Posts Tagged "St. Joseph Minnesota"

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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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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Dan’s Story

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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:

Map of Wetterling abduction

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 the 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.

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