Jacob Wetterling case file to be released Thursday

After nearly 30 years, Fox 9 will be getting an in-depth look at the investigation into one of Minnesota's most notorious criminal cases.

Thursday morning, authorities will release the Jacob Wetterling case file. Following his disappearance in 1989, it took 27 years to finally bring Jacob's killer to justice.

Danny Heinrich never strayed far from the St. Joseph crime scene. He lived in Paynesville when he abducted Jacob Wetterling in 1989. Authorities later arrested him in Annandale two years ago.

But how did Heinrich keep his horrific secret and escape justice for so long?

Investigative documents released at the time of his 2016 confession show Heinrich as an early suspect in the Wetterling case.

Within months of Jacob’s disappearance, Heinrich was arrested in connection to the kidnapping and sexual assault of Jared Scheierl in nearby Cold Spring. The two cases appeared seemingly linked by date and location.

Yet, Heinrich was released and the documents released so far don’t mention his name again for 25 years. Scheierl never gave up hope that law enforcement would eventually track down his tormentor.

Thursday, more than 41,000 pages of investigative pages will be seen publicly for the first time. It will likely include the false alarm that led to the 2010 dig on the Rassier Family farm near where Heinrich confronted Jacob, his brother, and friend Aaron Larson at gunpoint. Also among the documents will likely be the bogus theory that the abductor was on foot as well as scores of wild tips that stretched to either coast. 

“Despite intense public interest in this case, it involves thousands of real human beings and years of intense personal tragedy,” said Stearns County Attorney Janelle Kendall during a press conference in 2017.

Sources told Fox 9 the case file includes one man, who needed to prove an alibi to investigators for the night of the abduction, was forced to produce a motel receipt for a rendezvous with his mistress. Another tip at the time came from a young boy, allegedly sexually assaulted by an uncle, took his secret and suspicions that his own family member should be considered a suspect.

Patty and Jerry Wetterling, Jacob’s parents, went to court to protect their own family’s personal information, which is documented in the voluminous file. They objected to the release of about 25 pages. In a statement Wednesday, they said, “Our hearts hurt for anyone who is pained or hurt from the release of this file. Clearly changes are still needed.” 

A source told Fox 9 there is collateral damage in a search that dragged on for 27 years.

The release of the case file may perhaps provide the answers that eluded a generation of Minnesotans.

“The question therefore arises: What does the public need to know?” said Stearns County Attorney Kendall during a press conference in 2017.