MINNEAPOLIS (KMSP) - Danny Heinrich, the man who admitted to kidnapping, sexually assaulting and killing Jacob Wetterling, was likely groomed by a man known to be one of the most notorious sex offenders in Minnesota.
As children, Brad Froelich and Dan Garvick said they were both sexually assaulted, hundreds of times, by Duane Hart, also known as “Duey”.
Garvick recalled being molested dozens of times by Hart at a location outside Paynesville. The same place where Heinrich buried Jacob Wetterling.
“I believe Duane (Hart) brought Danny (Heinrich) here to molest him many times," Garvick said.
“I think that's the one person (Hart) I can't forgive," said Garvick now 44. "He fed us dope and alcohol and got us messed up.”
They said Hart molested several children at a time, preying upon broken families.
“Duane Hart would come along, if you were a single woman with kids, pretend he likes you and that would be it,” recalled Froelich, 46.
And they were not alone, according to court records at the time, "Hart committed hundreds of sexual assaults on at least ten young boys." They ranged in ages of 8 to 15, supplying them with alcohol and marijuana. For three decades Hart moved between the small towns of Hawick, Eden Valley, New London, Belgrade, St. Joseph, and Paynesville.
Hart was arrested three months after the Wetterling kidnapping in January, 1990. After serving time in prison, Hart was civilly committed as a sexual psychopath and was civilly committed to the Minnesota Sex Offender Program at Moose Lake (MSOP).
Investigators believe there may have been dozens of victims over three decades.
The Fox 9 Investigators have identified 30 suspected or confirmed cases.
HEINRICH AND HART’S RELATIONSHIP
Froelich said he believes Heinrich was also molested by Hart. "He set the example. He instilled it into Danny and made him the person he is," he added.
In the late 70's, Hart briefly dated Heinrich's mother who lived at the Black Saucer Hotel in Paynesville. Danny was only 15 years old at the time. Hart was 15 years older.
Heinrich's older brother, David, told Fox 9 he too was abused by Hart, 9 years older than David.
"I look at Danny Heinrich, everything he did was just like Duane Hart: the police scanner, the mask, throwing knives," recalled Froelich.
Hart told people he was a tunnel rat in Vietnam, an explosives expert who climbed through enemy tunnels.
Hart remains a suspect in the bombing of a post office in Kimball 40 years ago. The intended target, a detective who busted Hart for check fraud and animal cruelty.
HART WAS A SUSPECT IN THE 27-YEAR-OLD WETTERLING MYSTERY
Almost from the beginning, Hart was also suspect in the Wetterling kidnapping. As recently as two years ago, detectives in the Wetterling case got a search warrant for his mail and phone calls at MSP, writing that Hart was still a "viable suspect" in the Wetterling kidnapping and the assaults of eight boys in Paynesville.
Robert Dudley, author of "Finding Jacob Wetterling,” believes Hart never fit those suspect descriptions or the basic MO.
Hart was a groomer, who coerced his victims with alcohol and marijuana. Heinrich, we now know, was a violent abductor.
Hart himself knew as much back in 1990, when a private detective working for his defense, interviewed Hart and took 25 pages of notes.
Hart identified two dozen of his own victims, including one, who he thought kidnapped Wetterling, the detective even circled Dan Heinrich’s name. But Hart told the private detective Heinrich was an adult at the time of their sexual contact, and that the relationship was consensual.
“Here you have Duane Hart telling a private investigator, I didn't kidnap Jacob Wetterling, but I think this guy did," said Dudley. "He was the beginning of the cycle of abuse for Danny Heinrich."
CYCLE GOES FULL CIRCLE?
For years, Froelich and Garvick, have gone back to the secluded, secret hide outs of their childhood near Paynesville, like a spot on the shores of Lake Koronis. It's one of half-dozen places they dug up, looking for the remains of Wetterling.
One of the locations they showed the Fox 9 Investigators, is a place just outside Paynesville, where Garvick said Hart would assault him and other children.
"Well, right in this area he took me more than several times, probably 15-to-20 times." said Garvick.
It’s a place now considered hallowed ground, because it's also where Heinrich buried Wetterling and where the boy remained for 26 years.
“I think Danny was here with Duane a number of times. I believe Duane brought Danny here to molest him many times," Garvick added.
It is a bitter irony. That the man who molested them and the man they were sure kidnapped Wetterling, had a role no one had bothered to consider.
"It's hard to believe this vicious monster was loose in our community for so long, everyone knew about it but no one stepped up to the plate to protect the children,” said Froelich. It's really hard to believe,".
SENTENCING FOR HEINRICH
As part of a plea deal with federal prosecutors, Heinrich was not charged with Wetterling’s murder but will serve up to 20 years in prison for possession of child pornography. The sentencing is scheduled for Monday, Nov. 21.