In October 1989, a masked man in St. Joseph, Minnesota abducted Jacob Wetterling. In the days following his disappearance, authorities in Minnesota followed tens of thousands of tips, each of them providing little to no progress in the search for Wetterling.
However, the first development in years came from a federal announcement in October 2015. In a press conference, U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger named Daniel James Heinrich as a ‘person of interest’ in the disappearance of Wetterling. Officials were conducting a search related to the case in July when they found Heinrich possessing child pornography, for which they arrested him. For now, Heinrich has not been charged with any crime connected to Wetterling’s disappearance.
The pornography in Heinrich’s possession was held in three-ring binders and on a computer hard drive. Additionally, authorities found Heinrich in possession of hours of footage showing neighborhood children playing sports together, delivering newspapers, and playing in playgrounds, among other things. The footage seems to be filmed in secret.
The evidence matching Heinrich with Wetterling’s disappearance comes in the form of consistently matching tire treads at the scene of the crime, as well as consistently matching shoe patterns. There is DNA evidence matching Heinrich with another child abduction that took place less than a year before Wetterling was kidnapped.
In documents released along with the announcement, Heinrich is shown to have been cooperative with authorities in 1990, a few months after Wetterling’s disappearance. He handed over his shoes and car tires at that time, and authorities determined then that the items matched the tracks at the abduction site. Heinrich was investigated thoroughly during the early days of the investigation, but nothing conclusive was found.
The farm site near the crime scene was excavated in 2009 in search of new evidence, but nothing was found. Since the kidnapping, the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center, set up in the wake of similar kidnappings, received well over 50,000 tips, none leading to progress in the open case.