Retired FBI investigator defends handling of Wetterling investigation

Former investigators with the FBI are continuing to defend their handling of the Jacob Wetterling case several weeks after the case files were released to the public. 

Former FBI investigator Steve Gilkerson held a news conference Tuesday, nearly two weeks after Stearns County Sheriff Don Gudmundson blasted the FBI for its role in allowing the investigation to go “off the rails” in the early stages of the nearly 30-year case. 

“We had nothing,” Gilkerson said. “Nothing to show he was responsible for Jacob’s kidnapping.” 
Gilkerson, an FBI special agent from 1968 to 1998, recalled his 1990 interrogation of Danny Heinrich, Jacob’s killer, insisting he and other investigators did not blow the Wetterling case when they allowed Heinrich, a prime suspect from the get-go, to slip through their hands.  

“It is clear to me that the only way this case could have ever been solved and was solved was by confession,” Gilkerson said. “My impression of Danny Heinrich is he would never confess to this crime.”
Federal authorities eventually coaxed that confession out of Heinrich in 2016 with new DNA evidence and child pornography charges. 

But, Gudmundson continues to insist the Wetterling file with sneaker prints, tire tracks and suspect descriptions in other similar attacks across Stearns County during that time period should have landed Heinrich in prison long ago.

Gilkerson disagrees.

“Words like ‘looks like’, ‘similar’, ‘consistent’, ‘same pattern’ are not real evidence,” he said. “We do not convict people on maybe or possibly or even probably. You convict real evidence in our system of justice.”

The Stearns County Sheriff’s Office released a statement Tuesday in response to Gilkerson’s press conference, again calling on the FBI to release a copy of its files in the Wetterling investigation.