Where Is Jacob Wetterling's Killer, Danny Heinrich, Now?

On October 22, 1989, 11-year-old Jacob Wetterling was cycling home with his friend Aaron Larson and his 10-year-old brother Trevor Wetterling. The boys had gone to rent a video from a store near his family's house in St. Joseph, Minnesota. At an intersection, the boys were intercepted by a man in a car who was wearing a mask and claimed he had a gun. He told the boys to get off the bikes and to lie down in a ditch by the side of the road. The boys complied. Eventually, the man let Trevor and Aaron go, and instructed them to run away across a field without looking back, or he would shoot them. They returned to the Wetterling home to get help, but Jacob was never seen alive again.

It was one of the most harrowing and gut-wrenching crimes in modern Minnesotan history, and all the more disturbing for the local community due to the fact that it would seemingly never be solved. But against almost everyone's expectations, in 2015 there was a major breakthrough in the Jacob Wetterling case, which by then had grown cold, when new DNA evidence brought investigators to the door of Danny Heinrich, a local man who had first been questioned as a suspect shortly after Wetterling's disappearance but was released without charge. Despite having kept his crimes a secret for more than three decades, Heinrich confessed to the killing and led investigators to the location of Wetterling's body. He is currently behind bars.

The capture and confession of Danny Heinrich

The eventual identification of Danny Heinrich as the man who killed Jacob Wetterling came thanks to new DNA technology that linked the killer to a spate of child sex crimes that occurred in Minnesota in the late 1980s. One of Heinrich's previous victims was a boy named Jared Scheierl, who in January 1989 at the age of 12 was kidnapped and molested by Heinrich, but managed to escape with his life. Scheierl was able to give an account of the attack and a description of the attacker to the authorities, who drew similarities between that and the Wetterling case. Indeed, Heinrich was identified as a possible suspect in the course of the early investigation into these attacks and the kidnapping of Wetterling, but he was released without charge.

When evidence finally came in the form of DNA on an article of Scheierl's clothing and was identified as a match for Henrich in 2015, police searched the suspect's home and discovered a collection of child pornography for which he was placed under arrest. Heinrich then confessed to the attacks and gave intimate details of the murder. He said after molesting Jacob in a remote field, Heinrich believed that a police cruiser was approaching. Thinking he was at risk of being caught, he told Jacob to turn around. He shot the child from behind with a revolver, according to court testimony (via APM Reports).

Heinrich's in prison having cut a deal

Danny Heinrich's revelation of his crimes came alongside the brokering of a deal with prosecutors. He would not be tried for the murder, but instead for a single child pornography offense, according to ABC News. In return, Heinrich led investigators to the location of Jacob Wetterling's body, which he had buried on a farm near Paynesville 30 miles from St. Joseph. Heinrich also agreed to confess to the attack in court, though the statute of limitations had lapsed on other cases the pedophile was linked to. Heinrich was found guilty, and sentenced to 20 years in federal prison for the child pornography charge.

According to Corrections 1, after his trial, Heinrich was transferred to Federal Medical Center Devens in Ayer, Massachusetts, not far from Boston, where he is due to serve the rest of his sentence. As of this writing, the Federal Bureau of Prisons says November 9, 2032, is his release date, which, if that date holds, means he would only serve 16 years. He was previously held at a detention center in Oklahoma City.

In December 2016, the house in Annandale, Minneapolis, where Heinrich had lived for many years before being apprehended, was demolished under the direction of the owner. The event was witnessed by many members of the local community, including Jacob Wetterling's mother, per CBS Minnesota.