MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — WCCO-TV has learned that a key piece of evidence in the Jacob Wetterling abduction — a 911 call — was never saved.
In October 1989, a masked gunman kidnapped Jacob Wetterling in St. Joseph. The 11-year-old was taken at the end of Dan Rassier’s ¼-mile long driveway. Rassier is the only person ever named a “person of interest” in the case, but he says he had nothing to do with it.
Wetterling is the boy who grew up only through computer enhancement. He was kidnapped by a man as he rode his bike with his brother and a friend, Aaron Larson.
“He grabbed Jacob and he told me to run as fast as I could into the woods or else he would shoot,” Larson said.
Rassier was 34 years old at the time of the abduction, and he worked as a band teacher at the Rocori School District. He lived as he still does, on a farm with his elderly parents, who were in Europe that night he was home alone.
In the past year, Rassier has begun working with a local blogger, Joy Baker, to put out information about what he really did and saw that night.
“How can I clear my name without getting the crime solved,” Rassier said.
He insists the key to the case is a tan car similar a Monte Carlo that he told police sped into his yard the afternoon of the abduction.
“I’m convinced 100 percent whoever was driving that afternoon car…you have your kidnapper. No one drives like that in broad daylight,” Rassier said. “That is what I told police from the beginning.”
Rassier says later that night, before he went to bed, he saw a second car come into his driveway and turn around — a car that does not match the description of a car investigators ruled out in 2004.
The abduction happened at about 9:15 p.m. Larson and Trevor Wetterling ran the ½-mile back to the Wetterling home. A neighbor and the boys called 911 at 9:32 p.m.
Law enforcement was on the scene in eight minutes.
For the first time, Rassier is talking about what investigators acknowledge is true: two hours after the abduction Rassier had two documented contacts with law enforcement. The first was a 911 call which WCCO has learned law enforcement never saved.
While it’s been widely reported that Rassier went to bed immediately after calling 911, WCCO has learned he had a second contact with law enforcement that night: a face-to-face conversation with a sheriff’s deputy.
Rassier says he called 911 when his dog woke him up and he saw flashlights by his woodpile. He thought someone was stealing wood.
“They told me it was a kidnapping, and I go, ‘Oh, really?’ That was pretty much it, and I walked up the hill and talked to one of the sheriff’s people,” Rassier said.
Just months ago, Rassier found out the deputy he talked to was Bruce Bechtold, who is now the chief deputy for Stearns County.
Rassier says after he searched the buildings on the farm property and returned to the farmhouse, law enforcement was everywhere.
“They had a chopper up with a spotlight on,” Rassier said.
The Stearns County Sheriff Department says Rassier’s 911 call came at 11:23 p.m., but it was never saved.
Rassier says he is shocked that the audio was not saved.
He says investigators not only told him they had the audio but that in the call he sounded suspicious. He said a BCA agent told him, “they are saying you were way too nervous, way too upset to be concerned about some wood being stolen.”
Joe Tamburino, a Twin Cities Criminal Defense Attorney, says the 911 call is a key bit of evidence that could provide insight on Rassier’s reaction to news of the abduction.
”Now we will never know,” Tamburino said.
Tamburino added at a trial the fact that the 911 call was not saved would almost certainly lead to questions about what other evidence had not been preserved.
Rassier was not questioned until the morning after the abduction when he was pulled out of his class by detectives who searched his car and questioned him for 45 minutes. He said he did not feel as if investigators were looking at him.
Six days after the kidnapping, law enforcement searched the farm.
“They wanted me to do this lie detector test and I said sure.” Rassier said.
He took the lie detector test, but said he has never been told the results.
Rassier also agreed to be hypnotized. For the next month, he answered law enforcement questions under hypnosis.
For the next 14 years, investigators did not focus on Rassier. Instead, their priority was to find a car that had left a tire track on the Rassier’s driveway.
In 2004, investigators got their big break. A man came forward and said he had driven down the driveway that night. Investigators quickly ruled him out and the investigation took a dramatic turn: Investigators concluded Jacob’s kidnapper had been on foot.
Rassier was again called in for questioning. A BCA agent asked him to confess.
“He was basically saying, we don’t have anything on you but would you admit…we could end this and you admit that you did this,” Rassier said. “And I remember laughing, going ‘You’ve got to be kidding.’”
In 2009, Rassier agreed to meet with Patty Wetterling where he said he repeatedly denied any involvement.
Rassier also told Wetterling where he thought a body could be hidden on his property.
“The person in the area who probably did this could have taken Jacob’s body and hidden it in our gravel pit,” Rassier told Patty Wetterling.
In 2010, law enforcement conducted a highly-publicized search of the Rassier farm, including the gravel pit, and found nothing.
In just the past year, Rassier, who is still a band teacher at the Rocori School District, has written 14 letters to law enforcement agencies, criticizing the investigation and asking that his name be cleared.
“We want to get this case solved,” Rassier said.
Rassier worries it may be too late, however.
“That is one big fear I have — that there is no one alive who knows what happened,” Rassier said.
The Stearns County Sheriff’s Office declined to comment on why the 911 call was never saved and said Bech, the chief deputy, was not available for an interview.
When WCCO shared the details of this story with Patty Wetterling, she said, “It’s time to bring Jacob home. We need our answers.”
If you have any tips about Jacob Wetterling’s whereabouts, please call 320-251-4240.