his tire tracks in the driveway that night, told Trish Van Pilsum from FOX 9 News that he had simply pulled in, backed up, and driven away. Wouldn’t that mean he didn’t go all the way into the property? So, if Rassier is telling the truth, doesn’t that mean there had to be another car that night… someone besides Kevin? (If you didn’t see Trish Van Pilsum’s interview, read my previous post).
I re-visited this “getaway-car-parked-in-the-Rassier-driveway theory” one more time. Even though Aaron and Trevor said they didn’t see a car that night, could there have been one parked halfway up the driveway, away from the road so the boys couldn’t see it, yet before the curve, where Rassier would have seen it from the house? Could someone have been parked in the Rassiers’ driveway that night, waiting for the boys to return from the Tom Thumb? Was it so dark that night that the boys wouldn’t have seen a car in the driveway?
At first, I thought no way. You’d think a half moon would be pretty bright. Surely if a car had been parked on that driveway, only 20 yards away, at least one of the boys would have seen it. Right? But, here’s something I learned about a third quarter moon. It rises at midnight and sets at noon the following day. That means, at 9:15pm, when Jacob was abducted, there was no moonlight at all. The moon hadn’t even risen yet, so the sky was completely dark.
So… was it a stalker-stranger who abducted Jacob and escaped in a getaway car that he’d stashed in the Rassiers’ driveway? To me, this scenario seems highly unlikely since all the elements of the abduction would have had to have fallen together perfectly. The boys had never been allowed to go to the Tom Thumb after dark before. If a stranger had been stalking Jacob at his hockey tryouts earlier that day, and/or skulking around at the Tom Thumb earlier that afternoon, what are the chances he’d be so lucky that Jacob would come strolling along, out for the first time after dark, on a moonless night, when his parents just happened to be away at a dinner party? A perfect storm? I doubt it.
The person who abducted Jacob KNEW he’d be returning down that dark road within 30 minutes or so. He knew the Tom Thumb plan. It seems that a stalker-stranger who just happened-upon three young boys out after dark would strike while the iron was hot, like in the Cold Spring case. After all, without knowing the boys, or where they were heading, wouldn’t the stalker-stranger logically assume they were just on a one way trip… either back home or to a friend’s house?
However, this person KNEW the boys would be making a return trip to the Wetterling home. He knew where the Wetterling home was, and he waited for their return. If it was someone who saw them at the Tom Thumb picking out a movie, that person had to have known who they were, where they lived, and where they were heading. If he was driving, he would have had to hurry to get ahead of them, stash his car, pull a mask over his head, and position himself in the ditch, all without being seen.
Or, it had to be someone who knew the boys were on their way to the Tom Thumb and knew they’d be returning down that dark road in about a half hour. He knew they’d be RETURNING soon… that they weren’t just on a one-way trip to another friend’s house. Could that person have been outside on that warm, quiet October night and overheard the boys talking on their way to the Tom Thumb?
As you recall, Aaron (Jacob’s friend) was on a scooter, so they had to have been going pretty slowly. Was someone spying on them, listening to their every word? Didn’t Aaron report that he thought he’d heard rustling in the tall grass, halfway to the Tom Thumb? Read Aaron’s story here…
We know for sure there was another boy, Jared, just one year older than Jacob, who was abducted, molested, and released by a stalker-stranger in Cold Spring… just 10 miles away and 9 months prior. That man was never found, and the similarities between the two cases are striking (i.e., Jared was abducted on his way home after skating at a hockey rink; Jacob was at hockey tryouts earlier that day; the man was concerned about being recognized in both cases; he had a gun and a low gravely voice; and, in both instances, he told the boys, “Run and don’t turn around, or I’ll shoot.”). These facts are hard to deny. Sure sounds like it could be the same guy.
However, they sure have put the heat on Dan Rassier lately, and God help him if he had nothing to do with the case. Yes, his actions on the night of the abduction seem a little weird. But then, why in the world didn’t the police officers search his house or interview him that first night? Also weird.
And really… could a guy like Dan Rassier, an educated man with a Master’s degree and a TEACHER for heaven’s sake, actually do something like this? For 21 years, he’s lived his life under a microscope. If he was guilty of child molestation/abduction, wouldn’t they have found some nasty files on his computer or some kiddie porn in his bedroom? They’ve searched his house three times now… chances are they would have found something incriminating by now. Right?
Confounding. Frustrating. Agonizing!
Let me just end by saying this…
Peace to the Wetterlings, and peace to you, Jacob. If there was something… ANYTHING… more I could do for you, I would. But unfortunately, all the “Minnesota Nice” hotdishes in the world are not going to bring you home. Only two people know what really happened that October night 21 years ago – you and your abductor. Of the two, only one has the power to end our misery.
So… here’s one last word for you, Mr. Gravely Voice. If you’re still out there, know that it’s never too late to do the right thing. It’s never too late to ask for forgiveness, and it’s never too late to be forgiven. Please, do the right thing. Please, give us back our Jacob.
In the meantime, I’ll keep praying and “thinking Jacob.”
Skip ahead to 2013: Thinking Jacob. Again.Read More
If you’re like me, you probably have a ton of questions swirling around in your head after reading my last post about the Jacob Wetterling abduction that took place on October 22, 1989.
I’m going to try and list my questions here in some sort of coherent fashion. Hopefully they’ll follow some semblance of order. If not, bear with me; I’m a journalism major, not a private investigator.
First of all, the boys’ decision to rent a video that Sunday evening was spontaneous and impulsive. The only people who knew they were planning on going to the Tom Thumb that night were Jerry and Patty Wetterling (Jacob and Trevor’s parents, who were at a dinner party in Clearwater 45 minutes away), the 13 year old neighbor/babysitter who offered to come babysit the youngest Wetterling daughter while the boys were gone, and, presumably, the babysitter’s family. I wondered if someone in the babysitter’s family could possibly have stalked the boys on their way home, but no. The dad is the one who called 911 (from his home) when his daughter called in a panic to tell him what had happened. The family also had a son, but he was only 17 at the time. Highly unlikely.
That means whoever took Jacob did it impulsively, acting quickly when they saw the opportunity.
The Scary Guy at the Tom Thumb?
There’s a theory that someone at the Tom Thumb saw the boys and stalked them on their way home. Reports from eyewitnesses say there was a strange man at the Tom Thumb earlier that day who walked in and glared at customers, then left without making a purchase. He was a large, older, bald man with a raspy voice. You’ve seen him before; we all have. That’s because he’s the one from the first sketch that was sent to the media. This same man was reported to have been seen at another area convenience store as well. He was never identified, never found.
So, let’s entertain this thought for a bit. Could it be that this scary bald man was skulking around St. Joseph that day, looking for an 11 year old boy to abduct? OK, let’s just assume that could be true. He didn’t know Jacob; he didn’t know his family, and he didn’t know where he lived. That means, the stalker would have had to follow the boys out of the Tom Thumb in order to figure out which direction they were heading. Not only that, he would have had to quickly get ahead of them, change into all-black attire, put a mask over his head, hide his car, and get positioned in the ditch… all without being seen.
Impossible. Having now driven down that road myself, there’s no way the boys would have missed seeing a car coming down the road. No way. It’s a dead end road in a small town. When neighbors drive by, they wave. When non-neighbors drive by, you notice. If a strange car had passed them, then pulled into Rassier’s driveway, they would have noticed.
A Neighborhood Stalker?
That leaves us with the possibility that whoever did this saw the boys on their way TO the Tom Thumb, then made preparations to abduct them on their way back home. Whoever that person was had to know the boys, be familiar with the Rassier property, and have quick access to dark clothing, a face mask, and a gun. If they planned on using a getaway car, they would have had to take the time to stash it somewhere north of the dead end street where they could access Highway 75 and make a fast getaway.
A Getaway Car?
The only place I could figure to stash a car was either in the neighborhood behind the Rassier farm (to the north), or on the Rassier property itself (see satellite map of abduction site). However, the houses to the north of the Rassier farm look pretty new… early 90s perhaps, so I’m not even sure that neighborhood existed in 1989. And as for the theory of stashing a car on the Rassier property and then escaping on some back field road… it’s hard to believe investigators couldn’t have followed those tire tracks pretty easily. Plus, whoever was doing the “stashing” had to be pretty confident the farm family wouldn’t be home at the time.
In 2003, investigators discounted the theory of a getaway car after a local resident came forward to explain he had arrived early on the scene the night of the abduction, after hearing the call on his police scanner. He admitted the tire tracks found on the scene were most likely his. His story checked out. This led officers to believe the suspect probably escaped with Jacob on foot.
The “Person of Interest”?
Now, onto this “person of interest” named in the case last summer… Dan Rassier. Rassier is the 55 year old single son of Robert and Rita Rassier, owners of the farm property where Jacob was abducted. (If you didn’t see Rassier’s interview with KARE-11′s Julie Nelson last summer, view my last post.) Rassier is a band teacher at Rocori Middle School in Cold Spring and lives at the family farm with his parents. He is also an avid runner.
First of all, in Rassier’s defense, he does not have a low, gravely voice. In fact, if you watched the video interview, you’ll notice Rassier has a very distinct speech pattern. Considering the close proximity in which Trevor and Aaron were to their abductor, it’s hard to believe they wouldn’t have picked up on that. That was my first thought.
In newspaper reports, Rassier also admits to undergoing DNA testing, a lie detector test, and even hypnosis to help the investigation. And while we don’t know the results of these tests, you must admit, that’s pretty forthcoming for someone considered a “person of interest” in this case. To date, Rassier has never retained a lawyer either.
However, like many others, I do question Rassier’s actions on the night of the abduction. First of all, he admits to having no alibi and no witnesses. His parents happened to be on vacation in Europe the night of Jacob’s abduction, so Rassier was home by himself. In his TV interview with KARE-11′s Julie Nelson, Rassier said he went for a run the day Jacob was abducted. He remembers it being “a splendid day for running.” When he wasn’t running, he says he spent the remainder of the day typing index cards he used to organize his record collection. He went to bed early and was awakened by the sound of the dog barking outside. He looked out the window and saw people with flashlights out by the wood pile. He thought they were intruders and called 911.
OK, lots of questions here.
First of all, he awoke to the sound of the dog barking? How about the sounds of sirens wailing? I live in a town the size of St. Joseph, and when you hear a siren in a small town, any siren, you take notice. That’s because you just naturally assume you know the person who’s in trouble on the other end. Your heart leaps; and you pray to God it’s not someone you know, someone you love. However, on the night of Jacob’s abduction, there had to be SEVERAL sirens, all stopping right at the end of Rassier’s driveway. And yet, he was awakened by the sound of the dog barking?
However, maybe there were no sirens. What do I know.
But here’s what we DO know. Jacob was abducted at 9:15pm. The sheriff was the first to arrive on the scene six minutes later. He immediately called for reinforcements. By 10pm, the Rassier property had to be in full-blown chaos. My question is… what in the heck time did Rassier go to bed? I’m all for getting a good night’s sleep, but 9:15pm seems a little early… especially for a 33 year old whose parents are gone on vacation.
According to Rassier, the 911 operator told him a child had been abducted near his property and law enforcement officers were combing the area looking for him. Rassier says he got up and searched all the outbuildings on his property with a flashlight. Hard to believe a police officer didn’t notice him during this time, giving him that much-needed alibi.
And hey… what about those police officers? Didn’t they knock on Rassier’s door and question him as an eyewitness? Wouldn’t that be the first thing you did, considering Rasser’s was the closest home to the crime scene? Didn’t they ask for his help in the search? Did they knock and receive no answer? Did anyone get a warrant to search his house that very night? These seem to be obvious details I couldn’t find in any news report.
And where was Rassier the next day? And the day after that? Did he have an alibi on those days? How about the next week? The next month? If Rassier had Jacob, wouldn’t he need to be attending to him somehow?
To me, it seems highly unlikely that anyone could be so brazen as to abduct a child right outside their own home. However, *someone* was waiting for Jacob outside the Rassier driveway that night. If it wasn’t Dan Rassier with the low, gravely voice… who else would have been on the farm property that night? Who else would have seen the boys heading toward Tom Thumb, then have the ability to quickly get the supplies they needed, possibly stash a getaway car somewhere, and wait for their return? If it was a stalker-stranger, how did they know how/where to escape so quickly? Could it have been a farm hand? Another Rassier family member? A close neighbor?
Please add your own comments and questions below. Maybe all our thoughts and prayers can help somehow. Surely it can’t hurt to keep “thinking Jacob.”Read More
When, where, how… why?
As I mentioned in my last post, “Thinking Jacob”, I haven’t been able to get Jacob Wetterling off my mind lately. He’s the 11 year old boy who was abducted from the small town of St. Joseph, Minnesota on October 22, 1989. Last July, investigators from the F.B.I. and Bureau of Criminal Apprehension arrived at the home/farmstead of Robert and Rita Rassier with a search warrant. For several days, they searched the farm and hauled away truckload after truckload of dirt and ash they’d collected from the home’s burn pile.
Could it be? After all these years, Jacob Wetterling had been less than two blocks from his family home all long? Could it possibly be that simple?
Here’s the story. Robert and Rita Rassier were on a European vacation at the time of Jacob’s disappearance. However, their son Daniel, who was 34 at the time, also lived with them at their house. He was introduced to us as a “Person of Interest” in the Jacob Wetterling case during the search of the Rassier family farm. We’d never heard of Dan Rassier before this.
Julie Nelson from KARE-11 News in Minneapolis did a two part interview with Dan Rassier. Click the play button below to see the video in its entirety.
Dan Rassier Interview, Part 1
Dan Rassier Interview, Part 2
After watching these interviews, I found myself wanting to know where this farm was, where Jacob lived, and where the Tom Thumb was.
So, here’s a map put together by the St. Cloud Times newspaper that shows where each of these places is, in relation to each other, along with a general account of the events that took place that evening:
As you can see, the abduction took place right at the driveway of the Rassier home/farmstead. However, what this map doesn’t show you are the woods that secluded the home from the road, or the long driveway that leads back to the house. In reality, you cannot see the house from the road at all. And it’s at this spot in the road, where there are heavy woods on either side, that the abduction took place.
This aerial photo from Google Earth shows the area a bit better:
On the day I drove to St. Joseph, I came into town on County Road 2, entering from the west. The College of St. Ben’s was on my right… wow, what a beautiful campus. I’d never seen it before. Google told me to stay on County Road 2 onto East Minnesota Street, then to hang a right onto 16th Ave. SE.
Once I was on 16th Avenue, I knew I was on “the road.” This was the exact route Jacob had taken 21 years ago, almost to the day, when he was abducted at gunpoint. I drove slowly, snapping photos out the windshield as I went.
16th Avenue SE, heading south
(At this point, you may be asking yourself why I didn’t bother to just get out of the car and take some decent photos. As you recall, I was there last Saturday, October 23. Jacob was abducted on October 22. I figured neighbors and townspeople would already be a little on edge since it was so close to the date of the abduction, so I didn’t want to alarm anyone. As it was, I was already feeling a little creepy and stalker-ish.)
As I neared the edge of town, the new blacktop ended and so did the city street lights. I figured I must be getting close.
End of city streetlights and new blacktop
I drove slowly, imagining myself to be 11 years old, on a bike and approaching this spot when the city lights ended and a long dark stretch of road loomed ahead. But, they were so close to home at that point, it was probably no big deal at all. Only two more blocks. That’s it. Two more blocks, and they’d be home.
And then, as they neared the driveway to the Rassier home, they saw a gunman dressed in black and wearing a face mask appear out of the ditch and tell them to stop. It was right here. At this point in the road. That’s the Rassier’s driveway on the left.
Rassier driveway on the left
The boys were told to put their bikes in the ditch and lay face down, right here, on my right. When the gunman let Trevor (Jacob’s brother) and his friend Aaron go, he told them to run toward those trees in the background and not to look back or he’d shoot.
Site of abduction
About two more blocks, the road ended and turned right. Two small cul-de-sacs were on my left; the Wetterlings lived on the second one. I saw some kids playing in one of the yards, so I didn’t go down the road for fear of creeping anyone out.
I turned around and drove back toward town, this time in search of a convenience store that was within a mile of the house. Thinking like a mother, I figured it had to be in a location close by that didn’t require the kids to have crossed any major roads. I drove back down 16th Ave SE, and after a few twists and turns, ended up at a Casey’s General Store, at the corner of County Road 75 and 4th Avenue. I’m wasn’t entirely sure this was the former Tom Thumb (it wasn’t), but I filled up with gas and took a few photos.
I hit my trip reset button and took one more trip down 16th Avenue to see if this Casey’s was about a mile from the Wetterling home. (From the news stories, I knew the convenience store was about a mile away.) As I neared the Rassier farm, I passed a police car and wondered if they were now running my license plate. (I get the feeling strangers are eyed with a lot of suspicion in St. Joseph these days, especially around October 22 each year.)
I turned around once again, and headed out of St. Joe, into St. Cloud. I was surprised by how close it was… something else I never realized. I continued on to Barnes and Noble, got my birthday present and a cup of Starbucks, then headed to the library to look up some old articles in the St. Cloud Times.
My head was full of questions… SO many questions… but I’ll save those for next time.
As you can imagine, this has been a hard story to write about, and I’m thankful for everyone who’s followed along with me. It’s not easy to re-live this tragedy, especially if you’re from Minnesota. But, I encourage you to keep “Thinking Jacob”… keep thinking… keep wondering… keep praying. Someday, I hope we can get an answer.Read More