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: Previously on In the Dark.
: They were going that way. And then, we see that car going really fast go by here, and he was going the same way; only, he was going really fast.
: And we've been running so many white cars down, and red cars down, and tan station wagons, and vans.
: So, no one came and knocked on your door that night?
: And nobody came and searched your house that night?
: And nobody searched any of, as far as you know, the buildings, the farm buildings right around your house.
: No. I remember saying, "I'm going to … I'll look down here." And that was a mistake.
: When the news broke three weeks ago that a man named Danny Heinrich had confessed to the murder of Jacob Wetterling, US Attorney Andy Luger held a news conference. Standing by his side was a Stearns County Sheriff.
: First, I want to introduce Sheriff Sanner, my partner on this matter, and a man whose dedication to seeking justice for Jacob Wetterling knew no limits, Sheriff Sanner.
: Thank you. Over the past several days, the response to this news has been pretty much the same. This is not the ending that any of us wanted, but Jacob is finally home. Our thoughts-
: John Sanner had been the Sheriff of Stearns County since 2003. And ever since taking office, Sanner had vowed that he and his investigators would try their hardest to solve the Wetterling case. His efforts over the years had even led some reporters to give him the nickname Jacob's Sheriff.
: A steadfast commitment to never lose hope that this day would eventually come.
: What Sheriff Sanner didn't say, and what no one else brought up at the news conference either was that for most of John Sanner's time in office, he had focused on the wrong guy.
: This is In the Dark, an investigative podcast from APM Reports. I'm Madeleine Baran. In this series, we're looking at what went wrong in the case of Jacob Wetterling, an 11-year-old boy who was kidnapped in a small town in Central Minnesota in 1989.
: Today, we're going to look at what happened when the people of Stearns County elected a new sheriff. And his team came up with its own theory of what happened to Jacob, a theory that would lead the sheriff to turn one of the investigation's best witnesses into its top suspect.
: Back in March, about five months before the Wetterling case was solved, I went with our producer, Samara, to meet up with a man named Dan Rassier, then 60, but he looks at least a decade younger. He's tall, fit. He's a marathon runner. Dan was a bit wary at first. He didn't want us to come to his house. So, we met at a library instead.
: All right. So, thanks for meeting with us.
: Yeah, I'm not sure where we're going exactly but-
: Yeah, yeah.
: We sat up in a room in the library with glass walls on three sides right in the middle of the book stacks. And Dan kept glancing over his shoulder as people walked by.
: He's watching the sky.
: There was a guy browsing the books right outside the room. And he kind of stayed there for a few minutes just hovering with his back to us. I didn't even notice him at first.
: This guy's listening out here. That's all he's doing. He probably can hear every word we say. He probably took my picture too.
: We tried to assure Dan that the guy was probably just curious because we had a huge microphone, and Samara was sitting on a table with it. But Dan was convinced the man recognized him because of the Wetterling case. And while this might sound paranoid, it's really not. Dan had good reason to feel that way.
: In 1989, when Jacob Wetterling was kidnapped, Dan was 33. He lived with his parents in a farmhouse at the end of a long gravel driveway on the dead-end road that led to the Wetterling's house.
: Dan was a music teacher in the public schools. His students called him Mr. Bebop. He collected thousands of records, brass ensembles, big band recordings.
: It was like I had this dream of buying every brass ensemble record known to man. That's kind of why I had to leave college. I was buying too many records but ran out of money. Everyone called it pulling your ass, you're going into the record store, and buying all these records.
: Pulling your ass.
: I mean, it's hard not to buy them.
: On October 22nd 1989, Dan's parents were on vacation in Europe, and Dan was home alone. And that night, sometime between 9:00 and 9:30, right around the time Jacob was kidnapped, Dan was in his bedroom organizing his records, typing their names onto index cards when his dog, Smokey, started barking.
: I turned the lights off. I'm looking out the window.
: Dan saw a small car coming down his driveway. It looked like it was dark blue.
: I could hear the car coming down the hill, and it turns around.
: The car came all the way down to the house. And then, it turned around in the farmyard, and headed back out toward the road. Dan didn't get a good look at the driver. A little while later, Dan went to bed. And then, around 10:45 or so, Dan's dog, Smokey, started barking again, and Dan woke up. He peered out his window. And this time, he saw some people with flashlights roaming around near the family's woodpile. He thought maybe they were trying to steal the wood.
: And I stepped out the door. And at that point, I remember my heart rate going up, and realizing I can't go up there. I can take care of maybe a couple of them, but not like 10 of them. And I just immediately called 911. They said a child was taken, and I go, "Oh, okay." So, I went right up there.
: Dan went outside and ran into a sheriff's deputy. They talked for a minute or two. Dan offered to search some of the farm buildings, and that was pretty much it.
: The next day and over the next few weeks, investigators did look at Dan Rassier, and Dan didn't blame them.
: I was home alone. People would say I was weird. I am weird. "And you're not married, and you're 34 years old, you're living at home with your parents. You are weird. You did this."
: Do you think that's how people viewed it?
: Oh yeah.
: Investigators went into Dan's family's house a few days after Jacob was kidnapped. They looked at his shoes. They looked in the trunk of his car, but they didn't find anything. And they didn't think Dan did it, but what they did think back then was that Dan was a witness, and that what he saw that night, that small dark blue car that turned around in his driveway right around the time of the abduction was really important.
: All the law enforcement officers I talked to who worked on the case back then said they always believed that the person who kidnapped Jacob drove to the site, put Jacob in a car, and fled. They'd found some tire tracks in the driveway of the Rassier property up by the road. And there was some shoe prints there too, adult-sized prints that didn't match any of Dan's shoes, and a shoe print that looked like Jacob's.
: So, they pushed Dan to remember more about that car. They even had him hypnotized. Dan remembers the whole thing was really intense; so much so that sometimes, he would just start crying. None of it worked. Dan couldn't remember anything else about that car.
: This theory, call it the car theory of the abduction, led the investigation for 14 years until John Sanner was elected as the new sheriff of Stearns County in 2002.
: Sheriff Sanner put together his own team to investigate the abduction of Jacob Wetterling. He put one of his top officers in charge of the investigation, a captain named Pam Jensen. And she teamed up with an agent from the State Crime Bureau named Kenneth McDonald. Together, this new team rejected the car theory.
: It was a huge shift in the investigation. And it all came down to a story from one guy, a guy named Kevin.
: Hello. This is Kevin. How can I help you?
: Kevin agreed to talk to us on the phone as long as we didn't use his last name because he didn't want to be harassed. Here's what he told us. On the night of October 22nd 1989, Kevin was at his girlfriend's mom's house in St. Joseph, sitting around, playing cards, and listening to the police scanner.
: And at around 9:30, they heard something strange come across it, something about bikes and a man with a mask. They're curious. So Kevin and his girlfriend got in a car, and drove around to see what was going on. They ended up on the dead-end street that leads to the Wetterling house. They turned left onto what they thought was a dirt road. And then, they realized it was actually a driveway that led to a farmhouse. So, they turned around. As they came back out onto the road, their headlights hit some bikes in the ditch.
: Drive there for a while. It's shining right in the ditch and the bikes. I'm sitting there going, "What the hell is going on?" You know, we threw the bikes in the trunk.
: Kevin and his girlfriend drove back toward town and saw a police car stopped in a parking lot. Kevin told the officer about the bikes, but Kevin said the officer didn't seem to care.
: The only thing he said to me, he goes, "We already know about it. We already know," and that was it. Didn't ask me what I was doing there, didn't ask for my name, nothing. We pulled out there going, " What the hell? No one cares about these bikes."
: Over the years, what happened that night became a kind of funny and strange story Kevin would tell to people at parties. One night in 2003, 14 years after Jacob was kidnapped, Kevin ended up telling this story to a guy who turned out to be a federal marshal.
: And he goes, "Well, you should tell the investigator you might have seen something." He goes, "If I line up, will you talk to him?" And I'm like, "Sure, what the hell."
: In October of 2003, Captain Jensen and another officer met with Kevin. I got a copy of the transcript of that interview. It was short, just 12 pages, double spaced, large font, maybe 10 minutes total. The investigators asked Kevin to tell them what happened that night. They bring up the tire tracks that were found in the driveway of the Rassier farm. They tell Kevin they've been trying to identify them for years, and they say they think the tracks were left by brand new tires.
: I told them I had brand new tires on the car. That's when they looked at each other, and said, "Oh my God. We've looking for you for 10 years."
: Okay. So, I know this sounds a little far-fetched that one guy could appear after 14 years with a story about driving through the crime scene before police even got there, and changed the whole course of a massive investigation, but that's actually what happened here.
: I read it right in a sworn statement written by Agent Kenneth McDonald. He wrote that when Kevin came forward, the investigators eliminated the car as an option in the abduction. Once they did, everything started to point to Dan Rassier.
: A few months later, Dan got a phone call. It was an investigator on the Wetterling case asking Dan to come into the sheriff's office to talk.
: I went in blind. I had no idea. I went, and "How are you doing?", you know.
: There were two investigators there, Agent McDonald and Captain Jensen. I tried to interview McDonald for the story, but he refused. Jensen never returned my calls.
: "And can I shoot the breeze a little bit?" And then, "Well, that car that you saw, we know who was driving it." And I remember saying, "You have your person then. You know who did it." "No. No, he didn't have anything to do with it."
: Investigators told Dan the car he saw that night in his driveway had been ID'd, and the person driving it had been cleared. So, that only left one option.
: They were saying, "You took him. How did you do it? We know he was taken by foot. The car is accounted for. Would you just please admit that you did it, and we can make this a lot easier for you?" And I remember laughing going, "No way. You've got to be kidding."
: Dan thought this was absurd. The night Jacob was taken, he had no idea what was going on; so much so that when he woke up to the sound of people searching with flashlights, he called 911 and reported them. Dan says that in that interrogation in 2004, investigators tried to use that 911 call against him.
: "But that's why you were so nervous on the phone because you did do this, and you were way too nervous to be worried about a woodpile. You were worried because you might be caught, and you wanted to think of a way that you could keep the police from coming in your house, so you went to them."
: I wanted to listen to that 911 call. But in Minnesota, recordings of 911 calls aren't usually open to the public, but the transcripts of those calls usually are. So, a few months ago, before the case was solved, I asked the Stearns County Sheriff's Office for a copy. At first, they told me they couldn't give it to me because the case was still active. So, I asked our lawyer to get involved. And once he did, the explanation from Stearns County changed.
: Now, they told us the reason they couldn't give us a transcript of the 911 call was because the transcript doesn't exist. They said the Stearns County Sheriff's Office never had one, and that it never even saved the audio from Dan's 911 call. They just pretended to have it when they questioned Dan.
: Dan remembers the interrogation going on for almost three hours.
: They had me watch a little videotape of Jacob talking. And I remember thinking, "Wow, this little boy is gone for this long already, 15 years or so." And I think that the idea behind that was that I would break down and confess.
: Did you think about getting a lawyer at that point?
: A lot of people would be like, "Oh my gosh. You are in a serious situation right now."
: Even at that point, I remember as I left that interview thinking, "This is an insane story. I remember going home telling my parents about it. They didn't believe me.
: And then, do they call you again or what happens next?
: That's what really gets bad.
: That's where I go, "Those turkeys," a lot of bad words for them.
: A couple of weeks after the interrogation on a Friday night, Dan drove home from the school where he taught.
: And I drive down into the yard, and there's a car there waiting. And I get out of my car, and there's already a bright camera light. And that was the end of my life.
: A TV reporter named Trish Van Pilsum had somehow gotten wind of the fact that Dan had been called into the sheriff's office, even though the only people Dan had told about it where his elderly parents. Dan still doesn't know how she found out.
: And she wanted me to go on camera so bad. And I said, "No. Nothing good will come of it for me to be on the news with this story."
: Dan declined to do the interview, and he thought that was the end of it.
: Fast forward to the Monday, Monday comes, and I drive to the back of the school to unload all my stuff for band. And before I could get out of my car there in the back of the school, she was right there. I'm looking, and here she comes. I remember she's just shouting questions at me, and these really insulting questions. I remember thinking, "Why are you being so mean?"
: 14 years later, who took Jacob? Police finally turned their focus to this man.
: It's Trish Van Pilsum with the exclusive.
: We won't identify him because he hasn't been arrested or charged.
: I didn't have anything to do with this.
: He lives near the abduction site, home alone on October 22nd 1989, no one to confirm his whereabouts.
: They disguised my voice to make it sound almost like I had problems speaking more than I do already, and they made me sound like an idiot, like I really didn't care. I didn't give a shit about anything. And they made my face blurred out, but you could see my car, you could see the school, you could see what I was wearing. Everybody knew who it was. I mean, it was devastating.
: I called up Trish Van Pilsum, and told her what Dan had said about how devastated he was by the whole thing. Trish wouldn't talk about it. All she would say is that, "I think the story speaks for itself."
: From that point on, Dan lived with this uneasy feeling that people were looking at him differently, that maybe they were talking about him behind his back. But for a few years, Dan wasn't sure exactly what was going on with the investigation, and I didn't know either until a few weeks ago when the Stearns County Sheriff's Office released a batch of documents related to the case written by Agent Kenneth McDonald.
: And in these documents you can watch as McDonald and Jensen spent years trying to build a case against Dan Rassier. They started out by looking at some basic facts. Dan was home alone on the night of the abduction. The boys didn't see a car. The boys said the abductor seemed to come from Dan's driveway. But then, Jensen and McDonald started looking into what kind of person Dan was or, at least, what kind of person they thought he was.
: In one of the documents, Agent McDonald noted that on the night Jacob was kidnapped, Dan was organizing his record collection. McDonald wrote, "The abductor appeared to be detail-orientated, and Rassier has the same traits." They noted that Dan taught music to kids around Jacob's age; that Dan didn't call any friends or relatives to tell them about the abduction; that Dan went on one or two dates with a woman briefly in the mid-1980s, and it didn't end well; and that in the winter of 2007, after a solid month of monitoring and reading Dan's mail, investigators discovered something. For that entire 31-day period, Dan had only received one Christmas card. Investigators considered all this very suspicious.
: The documents described what happened next, how in 2009, McDonald and Jensen went to Jacob's mom, Patty, with an idea. They asked Patty to wear a wire, and pretend to run into Dan in town. She did, and she started talking to him about the case. She kept asking him if he did it. And when that didn't work, she tried asking him what he thought happened.
: Dan told Patty that he was worried the abductor might come back and bury Jacob's body on his property. And then, he would be the one who would get in trouble for it. I talked to Dan a lot about this worry he had. He told me he had spent years thinking of all the places on his property that law enforcement had missed, the places where he thought it would have been possible for someone to hide Jacob's remains.
: Well, the silos. Silos, you could bury, you know. Somebody could even put them under a cement.
: Dan has his own term for this type of thinking. He calls it his negative imagination. I think a lot of us have this tendency to start to think this way. Some of us shut off those thoughts pretty quickly. But Dan, he continues down that path as far as it leads.
: In our house, we have potato cellar. And I could easily bury a body down deep in that, and you would never know.
: Do you see how saying something like that would make people suspicious?
: What should I say? I have no idea? Then, I'm not being honest.
: And I know that these kinds of statements didn't go over well with the officers assigned to the case. In the interrogation of Dan in 2004, Dan brought up the incomplete searches of his property. Agent McDonald wrote about the exchange in one of the documents. McDonald wrote that Dan, "seemed to be enjoying this part of the conversation, smirking at times."
: But I noticed there was something else that seemed to especially bother the investigators, and that was Dan's insistence on this blue car, the blue car he saw that night sometime between 9:00 and 9:30 right around the time Jacob was kidnapped; that Dan was certain it belonged to the abductor. Dan just wouldn't let it go.
: Agent McDonald wrote that Dan was "overly concerned with the car he saw that night." He wrote that when he accused Dan of the crime, Dan still kept coming back to that car. Dan "continuously went back to the fact that it must have been the person that turned around in the driveway." It's like Dan's reminding them of something they find irritating.
: At one point, Agent McDonald even described it as Dan refusing to allow them to eliminate the car theory. Dan kept insisting that he saw a car, and that the car he saw was small and blue.
: In 2010, the investigators took all this information: the record collection, the job teaching kids, the bad relationship with a woman in the mid '80s, the conspicuous lack of Christmas cards, and they brought it all to a Stearns County judge to ask her to sign a search warrant, so they could dig up the Rassier farm and look for evidence of Jacob. They had a meeting about it before the judge signed it. It was Agent McDonald, the judge, Vicki Landwehr, and the top prosecutor in Stearns County, County Attorney Janelle Kendall.
: I called Judge Landwehr, but she declined to talk. I do know exactly what was said in that meeting because a transcript of the conversation was released a few weeks ago. Judge Landwehr told them she agreed that the circumstances and Dan's reaction did seem suspicious, but she questioned whether some of the details actually added up to probable cause. So, she asked them if there was anything else they had that would, as she put it, tie him a little more directly. The prosecutor said she didn't have anything, and turned it over to Agent McDonald.
: According to the transcript, McDonald said quote, "I'm thinking." And then, he came up with a few things. He told the judge that Dan ran marathons all over the United States, and that they'd even contacted law enforcement in all those places to look for similar crimes, but didn't find any, but they did find a quote Dan had given to a newspaper reporter about running. Dan said he runs to suppress pain. Agent McDonald put it this way to the judge, "You can interpret that to, well, he running and suppressing pain with running, or is he running away from something?" Judge Landwehr replied, "Sure, okay."
: Agent McDonald also mentioned that Dan once, "made some strange comments about being on a train in Europe." McDonald told the judge they tried to investigate that through Interpol, the international police organization known for helping to stop terrorism and hunt down stolen art, but they didn't have much success. Judge Landwehr replied, "Okay."
: So, Agent McDonald took all this, the stuff about running away from pain, the stuff about Interpol, and put it into a sworn statement, a statement under oath — It's called an affidavit — that he gave to the judge as grounds for signing the search warrant. And in that affidavit, Agent McDonald took this offhand reference to contacting Interpol to check out some strange comments Dan made about being on a train in Europe, and turned it into something else. What McDonald now claimed was that Dan "has been further investigated by Interpol regarding comments he made on a train while traveling in Europe."
: So, McDonald had taken the story of them contacting Interpol and turned it into a story about Interpol conducting its own investigation of Dan. I just had to show this to Dan as soon as I found out. And when I showed him the paper, Dan just stared at it, and shook his head.
: It's like, "Now, Im Jason Borne. I was investigated by Interpol in Europe when I was riding trains for four summers." It's like, "Are you kidding me? Are you kidding me? I can't even make this stuff up."
: It seemed odd to me too that Interpol would investigate Dan Rassier for something he said on a train. So, I decided to get in touch with Interpol to see if this was really true. I emailed them the exact wording from the affidavit that Dan had been investigated by Interpol, and asked them to confirm that they did, in fact, conduct this investigation. They did not confirm this. Their press office in Lyon, France got back to me almost right away, and they told me Interpol doesn't even do its own investigations, but Judge Landwehr signed the warrant.
: We have exclusive new information tonight about the Jacob Wetterling investigation.
: I'm standing in front of a cornfield on the edge of the Rassier family farm. Just to the right of me, take a look, you'll see a sheriff's officer there. And then, just behind him, down that long dirt road, well, the end of that road is a farm, and that's where this investigation is going on.
: In 2010, the Stearns County Sheriff's Office, the FBI, and the State Crime Bureau descended on the Rassier farm with cars, a pickup truck, and a backhoe. Dan had no idea what was going on because, back then, all these documents about the search were sealed. Officers scooped up ash and dirt from the farm, and held it away in barrels. Then, they came inside the house.
: And they pushed my dad aside. I grabbed my dad. I thought he was just going to have a heart attack because of how they were treating him. And my mom comes up from the basement going, "What's going on?" And they're rushing, almost like a drug bust. It's like you go, "You've got to be kidding, you guys.".
: Dan said his mom started talking to one of the officers.
: Saying, "What are you guys doing in the house?" And he pulls her. He grabs this old lady's arm, and yanks her off the chair. She falls to the floor. He drags her across the kitchen floor, and he says, "You're all under arrest. You're all under arrest." And my mom's going, "Oh no. What did we do?" "You're all under arrest." It was really … It was horrible. And I'm ready for them to pop us with their gun.
: Law enforcement didn't arrest the Rassiers. They didn't arrest anyone. I sent an email to the officer who Dan says dragged his mother across the floor, and asked him if this happened. He forwarded my email to a spokesperson who sent back a one-word answer, "No."
: The search came up empty. They found no evidence connecting Dan to the abduction of Jacob, but the same day the search ended, Sheriff John Sanner did something new. He started using a three-word phrase to describe Dan Rassier's connection to the Wetterling case.
: The Stearns County sheriff says Rassier is a person of interest in the Jacob Wetterling-
: Labeled Rasser a person of interest-
: Person of interest. Good evening, I'm Bill-
: Person of interest, a vague phrase. There's no actual definition, no legal meaning, but that label, "person of interest," and the stigma of it would mark Dan for years.
: During the 2010 search of the farm, Sheriff Sanner said something to Dan that stuck with Dan ever since.
: Sanner, he's standing in the shade with his crisp white shirt on and his cap acting very calm, and cool, and arrogant. Scoundrel, he is. I say something like, "How could you come to this?" He said, "This is what happens when you talk. This is what happens when you talk."
: Things are growing now. We've got a lot of maple trees growing. I hope they keep coming.
: A couple of months ago before the Jacob Wetterling case was solved, Dan invited me to go exploring with him in his family's woods. Over the years, Dan has spent a lot of time alone in these woods, cutting down trees to use to heat the house, maintaining the trails, especially since his father died last year.
: How big is this whole woods?
: Not that big. I would say it's maybe 25 acres.
: Dan had mentioned that he sometimes finds evidence of that search from back in 2010 when investigators dug up his farm. We went looking together for what we could find.
: You're looking for basically police tape on a little … just like on a branch.
: What color? Like would it be-
: Yellow. It could be yellow.
: The woods we're walking through, it was like a magical forest.
: Like this used to be called The Lost Valley because it was lower down, and it was-
: All dense with trees, maple, and ironwood, and ponds, fallen logs, and vines that looked like Tarzan's row.
: When I was a kid, dinosaurs were down in this part of the woods.
: As we walked, the light filtered in here and there through the trees casting a dreamy haze onto the path in front of us.
: I see one straight ahead, right there. That's the yellow tape that they used to mark off where they were looking for with the dogs. Look at that. If you look that way, you see them. They're disintegrating. You can tell they're falling apart.
: Dan walked over to a tree branch to touch one of the pieces of crime scene tape. He rubbed off some of the dirt with his fingers.
: When I see that, I just shake my head and go, "That was a bad day. Bad, bad day."
: Dan told me it's hard to describe how much this has changed his life, to be under suspicion for so long.
: It changed everything in our family. I mean, my dad would probably still be living. It was so stressful for him. And the stress of it, there are certain members of the family that the stress was unbearable for them; and therefore, it's my fault.
: Dan still works as a music teacher, but his side business giving private lessons has dried up because a lot of parents no longer trust him alone with their kids. Dan told me he couldn't even sell stuff on Craigslist because as soon as people Googled his address, they realize, "That's the place where the guy who might have kidnapped Jacob lives."
: People in town, it's sort of a weird feeling when you realize that, "Yeah, they probably don't think too much of me," and women are the same way. They look your name up on the internet, and they go, "Thank you but no thanks." It's like you've become a little bit … What's the word? Poisonous or toxic.
: I mean, as I'm talking here, I realize I can't talk to family members about any of this. They don't want to hear it. It's just they get upset. I can't talk to people at school about it for obvious reasons. So, I can't talk to anybody about it really.
: The whole thing just sounds very lonely.
: Well, I mean, how would I say this? I'm 60 years old. And this has been going on since I was 34. So, it's almost half my life time. And you realize you're going to go to your grave. You're not going to be known for being, you know, a teacher, or, you know, a musician, or whatever. You're going to be known for this, connected to this tragedy of Jacob. And it's not a good feeling.
: For years before the case was solved, Dan tried to get help from people outside the sheriff's office to clear his name and get his family's stuff back, some lawn furniture, a chest, some documents. Dan wrote to the State Attorney General, the State Crime Bureau, various oversight boards for courts and lawyers, the FBI, the senator, his representative, even the governor.
: In one letter, he wrote, "What can be said for living in America when I've experienced hell right here in Minnesota at the hands of law enforcement? This whole mess continues to torment my family, and shows no signs of relief."
: No one did anything in response to Dan's complaints; though, a few agencies did write back. An FBI agent sent down a letter saying the FBI couldn't get involved because there was no evidence that a federal law was broken. The FBI agent added, "We're happy that you have no complaints directed against the FBI investigator involved in this matter."
: The reason that no one could do anything with Dan's complaints is that in the United States, sheriffs have an incredible amount of power. There's no government agency in charge of supervising them. Unlike police chiefs, sheriffs don't have to answer to a mayor or a city council. They're out there on their own. And the only check on their power comes once every few years when they're up for election.
: Come here. Sit down.
: I wanted to talk to Sheriff Sanner about what investigators did to Dan Rassier, and how it basically ruined his life. So, in early August, about a month before Danny Heinrich confessed to kidnapping and murdering Jacob Wetterling, I went to meet with the sheriff in his office. Sanner's 62 years old. He has blondish gray hair, a mustache, and he was wearing a sheriff's uniform: brown pants, and a white buttoned down shirt, with a shiny sheriff's badge on one side, and an American flag patch on the other.
: So, thanks for taking the time.
: No problem.
: What I wanted to know from the sheriff was his answer to the question Dan had asked years ago, "How did it come to this?" How did the sheriff come to view Dan, not as a witness, but as a suspect? And why did the sheriff decide not to keep this quiet? Why did he tell the public that Dan was being looked into? There was a lot Sheriff Sanner wouldn't talk about, like the interrogation of Dan in 2004, or how his parents were treated during the 2010 search.
: I can't confirm or deny anything the Dan Rassier is commenting about because it is about the Wetterling investigation.
: And then, I guess, similarly I was going to ask why hasn't Dan gotten his property back or all of his property back?
: Again, the same answer for that. I'm sorry.
: But there were some things about Dan that Sheriff Sanner was willing to talk about, like that TV news story from 2004, the one that blurred out Dan's face and voice, the one that said investigators were now focusing on him.
: There's this one story in particular that Trish Van Pilsum did in 2004.
: You're making a sound.
: When I mention this reporter's name, the sheriff leaned back in his chair and groaned. And then, he brought his hands out in front of him, and made this kind of wrenching motion, like he was trying to wring someone's neck.
: It's frustrating because I have absolutely no control over what the media does and doesn't do.
: So, do you know who told her that Dan was a suspect?
: I have no idea who made those comments. If they were even made, I don't know.
: And did you ever try to investigate whether or not there is a leak in the sheriff's office?
: I'm sure we would have. If the information was coming from inside the sheriff's office, that would be gravely concerning.
: I followed up with Sheriff Sanner after the interview and asked him if he had any evidence he could send me about this internal investigation. He told me that, actually, there was no internal investigation. During the interview, I asked Sheriff Sanner why he decided, in 2010, to publicly call Dan a person of interest?
: I have to think back.
: Sheriff Sanner told me it had to do with an interview Dan had done with a local paper.
: He, by himself, went to the St. Cloud Times, and talked to them, and started talking about the case, and his involvement. So, when he did that, he identifies himself then. So, I just gave him the label of "person of interest." He's the one that goes to the St. Cloud Times. I don't do that.
: I think, they called him on the phone, and he-
: However it works, he talks to them.
: What the sheriff just said is startling when you think about it. The reason the sheriff decided to call Dan a person of interest, a decision that would be so devastating for Dan and his family was because Dan did what all of us have a right to do. He talked to a reporter.
: I think you need to call him something, and person of interest seemed to be the best fit for him.
: Why don't you just say, "No comment"?
: Because Dan had already come forward and talked about the case or his involvement in the case to them. And for me to say no comment at that time would have been like we're not doing our jobs either.
: So, the lesson is like don't talk to the media?
: Well, not necessarily. Maybe don't talk to the media the way he did.
: But doesn't he have the right to talk to the media however he wants?
: I suppose, but when you're involved in a major, major criminal investigation, you might want to use some discretion when you identify yourself.
: So, this has really damaged his life. You know, I mean, he describes how he's like a pariah. He has had trouble meeting people. He can't date anyone because they Google his name, and it's like, "Oh, you might have kidnapped Jacob Wetterling." He can't do the private music lessons. He just feels like he's under suspicion. I wonder if you weigh that in the equation. I mean, do you feel that … I mean, do you think about that?
: Yeah, of course, I think about that. There are consequences to things that we do in law enforcement. But there's also consequences to things that we don't do. If we don't look at things, and we don't do investigations because we might hurt somebody feelings. Still, our primary goal is to resolve the case, and you're going to maybe hurt some feelings or damaged reputations in the process, but it's still a piece. We still have to do what we have to do.
: And how does it help the investigation to call him a person of interest?
: I don't know how it helps the investigation.
: Just three weeks ago, after nearly 27 years, a man named Danny Heinrich confessed to kidnapping, sexually assaulting, and murdering Jacob Wetterling. Heinrich told the court that on the night he kidnapped Jacob, he drove down Dan Rassier's gravel driveway. He swung around, and pulled back up near the road to wait for the boys in the driveway. He was driving a 1982 Ford, a small blue car. Dan Rassier had been right all along.
: I went back out to St. Joseph last week to check in with Dan.
: Good to see you again.
: You too. It's actually been a while.
: Yeah, it has.
: We couldn't go inside. Dan's family is still wary of reporters. So, we ended up grabbing some chairs and bringing them into the family's empty chicken barn where Dan used to practice the trumpet as a kid. I wanted to talk to Dan about what it feels like 27 years later, after all he's been through to know that he was right.
: It makes my life in a lot of ways worse. I've been sleeping less than ever, and just thinking about it over time, and-
: But why?
: Long pause. You don't recover 27 years of time. You just don't get it back because it's just such a … I can't even describe the frustration of the 27 years of time being … It never had to be this way. Just a feeling of complete waste with time gone.
: I went to the news conference after Danny Heinrich confessed. And as I sat there waiting for it to start, I wondered if the sheriff would use this case as an opportunity to review what had happened, to really look at why he and his investigators had focused for so long on the wrong guy. Not to apologize exactly, but to learn from it; to say to the public, "Next time around, we'll be better prepared. We'll do things differently."
: But when Sheriff Sanner got up to the podium and started talking, if there was one thing he was clear about, it was that he wasn't interested in any of that.
: Over the years, I've been asked to look back and comment on things that might have been done differently. My response has always been the same. Our energy needs to stay focused on what we can control and not waste it on things we have no control over.
: And Sherrif Sanner had nothing at all to say about the man he called a person of interest. He didn't mention Dan Rassier's name at all.
: Coming up next time on In the Dark.
: Investigators now say they plan to question every person in Minnesota who's ever been convicted of a sex crime or crime against children. They want to know where those people were Sunday night when Jacob was kidnapped.
: This is not about one sick city. It's not about one Jack the Ripper. This is happening to greater or lesser degrees in communities across this country, and America has missed it.
: The drumbeat is intensifying to toughen up laws regarding sexual predators.
: Today, America warns, if you dare to prey on our children, the law will follow you wherever you go, state to state, town to town.
: This is the most perplexing journey I have been on.
: It's like we're regulating nuclear waste. We're not punishing the nuclear waste. We are making sure that it's kept away from us at a safe distance.
: In the Dark is produced by Samara Freemark. The associate producer Natalie Jablonski. In the Dark is edited by Catherine Winter, with help from Hans Buetow. The editor in chief of APM Reports is Chris Worthington. Web editors are Dave Peters and Andy Kruse. The videographer is Jeff Thompson. Additional reporting for this episode by Jennifer Vogel. Our theme music is composed by Gary Meister. This episode was mixed by Johnny Vince Evans.
: Go to InTheDarkPodcast.org to learn more about this term, "person of interest," and how it's been used in other cases, and to see a timeline of the 27-year search for Jacob, and to learn more about the shoe prints and tire tracks found in the driveway.
: In the Dark is made possible in part, thanks to our listeners. You can support more independent journalism like this at InTheDarkPodcast.org/donate.
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