MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Despite being told they were wrong by law enforcement, sexual assault survivor Jared Scheierl and blogger Joy Baker never gave up.
They teamed up to provide critical clues in the Jacob Wetterling case.
WCCO aired the first interviews with them in 2014. They had evidence that Wetterling’s case was connected to a series of unsolved sex assaults on boys in the mid-80s in Paynesville, and to Scheierl’s own 1989 sexual assault.
It is a theory that led to a breakthrough in the case.
Law enforcement kept telling Scheierl and Baker they were on the wrong track in their investigation, but the duo never gave up.
“I don’t know if that was just to deter us [laughs],” Scheierl said.
They began an informal partnership in the summer of 2013, tracking down leads after Baker uncovered a series of articles detailing unsolved sexual assaults on boys in Paynesville in 1986 and 1987.
But what drove them to spend hundreds of hours researching Wetterling, Scheierl and Paynesville cases?
“I felt it was important,” Baker said.
Scheierl was assaulted and kidnapped in Cold Spring nine months before Wetterling was kidnapped.
It was Scheierl who helped the FBI put together the now-famous sketch of his own attacker.
Just weeks after Wetterling was taken, the FBI issued a statement saying Wetterling and Scheierl’s cases were linked
“These facts match up with Jacob’s abduction,” said FBI Agent Jeff Jamar in December of 1989.
But in 2004, under the leadership of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension’s Kenneth Macdonald and Stearns County Sheriff Captain Pam Jensen, the investigation moved away from that theory.
“They had told me that, ‘We don’t believe that your and Jacob’s cases are connected,'” Scheierl said.
BCA search warrants starting in 2004 say investigators believed “no vehicle was used” in Wetterling’s kidnapping, and the kidnapper had to be on foot.
The BCA and Stearns County believed Wetterling’s kidnapper was farmer Dan Rassier, who they investigated for 10 years — even digging up his farm in 2010 and publicly naming him as a person of interest.
“I told them back in 1999, I told them in 2004 and I told them in 2013 that Dan Rassier was not my person,” Scheierl said.
Neither Stearns County or the BCA would comment on why in 2004 they did not go back to what we now know they knew in January of 1990: the tire tracks and a shoe print at the Wetterling abduction scene were consistent with, but not a scientific match, to Danny Heinrich — a man who court documents reveal was back then a suspect the Paynesville, Wetterling and Scheierl cases.
It was a theory that law enforcement abandoned for a quarter of a century, only to be pushed by a blogger and survivor who would not stop.
“We believed in what we were doing,” Scheierl said.
The BCA says they never solely went to a theory of an abductor on foot, despite what is written in their own search warrants.
The Stearns County Sheriff’s Department declined to comment.
Scheierl and Baker spent hundreds of hours of their own time pursuing leads. They both have full-time jobs: Baker works in public relations at a Minnesota health care facility, and Scheierl is a plumber in Paynesville.
Scheierl’s friends have set up a GoFundMe page for him to raise money to offset his expenses incurred during the hundreds of hours he spent chasing down leads.
Last Tuesday, after Danny Heinrich’s chilling confession, they were publicly thanked by Patty Wetterling.