Former FBI agent opens up about Wetterling case

Al Garber spent 26 years investigating cases with the FBI, but even he was surprised by what he heard coming from Danny Heinrich in federal court.

“The brutality of it.  The candidness of Heinrich,” said Garber. “The fact that Jacob was killed almost immediately after being abducted, that was shocking.”

Garber supervised the FBI’s investigation after Wetterling’s abduction near his St. Joseph, MN home in October of 1989.  He worked the case for several years looking at multiple suspects, including Heinrich.

“We did a very comprehensive investigation of Heinrich,” said Garber. “Whatever you can imagine we could do we did. And then when all failed we got search warrants for his car and his house.”

Those search warrants turned up fibers in Heinrich’s car that were consistent with evidence in the abduction and sexual assault Jared Scheierl in 1990. But the evidence was not strong enough to stand up in court.

“We didn’t know what to do,” Garber recalled. “So we decided we’re going to try and bring him in and maybe we can get him to talk or say something that will lead us to real evidence, and we did. And it didn’t work.” 

Garber gives credit the to the current team of investigators who reopened the files, conducted DNA testing on Jared Scheierl’s clothing that led straight back to Heinrich. The new investigation uncovered evidence of child pornography in Heinrich’s home that led to federal changes and the eventual plea deal and confession to the murder of Jacob Wetterling.

“As far as we know, he didn’t tell anybody what he did until now which is very, very unusual,” said Garber.  “And nobody came forward with any real evidence to this point.  That’s unusual for a crime like this.  Usually somebody talks.  It may take a long time but somebody talks.  And some evidence develops.  It may not be enough to convict, but some evidence is developed.”

Still, Garber says there are lessons investigators should learn from this case.  One of them is that law enforcement can’t rely on looking for the typical suspects. 

“You can’t do an investigation thinking that you’re only going to go after people who fit the mold, fit the profile.  Because, here’s a guy with no convictions.  A guy who apparently he didn’t have any of the characteristics you are told that child sex offenders have,” he said.

Garber says he feels deeply sorry for what happened to Jacob. He also says he feels deep emotion for his family who he worked closely with during the investigation.  But he also warns people to not call this closure.

“Nothing good came out of this. There’s no closure. The only this we know is Jacob is dead. And the guy who killed him is going to jail for a long time. That’s not good,” said Garber.