MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A boyhood friend of Jacob Wetterling is sharing what he told investigators shortly after Jacob’s kidnapping: That a man in a blue car had chased him just a month earlier.
Adam Klaphake’s story is part of a lawsuit that accuses Wetterling investigators of focusing on the wrong guy. Klaphake thinks his information could have nabbed the real kidnapper, Danny Heinrich, much sooner.
For the first time on television, he spoke about his frustration as the case went unsolved for nearly 27 years.
“It just never made sense to me that he had never been here before,” Klaphake said. “It just didn’t make sense.”
Back in 1989, Klaphake was 14 and a friend of Jacob’s.
“We both loved sports,” he said.
Adam’s story of what happened to him and a 12-year-old friend six weeks before Jacob was taken on the same street, walking home from the same convenient store, is now a major section of a lawsuit against three key Wetterling investigators.
As the two boys walked down this street in September of 1989 a speeding car began following them.
“He seemed like he was doing 60, 70 [miles per hour], so we started running,” Klaphake said.
They ran into Adam’s friend’s open garage and cowered there as the car pulled in and sat WITH its high beam pointing at them.
“We’re just sitting in the driveway like, ‘What is going on? This is crazy,’ and then he backed up into that person’s driveway,” Klaphake said.
The car stayed there for several minutes, and then left. Days after Jacob’s abduction, they and their parents went to Wetterling investigators.
“We gave a good description of the car, the man driving the car, and that we could identify him in a lineup,” Klaphake said.
The boys did not know it then, but the car they described would end up matching the blue Ford EXP Danny Heinrich drove the night of Jacob’s kidnapping. In 2015, when Adam finally saw his 1989 statement to Wetterling investigators, he was stunned to see his description of the driver matched that of Danny Heinrich.
“Do you think it was Danny Heinrich?” WCCO’s Esme Murphy asked Klaphake.
“Yeah, I do,” he replied.
Despite the fact that Danny Heinrich was almost immediately a prime suspect in Jacob’s case, Adam and his friend never took part in any lineup.
For 15 years, Adam tried to stop thinking about what had happened, but in 2004 he saw a news story that investigators had a new theory — they were convinced Jacob’s kidnapper was on foot, not in a car — and there was a new suspect.
Investigators turned their entire focus to investigating band teacher Dan Rassier. A 2004 televised story contained a plea from Patty Wetterling for information.
“I saw Patty come on the news, and that was the kicker,” Klaphake said.
So in 2004, Klaphake again came forward about what happened to him in 1989.
“I wanted them to come with me so I could show them the route and what we did, and they did not want to do it,” he said.
He says he was angry to see the same investigators he believed ignored him and other evidence take credit for solving the Wetterling case.
“I see them standing behind the lawyers — it’s frustrating,” Klaphake said.
Klaphake says he gave a statement for Dan Rassier’s lawsuit because he wants the Stearns County Sheriff’s office and investigators held accountable.
“I want them to more or less look in the mirror and re-evaluate how they handled these things, and for Dan, too,” he said.
The lawsuit that includes Klaphake’s accusations was filed Wednesday morning by a neighbor once called a “person of interest” in the Wetterling case. Rassier and his mother want more than $2 million in damages from Stearns County and a state crime agent. Investigators dug up the family’s farm in 2010. Their lawsuit accuses authorities of ignoring evidence that pointed to the real killer.
Klaphake does not know Rassier personally.
Danny Heinrich ultimately led the FBI to Jacob Wetterling’s remains near Paynesville last summer. He’s serving 20 years in prison on child pornography charges.
In a statement, an attorney for Stearns County said investigators were “reasonable” and the Rassier lawsuit would turn out in law enforcement’s favor.