Jacob Erwin Wetterling

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Top Two Rows and Bottom Left and Center: Jacob, circa 1989;
Bottom Right: Age-progression to age 35 (circa 2013)


Vital Statistics at Time of Disappearance

  • Missing Since: October 22, 1989 from St. Joseph, Minnesota
  • Classification: Non-Family Abduction
  • Date Of Birth: February 17, 1978
  • Age: 11 years old
  • Height and Weight: 5'0, 75 pounds
  • Distinguishing Characteristics: Caucasian male. Brown hair, blue eyes. Jacob's hair was blond when he was a young child. He has moles on his left cheek near his nose, near his right eye and on his neck. He has a scar on his left knee. Jacob's right wrist was previously fractured; the injury had healed by the time of his disappearance. He wears contact lenses for nearsightedness, which are possibly tinted blue. His nickname is Jake.
  • Clothing/Jewelry Description: A red St. Cloud Hockey jacket with a large St. Cloud Police Department emblem embroidered on the back, an orange reflective jogging vest, a red t-shirt, a blue mesh jersey, blue sweatpants, white socks and white high-top Nike sneakers with a gray stripe.
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    Details of Disappearance

    Jacob, his brother and a friend rented a videotape from the Tom Thumb convenience store in St. Joseph, Minnesota during the evening hours of October 22, 1989. The group rode their bicycles back toward his home at approximately 9:15 p.m. When they were on 16th Avenue southeast, about a quarter of a mile to half a mile away from Jacob's house, they were approached by an unidentified Caucasian man who was wearing a mask and dark-colored clothing. He was armed with a shotgun or handgun.

    The man ordered all three boys to lie down in a nearby ditch. He asked Jacob's brother's age, then told him to run away and not look back or he would get shot. He did the same with Jacob's friend. After letting the two boys go, the man grabbed Jacob. The suspect walked towards a wooded area with Jacob shortly afterwards. Neither of them have been heard from again.

    Sketches of Jacob's abductor are posted below this case summary. The boys described the man as being approximately 40 to 50 years old and 5'8 with a husky build. He had broad shoulders and spoke in a low, raspy voice. A Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) psychological profile of the abductor describes him as a Caucasian man, 25 to 35 years old in 1989, who holds a low-skilled job and probably a poor self-esteem stemming from physical deformities such as scars or acne.

    Authorities received two possible tips about Jacob's case during the early stages of the investigation. Witness reported seeing an unidentified man in his fifties sat glaring at customers inside the Tom Thumb convenience store. He was in his fifties, about six feet tall with a large build and receding white hair. Around the time Jacob was abducted, a witness reported seeing a car nearby. For fifteen years that car was considered an important clue in the investigation. In February 2004, the car was identified and its owner questioned and cleared of any involvement in Jacob's kidnapping. Investigators now believe his abductor was on foot rather than in a vehicle.

    Rumors floated that Jacob's father, a chiropractor, was involved in his son's case. Investigators believe that the speculation was created after his father's religion was publicly disclosed. He is Ba'hai, a religion that believes all people are created as one race. Authorities eliminated both of Jacob's parents as possible suspects early in the investigation. They did consider the possibility that Jacob's abduction was a hate crime against his father, however. Many officials believe that the abductor may have followed the boys from the store, kidnapping Jacob afterwards. Jacob's father believes his son was stalked, possibly for several days, before he was abducted.

    In September 2004, authorities investigated whether a Warroad, Minnesota man was actually Jacob. His co-workers reported to police that he resembled Jacob's age-progression picture. The man said he was not Jacob, but refused to confirm this by allowing a DNA test. Eventually investigators got his fingerprints from Arizona, where he had been arrested for a traffic offense. Fingerprints proved that the Warroad man was not Jacob.

    In October 2015, over a quarter-century after Jacob's abduction, investigators identified a person of interest in his disappearance: Daniel James Heinrich. A photo of Heinrich is posted below this case summary.

    Ten months before Jacob was taken, Heinrich abducted a twelve-year-old boy named Jared Scheierl. The crime occurred in a town less than fifteen miles from Wetterling's hometown. Scheierl had gone ice-skating and was walking home alone when Heinrich pulled him into his car, sexually assaulted him in the backseat, and then pushed him back out. He told Scheierl to run or he would get shot. Police released a sketch of the suspect, and after Jacob's abduction they realized the sketch of Scheierl's abductor matched the description of Jacob's abductor, and the manner of the two crimes was also similar. Scheierl's abduction went unsolved for over 25 years, however.

    In 2015, DNA testing proved Heinrich was Scheierl's attacker. He cannot be prosecuted in the case because the statute of limitations has expired, but the DNA evidence was enough for police to get a search warrant on his home. There they found pornographic images of young boys, as well as videos Heinrich had secretly made of boys doing routine daily activities. His shoe and car tire prints are "consistent" with those found at the site of Jacob's abduction, although police weren't able to get an exact match. Heinrich was charged with 25 counts of possession of child pornography.

    In May 2016, Scheierl filed a civil lawsuit against Heinrich, seeking $50,000 in damages for false imprisonment and sexual battery. Scheierl has stated he doesn't expect to actually collect any money from Heinrich, but the civil suit enables him to call witnesses to give testimony under oath, which may help provide answers in Jacob's kidnapping. The lawsuit is pending, as are Heinrich's criminal charges. If convicted of all the charges, he could be sentenced to several decades in prison.

    Jacob's family still lives in the same home they lived in back in 1989, and they have the same phone number. They have received several phone messages from people claiming to be him, but the calls always turned out to be hoaxes. Jacob played hockey, soccer, baseball and football at the time of his disappearance, and he liked to watch those sports on television as well. He also enjoyed playing Nintendo video games and building things, such as model kits. His favorite foods are steak, peanut butter and pizza. Jacob commonly wears sweatshirts, sweatpants and Nike high-top sneakers. His case remains unsolved.

    Suspect Sketch 1 Suspect Sketch 2 Heinrich
    Left and Center: Sketches of Wetterling's abductor;
    Right: Daniel Heinrich in 2015


    Investigating Agency
    If you have any information concerning this case, please contact:
    Stearns County Sheriff's Department


    Source Information
    The National Center For Missing and Exploited Children
    Child Protection Education Of America
    America's Most Wanted
    Texas Department Of Public Safety
    Court TV
    The Doe Network
    Child Search Ministries
    About.com Crime and Punishment
    The Star Tribune
    The Jacob Wetterling Foundation
    KARE 11
    The St. Cloud Times
    Unsolved in the News
    The Capital Journal


    Updated 6 times since October 12, 2004.

    Last updated May 26, 2016; details of disappearance updated.

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