Popular Transcripts IRE Podcast Transcript: Vouching for Education

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IRE Podcast: Vouching for Education

IRE. IRE. IRE Radio.

Publicly funded education used to be a radical idea in the United States. The first public school opened in Boston in 1821 but it took another century before compulsory education laws made their way to every state. And even then minorities and women were often left behind. Many people didn't make it to high school. Fast forward to today and more or less everybody has to go to school. Every corner of the country needs to offer some form of public education. And they use taxpayer dollars to do it. Teachers have to pass certifications and students take standardized tests. The government can regulate everything from curriculum, to grading, to how facilities are run. But in some states people are questioning whether that's really the best way to do things. They want schools to have more freedom to incorporate religion or try out experimental curriculum. And they want students to have the option to use public money to attend private schools. So they've created state scholarship programs to make that possible. Florida has one of the largest programs in the country. In 2017, private schools there received nearly one billion dollars in public funding. But an Orlando Sentinel investigation found that the state has very little power to oversee how that money is being spent or how those schools are run.

We found schools where teachers do not have college degrees or even principals do not have college degrees. The facilities, sometimes they were kind of tiny cramped windowless places.

On this week's episode, Leslie Postol talks about how she and her colleagues Annie Martin and Beth Kassab dug into Florida's school voucher program a program touted by President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos as one of the best in the country. They visited almost 40 schools, dug through thousands of documents and worked to write a balanced story about a highly politicized topic. I'm Erin McKinstry and you're listening to the IRE Radio podcast

In early 2017 President Donald Trump paid a visit to Florida with his freshly appointed education secretary Betsy DeVos. The highly publicized trip was meant to highlight the success of a state scholarship program in Florida.

President Donald Trump joined by his newly confirmed education secretary Betsy DeVos, Friday afternoon in Pine Hills at the private St. Andrew Catholic school.

The president taking some time to promote the hot button issue of school choice meeting with parents and students about his–

Education is the civil rights issue of our time and it's why I've asked Congress to support a school choice bill. We've got a lot of success in Florida and I love it. It's my second home.

These programs are called different things by different people. You might have heard them called school voucher programs whatever the name the Trump administration has been talking about them a lot. De Vos says she'd like to see them across the country. Basically they give students the option of using public funding to attend private schools. They've also received a lot of criticism.

People who are worried about how public money or money that would otherwise be public money is being spent. You know, raised concerns about we're sending a lot of money to a lot of schools with really no guarantee or no assurance that the money is being well spent.

That's Leslie Postol a reporter for The Orlando Sentinel. She said that around the same time of Trump's visit the owner and the office manager of a private school in Florida were charged with Medicaid fraud. They were accused of stealing more than four-and-a-half million dollars from their student's accounts. The school worked with special needs students. One pled guilty and the other is currently awaiting trial. Over the course of the last school year they received more than 700,000 dollars from the very program that Trump and DeVos were touting. That piqued Leslie's interest and the interest of two colleagues — Beth Kassab and Annie Martin.

Those two events together kind of made us want to take a deeper look at what was actually going on at all these schools.

Florida's three scholarship programs, one, for low income students and two, for students with disabilities. The Department of Education runs the first and a nonprofit runs the other two. All three are funded with public money. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 27 states have some sort of program that gives public school students money to attend private schools. These programs have received a lot of attention from the media, policymakers and education officials. But Leslie and her colleagues thought there was a piece of the conversation that was still missing.

What we were trying to do was something different than a kind of policy level piece which, you know, our newspaper and obviously plenty of others have done. We really wanted to focus on what is happening inside and you know, what is this place? To who's next bail bonds and why is that a school. And you know what are parents saying.

And because of that they didn't start by interviewing policymakers or by digging into documents. Instead they did what Leslie calls good old fashioned reporting.

Beth Kassab who is one of my colleagues and is now our enterprise editor. She kind of asked, hey can we just visit all the schools in Central Florida. Now she's not an education reporter. So she didn't realize that there were almost 400 of them just in our area. So we kind of said, no we can't probably visit 400 schools, but let's see if we can visit some of them.

Not all private schools take scholarship money. So Leslie, Annie and Beth requested two databases to find schools that do. The databases track enrollment numbers and scholarship amounts for Florida's programs. They used them to crunch numbers and identify schools. Early on in the reporting process, they started showing up at some of those schools, often unannounced.

Most of the time we just kind of showed up and said, "hey we're reporters from the Sentinel, we're working on stories on scholarships and kind of interested in seeing what you're doing". And I think we were surprised that more often than not we were invited in and sometimes given a little tour at least you know allowed to speak with the director and get some information. And those were really eye opening just to see the huge variety of places, some that kind of looked like what maybe your idea — traditional idea of a school is. And some that were, you know, in little offices, in strip malls, in a building rented from a church.

They tried to pick a variety from high end private schools that had been around a long time to smaller schools that opened a few years ago after the program started. And that relied on scholarship money for the majority of their operating budgets.

We got a taste of a school that normally charges eight or nine or ten thousand dollar tuition, on one hand, and then we went to places that were basically daycare centers that had expanded. A couple we found just by accident like we were visiting one school and we saw maybe a sign that said, "we take scholarships" outside and we just stopped on in.

What they found was shocking and complicated.

One that we visited, the facility was really rundown and you know there was a hole in the wall under the window and there was a hole in the ceiling with wires coming out. And then the director said this is our library and it was a completely empty room. No books, no furniture, no computers. And she said, "oh well we're moving". When we went back to the office and we looked up online and in the court records and found out they were being evicted. So that's why they were moving because they hadn't paid rent in more than a year.

They visited the schools in pairs. One person would take notes and the other would ask questions.

And I think that was really helpful both just to have sort of that double check on, "hey, you know I saw that hole in the wall with wires coming out. Did you see that too?" Just in case there was an issue that we had notes from both of us.

Several of the teachers and principals they met didn't have college degrees. But one school, the students sat behind partitions and did worksheets all day. At another, the teachers barely taught.

It looked like an in-home daycare, but they had a classroom in the back for kids. When we asked like, oh what curriculum do you use? They didn't know. And they were like looking on their bulletin board to see what they used and then they had a daily schedule on the board. And now this was an example where I was, you know, kind of doing the interview and Annie was looking around and she wrote down their daily schedule because she noticed that it was only like two hours of academics for what was supposed to be a six hour school day

At another school they visited, the students worked on computers all day. And as the principal was showing Leslie around, she noticed something odd. He showed us this boy's screen and he had Ds and Fs and everything that was like on the side. And I — because we were leaning over I just said to the kid, "hey, buddy you know, what grade are you in?". And he couldn't answer me. And then it turned out that he was from Haiti as many of the students were at that school and he doesn't speak English. And they had to get like another girl in the class to translate for him. But this kid was working all day on an online program that was all in English. So I kind of questioned whether that was really going to help him learn.

But they also found positive examples. The scholarship programs have strong supporters, they give parents the freedom to send their kids to specialized schools if they have special needs, or to Christian schools if they want them to have a religious education.

There's not a 140,000 kids in this program because people don't like it. So we tried to be aware that it is obviously meeting people's needs at some level.

Many of the schools, including the one the Haitian boy attended, are run by recent immigrants and many of their students are recent immigrants as well. Leslie found one principal who said that was important for many of our kids and parents.

She said parents like that most of her teachers are bilingual that everybody can speak Spanish. Her parents often don't speak English that well and they like that they can come to the school and everybody speaks Spanish and can help them. Now she said the classes are taught in English, but she said she's sort of appealing to her community.

They also found a Montessori-style school that has been formed by public school teachers and situations where low-income students or students with disabilities felt like they couldn't get what they needed from a public school and were able to afford an alternative because of the program.

Going to visit all the schools I mean that was really time consuming because they're not all, you know, right next to our office and you're driving around and hoping someone was there. But pretty much every time we went and we got in and we left, it would just be like, wow that was so interesting and I'm so glad we did that. I felt like that was really the backbone of the story.

In the end they visited 35 schools. The state had only visited 22 in the last year. Although many of the schools they visited had problems. A lot of the issues they encountered weren't something the state could do anything about. Private school teachers don't have to be state certified or use a specific curriculum. But remember how they got started on the story. The two people that were accused of Medicaid fraud. That is something the state could do something about. And Leslie, Beth and Annie wanted to see if things like background checks, fire and safety inspections and allegations of fraud were being properly overseen by the state and the nonprofit that administered the program. So they turned to documents and data to help.

The case where there have been the arrest for Medicaid fraud that prompted one of us to request from the State Department of Education, had there been an investigation on their end? And then once we realized that there had been then we asked, well can we have your fraud investigations for other schools, let's say for the last five years.

Once we dug into those they realized that several schools had falsified their health and fire safety records. And many of them continue to receive funding. They also found a school that continued to receive millions of dollars even though it had hired teachers with criminal backgrounds and failed to pay some of its teachers. And in another case the state pulled scholarship funds from a private Christian school after the principal and owner was accused of molesting a 15-year-old student. While the allegations were being investigated he was still able to serve as an administrator at a second school opened in his wife's name. Leslie said. There just aren't a lot of checks on the few rules that exist. Under the law that created the program, state officials can only visit a total of 10 randomly selected schools a year.

Then they can do a few others if there's a school that's had some problems that have come to their attention. So there's like 2000 of these schools and they're visiting 22 or 27. First of all they can't do very much when they visit. What they can do is they can just look at the required documents. So do you have something that shows you know you've had your fire inspection and you've had your background checks on — your criminal background checks. And even then, most of the schools don't have those available like they're supposed to. I mean they visited 27 schools a year before and 24 couldn't provide the documentation. And mind you these aren't surprise visits, these are scheduled.

After digging around in the Florida Department of Education's website, Leslie and her colleagues also realized that there was a way for parents to file complaints against the schools.

So once we realized that those existed then we requested a big batch of those. I think we've got about 80.

In general, Florida's open records laws are pretty good. Up until that point they hadn't had any problems getting the data and documents they needed. But when the complaints came back the state had redacted some of the parents phone numbers.

But of course, when I complained about that, then they decided they should have redacted everything. So we had a kind of funny moment where they said, can we resend those 70 complaints more redacted? And I said, no you've already sent them. Thank you, I don't need them blacked out further.

They argued that parent information on the complaints could potentially identify the child. But Leslie didn't press further. By the time they responded she had already used LexisNexis to find what she needed. Once the complaints came in, Leslie, Annie and Beth had thousands of pages of documents to dig through. They used Google Docs to keep everything organized and then they divided the workload alphabetically and started reading.

I think I started with A and Beth started down at the bottom and Annie started with L or something and we just went through them each of us taking notes.

Much of the documents were boilerplate responses from the state, but others provided fascinating details that helped paint a broader picture of some of the problems.

So some parents will get pretty frustrated that there was just no recourse when they said, "hey you know my kid's teacher was this guy who was fired from public school for having porn on his computer" or "my kid was getting really baby-ish work or my kid wasn't getting the services that I expected given that they have autism. What can I do?" And the state basically would say, you can find a different private school but we have no control over their academic offerings.

They found a teacher complaint against the administrators accused of Medicaid fraud. It was submitted four months before the pair were arrested and funding was pulled. But at the time, the State Department of Education only requested a few documents and hadn't taken any further action. They also used the complaints to identify another group of sources. Families. Many of the schools the reporters visited were proud of the work they were doing. They were happy to do video interviews for the project and to connect the reporters with parents and kids who'd benefited from the scholarship programs. But it was also important for them to find families who'd been hurt by the lax oversight and that proved trickier especially since many of the parents' phone numbers had been redacted from complaints.

One woman and she was featured pretty high in our story. I mean I couldn't find a phone number for her but I found her address and I just kind of showed up at her door.

The woman's name was Ada Melendez.

She was really very sweet because she has three boys and two — the two twins have autism and I happened to get there just as — it was the summer still on but they had like weekly therapy sessions so the therapists were there. So it was a little chaotic in her house but the boys were also occupied with their therapists.

Ada's five year old boys qualified for a state scholarship because of their disabilities. She found a private school that promised specialized help. But instead they got a 21 year old teacher with no bachelor's degree and no experience working with children with autism. Her complaint to the state fell on deaf ears. Although Ada was hesitant to talk with Leslie at first, worried that the school might come after her in some way. She eventually opened up.

I think she felt like sort of relieved that someone was listening to her story and not just sending her a form letter.

Ada's first language was Spanish and although she and Leslie were able to communicate, Leslie knew that in order to do a more in-depth interview she would need a translator.

I told her we would follow-up and I had a colleague who speaks Spanish. Gave her a callback and he came along with me for follow-up. So that just helped her comfort level a bit.

Ada had also complained to the state that she thought the facility didn't have the proper permits in place. And when Leslie called the City to confirm, she was right. The school had been operating for a year without a fire inspection or the proper permits.

The State had her complaint where she wrote that but they never followed up.

Ada wasn't alone. The Sentinel interviewed several other families with similar experiences. Now that they had on the ground coverage of the program, it was time to take their findings to public officials. But they hit a wall. They wanted to interview the Education Commissioner and the Director of the State School Choice Office. But the department denied their request. They tried multiple times, but in the end the department's communications staff would only respond to their questions via e-mail.

There was not really a good reason — not a good official reason so I'm really not sure. We tried many times and were just sent e-mails. So I felt like they were mad early on about another story that we wrote.

The Florida Department of Education said they thought the program was working to help students access a high quality education. In many cases, when the reporters confronted them with the problems they'd found, the State said there was nothing they could do. Leslie, Beth and Annie also interviewed six or seven education experts, but they ended up not including that in the final version.

We decided that we didn't want to put that in the first story. It just sort of policy wonk-ish.

It was time to write. Leslie said the process was —

Torturous. We just had so much. You know I think we sort of split it up that I would take a stab at starting with the main story. Annie Martin had one of the second stories and then Beth Kassab had one of those as well. So I guess we each took a lead on one of what would be three stories and then a lot of back and forth with all of us reading them and making suggestions.

It took several drafts but they finally published the story as a three part series called Schools Without Rules. And despite their best efforts to tell the story and back everything up with documents and data, the response was as polarized as the political debate around school choice.

We were pretty blasted with lots of criticism so it was a good deal of stress about that. Although there wasn't any criticism that anything was wrong. It was just that people's reactions seem very much formed by their views on school choice. The people who are in favor of that, of course, were furious and slamming us. And the people who think there's too much moving toward the privatization of public education were delighted.

Still the state did pull scholarship funding from two of the schools they'd highlighted and the House subcommittee held a special hearing to discuss scholarship programs in response to the story. And it also sparked a debate about whether more oversight of the schools and the program is necessary. The reporting took almost seven months. Along the way. All three of them had a balance beat reporting with a longer term project. But Leslie said, working as a team helped.

I think everything that we did we always bounced off each other. So I think we all felt like we were invested in everything even if we weren't writing the particular story. If there was advice, just be willing to listen to your colleagues you know maybe they're not writing something exactly the way you would or maybe they are not thinking the story exactly the way you would. But maybe you'll come to something that's better than either of you would have on your own. So–

Thanks for listening. Take a look at our episode notes for links to the Sentinel series and resources for reporting on education. You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, or Google Play or wherever else you get your podcasts. And you can spend hours listening to the stories behind some of the best investigative reporting in the country. At IRE.org/podcast The IRE Radio Podcast is recorded in the studios of KBIA. Sarah Hutchins is our editor. From Columbia Missouri, I'm Erin McKinstry

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Popular Transcripts IRE Podcast Transcript: The Examiners

Sonix is an automated transcription service. We transcribe audio and video files for storytellers all over the world. We are not associated with the IRE podcast. Making transcripts available for listeners and those that are hearing-impaired is just something we like to do. If you are interested in automated transcription, click here for 30 free minutes.

To listen and watch the transcript playback in real-time πŸ‘€, just click the player below.

IRE Podcast: The Examiners

IRE. IRE. IRE Radio

The rumors were gruesome. Bodies stacked two a gurney as they waited examination by pathologist. The deceased arriving at funeral homes missing body parts. Families left in the dark for months waiting to hear how their loved ones died. In New Jersey, you didn't have to go far to hear about the dysfunction in the medical examiner's office.

One of the problems we have with medical examiner systems is that the legislators tend to look at us as handling the dead. But everything we do is for the living.

Reporters from New Jersey Advance Media spent more than a year pinpointing systemic problems in the medical examiner's office that went back decades. On this week's episode Abby Ivory-Ganja talks with Stephen Stirling and Sean Sullivan about how they dug into a system whose work often goes unnoticed but can have grave consequences.

It's the kind of thing that really can destroy a family in the worst case because you know a lot of society is sort of propped up by having a good death investigation system even though you might not think about it on a day to day basis.

I'm Tessa Weinberg and you're listening to the IRE radio podcast. If you asked Stephen Stirling how to find a good story he'd likely tell you to do other stories. Stephen's a data reporter for New Jersey Advance Media and he got tips to look into New Jersey state medical examiner system while working on another investigation called Heroin Town, a reporting project that came out in late 2015 and chronicled New Jersey's growing heroin epidemic. For that project Steven got data on opioid related deaths from the medical examiner's office. Red flags surfaced as he talked to sources and not all of them had to do with an increase in drug use. People were telling him the state's medical examiner office wasn't functioning like it should.

I started getting tips from medical examiners within the system. It was like, "Hey you should take a look at this."

Sources described a lack of oversight inadequate resources and a caseload that wasn't getting any lighter. So when the opioid investigation wrapped up he turned his attention to the medical examiner's looping in reporter Sean Sullivan. Their 18 month investigation found New Jersey medical examiners have rejected two thirds of the cases referred to them over the last two decades. If a case was accepted some offices took as long as three months to complete an investigation. Still pathologists were conducting more autopsies with a 20 percent smaller staff than a decade ago. All of this painted a picture of chronic mismanagement going back 40 years and that dysfunction was causing problems for real people. Many accused of unspeakable crimes or coping with the sudden loss of a loved one.

It's the kind of thing that really can destroy a family in the worst case because you know a lot of society is sort of propped up by having a good death investigation system even though you might not think about it on day to day basis.

Stephen's first step was to see if the tips he'd gotten while working on Heroin Town could be backed up by data. So he started putting in requests. But of course, getting the data he wanted wasn't so straightforward.

It was not easy. This occurred entirely under the administration of Gov. Chris Christie. He had a pretty significant reputation for not being a good open data governor in my experience. You know I've been a data journalist in New Jersey for the majority of his governorship and it just got harder and harder to get data so that wasn't terribly surprising. But you know when we initially made the request, you know, the state outright denied us and then we made it a bit differently and we started negotiating, but they kept pushing us off. They initially quoted us several thousand dollars to get the data that we were asking for.

Attorneys for New Jersey Advance Media got involved and threatened legal action. Ultimately the state backed down.

And at the end of the day we ended up paying for postage on the cost of the CD that they put it on.

During this early stage of the investigation. Stephen had been working by himself but just before the state relented and handed over the database he wanted. He reached out to Sean Sullivan who covers criminal justice and the attorney general for New Jersey Advance Media. In New Jersey, the state medical examiner sits under the AG's office. Here's Sean.

He basically said to me like, "Hey what do you know about the medical examiner's office?" Now I had, I had been on the beat for nearly a year at that point. You know there's a lot of arms of the attorney general's office and this is one of the more obscure ones. So other than knowing that the top medical examiner position had been for years now I think at that point vacant. I didn't really know a whole lot. So we basically set off to kind of get our legs under us and figure out you know how is this system set up? How is it supposed to work and how does it fail?

Shawn and Steven began researching while negotiations for the data were still taking place.

They had, at one point, handed over a sort of a sample set which showed that there was some smoke there and we were pretty confident that that was going to be some fire.

Because none of the problems they were hearing were new.

I even went so far as to you know read into the clips and going back finding this 1979 report from the state commission of investigation that described widespread dysfunction in the system as far back as the late 70's. And what we were hearing from from sources was the conditions described in that report had persisted to this day.

The role of the medical examiner is pretty simple. Figure out how and why somebody died. In New Jersey, a forensic pathologist will get involved for a couple different reasons things like murders, suicides, inmate deaths, workplace accidents and sudden infant deaths. But the reporters found that how well a death is investigated often boils down to where in the state that person lived or rather where they died. Here's why. The state's top medical examiner oversees two regional offices Northern and Southern, but those regional offices actually only manage a handful of counties and lack accreditation from the National Association of Medical Examiners. Five counties run their own independent offices and the remaining counties are overseen by three regional offices. That means the majority of the state isn't overseen by the top medical examiner.

The State Medical Examiner who, in title is, you would think, oversees everything, but actually has no power to enact anything over any of the other offices in the state of New Jersey. So you end up with this mishmash of protocols and standards that are being carried out in various capacities some better than others and some not very good at all. But there is no oversight over any of those offices. So if somebody doesn't have an office that's up to snuff. There's nobody that can penalize them or you know take any action to get the ship back on track.

The state's top medical examiner position had been vacant for years at a time because the system was dysfunctional. Two former state M.E.'s resigned in protest in 2003 and again in 2008 to draw attention to the problem. The job remained vacant for seven years. Across the country pathologists are in short supply and because of that many medical examiners have something called a medico legal death investigator. They're the people who come before the M.E. to decide if a pathologist is even going to accept a case. Stephen says they make up the backbone of the entire system in New Jersey but they're not doctors.

They go through a training course when they are hired to sort of identify what would be a good and bad case and they ultimately make the call on whether or not a medical examiner's office is going to accept the case.

The medical legal investigators are often the boots on the ground. In other states, medical examiners will go out to the scene of a death take a look around and have a stronger say in accepting or denying a case. But in New Jersey, understaffing issues meant they rarely have time the investigators notes can weigh heavily on an M.E.'s final ruling. Stephen and Sean found two-thirds of cases are turned away by the New Jersey ME's office, which is much higher than other similar statewide systems. If a case is accepted the medical examiner determines what kind of procedure should be done. Either an autopsy or an external viewing. Data shows New Jersey's pathologists are conducting nearly 30 percent more autopsies than they were 10 years ago while having 20 percent less staff. And there were more red flags. The National Association of Medical Examiners recommends an M.E. conduct no more than 250 autopsies per year. But in 2016, one New Jersey examiner did the equivalent of 444. Journalists had looked at New Jersey's broken medical examiner system over the years. But Sean says most of those stories were anecdotal. Examining a case that was mishandled or poorly investigated.

Any anecdote can always be excused away and described as an aberration.

Stephen and Shawn wanted to get at the system's underlying structural issues something no one had done before and the data was key. The State's database included 420,000 sudden death cases dating back to 1996.

When we got this data set it was irrefutable. It showed how these anecdotes that would bubble up over time pointed to problems in the system. But this showed that those outliers were really just symptoms of systemic dysfunction and that didn't come from a single villain or a single crooked or incompetent person who was in charge. It came from the fact that the state for years had just not put the resources in place to have a functioning system.

Understanding the systemic problems meant digging into four decades of history surrounding the office.

I would say this was the most sprawling complicated investigation I've ever worked on and I think Steve would tell you the same thing just because in addition to the fact that we had so much data and there were so many stories out there we just found that this was such a little understood function of government.

It took them a few months to learn about the system. A big part of their reporting process was just figuring out how things were supposed to work. Who decides which cases get seen by a pathologist, who can turn a case away and who goes to the scene of a death. Stephen examined data from other states to see how New Jersey compared and both of them spoke with experts across the country who could contextualize what was happening in their state. They found that even in New Jersey, some government employees didn't understand the ins and outs of the complex system.

The State offices is called, you know, office of the state medical examiner. I paid one $130 for records that I thought were appellate decisions involving the office of the state medical examiner and what I picked up was a $130 worth of appellate decisions involving the State Board of Medical Examiners who are the board that decide whether to punish or suspend the license of doctors. So I had tapped into an agency that is so obscure that when I put in a records request I got records for a completely different agency.

An essential piece of this story involves showing how the systemic dysfunction affected real people. That's where Valentino Ianetti came in. New Jersey Advance Media wrote a few stories about his case over the years. So he came up in a clip search. Starting in 2009, Ianetti spent more than three-and-a-half years in jail accused of murder in the stabbing death of his wife Pamela. A medical examiner initially ruled her death a homicide and Valentino was the only suspect. But the public defender assigned to Ianetti's case thought something didn't add up. So he hired a second pathologist to take a look. His findings revealed Pamela had taken enough oxycodone to lead to an overdose and that her stab wounds might have been self-inflicted. A third pathologist said Pamela's death was likely a suicide not homicide and charges against Ianetti were dropped.

That was one of the hardest interviews of this whole thing because we had to sit across from him and ask him very graphic details about the death of his wife.

Ianetti was released from jail nearly four years after his wife's death. Prosecutors said they dropped the charges because they didn't think they could prove them beyond a reasonable doubt. But they didn't declare Ianetti innocent and the ruling on Pamela's death certificate never changed. That means charges could still be brought against him at any time.

It took a lot of convincing to get him to sit down with us. And I remember at one point in the interview he's sitting across from us he says, "If this story comes out, is this something that could actually help me in my case or is this just something that is going to help other people in situations like this?" And you know I had had to be honest with them and say I don't see how this actually helps your case. But you know the story that we're doing looks at a systemic problem and it might help people in the future and he said, "Okay, well that's good enough for me."

Sean says Ianetti's case shows the importance of thorough investigations. Medical examiners work with the dead, but their findings can have a powerful effect on the living.

That sort of gets to the heart of the problem we were trying to demonstrate here is that how important these rulings are and how crucial it is that they have the resources and the standards to make sure that situations like that don't happen.

Throughout the investigation and Sean was also keeping up with daily stories on his beat covering criminal justice and the Attorney General's Office.

With these longer term stories, inevitably there's a lot of waiting that goes in. I file hundreds of records requested a year and it takes time for those to come back. There's always parts in your day where you're waiting for a source to call you back or you're waiting for your editor to finally give you feedback on your copy. And those down moments are sort of the time that you need to squirrel away to do the small things that build into a big investigation. Things like checking in on your records request things like finally reading that report that it had been sitting on your desk. That's really the only way to sort of build towards this bigger project.

Sean and Stephen's reporting process wasn't exactly smooth sailing. Sean said there was another set of obstacles. He called it typical obstruction on behalf of the state. The reporters had data experts and victims, but there was one piece of the puzzle they could never put into place. Sean and Steven never got to see an autopsy performed or get inside the facilities where sources told them bodies were stacked two to a gurney.

You know the government doesn't really want to give you any more than they legally have to give you particularly in a case like this where there is a pretty clear indication of dysfunction.

They also had trouble getting interviews with top state officials who could provide insight into how the system became so unruly. It took months of requests but eventually they got an interview with the state's top medical examiner.

I had sources in state government telling me, "there's no way you're ever going to get that guy. What interest do we have in sitting him down with you?" And eventually we were able to make the case like, "look if you guys are doing something about this you need to lay it out here because the story that we have pieced together so far points to you know decades and decades of neglect and dysfunction. And so if there's a story to tell about efforts to fix that it's in your interest to sit down and tell" that eventually they relented and gave us an interview with the state medical examiner who really it was the first time since his confirmation hearing that he had really spoken publicly about this.

The state's top medical examiner was confirmed in 2016 and since then things have started moving in the right direction. The state hired more pathologist and support staff, improved turnaround times on autopsies and brought in an outside agency to study the system and recommend changes. Still, sources told the reporters it's going to take time and some political capital to see significant improvement.

There wasn't a person that we spoke to that was like, "No, I don't really, you know, they've got a good system there. I don't think this is a problem, you know, across the board." People said that New Jersey was a laughingstock in this arena and had been for a long time.

There were moments in the investigation when Sean said they felt like they didn't have a path forward and that can be frustrating. But those moments can also work in your favor.

But this is a situation where the State was telling us how impossible it would be to give us what we were looking for and eventually we were able to figure that out and get the database out of them and then we had to set out to find exactly how this process worked. And that was very discouraging because nobody really knew. So we had to sort of chart our path there and that sort of lack of a clear paper trail can be very discouraging to you as a reporter. But it can also be an indication that you're really on to something that nobody's really looking at because clearly this was a problem that people were aware of. And it was just a matter of figuring out the road map to connect all of these disparate dots.

New Jersey Advance Media called the investigation Death and Dysfunction and it was published in December.

You know I think most reporters will tell you that more often than not, there is some platitudes and then it falls by the wayside. The reception to this story was something else.

It came out right when New Jersey's governor elect Phil Murphy was about to take office.

I think it was within 15 hours of our story going up. Murphy pledged to support wholesale reform of the system.

The story got a reaction from the State Senate too.

Suddenly a Senate bill that had been introduced year after year and another version in the assembly. Year after year and going nowhere had some steam and within weeks of our story going up they actually held a public hearing where the medical examiner who was for month to month kept away from us now sat in front of a Senate committee at a public hearing and said, "Yeah this is a structural problem. We don't have the resources that we need. My people are underpaid. The heat is going out in my building. Somebody needs to step in and fix this." And so you know I've never worked on a story where the public reaction to it was sort of so swift and so robust.

Stephen says the most memorable part of the investigation took place at the Senate hearing. One of his sources, a mother, came up to him. Her daughter had been featured in this story as an example of a questionable death investigation.

The most powerful thing to me is the hug that I got from her because she felt like I advocated on behalf of her daughter. She felt I gave her daughter a voice which she felt this system and the people in charge of it have not. Ultimately, you know, whenever I do something like this those personal impacts are always the largest things for me. They're always the most rewarding things, are always the things that stay with me longest.

Thanks for listening. Take a look at our episode notes for links to New Jersey Advance Media's investigation as well some additional reporting resources. On our next episode Allister G and Julia Carey Wong of the Guardian discuss how they confirmed a rumor about homelessness in America's largest cities. They found that in some cities officials had decided the solution was as simple as giving their homeless a one way bus ticket out of town.

There's just a sense that some of the people in greatest need of help in one of the richest cities in the world are not getting it. And the evidence of that is all around you.

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher or Google Play. Or wherever else you get your podcasts and you can spend hours listening to the stories behind some of the best investigative reporting in the country. IRE.org/podcast. The IRE radio podcast is recorded in the studios of KBIA. Abby Ivory-Ganja reported this episode. Blake Nelson draws our art for each episode. Sarah Hutchins is our editor. From Columbia Missouri. I'm Tessa Weinberg

IRE. IRE. IRE radio podcast.

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In the Dark: S1 E2 The Circle

If this is your first time listening to In the Dark, stop, go back, and start at the first episode. It'll make a lot more sense. Last time on In the Dark.

Some of their boys went down to Tom Thumb to pick up a movie. And on their way back, someone stopped them.

When you ran, did you look back?

Yeah, once we got way down there.

What did you see?

Nothing. He wasn't there anymore.

The 11-year-old boy went missing in 1989, and it has been a mystery since.

Finally, we know. We know what the Wetterling family and all of Minnesota have longed to know since that awful night in 1989. We know the truth.

Are there things you would have done differently now looking back on it?

You always think about that, but no. I think, the people that worked on that case did truly 110% every day that we're there. And I don't know. I don't know that there's anything we could have done differently.

We're here today because of the perseverance of investigative team; the commitment to aggressively follow up on every single lead, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant; and the absolute belief that if we continue to press, we would eventually solve this case.

Listen. Can you hear the sound? Hearts beating, all the world around.

Five days after 11-year-old Jacob Wetterling was abducted, radio stations across Minnesota all played one of Jacob's favorite songs, Listen by Red Grammer, along with a message for Jacob from his mom, Patty.

I just want Jacob to know that this song is for him to hear. The heartbeat of humanity is beating for him. I know it will give him strength. If there's an ounce of compassion in the man who's holding him, he will let him go safely. Listen, Jacob. Can you hear our prayers? We love you.

Radio station employees and passersby joined in holding hands. Some in the media were even crying. The emotions are growing with the search right now.

I'm hoping that he would know that we're out the snow looking for him, that we didn't give up.

The people in the town of St. Joseph seemed driven by the belief that by brute force of will, they could bring Jacob back. They made fliers with Jacob's photo, and put them everywhere, on telephone poles, on shop windows, on doors and parked cars. Everywhere you went, you'd see people with white ribbons pinned to their shirts to symbolize hope for Jacob. Thousands of people even lined up in a human chain shivering in the cold and crying.

The chain began on the main highway just near the Del-Win Ballroom.

The chain stretched for three miles. 3500 schoolchildren were bussed in. Even two baseball players from the Minnesota Twins showed up, wearing blue warm-up jackets embroidered with Jacob's initials.

People of all ages and walks of life came out to keep the hope alive, hope that 11-year-old Jacob will return home safely.

Jacob's abduction fell neatly into two typical television news narratives, small town pulling together, and heroic investigators doing all they can.

Police and volunteers in the sky and on the ground hunt frantically for a little boy kidnapped at gunpoint.

Within days, dozens of law enforcement officers started arriving in town.

Search teams are combing the area just west of St. Cloud for any trace of the 11-year-old boy.

By the end of the week, there are almost a hundred officers working the case. They came from all over. There were sheriffs deputies, FBI agents, state investigators, and local officers from across Minnesota. The governor even called out the National Guard.

Five helicopters scanned the 30-square-mile area, while searchers below comb the area on foot without finding a trace.

Searchers were working 18-hour days.

Search crews, helicopters, and bloodhounds could not find any clue as to Jacob Wetterling's whereabouts today, but his family has not given up hope.

This search was massive. It was unlike anything Minnesota had seen before. In fact, it was one of the largest searches for any single missing person in the history of the United States. People just assumed every square inch of the region have been scoured, and every person who might have seen something had been interviewed, but that wasn't true.

This is In the Dark, an investigative podcast from APM Reports. In this series, we're looking at what went wrong in the case of Jacob Wetterling, an 11-year-old who was kidnapped in Central Minnesota in 1989, and whose remains were found just last week.

Today, we're going to take a closer look at what happened the night Jacob was kidnapped. We're going to find out how the decisions of law enforcement in this critical first few hours would allow the man who took Jacob to get away unpunished for 27 years.

Just today, a man named Danny Heinrich appeared in a Minneapolis courtroom. I was there, along with what seemed like every other reporter in Minnesota. There were so many people, I couldn't even get into the main courtroom, so I went into one of the two overflow rooms to watch on a video feed. And pretty soon, those rooms filled up too.

Danny Heinrich came into the courtroom wearing a light-colored shirt and dark pants. He's a short guy, 5'5", stocky, with white hair. He walked up to face the judge with an attorney on either side and stood with his back to us. We all leaned in to make sure we heard what happened next. The federal prosecutor asked the question, "On October 22nd 1989, did you kidnap, sexually assault, and murder Jacob Wetterling?" "Yes I did," Heinrich said. A loud gasp went through the courtroom, so loud it was picked up on the video feed. Finally, there would be answers to the most notorious crime in Minnesota history.

The way the kidnapping of 11-year-old Jacob Wetterling was always talked about was as a kind of epic mystery that there was this heroic law enforcement effort that, somehow, the man who took Jacob slipped through their fingers. There was nothing else they could have done. Jacob just vanished.

And then, Danny Heinrich began to describe what actually happened. He seemed resigned to it, like he was forcing himself to get through it. He sighed a lot. Heinrich told the judge that on the night of October 22nd, 1989, for reasons he didn't explain, he got in his car, a blue 1982 Ford EXP, and drove half an hour from his apartment in the small town of Paynesville to St. Joseph. Inside his car was a scanner he used to pick up police dispatch and a .38 revolver.

Sometime after 8:00 p.m., Heinrich turned onto the dead-end road that led to the Wetterling's house. He saw three kids biking up toward town. He parked his blue Ford in a long gravel driveway across from a cornfield. And then, he waited.

When the boys biked back, Heinrich got out of his car, put on a mask, and walked onto the road. He ordered the boys into the ditch and grabbed Jacob. Heinrich took Jacob back to his car, handcuffed him, and put him in the front passenger seat. Heinrich said, "Jacob asked him a question, 'What did I do wrong?'" Heinrich drove Jacob around for a while, long enough that he started to hear police activity on a scanner. He told Jacob to lean forward in the seat and duck down, so no one would see him. Once they made it out of the town of St. Joseph, Heinrich told Jacob he could sit back up.

He kept driving around for a long time. Eventually, he took Jacob back to his own town, Paynesville, about 25 miles from where he'd kidnapped Jacob. He pulled off onto a side road near a gravel pit. Heinrich took the handcuffs off Jacob, and walked him over to a row of trees. He told Jacob to take off his clothes. Heinrich also undressed. He touched Jacob and had Jacob touch him. Then, he told Jacob to masturbate in front of him.

The assault went on for about 20 minutes. And then, Jacob told Heinrich that he was cold, so Heinrich told him he could get dressed. Jacob asked Heinrich to take him home, and Heinrich said he couldn't. Jacob started to cry. Heinrich told him to stop.

I noticed that Heinrich's seemed to have trouble telling this part of the story in the courtroom. It sounded like he had trouble breathing, like it was hard to get the words out. Heinrich said he saw a patrol car come down the road, and he panicked. He loaded his gun, and shot, and killed Jacob. Then, Heinrich got in his blue car, left Jacob's body, and drove home.

He spent a couple of hours at his apartment. Then, he headed back out on foot carrying a shovel, and walked a little over a mile back to where Jacob's body was. He started digging a hole, but the shovel was too small. So, he walked over to a construction company close by and stole a Bobcat. He started it up, and turned the lights on, and drove it back to the site.

By then, it was sometime after midnight, at least three hours since Jacob had been kidnapped. Heinrich used the Bobcat to dig the grave, and he put Jacob in it, and filled it in. Heinrich returned the Bobcat, and then came back to the grave, and tried to cover it up a bit more with grass and brush. Then, he realized he'd forgotten to bury Jacob's shoes. So, he walked for a few minutes down the road, and threw them into a ravine. And then, Heinrich walked home.

It was one of the worst stories I've ever heard told in a courtroom. Even some veteran reporters were crying. Heinrich's story was awful, but it wasn't just his brutality that shocked me. This did not seem like a perfect crime, not by a long shot. It involved hours of driving, of walking down a main road carrying a shovel, stealing a Bobcat in the middle of the night with the lights on to dig a grave. All of this in the first few critical hours of what had always been described as a massive and thorough investigation.

I wanted to know what law enforcement should have been doing in those critical first few hours. To find out, I needed to start with the basics, Policing 101. So, I reached out to a guy named Patrick Zirpoli to help me understand how an investigation like this is supposed to go. Zirpoli is one of the top consultants in the country on child abduction cases. He used to coordinate the Amber Alert program in Pennsylvania. Zirpoli told me there are two things you need to do right away when you arrive at a crime scene. They're both pretty basic. First, secure the scene, then — and this is the one he stressed the most — talk to the neighbors.

So, we always say, you know, start close and work your way out. You know, start from their home, start doing interviews, knocking on doors. And we always tell people, you wanna interview over, and over, and over. You want to interview people multiple times, not just one time. You know, if a case drags on for more than a day, and goes in the second and third day, you want to re-interview everyone again.

I called a couple of other experts to confirm that this immediate repeated interviewing of neighbors is standard procedure. I talked to a man named Vernon Geberth. He trains law enforcement officers all over the country. He's one of the best known trainers in the US. He's also worked in the New York Police Department as a lieutenant in a homicide unit in the Bronx.

I have taught over 72,000 people the art and science of homicides since 1980. Author of Practical Homicide Investigation, considered the bible, author of Sex-Related Homicide and Death Investigation, author of Autoerotic Death Investigation, author of the Checklist and Field Guide Second and Third … First and Second Edition, et cetera, which proves I have no life.

Geberth didn't want to comment specifically on this case because he hasn't seen the investigative file, but he told me it's hard to overstate how important it is to talk to the neighbors.

I can tell you that every major case that I was in charge of in the City of New York that resulted in a successful conclusion was based on a good neighborhood canvass, where people were asked to report anything. Even though they didn't think it was important, it turned out to be important.

Geberth says these people who don't realize they've seen something important are called unknowing witnesses.

Yeah, the unwilling witnesses is a term that we use when we do a canvass of the area where the event is taking place. And you never ask someone, "Did you see anything strange?" You ask them, "Did you see anything?" "Okay. I see a guy sticking a mic in my mouth right now." Okay. That unknowing witness, that piece of information could be paramount to the investigation.

And like, what would be an example of something that people just don't pick up on as important?

Somebody walking down the street, parking a car. Why would that be important? Well, it would be important if later on, that car was parked at the same time the murder took place.

Right. How soon do you start talking to other people?

Immediately. Immediately because 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. You have to reconstruct the time and the events going back, the dynamics of what was taking place in that area at the time.

How long of have law enforcement known about the basic techniques for solving cases?

Probably forever. Sherlock Holmes. Yeah, okay.

So, knock on doors, talk to everyone, and do it right away. Basic stuff. And the agency that was responsible for doing this in the Jacob Wetterling case was the Stearnes County Sheriff's Office. Here's how the investigation worked. The Stearnes County Sheriff was in charge. It was sheriff's deputies who were on the scene that night. They were the ones at the Wetterling's house and the ones who organized all that searching that night.

The sheriff did ask for help from the FBI and other agencies, and they arrived the next morning, but the sheriff stayed in charge of the investigation. So, I started calling some of the investigators from back then to ask them whether the sheriff and his deputies had done this policing 101 stuff, knocking on doors, asking people what they saw. And everyone was kind of dismissive when I asked them about this like, "Of course, we did that." Here's retired FBI agent Al Garber.

I'm not sure, but I would assume yes. Detectives ask those questions.

And Jeff Jamal, also, from the FBI.

I think, if the neighborhood was looked at very quickly and very broadly.

And former Stearnes County Detective Steve Mund.

I'm sure I did. I'm just going through the logical steps for doing investigation.

But no one I talked to actually remembered going around and knocking on doors that night. That seemed a little odd. So, I asked another reporter I worked with, Curtis Gilbert, to call everyone he could find who'd lived on the dead-end road that Jacob, Trevor, and Aaron would have biked along the night of October 22nd 1989, and ask them a simple question, "When did law enforcement first talk to you?"

Curtis.

We are recording?

Yes.

Oh okay.

So, you're here to give me the latest?

I can give you the breakdown. I actually did … I made even like a little chart here.

Curtis managed to dig up some old city directories at a local archive, and he used those to figure out who lived on the dead-end street the boys biked down on October 22nd, 1989. It was nearly a hundred people. Some of them have since died, but Curtis tried to find as many as he could. He was able to reach 26.

Let me pull up my spreadsheet. I call this when they were first interviewed by police.

So, did law enforcement talk to everybody in the neighborhood that night?

That night, no way. Did you want to … I brought a little tape because I thought there's a few interesting things.

Yeah, that'd be great.

Curtis played me some audio from the people he talked to. And keep in mind, it's been 27 years, so some people's memories aren't great.

No, we didn't hear anything, you know. Isn't that weird? But they didn't really … They didn't come to the door that night, but they-

Oh, about two or three weeks later, the FBI came in. They knocked on the door.

But it was a couple of weeks, and they interviewed.

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.

Okay. So, people who are sure they were talked to that night of the 26, two. Two people were sure they were talked to that night.

Remember, we're not talking about everyone on the dead-end road, just the 26 people Curtis was able to reach.

Four people thought they were talked to the next day or maybe it was that night.

So, two people for sure that night. And then, another four people who think they were talked to the next day, but say it's possible it was really the first night. So, giving law enforcement the benefit of the doubt that six people on the dead-end road who were talked to by law enforcement that night out of the people Curtis talked to. As for the rest of the people, some of them said they weren't interviewed at all. Some said they were talked to the next day. Others say they were eventually interviewed a few days or even a few weeks later, but not by local law enforcement. They remember being interviewed by the FBI because it kind of creeped them out.

It was two agents. Everyone said they were talked to by two agents. Multiple people described those interviews this way, "There's two. There's two agents there. One of them asked you the questions, and the other one just watches you, watches your facial expressions." That's multiple people-

Interesting.

… who described exactly in those terms.

So, did law enforcement talk to everyone in the neighborhood that night? No. Did they go back to all the people they did interview, and talk to them over and over, like the experts say you should? No. And this failure to canvass the neighborhood thoroughly that night was a big deal. It meant that law enforcement didn't get all the information right away when it was most important in those critical first few hours. Those hours matter because, most of the time, if a child is going to be killed by an abductor, it happens in the first five hours. You can't go back the next day, and just redo the investigation. Most of the time, it's too late.

When I had pictured the kidnapping of Jacob Wetterling, I focused on the isolation that it didn't matter if anyone talked to the neighbors because no one in the neighborhood saw anything anyway. The boys were alone on that bike ride home. The street was deserted. It was just the three boys, Jacob, Aaron, and Trevor, and the abductor waiting for them in the dark. But that's not at all what was going on that night. It turns out that the whole way people have been picturing this crime is just wrong.

Lots of people saw that.

Wait. What?

Yeah, lots of people saw them coming. I mean-

Are you serious?

Yeah. People were out and kids were out. And I talked to multiple families who saw them coming and going.

Would you remember where you were when you first heard about the abduction?

Well, actually, I heard the boys going by me.

Curtis talked to one guy named Jim Kline. In 1989, he lived on the dead-end road, a bit closer to town. And on the evening of October 22nd, he was out in his garage working on a car.

Yeah,they were just walking with their … Coming back from the convenience store or whatever, and just walked right outside my garage. I just happened to be walking outside while they were going by and, you know, recognized who it was, but that was it.

Crazy. So, you probably saw them like around 9:00 that night or something, right?

Yeah, helps me out at the house.

You're probably like one of the last people to see him.

Yeah, possibly.

Wow.

Jim Klein says he wasn't talked to by law enforcement until a week or two later, and he, actually, wasn't the last person to see the boys that night.

We were outside, and him and I were the only two out there. Maybe the other kids had gone in.

Yeah, because that's how the lady got in.

And we talked to them just briefly.

I talked to a brother and sister named Adam and Erica Sundquist who lived very close to the abduction site, about a two-minute walk down the road. They were 12 and 9 at the time. And that night, they were out playing what everyone on the block just called "night games."

Kicked the can. It goes in the graveyard. Just weird games we came up with.

Yeah.

I remember kick the can was the most probably.

Do you remember what we were doing?

We're throwing corn in there, where they kick of-

You what?

We had corn. We had corn from the field. We're shelling it, and throwing it in the air.

So, Adam and Erica are out in the yard throwing corn, and they see Jacob, and Trevor, and Aaron on their way back from the Tom Thumb. They said the boys were going pretty slow. They even threw some corn at them as a joke.

It was literally within a minute that they biked by our house that they were stopped up that hill. It was within a minute because it only takes about a minute to bike that distance, right?

Yeah, a minute or two, which was kind of spooky.

A few minutes after the boys passed their house, Erica and Adam remember seeing a burgundy car, with the kind of jacked up back, drive past heading south on the road in the same direction as the boys.

It's going up the hill towards where they went, pass us. So, I don't know. I mean, there is no road to turn off of. If you're going to get down the hill, there's two cul de sacs. And then, you had to come back through.

Yeah, there was no exit that way. You had to come back by our house to get out, you know, from back there.

Right.

Then, we went in the house. We've never seen anyone drive back through.

Erica and Adam say they don't remember any law enforcement officers knocking on their door that night. They don't remember ever talking to investigators, but they assume they must have, at some point. I do know their story matches what they were saying back then because they found a 15-second interview they did with a local TV news reporter back in 1989, just a day or so after Jacob was abducted.

They were going that way. And then, we see that car going really fast go by here, and he was going the same way.

I wasn't sure how seriously investigators would take this kind of information from a couple of kids. Is this the sort of thing that you'd elevate or just shrug off because, you know, 10-year-olds. But Patrick Zirpoli, the child abduction expert, told me that not only should you take these kinds of stories seriously, you should actually seek them out because kids notice things adults don't.

I've always said you want to look for that person who, not the parents think is odd, but other children in the neighborhood may say that this person is odd. "You know, he has been at the school bus before, the school bus stop before. He has talked to us in the park." Those are those individuals that you want to start looking for immediately because, you know, if they're in that area, you know, you want to identify them, identify their whereabouts as soon as you can.

Some of the neighbors who lived the closest to the abduction site suspected back then that something was off about the investigation. And some of the reasons they felt that way are striking. And frankly, in some cases, a little strange. Let me tell you about a family called the Klaphakes. They lived on the dead-end road. And their story about how they first encountered the investigators starts out in a kind of odd and kind of dark way. Curtis played me part of the conversation he had with Jerry Klaphake, the father of the family.

So, the Klaphakes, on the day of the abduction, they had been visiting relatives in the Twin Cities. They came back. Their car broke down like half an hour outside of town. They had to get that fixed. They went home. They went to bed. The next day, lots of police cars and media swarming the neighborhood, and their dog got hit by a car. So, he had … So, Jerry Klaphake had his neighbor with him, and he described burying the dog in their backyard.

And my neighbor, my next-door neighbor, was with me. I had just tilled up my garden, and I thought that's probably a good place to bury the dog. And so, I remember, at night, we're out there, and digging this hole, putting my dog in it, and then covering it up. Yeah, I told my neighbor. I said. "You're my witness. This is my dog down here," because I was convinced that, you know, it's a fresh grave. Basically, you know, dirt dug up. And they just had a ton of people doing a search in the woods behind our house. They were within probably 15 feet off my garden. And I was all surprised that they didn't catch that. And if they miss that, you know, what else did they miss. You know, that's what I thought at that time.

Jerry Klaphake told Curtis, the person he should really talk to is his son, Adam.

Could you just introduce yourself or say your name, so I can make sure you're being recorded okay?

Yeah. My name is Adam Klaphake.

And how old are you, Adam?

I am now 41.

Back in 1989, Adam was 14. He was friends with Jacob Wetterling. He would go over to the Wetterlings' house for sleepovers. And people in the neighborhood would even talk about how the boys looked alike. Adam said, first of all, there were other weird things that had happened on that dead-end road, including this one thing that happened about five or six years before Jacob was kidnapped.

I was probably 9 or 8, 9 or 10 years old, somewhere in those times.

Adam and some other kids were playing kickball out in the yard. It was around dusk.

And somebody kicked the ball over the hedge, and it had gone over the road, gone in the ditch. So, I jumped. I remember jumping to the hedge, running across the road to go grab the ball. I grabbed the ball. And as I'm grabbing it, somebody picked me up. I couldn't see the face after that. You know, I had my back to him. He had me like in a bear hug, or a bear hold, or whatever. And the person had glasses. I remember that, and kind of a dark, raspy voice. And then, as he's holding me up, he holds me pretty tight. My sister had opened the door and yelled for us that I needed to come in. And the guy says to me, 'You're lucky your sister called you," and he threw me down. And I never saw him.

Adam told Curtis he remembers telling his dad, but they didn't call the police. A few years pass, and then another strange thing happens to Adam on that same dead-end road in 1989, just a month or two before Jacob was kidnapped.

A couple of months before the abduction, he and his friend, Brandon, have been walking back from the Tom Thumb.

I was 14 at the time. Brandon was 12. We would go down to the Tom Thumb every night practically. We did that quite a bit that summer. And it was dark. It was after 10:00 at night.

And they were chased by a car-.

Wow.

… down that same road.

The dead-end road, where just a month or two later, a man would grab Jacob and put him in his car.

And so, they jumped into the ditch.

He was right … He was he was real close, just behind us. And so, we just hit the ditch. And by then, he was like right there.

Oh my god.

And very freaked out, and they ran to Brandon's house, which is like three doors down from the Klaphakes.

The boys ran in to Brandon's parents garage.

So, we just went as fast as we could into his garage. And the car pulled into his driveway, and then backed up. And then, he just put it in park, and put it on brakes. And he just stared on us.

And they say they sort of have a staring contest with this car and the guy in the car for what Adam describes as a couple of minutes.

What?

And then, they ran inside.

Did they see who the person was in the car?

Yes.

Did they recognize him?

No.

And what did they think this person was doing?

Being creepy.

Okay, but to get back-

But anyway-

… to it. So, what kind of car was it?

It was a blue car.

A blue car.

Yes.

Not just any blue car.

My friend's mother had a Pontiac 6000. And we compared it to that. I think, they said it was a blue car that looks similar to a Pontiac 6000.

A blue Pontiac 6000. Here's what stopped me short about that, the car that Danny Heinrich was driving the night he kidnapped Jacob was a blue Ford EXP, but that car, that blue Ford looks a whole lot like a Pontiac 6000. Both are kind of boxy, low to the ground, would be easy to mistake one car for the other.

Adam and his dad say no one came and knocked on their door the night Jacob was kidnapped. No one came by that night to ask if they'd seen anything. No one asked Adam that night if he'd ever seen anyone creepy in the neighborhood.

I remember waking up the next morning because we didn't even know what had happened that night. And the dogs were barking in my bedroom window, and, you know, the police going through our yard and everything like that. That's how I woke up.

Adam said, still, no one from law enforcement came to him asking if he saw anything. So, he asked his dad to drive them to the command center a few days later. And Adam said both he and his friend, Brandon, described the car to investigators. Adam said, he told the same story to the FBI a few days later.

The authorities never spoke to me again after the FBI came to our house, and I kind of forgot about it.

He's never asked to look at any pictures or?

You know, I kind of thought that maybe they would press me a little more and maybe, you know, ask me some more questions about it. Who knows. Maybe even try to hypnotize me or something like that. But, you know, I said I'd do anything to help, and they don't want to have anything to do with it.

Years past, but Adam couldn't get the story out of his mind. Maybe the guy in the car was the same guy who'd kidnapped Jacob. It, certainly, seems similar, same road, a couple of kids, Adam even looked like Jacob.

Okay. So, in 2004, Adam Klaphake takes the day off of work to go talk to the sheriff again. He wants to tell the story again. You know, he doesn't remember it nearly as well. You know, it's what?

15 years later.

15 years later. And he offers to take them on a drive through the neighborhood. "I'll show you where this happened, and where we were chased from, and the route we would always take to go to the Tom Thumb." And he said that the police did not seem or the sheriff detective, who is the same detective who had interviewed him 15 years earlier, he didn't seem interested.

I remember leaving out of there just so angry because they weren't listening to anything that I had to say.

Adam said, for a long time, he figured the reason that investigators didn't seem interested was because maybe his details back then weren't great. Maybe his account was totally different from his friend, Brandon's. Maybe the whole thing was so vague that it was just useless. But about a year ago, Adam got curious, and asked a sheriff's deputy if he could look at his old statement, that statement he gave to law enforcement as a kid.

When I got the transcripts, my jaw dropped because I don't remember being able to identify the guy. That blew me away. Again, I thought my friend and I had disagreed upon the color of car, and that's why it was never brought up again. But that wasn't the case. We did agree on the color of the car, and we did agree on the description of the man, shorter hair, kind of a stocky build. There were probably a few other details that I don't remember, but we both said that we could identify him in a lineup.

And, you know, of course, like, then, you wonder, you know, "Okay, lineups aren't great," but you do wonder if they had put a bunch of photos in front of these two kids in separate rooms in October of 1989, what they would have said.

Yeah, we'll never know.

In the whole time, you know, you got two guys, a quarter of a mile from the abduction site that could possibly have identified him and no one ever asked. You know, like it totally slipped through the cracks. And now, it's too late. Now, it's too late, you know.

And here's the thing, Adam wasn't the first person to tell law enforcement about a creepy man in a blue car. Nine months before Jacob was kidnapped, there was another kid in the same county who was walking on a road one night when a man pulled up in a blue car and grabbed him.

Next time on In the Dark.

New evidence tonight leaves the FBI to believe that Jacob Wetterling's kidnapper may have struck before.

How many of these types of psychopathic pedophiles can exist in this 15 to 20-mile radius? I mean, was it more than one? Was there something bigger going on?

If they ever come close to finding me, I'll find you and kill you. Yeah.

There was a fear of God that was put into all of us, and that worry, and that fear, and that stress, or that … It just kind of festered and grew like a sliver. If you get a sliver in your finger, if you don't remove the sliver, it festers, and it grows, and then just infects the wound.

Nobody's ever asked me a single question about this or any of you guys. I've never been interviewed by police. I've never been talked to by any law enforcement ever, not one person.

In the Dark is produced by Samara Freemark. The associate producer is Natalie Jablonski. This episode was reported with significant help from reporter, Curtis Gilbert. 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 Jennifer Vogel, Will Craft, Emily Haavik, and Tom Scheck. Our theme music was composed by Gary Meister.

Go to InTheDarkPodcast.org to read more about Danny Heinrich, and to watch a video of Patty Wetterling talking about the search for Jacob, and to listen to audio from Curtis's interviews with the neighbors. And keep checking in, we'll be posting more information each week.

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In the Dark: S1 E1 The Crime

A quick note before we start the first episode of In the Dark, we were planning to put this out next week, but just today, there was a big development in the case that's at the center of this podcast. So, we're getting started early.

Today, October 12th, I'm five feet tall. My whole name is Jacob Erwin Wetterling. My favorite food is steak. My favorite color is blue. My favorite … I don't really have a favorite song. My favorite game is clue. My favorite thing to do most is watch football. My favorite sport is football.

On October 12, 1989, a sixth grader named Jacob Wetterling made this recording as part of a school project. Ten days later, he was kidnapped while riding his bike on a country road in a small town in Central Minnesota.

It's a case that defied logic then and now.

It is a crime that has both captivated and frustrated Minnesotans for the past 25 years.

On the outskirts of his hometown of St. Joseph, a young boy's missing.

It's the most feared type of abduction, one by a complete stranger. No ransom note, no contact.

What happened to Jacob Wetterling?

I've been hearing the name Jacob Wetterling ever since I moved to Minnesota 12 years ago. Jacob's kidnapping was a huge deal here. It changed the way people parented their children. It made kids afraid to go outside at night. And it even led to a federal law that requires all states to maintain registries of sex offenders.

This one case, this kidnapping of one 11-year-old boy changed the lives of millions of Americans. The case went unsolved for almost 27 years, until today when authorities announced that a man named Danny Heinrich had confessed to the crime, and had led officers to Jacob's remains.

Finally, we know. We know what the Wetterling family and all of Minnesota have longed to know since that awful night in 1989. We know the truth.

I went to the press conference this afternoon. The back of the room was a forest of cameras. And up in front behind the podium and wrapping all the way around to the sides of the room, there were more than 20 men and women in suits and uniforms. The US Attorney, the Stearns County Sheriff, agents from the FBI, and the State Crime Bureau, they took turns at the microphone, and offered their condolences to Jacob's parents, who are sitting a few feet away. And then, they thanked each other and praised each other for never giving up.

27 years is a very long time for an investigation to remain open and active. We are here today because of the perseverance of the investigative team; the commitment to aggressively follow up on every single lead no matter how small or seemingly insignificant; and the absolute belief that if we continued to press, we would, eventually, solve this case.

We got the truth. The Wetterling family can bring him home. And it's time for all of us to have closure and the peace that we're hoping can come next. Thank you.

But when a case takes 27 years to solve, we should stop and ask some tough questions of law enforcement, especially in a case like Jacob's, a case that's had devastating consequences far beyond the small town where this 11-year-old boy disappeared.

I'm Madeleine Baran, and I'm an investigative reporter at American Public Media, and I spent the past nine months looking into the Jacob Wetterling case. And from the beginning, there are things about this case that stood out to me. Jacob was kidnapped on a dead-end road in a town of just 3000 people. There were witnesses. Law enforcement got there right away. It seemed like the kind of case that could have been solved that night, while there was still a chance to find Jacob alive. So, what went wrong?

This is In the Dark, a new podcast from APM Reports. And over the next eight episodes, this is what we're going to do. We're going to look at the Jacob Wetterling case in a way that it hasn't been looked at before. We're going to find out why it took law enforcement 27 years to find the man who took Jacob; when all along, he was right in front of them. We're going to look at what law enforcement did and, also, what they didn't do. And we're going to see how those decisions would come to damage the lives of so many people in ways that no one talks about.

But before we get into what went wrong in this case, we need to talk about what happened that night. So, let's go back to where it all began, St. Joseph, Minnesota.

Good morning. Good morning.

Hi.

Smoked morning, I guess.

I went out to meet Jacob's parents, Patty and Jerry, earlier this year, months before they knew what had happened to their son. They're in their 60s now. They still live on the outskirts of St. Joseph. It's a small town, mostly Catholic, mostly white, and mostly surrounded by farmland. Patty and Jerry still live in the same cozy brown house on the edge of town. On the front of the house, there was a string of lights that spelled out the word "hope."

There's so many people in and out of this house.

Patty is this tiny woman, barely five feet, blond hair, blue eyes. Jerry is tall, with a short white beard, and he has the look of a college professor or maybe a therapist.

Would you like some coffee?

I'm good.

Okay.

Jerry is a chiropractor. He works out of an old house downtown that's been converted into an office. Back when Jacob was kidnapped, Patty was a stay-at-home mom to their four children: Amy, Trevor, Carmen, and Jacob.

I wonder if we, you know, if we can talk to a little bit about Jacob.

Jacob was our second child, and he was a very large baby. I understood labor when he was born. He was big. He was a happy kid.

Jacob was very passionate. What he would do, he would do 100 percent, and really be into it. That's really cool.

He wanted to be a veterinarian. He loved animals. He loved … We got Marcus, our puppy when Jacob broke his arm, and he just knew it wouldn't hurt if he had a puppy. I was a pushover. So, we got Marcus. And he would lay on the floor and, you know, and drink water out of the bowl to show this dog how to do it. He was … He loved animals. Yeah. He was a good spirit.

That was Jacob as his parents remembered him the last time they saw him, October 22nd, 1989, when he was 11.

Should we … Can we just start with that day?

I don't know. I can't seem to forget that day.

Sure.

Yeah, it was a hockey weekend. Our kids were in … The boys were in hockey.

It was a Sunday, but the kids had off school the next day. By late October, this part of Minnesota is usually well on its way to winter. But this Sunday was warmer, in the '70s even. And there are lots of kids out, running around, wearing shorts, and tossing footballs. There was a polka festival in town. That morning, Jacob and his dad, Jerry, went fishing. They came back home, and everyone gathered around the TV to watch the Minnesota Vikings play the Detroit Lions. Later that afternoon, they went skating at an indoor ice rink.

That night, Jacob's parents headed out to a gathering at a friend's house. Jacob stayed home with his brother, Trevor, and his sister, Carmen. His best friend, Aaron Larson came over for a sleepover. They ate a pizza for dinner, hung out for a while. And at some point, the boys decide they want to rent a movie from a nearby store called Tom Thumb. Specifically and please stand by for quintessential '80s moment, they wanted to rent Major League, this goofy baseball comedy.

We'd love for you to come to spring training for a shot at this year's club.

But Major League was rated R, so they called up a 14-year-old girl who lived next door,Rochelle Jerzak. And the boys asked Rochelle, for such a sixth grader in the '80s, favor.

They wanted me to call Tom Thumb to get them to rent a movie that was R because they thought maybe my voice sounded older.

So, did you call over to Tom Thumb?

I didn't.

You're like, "I'm not. No. Nice try."

No. Yeah, I don't know. That kind of stuff makes me nervous, like I'm gonna get busted. I mean, thinking about it now, like "What would the worker at Tom Thumb do?" But, nonetheless, that was my mode of thinking at the time.

So, a big no to Major League. So, they figured, "We'll just rent a different movie." So, they called their parents.

Trevor called, and asked if they could ride their bikes to the store, and rent a video. And I said no. They hadn't really done that before. It's a mile just down the hill, but, you know, that's cornfield. It's dark. There's nothing in between. They've never done it at night. And Trevor said, "Well, let me talk to dad." And it was funny. And I remember calling him like, "Your son would like to talk to you." Jerry went to the phone.

My whole concern was the car hitting them, you know. And so, being seen at dark, that was my only concern.

Trevor told his dad that he would carry a flashlight and Jacob would wear a reflective vest.

And you said it should be okay?

And so, the girl next door, Rochelle came over to watch Jacob's youngest sister, Carmen.

I mean, I remember them putting on this reflective vest. And then, at least, one or maybe both of the other boys had flashlights.

And then, that was kind of it?

The boys head out. It's about 8:30 at night. Jacob and Trevor are on bikes. Aaron's on a scooter. The route the boys took that night was pretty simple. The Tom Thumb store was just a 15-minute or so bike ride into town, mostly on one street. This long dead-end country road that leads from the cul de sac, where the Wetterlings live, right into town. There's not much in between, just some cornfields, some woods. And then closer to town, a few blocks of houses.

As they biked up the road, the boys passed a long gravel driveway. And somewhere close to that driveway, Jacob's younger brother, Trevor, heard a rustling sound in the corn, but he didn't say anything. They kept on biking. They got to the Tom Thumb, and they rented a movie, The Naked Gun, and they bought some snacks. Then, they headed back home. They were just sort of taking their time, walking their bikes for a bit, just kind of messing around.

They passed the few blocks of houses. The lights of the town faded away. They kept going. They went pass woods and fields. It got darker. There were no sidewalks, and no street lights, not even the moon was out. The only light came from a flashlight that Jacob's brother, Trevor, flashed in front of them. They kept going.

They approached the long gravel driveway, the spot where there had been that rustling sound earlier. They were almost home. All of a sudden, a man appeared on the road. He was walking toward them. He was dressed all in black. His face was covered with something dark. It was hard to tell what.

When he told us he had a gun, and he told us to turn around, and go over into this ditch, and get our bikes, and then lay down.

Aaron talked to a TV reporter back then.

I thought it was some kid pulling a prank on us or something, but there wasn't any. He looked at Trevor, and he told Trevor to turn off his flashlight.

The man asked Trevor his age. "10," Trevor said.

He told Trevor to run as fast as he could into the woods, or else he'd shoot.

Then, the man turned to Aaron. The man paused. He asked him as age. "11," Aaron said. The man looked at Aaron, and the man grabbed him in the crotch.

Then, he looked at me, and then he grabbed me. And told me to run as fast as I could in the woods or he'd shoot.

Did Jacob say anything to the man?

Uh-uh. Just his age.

"11," Jacob said.

When you ran, did you look back?

Yeah, once we get way down there.

What did you see?

Nothing. He wasn't there anymore.

It was about 9:20 on the night of October 22nd, 1989. Here's how I think about that first night. I think about the spot on the side of the road where Jacob was taken, and I draw a circle around it, around Jacob and the abductor. At that moment, the moment Jacob was kidnapped, the circle was still small. Jacob was right there. But then, I picture that circle, that circle of where Jacob and the man could be slowly expanding as the man and Jacob get farther and farther away, as the seconds and minutes tick by.

If law enforcement was going to find Jacob, they needed to act quickly before the circle got too big. And here's why. The best study on child abduction cases found that if a child is going to be killed, most of the time, it happens within the first five hours, 85% of the time, in fact. And by the end of the first 24 hours, in almost every case, the child has been killed.

Rochelle was watching TV at the Wetterling house with Jacob's younger sister when Jacob's brother, Trevor, and his friend, Aaron, ran in screaming.

"Rochelle, someone took Jacob. Someone took Jacob. There was a man with a gun, and he took Jacob." And I was like, "What?", you know, because it was so out of the realm of anything I could have ever imagined that it took me a minute to really understand it.

Rochelle called her dad, Merle. He came over and called Jacob's parents, Jerry and Patty Wetterling, right away.

Jerry took it, and it was Rochelle's dad, Merle, telling us that-

He asked for me. He didn't want to tell you. He asked for me, and said, "Come straight home. Aaron and Trevor came back, but Jacob didn't come back. And you come straight home," and he would call 911.

911, emergency.

This is Merlyn Jerzak calling from St. Jo.

Mm-hmm.

I'm right now next door at my neighbors, the Jerry Wetterling family.

It was 9:32 p.m., about 15 minutes or so since Jacob had been abducted.

Some of their boys went down to Tom Thumb to pick up a movie. And on their way back, someone stopped them. We believe that they have one of the boys because one of the boys did not come back with them.

And they don't know where the other friend is at?

They don't know where their brother and friend is at. I think that maybe my best bet is to let Trevor get on the phone, and he can describe to you-

Okay.

… what he saw and this type of thing.

Okay, I'm ready.

Okay. I'll put Trevor on.

Okay.

And he can answer your questions. We've got him pretty well calmed down here.

Hello?

Trevor?

Yes.

This … you're talking to the Sheriff's Office. I want you to give me anything you can recall about this male party that approached you guys.

Well, he was … He was like sort of … He was like a man, sort of big.

Okay.

He had like a … It looked-

Here's what Trevor told 911, a man had stepped out of the darkness. The boys didn't recognize him, and they didn't see or hear a car anywhere. The man's face was covered with something dark, maybe black nylons. He sounded like he had a cold. In the dark, that was all the boys could make out.

Meanwhile Jacob's parents, Patty and Jerry Wetterling, were on their way back home.

We were driving home absolutely confused. "What's going on?" It seemed like we were going so slow. In my mind, he was driving like 10 miles an hour, and I'm like, "Speed. Hurry up." And he said he didn't want to get stopped by the police. And I said, "Well, we'd have a police escort. Just drive."

How far away were you?

We were near Clearwater. So, it was a good 20-25 minutes.

Okay. We're you talking to each other?

A little. We didn't talk a lot. In my memory, it was just like, "What do you say? What's going on?"

Yeah.

I was so confused. And then, I said something really mean. It's like, "Oh, who told them they could go to the store?" And Jerry said, "I did. So, if you want to be mad at somebody, be mad at me."

Stearns County Sheriff's Deputy Bruce Bechtold was in a squad car just a few miles away when the dispatcher called him.

It was over the squad radio. There was a call on the radio. When they called an abduction of a child, well, you don't think that happens here. So, my initial thought was somebody panicked. It's really not an abduction. Somebody's kid ran away. Somebody's playing a game. So, I started going that way. And the more information the dispatcher gave, the more serious I realized it was, and that there was a gun involved, and then it became real.

Deputy Bechtold was the first to arrive at the Wetterling house. He got there at 9:38 p.m. It had only been 20 minutes or so since Jacob had been abducted. The man who took him couldn't be very far away. Deputy Bechtold wanted Trevor and Aaron to show him the spot where Jacob was kidnapped. Rochelle, the babysitter, says the boys were still terrified. They didn't want to go back out into the dark. So, her dad, Merle, offered to go with them. Rochelle says that left her and Jacob's younger sister alone in the house.

And I just remember them saying, "Okay, lock all the doors and don't open the doors." So, that's what we did. And we sat in the corner huddled like this because in that corner, there's no windows, so, no one could see us. But we were just terrified. I mean, we were terrified. And then, I remember a few minutes later, hearing a knock at the door. And I'm like, "I'm not answering that door."

What were you thinking?

I was thinking it's the man that took Jacob, and that he was going to come take us. And then, a few more minutes went by, and maybe it was even seconds, but it felt like hours, the phone rang. And it was the sheriff saying, "We're at the door. Open the door for us."

Stearns County Sheriff Charlie Grafft had just turned on the 10:00 news at his home that night when he saw a deputy's car race down the street.

When I called in the office to find out what was going on, and they said that a boy had been abducted, kidnapped by a man with a gun out near St. Jo.

Sheriff Grafft died in 2003. This is from a TV interview he did shortly after the abduction.

So, I immediately got in my squad, drove out there, and started questioning the boys as to what happened, try to get something going.

And they sat down here at the table, and they kept asking the boys, you know, first, "What happened?" And then, they asked some questions like, "Are you sure you guys weren't, you know, playing with a gun, and Jacob got hurt, and you're afraid to tell?", or "Are you sure Jacob didn't just run away, and you're, you know, trying to buy him some time until he gets where he's going or something?" And they're like, "No," you know. They were really, really clear.

By about 10 45 p.m., about an hour and a half after Jacob was kidnapped, investigators had fanned out with flashlights to search the area near the abduction site. The Sheriff, Charlie Grafft, called in volunteer firefighters to help with the search.

Charlie said they were going to comb the woods. And he said, "You know, it's not a bad thing. Maybe he's tied to a tree or something. We're hoping that we're going to find him. And then, that's why we're searching." You know, he was trying to reassure. And I wanted to … There's a part of me that wanted to go out and search. And then, he told me that we needed to stay here, "What if Jacob calls or comes home? You know you need to be home."

The sheriff called the state patrol and asked for them to come right away with a helicopter.

I got up in a helicopter with them, and we searched the area with a spotlight they had underneath the helicopter. And we're right down on top of the power line almost. And we searched for about an hour and a half up there in the air, and plus what we have on the ground.

The helicopter search found nothing, but investigators searching on the ground did find something in the gravel driveway across the street from the abduction site, some tire tracks and some shoe prints. They didn't know what to make of them. The boys hadn't seen a car, and it's not like it's unusual to find tire tracks in a driveway. So, investigators weren't sure whether the tire tracks even had anything to do with the abduction.

I talked to another officer who was at the scene that night, Stearns County Detective Steve Mund. He's since left the sheriff's office. And he told me the way he saw it that night, there had to be a car. It was the only theory that made sense.

I mean, it was not like you're in the inner city with, you know, apartment buildings and something where you couldn't take someone, and be gone in five blocks, and then have 5000 places to hide. How could you get away from there with someone and not have a car, you know, connected to it?

Right. Because, otherwise, he should just be right there, right?

Well, yeah. I mean, either … Yeah, you're either going to have to be in a house that's right there or something like that, but how would that occur, I'm not sure, so.

The long gravel driveway across from the spot where Jacob was abducted curbs around and leads down to a white farmhouse with a clothesline out front, a chicken coop, and a grain silo. Inside the farmhouse that night was a 34-year-old man named Dan Rassier. He was home alone.

And around 9 p.m., Dan was upstairs in his bedroom organizing his record collection when his dog barked. Dan peered outside and saw a car coming down the driveway.

I could hear the car coming down the hill, and it turns around.

It was small and dark, and the headlights were close together. Dan didn't get a good look at the driver. The car turned all the way around in front of the house, and then headed back out toward the road.

And then, I go. I go to bed. I'm sleeping because I remember waking to the dog. The dog keeps barking.

It was around 10:45 that night when Dan woke up.

And I looked out at one of the windows, and I see, you know, all these flashlights around the woodpile.

Dan thought maybe some guys were trying to steal his firewood.

And I stepped out the door. And at that point, I remember my heart rate going up, and realizing I can't go out 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. He saw the helicopter overhead. And as he walked up his driveway, he ran into Bruce Bechtold, the sheriff's deputy. Dan and the deputy say they talked briefly, and that was pretty much it. No one paid any more attention to Dan that night.

So, no one came and knocked on your door that night?

No.

And nobody came and searched your house that night?

No.

And nobody searched any of, as far as you know, the buildings, the farm buildings that are right around her house?

No. I remember saying, "I'm going to … I'll look down here," and that was a mistake.

Why was it a mistake?

Because it's like if only I would have just said, "You guys got to come down here now and look everywhere. Go through my room. Go anywhere you like." That's what I should have done.

All the things that law enforcement didn't do that night at the Rassier Farm would come to matter a great deal years later, and would change Dan's life in a way that could never be undone. But we'll get to that later.

Patty waited up for Jacob all night. And she remembers sitting there wanting the whole world to be looking for her son.

And I remember asking because we had turned the radio on, and there was a report that this child was lost in the woods. And I called WJON, and said, "He wasn't lost. He was kidnapped." And they said, "Well, we can only report what the police are telling us." And so, I remember asking Charlie Grafft, the sheriff, "Would it hurt to get the right story out in the media?"

What was it? It was … Nothing was done until Charlie said it was okay, and that was like 5:00 a.m. That's when WJON was first called. And I don't know what you're talking about as far as a lost boy.

I heard it on the radio.

Okay. I don't know. What were you doing listen to the radio at 3:00 in the morning?

It's been 27 years since Jacob was abducted. So, it's not surprising that Patty and Jerry don't agree on every last detail of what happened. But it's not as simple as that. When something awful happens to your family, you assume you'll never forget it, and that no one else in your family will either, that the story will remain the same. So, when you realize that your stories have changed, that you no longer agree on the most basic parts of what happened, that can be pretty unsettling.

A lot of stuff gets confused.

Yeah, it's-

But I don't know. I don't know.

It's so-

Well, where were you? Okay. And this is crazy. Where were you at 3:00 in the morning? I don't remember. I was in shock. My-

I tried to sleep for an hour.

I didnt.

I was trying to escape.

I didn't sleep for days. I remember hearing it on the radio, and I remember calling WJON. So, you can tell me that that didn't happen, and I'll believe you, but that's my memory of it.

Time out.

Yeah.

You see, this is stressful to do.

Yeah.

We're fighting.

We're not fighting.

I know, but it's just to go back there, it's very painful.

The search that night was a failure. No Jacob, no abductor, no clothing left behind, no car. And at 3:00 a.m., less than six hours since Jacob had been kidnapped, investigators made a big decision. They called off the search. One of the detectives at the scene, Steve Mund, told me there was no point in continuing to search in the dark.

Just that, you know, working under flashlights and stuff, you might miss certain trace evidence. So, it's important that we did it in daylight hours.

As the hours ticked by in the late, late evening and early morning, the circle that started out so small on that road where Jacob was taken expanded many times over. Eventually, the circle would expand to include most of Central Minnesota, then all of Minnesota, then the Midwest, Canada, the entire United States, the world.

Are there things he would have done differently now looking back on it?

You have done differently, I know, you always think about that, but no. I think, the people that worked on that case did truly 110% every day that we're there. And I don't know. I don't know that there's anything we could have done differently.

What detective Mund just said that he doesn't know that there is anything they could have done differently, I heard this so many times while reporting on this case. And every time, I was startled by it because here's a case that had gone on for 27 years without being solved.

The Jacob Wetterling case is, by any reasonable measure, a failure. But what went wrong is hard to figure out because for 27 years, the investigative file on the Jacob Wetterling case, that stack of documents that tell you what the crime scene looks like, what witnesses said, what physical evidence was found, and generally everything that law enforcement did and didn't do, all of that has been closed to the public. It's still closed.

This is pretty standard for unsolved cases. It's meant to protect the investigation and to protect the witnesses and the suspects, but it also protects law enforcement. It means we aren't allowed to know what law enforcement is doing in some of the most serious criminal investigations in this country. We're just supposed to trust them.

Coming up over the next few weeks on In the Dark.

Stearns County Sheriff's Office has quite a reputation for horrendous investigations, false accusations, leaving families in the dark. I mean, what's going on down there? Why is everything such a secret?

This is what happens when you talk. And he said it twice to me now. This is what happens when you talk.

All these evidence that people have, and nothing is being done. 50,000 leads, and what got checked out?

But there has to be an element in there to have accountability. And when accountability is not there, disastrous things happen.

I'm not going to dwell on things that that could have been done, should have been done differently because that's not helpful. Do I wish some things would have been done differently? Sure. Can I talk about that in this particular case? No.

By enacting this law, we're sending a clear message across the country, those who prey on our children will be caught, prosecuted, and punished to the fullest extent of the law.

How many of these types of psychopathic pedophiles can exist in this 15 to 20-mile radius?

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?"

I got to believe that authorities did their job. So, if it's Danny, why would you allow him to be free the last 25 years?

In the Dark is produced by Samara Freemark. The associate producer is Natalie Jablonski. It's 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, Jennifer Vogel, Will Craft, Tom Scheck, and Emily Haavik. Our theme music is composed by Gary Meister.

Go to InTheDarkPodcast.org for a more detailed look at the night of the abduction and to hear the recording of the original 911 call. And keep checking in, we'll be posting more information on our website each week.

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Pete Combs Recording Tips

Intro of capturing great audio

My name is Pete Combs and I'm a reporter for K O M O KOMO radio in Seattle. I've been doing this for about 40 years and my life has basically revolved around gathering audio and putting it on the air.

The gathering audio part is what I want to talk to about because there's a lot you can do to make your audio presentations sound great and to improve the quality of audio for the purpose of transcription. For instance when you're doing phone audio you want to record that on a landline if possible.

Levels and cadence of speech

Speak slowly and make sure that there are no glitches in that landline connection. If there are, do them over again. It doesn't hurt and it could make the transcription a lot more clear.

If you're doing it in person, the one thing I tell you, is make sure your levels aren't too high. In the digital world you can certainly boost levels all day long but when you try to deal with levels that have gone too high and they distort, there's nothing much you can do. The audio will just remain terrible. So if you have any doubt about the volume of your recording go low and you can adjust later.

Volume of recording and exact leveling

I usually do my recordings at 4,400 hertz or 44.1, and I use 64 bit audio when I do an MP3. For radio use I usually record MP3s at 44.1 kilohertz and I use a bit depth of 64 kilobytes per second. That's pretty clear. And again the volume is the key here. You don't want to get too loud.

Summary of capturing great audio

Try those as you're making recordings for transcript and if you have any problems remember this: Slow down. The slower you go the easier it is for the computer to figure out what you're saying. I'm Pete Combs. Good luck and happy recording.

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Popular Transcripts How To Upload A Podcast To iTunes

Sonix is an automated transcription service. We transcribe audio and video files for storytellers all over the world. We are not associated with the Set Sail podcast. Making transcripts available for listeners and those that are hearing-impaired is just something we like to do. If you are interested in automated transcription, click here for 30 free minutes.

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Full Transcript by Sonix: How To Upload A Podcast To iTunes – Set Sail Podcast

Introduction

So, today, we are going to talk about how to upload your podcast to iTunes. And I know what you're thinking, maybe, is that you don't actually upload your podcast to iTunes. Well, not the actual MP3 files. And if you didn't know that, now, you do.

Submitting your podcast RSS feed to iTunes

You submit your podcast RSS feed to iTunes. And then, they will read that file, and basically display that file points to where your audio files are located, which will be on a podcast host, like I mentioned in the last episode. And then, people will play them from iTunes or any other podcast app. And it will actually play the files that are stored on the podcast host. I hope that makes some sense.

So, I actually created a post called How to Upload a Podcast to iTunes or Any Other Directory. And that's what we are going to be talking about here because that's what I have done recently, and I feel like it's a good starting point.

Adding title and description

So, you'll need to upload your MP3 that you've created to a podcast host. And in the article, I referenced Buzzsprout. So, we'll just use them as an example. You'll upload. They have a big upload button. You click that. And after that is done, you'll add a title, and some description, any notes you want to add. If you have a different author, you can put that in.

And then, keep in mind that you only have to do the submission one time. After that, it will automatically happen in the background for you every time you upload a new episode. So, you will add in your show notes, and your title, and description, and all that info. And then, you can embed a player.

Instructions when using WordPress

If you're using a third-party website like WordPress, the next step is to submit your RSS feed to iTunes. And there are some things that you'll need to make sure are set up before you do that. You will need, one, an Apple ID. And it's free. You'll need a title, description, artwork with a minimum size of 1400 x 1400 pixels and a maximum size of 3000 x 3000 pixels.

You'll need to choose a category, but I actually recommend choosing three different categories, so that you can be found in three different places. And then, you'll need to choose a language, and explicit or not explicit. So, the cursing, if that's included or not in your podcast.

And then, if we're using Buzzsprout, they have a little tab to click on iTunes. Copy your RSS feed. Then, you'll hop over to Podcasts Connect with your new Apple ID, if you didn't have one already. And you'll put in your RSS feed URL. You will click validate.

And if everything is set up correctly, and you put in all the info that is required, you'll see a little status that says, "Prepare for submission" with a green light. If it's red, and it says that anything is missing, it will highlight what you are missing from your feed. And just make sure you go in and update that to comply with their guidelines. And then, you will click submit.

How long does it take?

And I know Apple says that it can take a few days to a few weeks to approve your podcast. But when I submitted this podcast you're listening to, it took 31 minutes for them after I clicked submit for them to, basically, make it live. And it took me another day for it to be searchable.

So, be prepared for it to happen quickly if you've done everything correctly, so that you can hop in and start promoting your podcast. I would just be ready. I was planning on having an extra day, at least, to kind of prepare some images and stuff for the launch, but I did not. So, that's life.

Recommendation on other podcast directories

And then, after you submit to iTunes, I highly recommend submitting to some other podcast directories. And some big ones are Google Play, they have their own separate portal, and you'll submit, basically, the same way as iTunes, and Stitcher, and Tunein, or a couple of others.

And you'll see on this post that you can find at SetSailPodcast.com/3, at the bottom, there'll be a link to a list of other podcasts directories. And then, from there, there'll be links to those different directories to submit to. So, check that out.

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Popular Transcripts Best USB microphones for podcasting

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To listen and watch the transcript playback in real-time πŸ‘€, just click the player below.

Full Transcript by Sonix: Best USB Microphones For Podcasting – Set Sail Podcast

Ross: Hey and welcome to Episode 5 of the Set Sail podcast. My name is Ross Kaplan Wynn and I'm glad you could join me today.

Ross: So today we we're going to talk about microphones specifically we're going to talk about USB microphones and worry about the other types in a future episode. And for USB the microphones what's great about them is that they're really easy to use compatible with literally every computer.

Ross: So you just plug them in and make sure that you have selected it as your input device in your computer and then you can open up any program you want. Garage Band or Audacity or Audition. There's a million million other programs if you if you want.

Ross: And start recording and it's really so that simple. You'll want to make sure that you have adjusted the input settings so the gain levels don't peek into the red. You know so you don't you don't want your voice to be cut off of you if you end up talking too loudly.

Ross: And besides that yeah there really is a use and there's really only a handful of quality USB microphones that that are recommended for for podcasting and recording recording your audio or your voice. Sure there's a bunch of other like kind of cheaper USB mics that work fine for Skype calls and you know business kind of meeting stuff.

Ross: But you probably want a little just a tiny bit higher quality one for podcasting but that doesn't mean they need to spend a ton. And all of USB microphones as far as I'm aware that are out there are all under 200 dollars.

Ross: And most are actually under under about 150 and some are a lot less closer to the 50 dollar range. So let's let's dive into it here and I'll highlight some of the best.

Ross: So the first one is the Blue Yeti and this one is extremely popular just because so many people use it and it has a ton of cool features so for one it has a headphone jack which is really important and actually that's one thing I want to recommend.

Ross: If you get a USB mic look for one that has a headphone jack so that you can monitor your audio without any delay. So if you plug in your headphone jack into your computer separate from your microphone there can be a slight a slight delay until you hear an echo as a recording and it just it doesn't it doesn't make it easy to listen to and or makes it difficult to record.

Ross: So that's one feature that I use strongly suggest looking at over over most of the others for USB mics and so that the Blue Yeti has four different settings on it. It has for how it picks up sound so it has cardiod which is a front facing nut's like your standard vocal recording setting.

Ross: It has omni directional which means the records are picks up sound equally from all sides which is great for that like a conference table or if you have a group of people kind of sitting around. That's an option.

Ross: It has a left and right option so it's just kind of stereo recording and it has bi directional which is front and back. So if you're doing an in person interview and you only have the Blue Yeti mic that would be a good option to use that.

Ross: And place it equally spaced in between you and then it should get both of your voices without picking up sounds from the side. So it's kind of cool that it has all those options. If you're going to use them and that's the the big if. The Blue Yeti was my first mic that I got and I thought oh sure I'll use all these features but I've only ever used it in the cardiod kind of a front facing setting.

Ross: So just something to think about because you do pay a little bit extra for that feature and then it also has gain control so you can control how sensitive the microphone is which is really cool because you don't have to set that in your software.

Ross: So that's a nice feature and then also has a volume control for your headphone right onboard so you can set that appropriately. And lastly it has a mute button which is really cool that not a lot of the not the other USB mics don't have.

Ross: So you can you can get mute mic or you know if you're need to cough or if you just want to make sure it's not recording. You can hit that button and it has a nice red light that that flashes when it's muted.

Ross: And so Blue actually discounts this mic a few times a year. So I've got it. Normally it's around 120 130 dollars but during Amazon Prime Day Black Friday Cyber Monday those type of special holiday sale days. I have found it for 80 to 90 dollars so just if you don't need it right away those are great times to get it.

Ross: But either way it's a it's an awesome deal for for the price. And they offer it in like 10 different colors. So there's black silver platinum white blue gray say white a different kind of white satin reds slate. So a bunch of stuff.

Ross: And then they also have a Yeti Pro model that includes the USB connection but it also includes an XLR connection so you can hook it up to a USB interface or mixer. And kind of gives you a lot more flexibility but that one comes at a higher higher cost.

Ross: So just something to be aware of that you have another option there. And I guess the only downside with the Yeti is that it's a it's a really large microphone. Because it has to have the audio digital to analog converter built in. And has all those different settings and a headphone amp and all the stuff.

Ross: So it's big and heavy which means that you need if you want to hook it up to boom arm or stand you'll need a really solid sturdy mic stand in order to use it with the Yeti. And especially if you add on there their Blue Radius 2 shock mount. That one is pretty heavy as well so this the weight starts to add add up and it will it will cripple some of the smaller boom arms just something to be aware of.

Ross: I personally use the Heil PL2T boom arm and it can hold it just fine. So but that one costs around 100 dollars. And I think the Rode has one as well that's a comparable price and quality. I would try to avoid some of the some of the knockoff options if you're going with the Blue Yeti.

Ross: And next up we have the Audio-Technica 802020USB Plus and just want start off by saying that there's a big difference between the USB and USB plus versions. So with the Plus model you get that headphone jack that I said is so important.

Ross: And with the volume control and you get a mix dial that allows you to blend your computer audio with your voice. So you can kind of do some cool things with that feature. And it's great for gaming and streaming if you do that as well.

Ross: So just the headphone jack alone is a must have feature. For USB mic. So just be aware that there's some different different models and you want the Plus model of that. And let's see here we have they make a ton of them. The standard XLR version of the 802020 is a staple in the voiceover industry broadcasting industry all audio voice recording stuff. They're relatively cheap work well sturdy.

Ross: So great option. And I think thing that runs about a hundred and fifty dollars. Yep yep 150. So pretty good pretty good price. It's a it's a cardiod front front facing only. So Yah it's an awesome awesome option. You want to look into where mic stand or boom arm to go with that though.

Ross: And the next we have the Audio-Technica ATR2100 USB. And this one is a really popular podcasting mic and I think even Tim Ferriss used this mic for a while when he started out. I know he's since upgraded to something much much fancier but.

Ross: What's great about the ATR2100 is that it has both USB and XLR connections. And you can use them both at the same time. So what's cool about that is let's say you want to record with USB to your computer. You can also connect the XLR cable to a digital audio recorder so that you can kind of save a backup version in case maybe your computer crashes while you're recording.

Ross: You'll have you'll have a backup saved for it. That's just one kind of scenario where that can be useful or if you just end up upgrading down the line and so you just use the USB version to start with and then later maybe you add cohosts and you want to get another one and then you need to get a mixer.

Ross: You can just start using the XLR connections and just skip the USB stuff altogether. So a lot a lot of flexibility it's small handheld and comes with a little stand still. It's nice like travel mic too and I think it runs about 70 dollars so cool. Great great option to get started with.

Ross: I've seen some comparisons from between it and some other more expensive 400 dollar mics and it's almost as good. So you would you would be hard pressed to notice the difference so I highly recommend that one. If you don't mind kind of the handheld design in a mic.

Ross: And to round out my top recommendations is the Rode NT USB. And this is pretty awesome little little kit. It comes with a pop filter. And so what that does is helps the mic from picking up those kind of p hard p sounds. So if you put your hand in front of your face and say plank or something you'll you'll feel the air push into your hand.

Ross: And that also will push into the mic. So you want to avoid that by not not only with mic placement by placing the mic kind of at an angle off to the side but also by having a screen or filter cover that helps kind of diffuse that air coming out of your mouth. So it comes with one of those.

Ross: It comes with a zero latency headphone jack for monitoring your audio. Awesome. It comes with mix control kind of like the AT2020 USB Plus to mix your voice and your computer audio together.

Ross: And then it comes with a little stand and a storage pouch so nice little package. And you can also use it with the iPad if you have the camera connection kit. So if you want to record with an iPad that's cool. I think that will work with an iPhone as well.

Ross: So Rode is well-known for just making quality audio equipment. I have two Rode mics I'm recording on their Procaster right now which is not a USB mic.

Ross: But actually one there is one more. There's the Rode Podcaster which is a USB mic by a Rode. So you can also check out that one too. There are some some other popular USB mics but I just want to mention them because I don't recommend them at all. I'll tell you why.

Ross: So the first one is Apogee mic 96K and I think it's just a little a little overpriced and it doesn't include a headphone jack. So that's the main reason it doesn't have a headphone jack. I'd try to avoid it.

Ross: And the next is the Razer Seiren and it's basically the same kind of setup and design as the Blue Yeti. But because Razer hasn't really been in the audio industry for very long at all. There are more more well known for computer gaming accessories keyboards mice headphones that type of stuff.

Ross: I would just know if you're going to spend it's the same price as the Yeti or maybe even a little more. If you're going to get if you're thinking about getting that I would just get the Blue Yeti over the Razer. So that's the only reason there and I've seen some reviews that just say it doesn't. It's just not up to the same. Same level of quality.

Ross: So I'm moving on. Those are those are all makes above the hundred dollar range. There are a few few more here under a hundred dollars.

Ross: And the first is the Blue Snowball. So it's basically the Yeti's little brother or little sister. And it includes two microphone capsule's which allow you to switch between cardiod and omni directional. So it kind of gives you nice little option there if you want to record you know just you or maybe your your whole little table or something.

Ross: And it has an adjustable stand and so you know there's also a Snowball Ice which is the cheaper version it doesn't have the adjustable stand it doesn't have that you pick up patterns. So it's it's a it's a bit different. But the name is is so similar that I wanted to make sure you're aware of the difference there. It does not have a headphone jack though so that's where I am. I'm not the biggest fan.

Ross: But a similar kind of level mic is the Samson Meteor mic. And it does have a headphone jack. Works with an iPad if you have the camera connection adapter. It has a a mute button headphone volume dial. The legs are built in to make it stand so kind of a nice little package.

Ross: Another great travel mic if you want something as maybe a backup. That's an awesome option as well. Looks like a little little rocket ship so really cool nice sub 100 dollar mic. Let me pull up the price right now at 67 dollars so its a nice comparison with the ATR2100 USB. I think are exactly the same price.

Ross: And then another nice travel mic is the Blue Snowflake. It's a cardiod mic. USB make as well. And it's tiny. It can clip to the top of your laptop screen. It kind of folds and packs tightly together. So it looks looks really nice. Check that one out. Blue snowflake. If you want a travel mic or do something some a lot cheaper.

Ross: And in that same vein Samson has a Go mic that folds up. Also clipped to the top of your screen. So has a headphone jack. And perfect for perfect for travel or just a great mic if you want something that's 20 times better than your built-in laptops microphone. And I mentioned the Ice before.

Ross: And then to round out options there's the Samson Meteorite which is a tiny little on. And I think it's it's it's about 40 dollars. That's more than I remember being.

Ross: So I would I'd probably try to go with those ones that have headphone jacks. You don't need to spend a ton. And know that when you buy a microphone they last forever so you know it can last years 2 3 4 5 years so it's really in the long term it's not not a big investment.

Ross: So if you want to check out some more details on this you can go to Set Sail podcast.com/5 and check them all out. Pick one up and you can get started podcasting.

Ross: And just so you know in the next episode I'm going to talk about some accessories that work really well for the Blue Yeti and really make it a much better microphone. Much better audio quality and will just help you help you record.

Ross: I kind of highlighted one earlier but we'll get into a lot more detail in the next episode so stay tuned for that and we'll see you in episode 6.

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