Police investigating the kidnapping of Jacob Wetterling said Thursday that they now have a prime suspect, a burly man who abducted and sexually assaulted another boy before releasing him.
Authorities had released sketches earlier of people wanted for questioning, but yesterday was the first time they released a detailed description of the man they believe kidnapped Jacob. They have not been able to identify him.
The development came this week after three FBI interviews with a 12-year-old boy in Cold Spring, Minn., who told of being sexually assaulted last January. He described his assailant as a white man, 40 to 50 years old and wearing military-style fatigues and a baseball cap.
Authorities had interviewed the boy previously but weren't certain until recently that his description was precise or that the abduction bore a strong similarity to the Wetterling kidnapping.
"It's the guy we believe took Jacob," FBI agent Byron Gigler said yesterday.
A police task force has reviewed many reports of child abductions in Minnesota in the eight weeks since 11-year-old Jacob was kidnapped but had been unable to establish a link with other abductions.
Cold Spring is about 10 miles from the rural road in St. Joseph where Jacob was snatched Oct. 22. That increases the likelihood that a man familiar with central Minnesota is preying on boys in the area for sex, said Jeff Jamar, head of the FBI in Minnesota.
"The person who abducted Jacob knows the community," Jamar said. Assuming that the Cold Spring abductor and Jacob's kidnapper are the same person, "He's there in January and he's there in October. Maybe he works in the area, has relatives there or travels through. Or lives there."
Authorities cited a number of similarities between the abduction in Cold Spring and the kidnapping of Jacob.
Moreover, the drawing of the prime suspect resembles an earlier sketch of a man wanted for questioning for following or otherwise bothering youngsters in the area. "They could be the same person," Jamar said.
The man depicted in the earlier sketch was seen glaring at people at the Tom Thumb convenience store the night Jacob was kidnapped, Jamar said. Jacob; his brother, Trevor, 10, and a friend, Aaron Larson, 11, rented a video from the store shortly before the kidnapping. The man also was seen earlier the same day glaring at children and other customers at a convenience store in Avon, about 6 miles away.
Jacob was abducted at 9:15 p.m., the Cold Spring boy at 9:45 p.m. Both incidents occurred on lightly traveled roads. In both cases the abductor had a raspy voice and a bold, authoritative manner. Jacob's
kidnapper showed a gun; the Cold Spring abductor claimed to have one. In both cases the boys were returning home from public places where they had been playing with other boys.
Jacob, Trevor and Aaron were riding bicycles from a convenience store when they were accosted a half-mile from the Wetterling home. The gunman, who wore a mask, ordered them off their bikes and into a ditch and demanded their ages. After looking at Aaron's face, the gunman told him and Trevor to run or he'd shoot. Then he snatched Jacob and presumably took off in a vehicle, although the other boys did not see one.
"This guy was very aggressive, very commanding, almost like a military man," Gigler said.
The Cold Spring boy had just finished ice skating with two friends Jan. 13 and was walking home alone when a man drove up and pulled him into a car. The boy lived about four blocks away. The man drove him about 5 miles to an area north of Richmond where he molested him. The abductor later dumped the boy from his car and told him to run or he'd shoot. The boy said he never saw a gun.
The abductor in Cold Spring was not wearing a mask, and the victim saw his face during the three hours they were together. He also reported that the man wore a green military-style camouflage shirt and pants, black boots, a gray vest and a brown baseball cap.
The description and the kidnapper's manner in both cases prompted authorities to consider the possibility that the man has served in the military.
The FBI released a drawing of the man yesterday and also described him as white, about 5 feet 8, with husky shoulders and a low-pitched raspy voice. Authorities identified his car as a dark blue four-door similar to a Chevrolet Celebrity.
Jacob's mother, Patty Wetterling, called the latest development "pretty solid" and "very encouraging," adding, "There are not likely to be two people like that running around the St. Cloud-St. Joe area."
Patty Wetterling said she holds onto hope that her son's abductor will eventually release him, and urged people to keep a copy of the drawing of the prime suspect in their cars.
Jamar declined to speculate on Jacob's fate in light of the new development, saying there have been cases in which the same abductor keeps some children a long time while releasing others early.
He said investigators took weeks to satisfy themselves that the Cold Spring boy's description of his attacker was accurate and that the circumstances in both cases pointed to a single unidentified man.
"We didn't want to put out an artist conception like this one unless we were certain," Jamar said.
The prime suspect
The FBI released this sketch Thursday, saying that it depicted an unidentified man who is now the prime suspect in Jacob Wetterling's kidnapping
40 to 50 years old
5 feet 8 inches tall
Low, raspy voice
Bold, authoritative manner
In a January incident, the man wore a green military-style camouflage shirt and pants, black boots, a gray vest and a brown baseball cap. He drove a dark blue, newer model four-door car similar to a Chevrolet Celebrity.