In 1989, 11-year-old Jacob Wetterling was kidnapped while on a bike ride. In 2013 Joy Baker started documenting her analysis into the cold case.
Jacob In 1989
Jacob was eleven years old in 1989. He was from St. Joseph, Minnesota, and on October 22nd, he was kidnapped. He had been out biking with this younger brother and his companion Aaron Larson at around nine pm. They had gone to a corner shop, only four blocks from their house, to rent a movie.
Their parents were at a feast party, and the Wetterling boys called their mother to ask her approval to ride their bikes to the shop. She adamantly said no because it was after dark, and cars wouldn’t be able to glimpse them.
Abduction Of Jacob
When they hung up the phone, they modified their plan and called their dad, telling him they would have flashlights and wear reflective vests. Their dad felt it was a well-thought-out plan, and since there were three of them, he told them it was ok.
On their way back, on an extremely dark stretch of road, a man outfitted in dark clothes and a mask leaped out of a driveway. He had a pistol, and he ordered the boys to throw their bikes into the canal and lie face down on the surface.
The boys complied, then the masked man said each boy to give him their ages. Jacob’s younger brother was instructed to run to a nearby wooded region, not turn around, or be shot. He next demanded the remaining boys to show him their faces, then said Aaron to run into the woods and not look back. Then he grabbed Jacob by the elbow and started pulling him to a wooded region.
Call To 911
The other two boys sprinted home. They called their parents, and 911 was called. Within six minutes of the 911 call, a sheriff’s deputy was on the spectacle. He discovered the boy’s bikes and instantly called for backup. Also, the FBI was alerted.
Throughout the night, Jacob was scoured for. It was a huge search with lots of media attention, but with each passing day, without any guides or indication, the search went cold.
Joy Baker had been twenty-two when Jacob had been kidnapped. She recalled the missing posters, the ongoing assumptions, and the pleads of Jacob’s mum to bring him home and haunted her.
She frequently thought back on it as she raised her kids. Two decades had passed since Jacob’s kidnapping when a new guide was presented to the media. The FBI had begun excavation on a ranch near where Jacob had been kidnapped. An individual of interest was recognized, but he was later released.
She got in her car, and stopped at the kidnapping site, then on to the corner shop the boys had gone to. She retraced the steps taken that night. Inquiring herself if she would authorize her sons to take that path, acknowledging that aspects were different before Jacob’s kidnapping.
She wanted explanations. The girl wanted to give Jacob’s parents explanations. She began an investigation, which took her six years to fulfill her mission.
Joy began her inquiry with Google. She understood that in 2003 a man came forward and notified police that he had heard about the kidnapping from a police scanner and arrived on the spectacle before law enforcement. It was his new tire treads that police inferred that the suspect left in a vehicle. This altered the whole direction of the inquiry, knowing now that the suspect had likely fled on foot.
In 2004 a man came ahead with a story that was eerily identical to Jacob’s kidnapping. Jared Scheierl had been twelve when while stepping home from a regional café in Cold Spring, Minnesota (only twelve miles from St. Joseph). A man in a car slowed down, and a man begged him for ways.
When Jared had halted walking to the point, the man grabbed him and yanked him inside his vehicle.
He was driven to a distant region and sexually attacked. The man drove him back into town and asked him if he recognized him. When Jared said no, he let him out of the vehicle and warned him to run and if he looked back, he would be shot.
This traumatic occurrence had occurred nine months before Jacob’s kidnapping, and the similarities made Joy think the assaults were related.
Detectives were assured they were unrelated. The crimes had taken place in two varied counties, and the departments appeared reluctant to work together.
Baker sought every guide available to her, and then some. She reached out to Jared, and the two started to piece the information together, and they discovered more unsolved sexual attacks involving young boys in the region.
Each boy told the same thing about the man; he had warned them “to run or I’ll blow your head off”, or some other reference to gun violence. Baker cautioned the Stearns County Sheriff’s office, who had said them they had never heard of these other attacks but didn’t think they were related to Jacob.
Joy and Jared expend hundreds of hours surveying other victims to get their stories. They relentlessly harassed the County Sheriff’s office, they involved Jacob’s mum, and they did interviews with regional media. They had a tough time getting law enforcement to take their analysis seriously.
Jacob’s story was headlined on John Walsh’s CNN tv show “The Hunt.” The episode comprised Jared’s attack and correlated the two cases. This was the decisive media push that was required to get the FBI to reopen the inquiry.
DNA information obtained from Jared’s sexual attack was retested in 2015, and it hit a match, Danny James Heinrich. Although the statute of restrictions was up, he couldn’t be accused of Jared’s assault. Nonetheless, a search warrant was permitted, and the search resulted in a finding of child pornography.
Heinrich had originally been a suspect but was released when observers couldn’t fully recognize him. He had also been a suspect in Jared’s attack but there wasn’t sufficient evidence to convict. Heinrich was a known kid predator in the region and he had been investigated for numerous crimes involving children.
Heinrich was given a plea deal, and part of the agreement was to admit to killing Jacob and disclosing the locale of his corpse. He accepted, and on September 1st, 2016, he led detectives to the burial site. On September 3rd, an announcement was made that Jacob’s corpse had been recognized.
The plea deal meant that Heinrich would only be accused of child pornography possession. He would fulfill a maximum verdict of twenty years in a Federal Medical Center in Massachusetts.
Without Joy Baker’s interest in the case and her blog, the FBI may never have glanced into relating Jared and Jacob’s kidnappings. Jacob’s mum, Patty Wetterling, publicly thanked Joy and Jared for their commitment to seeing this crime through to the end.
Written by: Megan Ashley