Newly unsealed documents from Stearns County shine new light on the long and frustrating search for 11-year-old Jacob Wetterling, who was abducted not far from his rural St. Joseph, Minn., home in October 1989.
The documents, unsealed Friday, detail the 2010 search of property belonging to one of the Wetterling family’s neighbors, as well as searches of property for the boy’s actual killer — Danny Heinrich of Paynesville, Minn. — and a Paynesville sex offender and acquaintance of Heinrich’s.
Jacob was abducted in front of the home of Daniel Rassier, a local music teacher. For almost 30 years, Rassier faced intensive, embarrassing scrutiny because he lived nearest to the spot where Jacob disappeared. Over the years, authorities searched Rassier’s home, rifled through his computer, collected his DNA and dug up his yard. They interviewed his parents and a woman he dated. They tailed him as he went about his daily routine and interviewed him under hypnosis.
In 2009, officers fitted Jacob’s mother, Patty Wetterling, with a wire and sent her to intercept Rassier and talk to him about the night of Oct. 22, 1989, when her son was abducted on a road near the entrance to Rassier’s driveway.
With law enforcement listening in, Patty Wetterling intercepted Rassier as he was coming out of a health club in St. Cloud on Oct. 30, 2009. She struck up a conversation about the night of the abduction.
“Patty asked Rassier if he knew what happened to Jacob,” read the search warrant, which had been sealed since 2010. “Rassier responded, ‘No, no one knows for sure. I do know, however, that the driver of the car was the person who did it.’ ”
In the end, Rassier was proved right. In federal court this week, Heinrich, jailed for the past 11 months on child pornography charges, confessed to abducting, molesting and killing Jacob and kidnapping and sexually assaulting a 12-year-old boy nine months earlier in nearby Cold Spring, Minn.
Shoe prints and tire tracks that matched Heinrich’s shoes and vehicle were found in Rassier’s gravel driveway.
Heinrich would later tell investigators that he waited in his blue car at the end of the Rassier family’s long driveway for 20 minutes until Jacob, his brother and best friend biked past on the rural dirt road.
Until Heinrich’s arrest last October on the child pornography charges, Rassier was under scrutiny. There was no search of his home or property on the night of the abduction, which left law enforcement officers with nagging suspicions. In 2004, they informed the Rassier family that they considered Daniel Rassier a suspect.
In 2010, Rassier was named a “person of interest” in Jacob’s disappearance and investigators spent two days going through the home he shared with his parents and searching the family farm with excavation equipment and cadaver dogs.
The dogs repeatedly signaled the presence of blood or “decomposing human remains” on the property. They sounded the alert in outbuildings, led investigators to suspicious stains and spatter on walls and a 3-foot-long wooden box, used for storing blankets, that seemed large enough to hide a body.
Through the lens of the Wetterling abduction, everything Rassier did somehow seemed suspicious.
“Dan Rassier is an avid runner, including running marathons throughout the United States,” the search warrant notes at one point. “Rassier stated in a news article that he runs to suppress pain. Your affiant believes that this pain may be associated with the events described herein.”
At another point, investigators noted that “the age of the children at the time of the abduction is the age that Rassier teaches at his job as a schoolteacher [and] that Rassier has no known dating history beyond that described herein.”
Rassier mentioned his fears about police scrutiny while talking with Patty Wetterling, unaware that the investigators were listening in.
“Patty Wetterling asked where Jacob could be,” the search warrant document stated. Rassier mentioned his worry that since everyone knew he was a suspect, the real killer might return to hide Jacob’s body on his property.
“Rassier said that he had this fear in the back of his mind, and that the police have made him feel so guilty,” the document read.