The small white house that was the last trace of Jacob Wetterling’s killer in Annandale came crashing down Friday morning.
Tim Thone, a real estate developer from Woodbury, had decided he would buy the house and demolish it as a Christmas present to his now-grown children.
The one-bedroom house on the corner lot once belonged to Danny Heinrich. Last year, authorities searched it and discovered a trove of child pornography, surveillance videos of little boys at play, and the leverage they needed to coax Heinrich to confess that he was the one who snatched 11-year-old Jacob off his bike 27 years ago and murdered him, leaving the Wetterling family and the state to a futile decades-long search for the boy.
Heinrich is now in prison. But his empty and foreclosed house remained a distressed and distressing community landmark. Hundreds of neighbors petitioned the city to buy the property at auction and raze it. The city tried three times but couldn’t put up enough money to satisfy the bank.
Thone and his wife were young parents in 1989, when Jacob was stolen away by a masked gunman. Their four children, like so many others, grew up in the shadow of that tragedy, with parents who were afraid to let them play alone in the front yard.
“Our hearts broke” for the Wetterling family, Thone said. “As parents, and as Minnesotans, it had a profound effect.”
Thone, who has built more than 400 homes around Woodbury, said, "I turned to my wife and I said, ‘If that house is available, I’m going to buy it and I’m going to tear it down.’ This is an icky thing and we’re just trying to make a good thing. To make everybody feel good for three minutes, because you’ll never really feel good” about what happened to Jacob.
It took the combined efforts of Thone, his business associates, the city, state agencies and the governor’s office to push the sale through before Christmas. Thone said he plans to donate the vacant lot back to the city of Annandale.