In the relatively small town of St. Joseph, Minnesota, Jacob Wetterling’s abduction remained a mystery until recently, when Danny Heinrich, 53, confessed to abducting, sexually assaulting, and murdering Wetterling. This confession uncovered the horrific details of the tragic event that occurred almost 27 years ago.
Heinrich plead guilty to a federal charge of child pornography. This crime could potentially get Heinrich locked away for twenty years. However, due to his plea agreement, Heinrich will not face charges regarding Jacob’s murder. While this seems odd, U.S Attorney Andy Luger said that this was the only way that Heinrich would reveal where he had hidden Jacob’s remains.
“He’s not getting away with anything. We got the truth. The Wetterling family will bring [Jacob] home”, as Luger said. Also, as part of his plea agreement, Heinrich was required to give a detailed confession about his encounter with the victim.
According to Heinrich, Wetterling, Trevor (Wetterling’s brother), and Aaron Larsen (Wetterling’s friend) were bicycling home from the convenience store, when he approached the boys. Heinrich was carrying a revolver and wearing a stocking mask. The boys were forced into a ditch and asked their name and age. Heinrich told Aaron and Trevor to run and to not look back, otherwise he’d shoot them.
Next, Heinrich handcuffed Wetterling and took him to a pit near Paynesville and molested him. When Wetterling asked if Heinrich was going to take him home, Heinrich responded,“I can’t take you all the way home.” When Jacob started to cry, Heinrich told him to stop. Panicking because of nearby sirens, Heinrich loaded his revolver and shot Jacob twice.
With new technology, not available in the 80s, police were able to link Heinrich to a similar case of sexual assault, which occurred just nine months prior to Wetterling’s murder. They suspected Wetterling’s case could have be linked to this one, but Heinrich was never arrested for this crime due to lack of evidence. When Heinrich confessed to murdering Wetterling, he confessed to the other case of sexual assault as well.
Wetterling’s story was featured on the CNN series “The Hunt with John Walsh.” Wetterling’s mother, Patty, has also spread the word of Wetterling’s story and increased focused efforts on preventing child abduction and sex offenders.