MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — WCCO has uncovered new information about a lead investigators in the Jacob Wetterling case followed in 1990, and again this year.
Sources tell WCCO the FBI investigated an arson that occurred in November of 1989 at a home Danny Heinrich was known to visit. Documents obtained by WCCO show the home was excavated and all of the debris was removed weeks before the FBI ever linked Heinrich to it.
The front page of the Paynesville Press on Nov. 14, 1989 shows a Ceremony of Hope for Jacob Wetterling. Students singing “Somewhere Out There,” hoping for the safe return of the 11-year-old.
In the bottom right hand corner of that same paper is news about a suspected arson at a Paynesville home. What Wetterling investigators didn’t realize until months later, after the fire wreckage was taken away, is that the two cases could be connected.
Documents recently released about the arrest of Danny Heinrich on child pornography charges show he was familiar with the home that burned. The documents also show the burned home had been burglarized five years earlier. And FBI agents found pictures thought to be relatives of the family who lived there when they searched the home where Heinrich lived in 1990.
According to the documents, Heinrich was arrested in another kidnapping case four days after FBI agents learned of his connection to the burned home. Al Garber was the FBI supervisor of the Wetterling investigation.
“All of what you’re saying is interesting, very interesting,” Garber said. “It makes for good conversation but we’re not, I’m not, looking for conversation. I make the same assumptions you do. The difference is I know they’re assumptions and you don’t convict on assumptions. You convict on evidence. I can’t deny anything you said and I probably agree, it looks like what you said makes all the sense in the world, but frankly it doesn’t make any difference.”
The suspected arson happened early Sunday morning of Nov. 12, 1989, some three weeks after Jacob’s disappearance. Sources tell WCCO the family was gone for the weekend.
The Paynesville Press reported “The fire apparently started inside the home in a basement storage room.”
WCCO obtained documents that show excavation work on the home was completed by January 5, 1990. That includes hauling away debris.
Brian Jones’ family company did the work.
“It also says in the document to excavate basement, garage footings, water line, sewer line and backfill,” Jones said. “That means everything would have been removed.”
The work was complete a month before the FBI learned Heinrich, their suspect in Jacob’s disappearance, had a connection to the house. Any evidence was gone.
Garber told WCCO reporter Jennifer Mayerle he doesn’t remember investigating the fire.
“Did investigators get to that point too late?” Mayerle asked.
“I have no idea, and neither do you,” Garber said.
WCCO contacted the State Fire Marshal’s office. They only keep arson records past seven years if there was a fatality in the fire.
The FBI said they could not comment.
Investigators have followed too many leads to count over the decades this is one of those.