MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — We now know that in the three-and-a-half months after Jacob Wetterling’s abduction, Danny Heinrich was interviewed and contacted by Stearns County investigators and the FBI four times.
During that time, the FBI determined that Heinrich’s shoe prints and his car’s tire tracks were consistent, but not a scientific match, to the prints and tracks found at the Wetterling abduction scene. Jared Scheierl’s attack was preceded by assaults on eight boys in Paynesville in 1986 and 1987.
Those cases were never solved, but investigators believe they are connected to Heinrich. WCCO’s Nina Moini talked to one of those victims on Sunday.
Troy Cole of Paynesville came forward with help from Jared Scheierl within the last year or so. He told us today he is glad the Wetterling’s have finally found Jacob, but he says he is outraged about how his and other cases in Paynesville were handled.
He thinks Jacob’s abduction could have been prevented if only the Paynesville cases had been thoroughly investigated right when they happened.
“It’s something that you can only put in the back of your head you can never get rid of it,” Cole said.
Troy Cole was attacked and sexually assaulted three years before Jacob was taken, a block or so from his own front door.
“Riding my bike home one night, next thing you know, knife to throat not knowing if you’ll live or die when you’re 13 it’s kind of scary,” Cole said.
Cole says he and seven other boys who reported attacks in the late 80s weren’t taken seriously by Paynesville authorities.
“I gave a statement to city police here that night. Never heard back from anybody,” Cole said.
In a document made public last year, it was revealed that Paynesville’s then police chief, Robert Schmiginsky, contacted the Wetterling investigators in January of 1990 about the Paynesville cases. He told them Danny Heinrich was a suspect.
In 2014, WCCO asked Patty Wetterling if she had known about the Paynesville cases. She said, “We did not know.”
“I think the world of them, how they kept it together this many years not knowing what happened to their kid,” Cole said.
With all of the eight Paynesville attacks happening before Jacob was taken, Cole believes Jacob could still be alive today. But he is relieved Jacob has been found after authorities say 53-year-old Danny Heinrich led them to the boy’s remains.
“I was shocked he actually did talk, finally came forward and let Wetterling’s have closure,” Cole said.
Relieved for the Wetterling family, but Cole is still left with anger and sadness over what he believes could have been.
“There’s only one unanswered question now that I want to know is why didn’t they do anything about it?” Cole said.
Another victim from Paynesville WCCO identified as Craig also told us this weekend that he believes if authorities had done more to find his attacker, Jacob would be alive today. WCCO has made several attempts over the last two years to talk with the former Paynesville police chief about how these victims feel. He has declined to comment.