MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Unemployment, a move and an unsolved arson. WCCO is taking a closer look at what was happening in the life of Danny Heinrich in the days before, and after, Jacob Wetterling went missing.
Heinrich is currently in jail, charged with possessing child pornography. He’s been named as a person of interest in Wetterling’s kidnapping but has always denied having anything to do with the crime.
Every year of Heinrich’s life is being scrutinized.
Documents suggest one year in particular was filled with turmoil. That year was 1989. A then 26-year-old Heinrich was having financial trouble.
In March of 1989 his Mercury Topez was repossessed. Investigators believe he used that car to sexually assault Jared Schierel in Cold Spring.
Heinrich admitted to his attorney in a burglary case years prior he’d been having problems dealing with his parent’s divorce. His mother remarried in July of 1989.
Heinrich also stopped working at Fingerhut in St. Cloud on October 8 of that year.
Former Brooklyn Park Police Chief Don Davis was not involved with the investigation into Wetterling’s kidnapping, but in his 35 years in law enforcement he knows a lot can be learned from the time leading up to a crime.
“There can be trigger events, be it positive or negative, which can direct their behavior,” Davis said.
“I equate it to shoplifting. The first time an individual shoplifts they may take one item and it was really traumatizing, but the more they think about it, ‘Hey it was rather easy. I’m going to do that again.’ Same thing with these child offenders,” he said.
Robert Dudley knows the time period well. He published a book about Wetterling’s abduction sorting through 25 years of promising leads and dead ends.
“The more questions you answered the more questions there were,” Dudley said.
Dudley felt like he never had many answers until the news of Heinrich’s arrest last month.
In his research Dudley discovered in July of ’89, three months before Wetterling was kidnapped, a 9-year-old St. Joseph boy told police he ran from a man driving a light tan van who asked him to get inside.
Authorities released a sketch of that man a week after Wetterling went missing.
If it is Heinrich, it’s the only sketch of him with glasses which he is usually pictured wearing.
Some parents called to say their kids saw that same man driving around St. Joseph that summer snapping pictures.
While it’s unknown if Heinrich had access to a van, WCCO found more recent records show Heinrich registered eight cars in the past 11 years.
Perhaps one of the most telling pieces of all is the suspect profile the FBI released just three days after Wetterling’s kidnapping: a white man, 25 to 35 years old, employed in a low-skilled job.
Investigators also believed he recently had a high-stress event in his life that triggered the high-risk way he kidnapped Wetterling. They also thought the threat of a gun indicated he may have tried a similar event before and failed.
Around the same time, the FBI described the suspect as commanding like a military man.
Heinrich served as a specialist in the National Guard. A spokesperson said he did not take part in any search for Wetterling in St. Joseph. .
“To me, it’s more than a coincidence,” Davis said.
Davis said equally as important as what happened before is what happened immediately after.
Sources told WCCO just this year investigators revisited Heinrich’s connection to an early morning arson on November 12, 1989 at a home he was known to visit. It’s the same date documents said Heinrich started a new job.
Two weeks later, Heinrich moved from his downtown Paynesville apartment, where he’d lived for years, into his father’s basement two miles away.
Potential victims of Heinrich have been told by investigators that Heinrich lost 60 pounds before Wetterling’s kidnapping and then put 60 pounds back on in the few months that followed. Another indication, experts said, that he may have been trying to avoid detection.
Patty and Jerry Wetterling will host a community meeting on Monday night in Paynesville. They’re calling it a night of healing and sharing.
Investigators are expected to talk about what kind of tips they’re still looking for in this case to help narrow the focus. It begins at 7 p.m. at Paynesville High School.