MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A Sauk Centre couple is speaking out for the first time in 26 years about what they saw three hours before Jacob Wetterling disappeared.

Kevin and Marlene Gwost are members of one of Minnesota’s best known polka bands, the Nite Owls. They were among the headliners at a polka festival attended by at least 500 people on the night of the abduction in St. Joseph. It took place at a ballroom half a mile from the abduction scene.

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(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

The Nite Owls finished their set at the Del Win about 5 p.m. Other bands would play until 10 p.m. There were at least five hundred fans there.

“They always drew a large crowd,” Marlene said.

The Gwosts left the ballroom around 5:30 p.m. and stopped at the Tom Thumb gas station, which was about two blocks away. They were rushing to get to another gig. Kevin pumped gas, Marlene went in for sandwiches.

She noticed a suspicious man inside immediately, and so did her husband.

“I said to my husband, ‘I just have a real funny feeling about that guy why was he standing there not shopping just looking,'” Marlene said. “He wasn’t looking at anything in the aisles at all. All he was doing was looking over the top of the aisles that were there. And I just had a gut feeling that there was something going on.”

Marlene worked at the time in the investigations unit of Stearns County Child Protection Services. The Gwosts reported the man to the sheriff’s office the day after the abduction, and Marlene was asked by investigators to help put together one of the early sketches of the suspect.

(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

Both Gwosts say while the sketch they helped create and other sketches of suspicious individuals from that night show a bald man. The man they saw was wearing a baseball cap similar to the one in a later sketch.

Marlene says the man was 5 feet 5 inches tall to 5 feet 7 seven inches tall. He had broad shoulders and was wearing a full-length brown coat that did not have a collar.

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“I remember mentioning to Marlene that there’s something weird with that guy,'” Kevin said. “The look on his face, an intense gaze, but at the same time he also had an uneasy, unsettled, maybe nervous demeanor at the same time.”

A Nov. 6, 1989 article from the St. Cloud Times says a man with the same description was inside the same Tom Thumb three hours later. That is when Jacob Wetterling, his brother Trevor and their friend, Aaron Larson, arrived to the store on bikes. It was while biking back to the Wetterling home in the darkness that a masked, armed man stopped them and took Jacob.

The day of Heinrich’s arrest, Marlene saw his mugshot on TV.

“I was standing right here and the hair stood up on my arm,” Marlene said.

(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

We showed them the most widely-circulated sketch of the suspect with the baseball cap, as well as a 1990 mugshot of Heinrich.

“Definitely the eyes, the eye brows,” Kevin said.

He says only the unusual angle of the mug shot, with Heinrich’s head titled up, keeps him from identifying 100 percent that Heinrich was the man he saw.

Marlene has no doubt.

“You take that one now of him the way he is right now and you lay that next to here, that’s what gave my goose bumps,” she said. “I just feel it’s him. I really do feel that that’s the guy.”

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Heinrich is 5 feet 5 inches tall and weighs 190 pounds. A former employee of an area radio station told WCCO that Stearns County Sheriff’s Office has a video of the polka fest that includes shots of the crowd.

Esme Murphy