The heartbroken parents of missing 11-year-old Jacob Wetterling have at last learned the sad fate of their abducted son: He was molested and murdered over two and half decades ago, then buried in a Minnesota cow pasture.
Jacob had been kidnapped at gunpoint by a masked man in October 1989 while biking home on a country road with his brother and a friend. The armed assailant ordered the two other terrified boys to run and “not look back” or he’d shoot them.
They both fled on foot together, and Jacob Wetterling was never seen again.
In September 2016, however, the Associated Press reported that a longtime “person of interest” who, 27 years ago lived fairly close to the Wetterling residence in St. Joseph MN, “led FBI investigators” to Jacob’s skeletal remains.
A spokesman for the Bureau, speaking on condition of anonymity, also tipped off reporters for the St. Cloud Times and KSTP TV that 53-year-old Daniel Heinrich would soon be appearing in Federal Court on charges loosely connected to Wetterling’s missing-persons case.
And it was during those subsequent legal proceedings when Heinrich confessed to cuffing and driving Wetterling to a wooded area some 30 miles from his abduction site. There, the defendant said, he raped the boy and shot him to death, after “panicking” when he overheard on a police scanner that a patrol car was in the vicinity.
The killer pedophile then hastily buried Wetterling’s body at the crime scene; reburying it a year later in another remote location nearby when a “visit” to the first gravesite revealed that Jacob’s jacket had partially emerged.
Heinrich, who is reportedly a victim of child molestation himself, was taken into custody over a year ago for possessing and distributing child pornography. He previously entered innocent pleas to more than two-dozen such criminal counts, but those pleadings have drastically changed now.
Heinrich had come to the immediate attention of authorities during the earliest days of the Jacob Wetterling investigation, albeit there was never any substantial evidence in 1989 or the ensuing years to charge him for anything.
At that time, deviant ‘Danny’ Heinrich lived in Paynesville Minnesota and matched the description of an unknown man who had been stalking and sexually assaulting neighborhood boys.
In fact, in the years just before and after young Wetterling’s horrific abduction, at least eight juvenile males are believed to have suffered similar attacks and survived.
‘Nuclear’ DNA tests conducted in 2015 on one of these victims’ clothing implicated Heinrich as the perpetrator, but prosecuting him for the decades-old crime spree is no longer possible because statutes of limitation have since expired.
Court papers in connection to Wetterling’s now-solved cold case showed police strongly casting suspicion on Daniel Heinrich a year before the slain boy’s shallow grave was actually unearthed, with the aid of his killer.
According to Fox News, the "volatile" child-exploiter begrudgingly "cooperated" with FBI agents in this manner in exchange for lighter sentencing on the bevy of kiddie porn charges he couldn't otherwise hope to defend.
Consequently, because of his extraordinary plea deal, Heinrich can't be charged now for kidnapping and murdering Jacob Wetterling in 1989, nor for abusing his corpse -- twice.
But his belated admission of guilt puts to rest one of the most disturbing disappearances on record, and was all that was needed to finally tie it to unsolved assaults on other boys who were likewise targeted by a dangerous sexual predator in the 80s and 90s, but lived to tell about it.