MINNEAPOLIS — Danny Heinrich, the man who led authorities to the remains of Jacob Wetterling, admitted in U.S. District Court Tuesday, Sept. 6, that he abducted and killed the 11-year-old boy some 27 years ago.
Heinrich described during a court hearing what happened the night of Oct. 22, 1989, the last night Jacob was seen alive.
Asked whether he abducted, sexually assaulted and murdered Jacob, Heinrich said: “Yes, I did.”
The 53-year-old Annandale, Minn., man made the admission after pleading guilty to one federal count of receiving child pornography that could send him to prison for 20 years.
He will not be charged in Jacob’s death due to a plea deal made with prosecutors and agreed to by the Wetterling family.
He recalled handcuffing the young boy and putting him in the backseat of his car after he stopped the 11-year-old at gunpoint as he rode his bike home along a rural road in St. Joseph, Minn., with his brother and best friend.
“What did I do wrong,” he said Jacob asked him, before crying and begging Heinrich to take him home.
“I said, ‘don’t cry,'” Heinrich said.
He later told the court how he impulsively shot and killed the 11-year-old with a revolver in a panic after he said he saw a police car drive by without any lights on.
He used a Bobcat to dig a grave and bury him. He took the machine from a nearby construction company. When he returned to the grave site a year later, Heinrich said he could see Jacob’s red jacket.
He took the coat and Jacob’s remains and reburied them across the highway, Heinrich said.
Jacob’s mother, Patty Wetterling, sobbed as Heinrich recounted the details of the night that has for so long remained a mystery.
Heinrich had been charged with 25 counts of possessing and receiving child pornography; he pleaded not guilty to those charges in February and was set to go to trial in October.
Heinrich last year was named as a “person of interest” in the Jacob’s abduction.
The 11-year-old St. Joseph boy was taken from his bicycle on a rural road near his house while he, his brother, and his best friend were riding home after renting a movie. He was never seen again.
Heinrich has not been charged in that case. But last summer authorities searched his house for ties to the boy’s disappearance.
Heinrich had been under increasing scrutiny as authorities have revisited Jacob’s abduction and investigated a string of sexual assaults on preteen and teen boys near Paynesville in the mid- to late 1980s.
Jacob was taken less than a mile from his home in St. Joseph, which is about 20 miles from Paynesville. Heinrich lived in Paynesville with his father at the time of the abduction.
Retested DNA evidence last year linked Heinrich to the 1989 kidnapping and sexual assault of Jared Scheierl in Cold Spring, nine months before Jacob’s abduction. The Pioneer Press typically doesn’t identify victims of sexual assault, but Scheierl has spoken publicly for years about his case.
Authorities have long suspected a link between Jared and Jacob’s cases, leading them to circle back to Heinrich.
Heinrich also admitted in court Tuesday to abducting and sexually assaulting Scheierl.
Last week Heinrich led a team of FBI agents and state and county investigators to a pasture near Paynesville where Wetterling’s skeletal remains were buried, according to a source with direct knowledge of the search. Investigators revisited the site again Friday for crime-scene purposes.