On October 22, 1989, Jacob Wetterling, Jacob’s younger brother Trevor and their friend Aaron Larson had been riding their bikes home from a St. Joseph, Minnesota convenience store. As they turned down a rural road, the boys were confronted by a masked man with a gun. The boys were ordered to throw down their bikes, lie on the ground and asked their ages. The man told Trevor and Aaron to run to the nearby woods and never look back or else they would be shot. That was the last time anyone saw Jacob Wetterling.
Search parties were sent out four days later, but nothing turned up. Throughout the years many suspects had been interviewed, including a man named Danny Heinrich, but there was not enough evidence to convict any of them. The case remained a mystery for the better part of 27 years.
In October of 2015, authorities were certain they were on the right track with Heinrich. Back in 1990 Heinrich had been taken into custody to be questioned about the case and had a DNA sample taken. That sample was later linked to another kidnapping in Cold Spring believed to have been linked to the Wetterling abduction. Though the statute of limitations were up in the Cold Spring case, investigators were able to obtain a search warrant. Heinrich was arrested on child pornography charges found as a result of that search.
On September 1, 2016, Heinrich agreed to cooperate with authorities as part of a plea deal. Heinrich admitted that he had kidnapped the boy, handcuffed him, molested him, shot him and then buried him in the gravel. Heinrich also admitted returning to the site later after he noticed Jacob’s jacket had been exposed.
Later Heinrich would lead investigators to the farm he had buried Jacob’s remains, 30 miles away from the abduction site. Investigators found clothing and human remains later confirmed to have been Jacob’s through dental records. Days later Jacob’s mother held a press conference and confirmed that the 27-year-old mystery was finally over, and that she could finally lay Jacob to rest for good.
As part of the deal, Heinrich will not officially be charged with Jacob’s murder and he will receive a maximum of 20 years for the 25 counts of child pornography he was charged with.