MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — One week after Jacob Wetterling‘s killer confessed in court, we’re hearing from a blogger and a survivor who Patty Wetterling went out of her way to thank.
Last Tuesday shortly after Danny Heinrich’s chilling confession she said.
“I want to say one shout out to Jared and Joy,” Patty Wetterling said last Tuesday after Danny Heinrich’s confession. “Jared had the courage to stand up and say, ‘This happened to me, and there are others.’ And they found the others.'”
Their theory at the time: The person who kidnapped and sexually assaulted Jared and other boys in the late 1980s was the same person who snatched Jacob. Law enforcement repeatedly told them they were wrong.
“Yes, it’s true, and it’s disheartening,” Joy said.
Their theory ultimately led to a cold case review of the Wetterling kidnapping, and Danny Heinrich. But this is the story of how a blogger and a survivor never gave up.
“This was scary,” Baker said. “This was traumatic horrifying stuff.”
It was the summer of 2013. Jared agreed to work with Joy on one condition.
“This man had threatened my life directly. I do not want my name associated with this. I have children, and they’re number one — their safety is number one,” Jared said. “This guy could still be out there.”
It was just after that in 2013 that Joy found a 1987 article in the archives of the Paynesville Press that proved a turning point.
“I called Jared right away,” she said.
The article detailed a series of unsolved sexual assaults on young boys in the area.
“This guy is telling people, ‘Don’t look back or I’ll blow your head off,'” Joy said.
“Twenty-five years later, I was learning this from Joy,” Jared said.
Joy reached out to Stearns County Sheriff’s investigators.
“They asked me to send them the article,” she said. “They weren’t aware.”
But the Stearns County Sheriff’s department also wasn’t buying Joy and Jared’s theory that the Payenesville cases, Jared’s case and Jacob’s case were connected. Starting in 2004, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) and Stearns County Sheriff had a new theory — that Jacob’s kidnapper was on foot, not in a car.
“They had told me ‘We don’t believe yours and Jacob’s cases are connected,” Jared said.
In a recent statement, the BCA denied ever having focused solely on the theory that Jacob’s kidnapper was on foot.
“It got frustrating so many times,” Joy replied.
From the fall of 2013, Joy and Jared spent hundreds of hours tracking down leads and finding the Paynesville victims.
“I knew instantly these guys are associated and that this is the right direction,” Jared said.
So in 2013 and 2014, how many times did Jared and Joy contact Stearns County authorities?
“I’d say sometimes three times a week,” Jared said.
“Sometimes three times a day,” Joy added.
Through 2013 and early 2014, Joy blogged the details of their findings, and in May of 2014 after months of requests, Joy and Jared agreed to an interview on WCCO-TV.
“You were the first person to step up and say ‘This is a big deal,'” Joy said.
Our 2014 stories with Joy and Jared also featured an interview with Patty Wetterling.
“You interviewed Patty who said, ‘This could be the guy. We never heard of the Paynesville cases,’ and that was so meaningful,” Joy said.
In September of 2014 Jared and Joy were featured on John Walsh’s CNN show the “The Hunt.” The FBI says it was the Walsh special that lead them to request a first-ever cold case review of the entire Wetterling case in November 2014.
It was that review that lead to a new investigation of the man who we now know — Danny Heinrich. Back in early 1990, Heinrich was a suspect not only in Jacob’s and Jared’s cases, but the Payesville cases, too.
“We had pretty much been told, ‘Paynesville stuff — old news. Not looking into that anymore,'” Joy said. “To find out that was important and relevant — it just really made me feel good.”
Both Joy and Jared say they share the frustration that the Payesville cases were not thoroughly investigated back then, or now.
“There was no justice in their sense. They were not recognized. They were not deemed credible,” Jared said.
That’s why last Friday Jared chose to be part of a tribute before the Paynesville High football game that honored not just Jacob and Jared, but the Paynesville victims whose forgotten stories helped bring Jacob home.
The Stearns County Sheriff’s Department declined to comment. Both Joy and Jared say they do not blame law enforcement.
Joy Baker’s advice to others who find themselves fighting for something when everyone says you are wrong: “Trust your gut.”
Jared Scheierl’s advice: “Find a blogger to tell your story.”