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: Previously on In the Dark.
: On the outskirts of his hometown of St. Joseph, a young boy's mysterious disappearance.
: And he looked at me, and then he grabbed Jacob, and he told me to run as fast as I could in the woods or he'd shoot.
: Time is your biggest enemy in an investigation. People have short memories. They don't remember everything correctly. You got to get out there, and talk to people, and find out what the hell is going on.
: Did the police ever come knocking at your door since you lived in the neighborhood? Did you ever have to talk to the cops about it or?
: No. No, they never did.
: They never did, okay.
: Yeah, I remember just leaving out of there just so angry because they weren't listening to anything that I had to say.
: We are here today because of the perseverance of the investigative team.
: We got the truth. The Wetterling family can bring him home.
: Earlier this year, I went out to meet up with a guy named Jared Scheierl.
: Good to see you.
: I'm Madeleine.
: Nice to meet you.
: Jared is 40 now. He lives in a house in Central Minnesota down a long dirt driveway with a big, friendly, black dog.
: Bear, come. Come on. Here. Stay.
: It's peaceful here. 80 acres of land, old trees, the Crow River running through. I came here to talk to Jared because Jared or more specifically what happened to Jared was most likely the single best clue law enforcement had in the case of Jacob Wetterling.
: This is In the Dark, an investigative podcast from APM Reports. I'm Madeleine Baran. In this podcast, we're looking at what went wrong in the investigation of the kidnapping of an 11-year-old boy named Jacob Wetterling in Central Minnesota in 1989. Today, we're going to see just how close law enforcement got to solving this case, so close they even sat face-to-face with the man who killed Jacob. And then, they let him go.
: Jared Scheirel grew up in a small town called Cold Spring, just ten miles southwest of St. Joseph where the Wetterlings lived.
: Cool Spring was a safe rural community. Everybody knows everybody, attended church every Sunday.
: Jared grew up biking around town, playing outside a lot. People thought of Cold Spring as a safe place. And one night in 1989, about nine months before Jacob Wetterling was kidnapped, Jared went ice skating with a bunch of friends. He was 12 at the time.
: And we … After ice skating, we decided to walk on to the Side Cafe to get a … We had a chocolate malt.
: Jared was with his best friend, Cory Eskelson. Corey still lives in Stearns County. And earlier this year, I went out to meet up with them at his house to talk about that night.
: After having the malt, some kids drove away in cars outfront. Jared and I, there's a little alleyway out back. And we walked through the alleyway. And the one thing that I will always capture was Jared asking me to walk him home, and I said no.
: It was probably 9:00 – 9:30 when I started walking home. And as I was walking, a car approached me.
: It was a blue car. The driver stopped and asked Jared for directions.
: So, I started giving this guy directions, and at same time, I was on the sidewalk, and I was walking towards the vehicle, the man had got out of the car. And when I was in range, he grabbed me at the shoulders, and he said "Get the fuck in the car. I have a gun, and I'm not afraid to use it."
: The man told Jared to lie down in the back seat and pull his stocking cap over his eyes. He started driving. There was a walkie talkie type scanner in the car. Jared thought he heard local law enforcement dispatch come across it. At some point, the man shut it off. He drove for 10 or 15 minutes. Jared tried to keep track of where they were going by counting left and right turns, paid attention to when the car crossed over train tracks. And then, the man turned onto a gravel road and stopped. It was dark, but Jared thought he could make out the lights of a nearby town in the distance.
: He assaulted me. However, we won't go into those details. We're focusing on necessary details.
: This phrase "necessary details" is one that Jared uses a lot when he gets to the part of his story about exactly what the man did to him.
: That's how I can separate from that. I'm just going to focus on necessary details.
: Here's what law enforcement records say happened. The man sexually assaulted Jared inside the car. He kept Jared's jeans and underwear, but gave him his snowsuit back. Then, the man drove Jared back to Cold Spring and dropped him off two miles from Jared's house. He told Jared to run and not look back or he'd shoot. He said something else to Jared, something that would stick with Jared for a long time.
: He had said, "It's okay to talk about this, but if they come close to finding out who I am , I'll find you and kill you."
: Jared's family was wondering where he was.
: Where the hell would he be? It doesn't take an hour to get from the restaurant to the house.
: This is Jared's twin brother, Jed.
: He came through the door hysterical. That was crazy.
: What was he saying? What was he-
: I wouldn't want to comment on that.
: The parents called the police, and Jared left with his dad to go down to the station.
: And my dad gave my older brother a shotgun, and he said, "If anybody comes to that patio door or through that front door, you pull the trigger." And that's … I mean, he have that responsibility to his son. And I mean, that's how it changes the family. You know, at first, in life, there's no violence, and you think life is happy-go-lucky, and it's peaceful, and life is great. And then, things happen. Life changes. All of a sudden, you realize, "You know what, there's evil in the world."
: Jared didn't go to school the next day, and his best friend, Cory, didn't know why.
: I had no idea. FBI agents came to my classroom. I had no clue who they were or what they were doing. I didn't know they were FBI. They asked for me. And I walked into the hallway, and they asked for my hat. And I said, "Sure. You need my hat? Okay." I thought they were maybe going to make some hats or something. Well, it ended up that the hat that I had was a Cold Spring hockey hat. And Jared said it looked or resembled the hat that the abductor had on.
: Cory was the last person to see Jared before he was assaulted. He was also out in the dark that night. So, our producer, Samara, wondered about something.
: So, I know that you said the FBI came and took your hat after Jared was abducted. Did they ever question you in any way?
: Nobody's ever asked me a single question about this other than you guys. I've never been interviewed by police. I've never been talked to by any law enforcement ever, not one person.
: Investigators from the Stearns County Sheriff's Office did try to find the man who had assaulted Jared. Law enforcement records show that Jared described the man as short, maybe 5'6", 5'7", about 170 pounds. He wore black army boots, and camouflage fatigues, and a military style watch. His voice was deep and raspy. He drove a dark blue car. Officers had Jared try to retrace the route the man drove that night.
: That's had the picture, but in order to do that, I had to lay in the backseat of the squad car with my eyes covered and just go off my memory. Where are we going now? Where are we going now?
: They traced it to a spot off a main road, Highway 23, somewhere in between Cold Spring and a small town called Paynesville.
: Three days after Jared was assaulted, a deputy from the Stearns County Sheriff's Office came up with the name of a possible suspect, a man from Paynesville named Danny Heinrich. At the time, Heinrich was 25. He was short, about 5'5", and stocky, and drove a blue car. He dropped out of high school in the 10th grade and worked a bunch of low-paying jobs. He was a member of the National Guard. He lived with his mom. And he's had several run-ins with the law, often minor and kind of bumbling crimes.
: One time, Heinrich broke into a consignment store looking for money to pay off some gambling debts. And when an officer got there, he found Heinrich hiding behind some boxes. Heinrich was arrested, and he ended up confessing to another burglary in town that same night. Heinrich told the officer, "I don't know what got into me. I don't know why I do these things." Heinrich had a few DWIs too. At one stop, a cop noticed Heinrich had a police scanner in his car that he was using to monitor Stearns County Sheriff's Office radio transmissions. The officer confiscated it.
: So, when Jared described a short, stocky man with camouflage fatigues on, driving a small dark blue car with a scanner inside, to the deputies, that sounded a whole lot like Danny Heinrich. They put together a photo lineup of Heinrich and five other guys. Jared ended up picking out two people who he thought somewhat resembled his abductor. One of them was Heinrich.
: So, the next day, two detectives from the sheriff's office found Heinrich's car parked outside a plastics company where he worked. Jared had described the car as having a luggage rack and a blue interior, but when the officers went over to look, they noticed that Heinrich's car did not have a luggage rack and the inside was a grayish color. They didn't charge Heinrich. They didn't charge anyone. The case remained unsolved.
: Jared didn't know it at the time, but he wasn't the only one who'd been attacked by a strange man in Stearns County. In the years leading up to his abduction, from 1986 to 1988, in the town just down the road, the town of Paynesville, the town where Danny Heinrich lived, boys were being grabbed off the street by a strange man in the dark.
: My friend and I were riding our bikes back from downtown to our houses, and we didn't live that far apart.
: I talked to one of the guys who reported the attacker to police as a kid. His name is Kris Bertelsen. He was 12 or 13 at the time.
: And as we rode our bikes towards our houses, we were around a corner by people's house where they had a real thick, dark row of, I think, they were spruce trees. And we came around the corner, and out of nowhere from behind those trees, the attacker came running out and basically clotheslined my friend off of his bike.
: Kris couldn't get a good look at the man.
: He had a hat on, and it was all dark, combat, you know, kind of fatigue-looking clothes, like real dark clothing on, like this was like a mission.
: I've read some of the police reports from these attacks. A lot of them were destroyed years ago. But from the ones that remain and the interviews I've done, it's clear that these attacks were all pretty similar. A short and stocky man would jump out of the dark, and try to grab a boy, and grope him. Sometimes, the man wore a mask. Some of the boys were riding their bikes. Others are just walking.
: One of the boys was a paperboy out on his route. Most of the attacks happened at night. One boy said the man's voice was low and static-filled. Another said it was a deep whisper. Several of the boys said the man asked them their ages or what grade they're in. Sometimes, the man would issue a warning, "Don't move or I'll shoot."
: We were all afraid like, "Who's next?" I mean, it was pretty systematic. It was a group of us who hung around together and hung around downtown. To be marked, like that is terrifying. So, we almost had sort of a feeling like we got to take care of each other. You know, we got to watch out for each other. We were very concerned.
: The police in Paynesville tried their best to solve these assaults. There were front page articles about them in the local paper. One sergeant told the paper, "After this guy grabs the boys, he tells him 'Don't turn around or I'll blow your head off.'" People were so concerned that the cops even considered imposing a curfew. Instead, they decided to just keep warning parents and kids, "If a strange man approaches you, scream and run away as fast as you can."
: You know, I never forget one of the other victims telling me, "The molester got me." And he described what happened. And, you know, it was just, you know, heart wrenching. I mean, I'll never forget that. But, you know, we all had knives. Once this happened more than one time, I would suspect that just about every kid had a knife. I mean, that's how we lived for that year and a half, two years. I mean, it was terrifying.
: The attacks in Paynesville were never solved.
: Jared Scheierl's family never saw the articles in the Paynesville paper. They never knew about the other boys. Jared thought he was the only one. He started having dreams of being chased by a big, black dog, and he'd wake up panicked and sweating.
: I think I slept on my parents' bedroom floor for the first year. You know, the level of fear that you go through with the emotions or the anxieties that you learned to overcome.
: Nine months passed, and then, in October of 1989, Jared heard that another boy had been kidnapped by a strange man. That boy's name was Jacob Wetterling, and lived just ten miles away. Jacob was also kidnapped on the side of a road while heading home after dark. He was with a brother and a friend when it happened. The man told the other boys to run away, and don't look back, or he'd shoot.
: There were details that I recognized right away that indicated it was the same demeanor. Some of the words or some of the phrases were similar. Description of the voice was similar. There are a number of details that were pretty consistent to my case.
: The Jacob kidnapping seemed like almost a repeat of the Jared kidnapping. And the night Jacob was kidnapped, the name Danny Heinrich was already in the files of the Stearns County sheriff's office. And not just in the files, one of the deputies on the scene that night, a detective named Doug Pearce had investigated Jared's case just nine months earlier.
: Detective Pearce had talked to Jared, shown Jared the lineup with Heinrich, and even gone to look at Heinrich's car. When Jacob Wetterling was abducted, Detective Pearce was one of the officers who took the statements from the two other kids who are with Jacob that night, the statements that describe the abductor and how it happened. We tried to talk to Doug Pearce, but we weren't able to reach him.
: Here's why I think that information that night was so important. It's not just that Jacob's abduction seemed similar to another crime, it's that this kind of crime, the kidnapping of a child by a stranger, is among the rarest of all crimes. And here in this one county in Central Minnesota, it happened twice in one year. But according to what we know from the documents that have been released and the best recollections of law enforcement who I talked to, no one went to look for Danny Heinrich in those first few critical hours after Jacob was kidnapped.
: After that first night, as the investigation ramped up, investigators began to take a close look at the earlier kidnapping of Jared. They talked to Jared over and over. They would go to his school and pull him out of class.
: The kids in the class were taking notice of me coming in and out of class. And although we were protecting my identity, the word was getting around within Cold Spring that I was that boy.
: Jared said investigators told him he was their best shot at finding Jacob because the man who took Jacob was the same man who took him. So, they kept pressing Jared to remember more.
: Who does he look like if you had to compare him with somebody else? And who does he look like? Who does he resemble?
: One time, Jared told investigators that the man who assaulted him kind of looked like his sixth grade teacher. He didn't think it was his sixth grade teacher. He was just trying to come up with a description. Jared was just 13. And Jared's best friend, Cory, said the whole thing got pretty confusing.
: The teacher uprooted his family from Cold Spring and moved out of the area due to all the pressure that he got. And it was not this guy. Jared just described him as looking like this guy, and they bugged that guy to the point where he was gone.
: Jared said all of this got so overwhelming and so stressful.
: To the point where I broke down. You know, there was one particular interview, it was a hard one. They brought me into a room, and my parents weren't allowed in the room. And I was drilled with all the necessary details, and then questioned in regards to how certain I was on those details. And it led into, "You know who this person is?" And, you know, as much as I wanted to provide the answer, I didn't know the answer. And after time and time again me not knowing the name, I finally broke down in tears, and came out of that room, and my parents had seen me and said, "We're done."
: After that interview, Jared's family ended up moving out of town. They wanted to get away from all the stress and questioning about Jared's assault. So, they moved to a place they thought was more peaceful, calmer, a town called Paynesville, the town where Danny Heinrich lived.
: So, Jared couldn't remember every last detail about the man, but what he could remember turned out to matter a great deal because those details were very similar to how Jacob Wetterling's brother and friend described the man who took Jacob. Law enforcement became so certain the cases were linked that they decided to announce it to the public.
: New evidence tonight leaves the FBI to believe that Jacob Wetterling's kidnapper may have struck before.
: Agents say there are many similarities between Jacob's abduction and the kidnapping and sexual assault of a Cold Spring boy in January.
: In December of 1989, authorities held a news conference. The top FBI agent on the case, Jeff Jamar, said without any hesitation that the abduction of Jacob Wetterling and the abduction of a Cold Spring boy — Jamar didn't use Jared's name — were connected. It was the same man.
: We knew from the very beginning. The question was how precise are the facts. How well or how good was the witness? How much do we know about what happened that night? It's taking this long to get that down.
: And this is where the case against Danny Heinrich for the kidnapping of Jacob Wetterling starts to build. About a month and a half after Jacob was taken, two days after the news conference, investigators go to talk to Heinrich. They asked him, "Where were you on the night of October 22nd 1989, the night Jacob was kidnapped?" "I can't remember," Heinrich says. So, no alibi.
: Heinrich agrees to give authorities a sample of his hair. He agrees to turn over his shoes. He agrees to let officers take the tires off his car. Law enforcement compares the shoes and tires to prints and tracks found near the abduction site. They get the results back. And to use the language of forensic scientists, the shoe print was similar and the tire tracks were consistent. In other words, not a slam dunk but promising.
: Investigators even go back to Jared, and have him sit in Heinrich's old car. Jared says, "It looks like the right one." He tells them he wouldn't change a thing. One of the lead FBI agents on the case back then, Al Garber, told me authorities were watching Heinrich 24/7 for weeks.
: We pulled out all the stops and turned them upside down.
: Authorities get a search warrant for Heinrich's father's house. Heinrich had moved there shortly after Jacob was kidnapped. Inside the house, they find black boots, camouflage pants, two radio scanners, and several locked trunks. Inside one of the trunks is a photograph of a boy in his underwear and another photo of a boy coming out of a shower with a towel wrapped around him.
: I can't tell you anything more about what those photos looked like because law enforcement doesn't have them. During the search, Heinrich objected to the officers seizing the photos. According to documents filed last year, he told them the photos "just didn't look right." So, law enforcement let him keep the photos. and Heinrich later burned them.
: The investigation continued. Heinrich appeared in the lineup. Officers brought in Jared. And although Jared wasn't able to pick out anyone, for sure, he did say two of the men kind of look similar to the man who assaulted him. One of those men was Heinrich.
: Then, the FBI connected a fiber found on Jared snowsuit to a fiber sample taken from the seat of Heinrich's old car. On February 9th 1990, about three and a half months after Jacob was kidnapped, law enforcement decided it was time to bring in Heinrich to see if they could force a confession out of him for the abductions of both Jared Scheierl and Jacob Wetterling. They sent in an FBI agent named Steve Gilkerson.
: We felt that he was the key to the case at that time.
: That he did it?
: So, Gilkerson and the other officers got to work preparing for the interrogation.
: Three people from the FBI Behavioral Science Unit in Quantico came out to help us prepare for the interview. I mean, that's how important it was.
: Gilkerson wouldn't say much about what the FBI profilers recommended.
: I don't want to go into too much detail because, you know, criminals might be listening to whatever you do here, but you want to prepare the room setting in a certain way.
: Fbi Agent Al Garber was also involved in getting things set up.
: The profilers told us where to put certain furniture, and where to seat him, and where to see the investigators.
: They used a small interview room. They put an American flag inside, and a floor lamp, and some chairs. They got a file and stuffed it full of papers, and wrote Danny Heinrich's name on it, and placed it conspicuously on a desk.
: We didn't understand what they were doing but we thought we would try it. Why not?
: The goal was to intimidate Heinrich to make it seem like they already had a ton of evidence against him, that they already knew he did it, so he should just confess already. So, they brought in Danny Heinrich. Al Garber's first impression of him wasn't much.
: Average everyday Joe. I don't know. Nothing stood out for me about him.
: Did he seem smarter?
: No, not particularly. Not particularly ignorant either. You know, just an average person , I thought.
: Gilkerson, the other FBI agent, remembers the interview lasted almost two hours.
: We accused him, told him we had evidence that he did it. We tried a number of different ways to get him to talk to us about it. He didn't get angry, or defiant, or anything like that. He just steadfastly denied. Just kept denying it, and denying it.
: He said, "I didn't do it." And that was the end of it.
: Heinrich was held overnight in jail. But the next day, the county attorney decided they didn't have enough evidence to charge Heinrich with anything. So, they let him go. And Al Garber told me there wasn't much more they could do with Heinrich after that.
: It goes like this, you investigate as much as you can. You do everything you can think of. You either get the evidence, you find that the person conclusively didn't do it, or you just have no more to do. So, you have to leave that suspect. You can't stay with the suspect with nothing to do, nothing more to do forever. Sometimes, you just can't get it.
: I kept coming back to this moment, the moment they let Heinrich go. And I wondered, what else could they have done? So, I asked lot of the investigators who worked on the case back then about this. They all told me the same thing. They needed something that could hold over Heinrich, another charge, something they could work with to make a deal. And the way everyone talked to me about it, there just wasn't anything. All they had were two cases: Jacob and Jared. No one mentioned the Paynesville cases. That seemed strange. So, I asked Steve Gilkerson about it. He's the FBI agent who interrogated Heinrich.
: Did you ever hear about the assaults on the boys in Paynesville back then?
: No, no.
: If you had known that, what do you think would have been different?
: Well, certainly would have interviewed those kids, try and come up with more evidence and all.
: I wonder if it just got lost somehow, you know, with all the leads coming in and all the activity.
: I don't know. I know we reached a point after the investigation there, we had really nothing. At that point, we let Heinrich go.
: The top FBI agent on the case back then, Special Agent in Charge Jeff Jamar, said he couldn't recall any of this Paynesville stuff, but that it would have been really helpful.
: I said it more than several times during our press conferences that we had, if you're a victim, or you're a police department, or anything else, if you have a case that's similar to this, tell us about them.
: So, I told Jeff Jamar about the Paynesville cases, and he said that kind of information was exactly what they were looking for.
: That's one of those incidents where we could have something to hold over his head. Maybe more investigations where he lived and more victims if we could have found them and piled up cases of abuse by him then. To me, it's just something, again, where we failed. It still bothers me.
: But law enforcement had heard about the Paynesville assaults. We know this for sure because in the limited batch of documents that are available to the public in the Wetterling case, there's a mention of the police chief of Paynesville telling the investigators about the assaults in early January of 1990. The police chief even told them the name of the man he believed should be considered a suspect in those assaults, Danny Heinrich. Kris, one of the kids from Paynesville, made the connection between the cases in his own mind right away.
: I'll never forget that. I was locking on St. Germain and St. Cloud, and a girl ran up to me, and handed me a piece of paper, like a flyer, with his picture on it. And she said, "This little boy was abducted in St. Jo, was taken in St. Jo." And I remember, I had like a flashback, you know. When she said that to me, I thought, immediately, it was a trigger for me. And I remember thinking, you know, "Is this the same guy?" I mean, I was thinking, "Could it be? Is this possible, you know, that … How does this happen?"
: And did anyone from law enforcement on the Wetterling case ever reached out and contact you?
: Kris told me he and his dad went to law enforcement themselves and gave a statement to the Wetterling investigators about the Paynesville assaults. He can't remember the names of the investigators. He was just a teenager at the time.
: I had expectations that this was hot like, "My lead, this stuff in Paynesville, you can't ignore this, guys." I mean, I went in with that mentality because I thought, "Look, this is very similar. Jacob was on a bike. We were on bikes." I mean, just lots of things.
: Kris said the investigators didn't seem all that interested. They didn't ask him to do a lineup or to look at any photos. In fact, they never called him again.
: I think we all kind of gave up on them taking a look.
: By February of 1990, law enforcement had struck out with Danny Heinrich. There were lots of reasons to think he did it, but no solid evidence. But there was something else they could have done. At the same time, all over Stearns county, there was a massive search underway for Jacob. It was one of the largest searches for any missing person in the history of the United States. Stearns County sheriff's office was in charge, but this search involved hundreds of officers from many agencies and thousands of volunteers. Steve Gilkerson, the FBI agent from back then, told me the search went far beyond just the town where Jacob was kidnapped.
: We did all. Well, statues. We had searches, ground searches all over the place out there. And the sheriff's office, they had mounted patrols out there. They had the National Guard out there searching.
: Gilkerson told me they even searched the area around the town of Cold Spring where Jared Scheierl lived.
: Where he was kidnapped because we thought at that time, you know, there's a possibility that, you know, maybe Jacob was in that area there.
: But Gilkerson told me they did not look for Jacob in the tiny town of Paynesville, a town of just 2300, just about two square miles, the town where all those boys had been attacked, the town where Heinrich lived.
: We didn't search any of that area at that time.
: About a year after Jacob went missing, late one night around midnight, Danny Heinrich went for a walk to a spot just a third of a mile or so outside of downtown Paynesville, the site where he had buried Jacob Wetterling's body.
: We don't know what led Heinrich to go back there or what he was planning to do. All we know is what Heinrich's said last week in his confession. He brought a flashlight, and a garbage bag, and a collapsible shovel. He shined the flashlight over the grave, and he saw something, Jacob's red jacket. As he moved closer, he saw something else, bones just lying there on the ground as though the site had been uncovered.
: So, Heinrich gathered the bones, and the jacket, and everything else he could find, and put them into the garbage bag. Then, he walked across the street, and used the collapsible shovel to dig a hole about 2 feet deep. And Heinrich put the bones in the hole and then the jacket. And then, he covered up the hole and left. The remains wouldn't be found for 26 years.
: Heinrich stayed in Paynesville for a long time, and he didn't stop being interested in boys there. I found a sheriff's report from 1991, a Paynesville cop had spotted a tan Buick driving around town following paperboys on their morning routes. And the cop had asked a Stearns County sheriff's deputy to check it out. The deputy followed the car and realized the driver was Heinrich. But the deputy decided no further action could be taken by the sheriff's office. He wrote a report, and that was it.
: Jared Scheierl grew up. He starred in his high school wrestling team. He played football. And after high school, he moved to Alaska. He got a job drilling for a gold prospecting company. He came back home to Paynesville, got married, raised kids, got divorced, and ended up buying his childhood home there from his father before he died. But for all that time, Jared stayed pretty quiet about what had happened to him as a kid. He remembered the man's words, "If they ever come close to finding me, I'll kill you."
: And then, one day, about three years ago, Jared got a Facebook message from a blogger named Joy Baker. She come across some old newspaper articles about the assaults in Paynesville. She wanted to know if Jared knew about them.
: You can imagine my eyes when when I'd seen that and just thinking I live here.
: Jared had never heard of the assaults before. And at that moment, Jared realized something.Mmaybe the man who attacked all these kids in Paynesville was the same man who attacked him, and even the same man who kidnapped Jacob Wetterling. He thought, "Maybe I could find all these guys who were assaulted, and ask them what they remember, and try to piece it altogether to figure out who this man is."
: I told myself, I said, "I'm going to give it 110 percent. This is it. You know, as much as I've done, this is it. And if the answer's out there, and it pertains to any of this, then I'm going to find it."
: Jared thought about how to get started. And then, he remembered something an older boy had told him when he first moved to town after he'd been assaulted. The boy had said, "Look out for Chester the Molester." At the time, Jared thought it was a joke. But 20 some years later, reading these stories, Jared wondered about that comment.
: So, he got back in touch with the boy — Now, a man — and asked him what he'd meant. The man told him he wasn't joking. There had been this creepy guy who'd jumped out of the bushes in his parents yard and attacked a kid. Jared asked the man for any names of kids who'd been attacked.
: Within the first week, I talked to one of the victims. I approached one of them and just got details of his attack.
: How do you start that conversation?
: You start with your own story.
: You know, I approached him and said, "Hey, I just want to ask you a few questions. I'm going to tell you something about me, and if you are comfortable enough, maybe you share something with me."
: Jared kept talking to men in town. One person would lead to another.
: And they knew who I was. They were comfortable talking. And it led to a domino effect.
: One of the guys Jared found was Kris.
: And so he called. I don't even know how he got my number. He asked my name. You know, he said, "Is this Kris? You know, are you the one that was involved in Paynesville?" And it just feels like a ghost. I mean, "What? Yes, I was."
: Jared, Kris, and all these guys started swapping stories about what they remembered about the man who assaulted them, and a lot of these stories sounded pretty similar to what happened to Jared and Jacob, like it really was the same guy. For Jared, it was comforting in a way to share the same experience with so many other men. For so long, he thought he was the only one who escaped. Jared and all of these men formed a kind of brotherhood. They were on a mission to find out what had happened to them. And by doing that, to try to find out what had happened to Jacob Wetterling.
: Jared gave us a voice. And, you know, we've gone through this once. And as you can imagine, it's an up and down. You know, you hope they're going to catch this guy and things like that, And then, they don't catch him, they don't catch him, they don't catch him. Years go by after Jacob, you know, it's like it's part of us, right.
: Jared and several other men got back in touch with the investigators on the Wetterling case. They wanted law enforcement to see what they saw, that these cases in this one county in just a few year period almost certainly were done by the same guy. Jared said he hoped to find answers for Jacob's parents.
: And I was. I felt like I was Jacob's strongest hope.
: Finally, two years ago, investigators went back and looked at those Paynesville cases. They looked at Jared's case too. And it's hard to know for sure because most of the Wetterling case file is still sealed, but the best they can tell is that this effort by Jared and by all of these men from Paynesville is what led authorities to go back to the man who was in front of them all along, Danny Heinrich.
: Kris, the guy from Paynesville, told me the way he sees it, it shouldn't have taken so long.
: They had all of that. None of it was new. None of it is new. Stearns County, the FBI, they've all had all of this. None of this was new.
: And once authorities made the decision to go back to focusing on Heinrich, things moved pretty quickly. Authorities still had a hair sample from Heinrich from all those years ago. They sent it off to a lab, and it came back as a DNA match to Jared's clothing. They used that match to get a search warrant for Heinrich's house to try to find evidence of Jacob Wetterling, but they didn't find any. What they did find was some child pornography. So, they charged Heinrich with that, and threw him in jail.
: Authorities told Jared about the DNA match. After a quarter century, Jared finally had an answer from law enforcement, but there was a catch.
: "It's Danny Heinrich, but because of statutes of limitations, we can't prosecute him in your case." That made me angry. You know, that made me feel like I have worked hard to get to here to find this answer. And I get the answer, but I don't get prosecution. And it's not fair. It's not justice.
: Jared's brother, Jed, took the news hard.
: Just like, "What? We lived here the whole time, and he's just down the damn road all those years," you know. And it's like, "What?" Throughout all the years of wondering, and not knowing, and then, all of a sudden, here's your answer, but there's not a damn thing you can do about it.
: Law enforcement officials haven't said anything publicly about why it took so long to connect the dots to Heinrich. And Kris, the guy from Paynesville, says that's one of the things that bothers him the most.
: I just feel like it's … Yeah, I feel like they haven't said there was anything wrong. It's an unexamined life.
: Last month, the U.S. attorney decided to make Heinrich a deal, "Show us where the body of Jacob is, and you won't be charged with killing him. And we'll drop all but one of the charges of child pornography against you. You won't spend the rest of your life in prison." Under the deal, Heinrich will serve 17 to 20 years. He'll be in his early 70s when he gets out.
: It was a highly unusual deal for a federal prosecutor to make. It almost never happens. And in Minnesota, it made some people angry. So, I called up the U.S. Attorney, Andy Luger, to ask him why he made a deal like this.
: We had belief but not evidence before he told us. So, my job, under all of these awful circumstances, with no really great choices, was to do two things: Put him behind bars for a long time and get the answers that this family and the state of Minnesota have been looking for for almost 27 years.
: So, it's the best deal that could have been made?
: In my view, it's the best deal that was available.
: Heinrich took the deal. And on Wednesday, August 31st, Danny Heinrich led officers to the spot just outside of downtown Paynesville. Jacob had been there the whole time.
: Next time on In the Dark.
: Investigators say the kidnapping that occurred here in Cold Spring is just now coming to the forefront because of the overwhelming number of leads.
: The FBI says it took so long to connect the two cases because of the overwhelming amount of information it has to process.
: We've been running so many white cars down, and red cars down, and tan station wagons, and vans. And we've been just getting a tremendous amount of calls in here.
: What can they, the Wetterlings, do? Are they, in a sense, powerless now to the whim, the whimsy, the awful capriciousness of this madman? That would be my opinion.
: Sunday, 7:24 p.m.
: I just want to tell you that Jacob is all right.
: Are you happy again?
: I would say this is really unusual. It strikes me as a very bad idea.
: In the Dark is produced by Samara Freemark. The associate producer is Natalie Jablonski. Significant additional reporting for this episode by Jennifer Vogel. 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 by Curtis Gilbert, Will Craft, Tom Scheck, and Emily Haavik. Our theme music is composed by Gary Meister. This episode was mixed by Johnny Vince Evans.
: There's a lot more that we couldn't fit into this episode, so please visit our website, InTheDarkPodcast.org. You can read stories about the DNA evidence in this case, and why it wasn't tested right away, and find out more about how unusual the plea deal with Heinrich was. And you can watch a video of Jared Scheierl talking about his search for answers, as well as find out about places to get help if you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted.
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