MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — There have been some startling developments in the Jacob Wetterling case in the last two weeks. Authorities have presented testimony and evidence showing they believe Jacob’s abduction is connected to a series of unsolved sexual assaults on boys in the late 1980s.
And they believe all are linked to Danny Heinrich.
The 52-year-old is in federal custody, having been charged with five counts of possessing and receiving child pornography. New DNA testing shows he is a match to the 1989 kidnapping and assault of a Cold Spring boy named Jared Scheierl.
That attack was preceded by assaults on eight boys in Paynesville, Minnesota — a town just 20 miles away from where Wetterling was taken — in 1986 and 1987. For the first time, one of the Paynesville victims is telling his story, a story that bears chilling similarities to Wetterling’s abduction.
In January 1990, two and a half months after Wetterling was taken, the Paynesville police told investigators they should investigate Heinrich because he was a suspect in the Paynesville attacks.
Here now is the story of one of those attacks – an attack on two boys riding home on bicycles on a very dark night by a masked man dressed in black.
In May 1987, Craig and his friend Mitch were riding home on bicycles on a very dark night in downtown Paynesville. Craig said a man dressed in black appeared out of nowhere.
In a handwritten part of a police report, Mitch described what happened next.
“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. I told him that this was the second time he got me.”
Court documents and another police report show that Mitch had been attacked by the same man three months earlier.
“He yelled he already had gotten him and the guy let him go and he ran away, and my friend stayed and I ran for help,” Craig said. “When he ran away, he was very fast. … He appeared very strong when he got my friend off the bike. He manhandled him.”
The attacker never spoke.
Craig said he did not know Heinrich, who lived less than a mile from where all of the Paynesville attacks happened. When asked if he thought Heinrich was the attacker in 1987, he said “my visceral instinct is that it is him.”
A police report on the first assault on Mitch says the attacker was waiting at night at his apartment building. Mitch was thrown to the ground. The attacker asked what grade he was in and then assaulted him.
Then, in a “low, deep whisper” the attacker told him to keep quiet or he would kill him and then ran away.
“For us it’s been over 28 years of an unnamed faceless attacker, with no closure,” Craig said.
Craig was shocked by newly released documents that show Heinrich was a suspect back in 1990 in the Paynesville cases, as well as the Wetterling case and in the 1989 abduction and sexual assault of 12-year-old Scheierl.
“I would like someone to come forward if they know something,” Craig said. “This has caused so much grief and agony for the Wetterlings, for Jared and the attack victims in Paynesville. It’s time for some answers.”
Craig said that his attacker was about 5 feet, 5 or 6 inches tall. Heinrich is 5 feet, 5 inches.
Also, in Craig and Mitch’s attack, the suspect left behind a baseball hat. The FBI was able to eliminate 80 percent of the population as the source for DNA on that hat. Heinrich could not be ruled out.