Jacob Wetterling — Kidnapped, St. Joseph, MN — 10/22/89
It was about 9PM Sunday night–there was no school the next day–and 11-year-old Jacob Wetterling’s parents had gone to a dinner party in a nearby town. So, he was watching his two younger siblings, Trevor and Carmen, and had his best friend Aaron over as well.
After getting his parents’ OK, he had a neighbor watch Carmen so the three boys could bike the one mile to Tom Thumb and rent a movie. It’s a rural neighborhood–with fire numbers instead of house numbers and no street lights. The closest house is 1/4 mile away.
On the way back, only a half mile from home, a man with a black mask steps out from a driveway with a gun. He tells the boys to stop, get off their bikes, turn off their flashlights and lay down on the ground in the ditch.
He then throws the bikes in a ditch and asks each of the boys their ages–first Trevor, then Aaron answers, and each time the masked man tells him to run off across the field and not to look back or he’ll be shot.
But when the boys reached the woods, they do look back and don’t see either Trevor or the gunman.
The Road Less Traveled
Neither of the two returning boys saw or heard a vehicle but the police found tire tracks at the end of the driveway the boys were intercepted at, which they assumed were from the suspect.
They focused on those tracks for 14 years…until in an interview, a man said he had a police scanner, heard the report and went to go check it out–and that the tracks were probably his.
Suddenly, their theory that someone might have gotten off the nearby interstate to take the boy was up in smoke.
Interestingly, the man says he was still there when the first officer arrived. He says he talked with him and pointed out the bikes but the officer just told him to leave.
In fact, no one ever called to follow up–which he found odd, since by all intents and purposes being at that crime scene should have made him suspect number one.
Obviously, that officer never reported his exchange with the man since they focused on those tracks for so long.
The Prime Suspect
FBI Profiler Pat Brown says the man is probably very local. He wore a mask to avoid being recognized and was most likely on foot. He also probably saw the boys go by and knew they’d be heading back his way.
That certainly fits the description of music teacher Daniel Rassier, who is the main person of interest. He lives at the farm nearest to the abduction spot with his parents–who were out of town at the time.
He called police to report someone turning around in his driveway that night. He said he heard a commotion out in the yard but figured there was nothing he could do and went to bed. OK, yeah, that seems kind of rude.
He continued to give odd answers in response to interview questions throughout the years. But yes, he does claim he is innocent.
The farm was searched soon after the disappearance, although the effort was half-hearted–police didn’t initially feel he was a suspect since they assumed the suspect drove up in a car. Rassier himself has pointed out he had a car full of boxes to take to work that morning and police never asked to see inside them.
Six years ago, police executed a search on Rassier’s computer. Then, law enforcement conducted a two-day search of the farm
again in 2010 after new investigators took over. Investigators only had a search warrant for the outbuildings and property the first day, but they found enough possible evidence to get a warrant to search the house itself on the second.
In short, they took away 6 truckloads of dirt plus other items, including a cedar chest in the garage attic with dried blood on it, a lawn chair, and the base of a patio umbrella stand. Police say no real evidence has materialized, although a few items are still being tested.
One item taken from Rassier’s bedroom was a box of newspaper clippings on Jacob’s disappearance, along with a journal with his thoughts on the case. When asked about it in a press interview, Rassier’s answer for having them was that he’s “a packrat.”
21 Years Later
His parents are still hoping that Jacob’s among the 2% of kids who are still alive long-term after a kidnapping. And police say it’s still an active case. In fact, 11 new tips have been called in to investigators since the Nancy Grace America’s Missing special on Jacob aired this past Monday.