MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Tonight we want to take a fresh look at eight unsolved attacks on boys in the late 1980s that investigators now believe are connected to the Jacob Wetterling attack.
As authorities made the stunning announcement that Danny Heinrich was a person of interest in Jacob’s disappearance, court documents released last week made it clear that Heinrich was also a suspect in the Paynesville attacks.
A review of the police reports from the Payensville attacks reveal chilling similarities to Jacob’s abduction – as well as the kidnapping and sexual assault of another boy in Cold Spring in January of 1990. Among the striking aspects of Jacob Wetterling’s case is that the kidnapper was bold enough to attack a group of three boys riding their bikes at night.
Jacob’s brother and friend were able to tell police the attacker was short and stocky, had a low raspy voice, was wearing a mask and threatened to kill them.
“He grabbed Jacob and told me to run as fast as I could or he would shoot,” Jacob’s friend, Aaron Larson, said in 1989.
At the time of Jacob’s kidnapping, Danny Heinrich was living in the nearby town of Paynesville where there had been a series of unsolved sexual assaults on pre-teen and teenage boys. In one case, two boys riding bikes after dark were jumped.
One victim wrote, “All of a sudden someone grabbed me by the throat and pulled me off my bike. I screamed as he grabbed me by the testicles.”
One report says the attacker was wearing a mask. Another victim writes after he was molested the attacker “Told me not to move or he was going to kill me.” The man was “heavy set, approximately 5 feet, 6 inches tall and his voice was “kind of a deep whisper.”
In 2014, WCCO asked Patty Wetterling if she had known about the Paynesville cases. She said, “We did not know.”
In May of 2014, we showed the Paynesville police reports to Patty Wetterling. She said then, “Some of these boys were taken when they were together from a group of boys and that is really rare. The age of the boys is close to Jacob’s. I do think there is a strong possibility they could be connected to Jacob’s case.”
In a document made public last week, it was revealed that Paynesville’s police chief, Robert Schmiginsky, contacted the Wetterling investigators in January of 1990 about the Paynesville cases. He told them Danny Heinrich was a suspect.
Schmiginsky refused to comment for our story today. He is now retired.
Investigators say new DNA testing connected Heinrich to the 1990 kidnapping and assault of a Cold Spring boy named Jared Scheierl. Scheierl said Monday, “I got my answer, the best thing that could happen is that we get a confession to all wrongdoing by Wednesday.”
Wednesday is Heinrich’s next court appearance.
Jacob’s parents, Patty and Jerry Wetterling, plan to speak with reporters at their home in St. Joseph Tuesday afternoon.
Watch WCCO 4 News at 5 to hear their reaction to the latest developments in their son’s unsolved case.