MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO)— Friends and neighbors paint a dark picture of Danny Heinrich’s past. He is the man in jail on child pornography charges and a person of interest in Jacob Wetterling’s kidnapping.
Born in 1963 at Paynesville Hospital, Heinrich grew up just south of town. He spent most of his childhood with his parents and two brothers in a home near Lake Koronis.READ MORE: For His 22nd Birthday, Former Gopher Rashod Bateman Bought A Car... For His Mom
Neighbors like Norm Athmann still remember Heinrich’s name for what fire investigators told them he did one Sunday morning.
“There was a fire back in the cabin back over there. They said there’s two boys in there. I didn’t know who they were until later on they identified Danny Heinrich as one of them,” Athmann said. “Everything burned. They never rebuilt that one.”
This is 14-year-old Heinrich in 1977 when he was in seventh grade.
The last time he is pictured in a yearbook is two years later as a freshman at Paynesville High School.
In court documents, a judge asks him why he dropped out of school in his junior year.
“Crazy idea,” Heinrich said. “I regret it myself.”
Steve Herding considers himself a Heinrich family friend.
“His father was not home much,” Herding said.
He says the boys’ father traveled, working for a bridge construction company.
Their parents divorced when Danny was 15. Duane Hart entered Heinrich’s life around that time when he began dating his mother.
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Police arrested Hart in 1990, three months after Wetterling went missing. He is currently committed to Minnesota’s sex offender treatment program for molesting dozens of men and young boys.
Robert Dudley wrote a book about Wetterling’s kidnapping. He says he turned investigative notes over to the FBI in 2014 from Hart, who admitted in those notes that Heinrich’s older brother was one of his victims.
Herding says it was well known that Hart also molested Danny Heinrich.
“That was a fact, yeah,” Herding said.
Dudley writes in the book how Hart was attempting to help investigators find Wetterling’s kidnapper, and that Hart brought up Heinrich’s name as a likely suspect in 1990.
The author says the notes show “Hart identified that particular individual because the man often wore military-type clothing, drove a dark blue car, had a hand-held police scanner, and had a rough, raspy voice when excited.”
“It all hits home. Makes you wonder who is who,” Herding said. “For the sake of Jacob I hope there’s justice whoever it may be I guess.”
Court documents also say Heinrich was once a patient at the Willmar Regional Treatment Center as a young man. The hospital has programs to treat chemical dependency and mental illness.
Our investigation this week uncovered that Heinrich was also familiar with a house that caught fire exactly three weeks after Wetterling disappeared.
Sources tell WCCO the FBI investigated a suspected arson that occurred at a home Heinrich was known to visit. The Paynseville Press wrote about that fire back in 1989.
Documents show the home was excavated and all of the debris was removed weeks before investigators ever questioned Heinrich about it.
Sources say the FBI took a second look at that fire again this year. A criminal profiler told WCCO in some cases, there is a connection between serial molesters and arsonists because they themselves have been abused.MORE NEWS: 4 Ex-MPD Officers To Be Tried Together In Federal Case For George Floyd's Death, Judge Rules
Heinrich has long denied any involvement with Wetterling’s kidnapping.