(KMSP) - One of the original persons of interest in the disappearance of Jacob Wetterling has been pointing the finger of suspicion at Danny Heinrich since 1990. Two weeks ago, officials named Heinrich a person of interest. He has denied any involvement in the case.
2 decades of rabbit holes
Robert Dudley knew of Heinrich, but left him out of "It Can't Happen Here," his book published earlier this year on the Wetterling case.
"When you look at the information you wonder why is he still free 26 years later," Dudley said of Heinrich.
Dudley believes the break in the case may have been handwritten notes he turned over to the FBI a few months ago. They came from a prison interview conducted 25 years ago with Duane Allen Hart who is a convicted pedophile. The notes were taken by a private detective working for Hart's defense attorney.
Wetterling detectives considered Hart a "person of interest," or POI, from the very start.
"Basically you have bookends on this case. You have a POI who was investigated from the beginning. And a POI investigated and reported on for the last year. And you have a lot of rabbit holes in the middle," said Dudley.
There have been 26 years of rabbit holes, conspiracy theories, and dead ends. And yet investigators have long maintained Jacob's abduction was connected to 7 young boys molested around the town of Paynesville, Minnesota (1986-1988) including the abduction and assault of Jared Scheierl eight months before Jacob's disappearance.
They looked at Heinrich
Scheierl was 12 years old when he was kidnapped and sexually assaulted in Cold Spring in January of 1989. Recently, investigators announced DNA evidence connected Heinrich to that attack but the 52-year old man won't be charged because the statute of limitations has expired. Scheierl declined to talk with us about the case but told the Fox 9 Investigators he long suspected Hart may have been the man who abducted him, until Heinrich was revealed as his abductor a couple weeks ago.
The theory went if you could solve Scheierl's case then you might also solve Wetterling’s case.
Three of the Paynesville victims shared one thing in common. They were molested while leaving a pizza joint that used to be located about a block away from where Heinrich lived.
"We know the Paynesville police chief came forward in '89 with Danny Heinrich's name, saying you need to look at this guy," said Dudley.
Back then, detectives did look at Heinrich, discovering his sneakers matched a sneaker print at the Wetterling crime scene. A tire track, matched tires Heinrich had on his car. But neither the tires or sneakers are considered an exact match.
"In short It looks like they forgot about him," said Dudley.
'He's a scumbag'
According to the book author, detectives seemed more focused on Hart even though his M.O. was to groom his victims, with drugs and alcohol, not kidnapping or abduction. Hart was convicted of molesting other boys in 1990, the year after Wetterling vanished.
That year, Hart spent 60 hours with the private eye, going through the list of usual suspects in the Wetterling case, but singled out Heinrich
"What he told the private investigator, when he get's hot headed that's when he gets a raspy voices," Dudley pointed out from the notes.
Hart said Heinrich also liked to wear camouflage, and carry a police radio, matching the M.O. So how did Hart know so much about Heinrich? They knew each other since they were children.
Hart, who is 16 years older than Heinrich, claims he never molested Heinrich, but admitted to molesting Heinrich's older brother, David, many years ago.
The brother talked with Fox 9's Paul Blume, through the man's apartment door and said Hart may have hundreds of victims.
"He prayed on dysfunctional families. He's a scumbag," said David.
Hart, who was raised by a foster family who lived across Lake Koronis (located about 3 miles from Paynesville) even lived with Heinrich's older brother for a time. All of them used to hang out together.
"Hart went with their mother. She worked at the Black Saucer," according to Dudley. "He said there were water beds and porn."
Investigators need something more to connect Heinrich to Jacob who lived in St. Joseph, 30 miles away from Paynesville, something besides the tire tracks and foot prints.
Despite the child pornography police recently found in Heinrich's home, the self-described "dirty old man" has remained under the radar for two decades.
Currently, Hart is a civilly committed sexual predator, confined to a treatment facility in Moose Lake, MN. He declined an interview request with the Fox 9 Investigators and Fox 9 has not been able to confirm whether Hart has recently talked with detectives.