Jacob Wetterling, 11, of St. Joseph, vanished the evening of Oct. 22, 1989, as he rode home on his bike with his younger brother, Trevor, and his best friend. His disappearance remained unsolved until the fall of 2016, when Danny James Heinrich, who became a person of interest in 2015 after being arrested on child pornography charges, confessed to killing the missing boy and led police to Jacob’s remains, which were buried on a farm about 30 miles from the site of his abduction. Heinrich, 55, is serving a 20-year sentence on a child porn charge.
Photo: Stearns County Sheriff's Office, AP Photo
Photo: Stearns County Sheriff's Office, AP Photo

Investigative files on Jacob Wetterling abduction, murder to be made public Thursday

Jacob Wetterling, 11, of St. Joseph, vanished the evening of Oct. 22, 1989, as he rode home on his bike with his younger brother, Trevor, and his best friend. The three boys had gone to a nearby convenience store to rent videos and buy snacks.

His disappearance remained unsolved until the fall of 2016, when Danny James Heinrich, who became a person of interest in 2015 after being arrested on child pornography charges, confessed to killing the missing boy. He also led police to Jacob’s remains, which were buried on a farm about 30 miles from the site of the abduction. 

Heinrich, 55, is serving a 20-year sentence on a child porn charge. 

>> Related story: Jacob Wetterling’s killer gives chilling details of abducted 11-year-old’s final moments alive

Stearns County officials said last week that the Wetterling case files would be released to the public Thursday morning. Sheriff Don Gudmundson is also expected to hold a news conference when the files become public. 

The files were initially slated for release in 2017, but Jacob’s parents, Patty and Jerry Wetterling, filed a lawsuit seeking to block the release of information about the family that they felt should remain private, KSTP in Saint Paul reported

A judge ordered prosecutors to return FBI documents to the federal government and release the rest of the case file, the St. Cloud Times reported. The Wetterlings decided against appealing the judge’s decision this summer. 

Heinrich admitted in court in September 2016 that he stopped Jacob and the other boys along a dead-end road in St. Joseph and ordered the other boys to run home and not look back.

He abducted Jacob, the frightened boy asking “What did I do wrong?” as Heinrich handcuffed him and drove away, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported in 2016.

In this Aug. 28, 2009, file photo, Patty and Jerry Wetterling display a photo of their son, 11-year-old Jacob Wetterling, who was abducted Oct. 22, 1989, in St. Joseph, Minnesota. His disappearance remained unsolved until the fall of 2016, when Danny James Heinrich, who became a person of interest in 2015 after being arrested on child pornography charges, confessed to killing the missing boy and led police to Jacob’s remains, which were buried on a farm about 30 miles from the site of his abduction. Heinrich, 55, is serving a 20-year sentence on a child porn charge.
Photo: AP Photo

As Jacob’s parents, Patty and Jerry Wetterling, sat listening in the front row of the courtroom, Heinrich detailed how he drove their son to a gravel pit, made him undress so he could molest him and shot him twice in the back of the head after he cried and asked to go home.

“I raised the revolver to his head. I turned my head and it clicked once. I pulled the trigger again and it went off. Looked back, he was still standing,” Heinrich said, according to the newspaper. “I raised the revolver and shot him again.”

Heinrich’s confession was part of a plea deal with prosecutors in his child pornography case. In exchange for a maximum sentence of 20 years, Heinrich confessed and escaped prosecution on another 24 child porn charges, as well as in Jacob’s murder. 

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The Star Tribune reported that Heinrich also detailed his molestation of another boy, 12-year-old Jared Scheierl, in Cold Spring, Minnesota, nine months before he abducted and murdered Jacob. Investigators long believed the two cases might be connected, due to the description of the suspect in each case, and Heinrich was tied by circumstantial evidence to the Cold Spring attack as early as February 1990.

He was physically linked to that case last year when DNA found on a sweatshirt Scheierl was wearing during the attack was matched to Heinrich's DNA profile, according to WCCO, Minneapolis' CBS affiliate. Prosecutors could not bring charges against Heinrich in that assault, however, because the statute of limitations had expired. 

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