MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Farmland in central Minnesota kept a killer’s secret for nearly 30 years, but late last week, authorities unearthed Jacob Wetterling’s remains, ending a mystery that long haunted the state.
A kidnapper grabbed the 11-year-old as he biked home on an October night in 1989. The gunman confessed he drove Wetterling from St. Joseph to Paynesville where he molested the boy and murdered him. Now, for the first time tonight, the farmer of the fields where Jacob was found is speaking out.
In court Wednesday, Danny Heinrich admitted he buried Jacob Wetterling 100 yards from a gravel pit in Paynesville only to return a year later to find the boy’s jacket exposed. Heinrich said that’s when he moved Jacob across the highway to a farm, burying him near a home but just out of sight.
“I can remember the day we were assembled in the gym,” farmer Doug Voss said. “There were a lot of tears shed that day by many people.”
Voss learned the beginning to Jacob Wetterling’s story when he was in junior high, never imagining it would end in the fields he’s now farming just outside Paynesville, as a father himself.
“The first thing you don’t think of is that it could be as close as it was,” he said.
Just behind a tree on the property is where investigators recovered Jacob’s remains last week. On Wednesday, deputies told the Vosses they were there to look for stolen property and asked permission to dig on their land.
“When there were that many people looking for something, it’s either really high value or a missing person,” Voss said.
He would later learn the Wetterlings were eventually led to the treeline that day. It wasn’t until Friday, when the Stearns County Sheriff confirmed at their kitchen table that it was Jacob they found.
“It was clear in his face that this was a long journey,” Voss said. “A lot of effort from a lot of people had gone into this.”
Voss says the 400 acres of his third-generation farm had never been searched before. He pointed to another field to show what the land would have looked like in 1989, before cattle roamed the pasture.
“There’s very little area of that farm that people aren’t walking by,” he said.
But Voss says that tall grass would make it nearly impossible to see anyone coming and going — especially at night. As the landscape changed, no one would have ever been able to detect anything suspicious.
Despite what happened there, Voss hopes people remain focused on the love Jacob had for life — not the farmland where a monster took it away.
“He’ll never be forgotten now,” he said. “There’s too much imprinted now to forget.”
On Thursday, the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office said investigators first uncovered Jacob’s hockey jacket along with some bones last Wednesday, but crime lab tests came back indicating they were animal bones. So investigators went back to the site on Friday and expanded the search area, where that evening Jacob’s remains were finally recovered.