Sheriff: Number of items seized in 2-day search

Digging near Wetterling site
Investigators use a tractor-mounted backhoe to dig just southeast of the Rassier farm in St. Joseph, Minn. Thursday, June 1, 2010. Crews have been digging up a portion of the yard at a rural St. Joseph farm near the site where Jacob Wetterling was abducted in 1989.
AP Photo/St. Cloud Times, Kimm Anderson

Stearns County sheriff's officials said Friday they seized a number of items during a two-day search of a St. Joseph farm near the site of 11-year-old Jacob Wetterling's abduction 21 years ago.

Officials confirmed that the investigation is related to Minnesota's most notorious kidnapping case. About six truck loads of dirt from the property were hauled away to a county highway department maintenance yard. No arrests have been made so far.

Stearns County Sheriff John Sanner and Chief Deputy Bruce Bechtold said in a news release it could take several weeks to possibly months to process and analyze the items investigators seized.

Neither Sanner nor Bechtold was available today to comment on the case. The news release says the commitment and determination to find answers about Jacob Wetterling's disappearance has not wavered over the past 21 years.

Initially, the sheriff's office wouldn't confirm that this week's search was related to the Wetterling kidnapping. But Jacob's mother, Patty Wetterling, told reporters yesterday that the sheriff did call her.

"And he said the same thing he's told to all of you, you know, 'I'm sorry I can't tell you anything. I hope your family is okay. Just so you know, we're not going to give up 'til we find answers: who took Jacob, where is he.'" she said.

Before you keep reading ...

MPR News is made by Members. Gifts from individuals fuel the programs that you and your neighbors rely on. Donate today to power news, analysis, and community conversations for all.

Four court orders signed by Stearns County District Judge Vicki Landwehr authorized the search warrants to be sealed and retained by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. The orders said public release of the documents could hamper the ongoing investigation into Jacob's disappearance.

The BCA, the FBI, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children all assisted with this investigation. Nationally recognized search and rescue canine handlers also helped with the search.

Over the two days, sheriff deputies were parked at the entrance to the property owned by Rita and Robert Rassier. The officers were mum about the investigation's activities.

"We don't know anything anyway. The sheriff does. We were just told to be here," one deputy said.

All the activity unsettled some neighbors who live down the hill from the property. Jeanne Schiermers has lived in St. Joseph for more than 30 years.

She says back when Jacob disappeared there were sheriff deputies, dogs, and volunteers searching the fields.

"I thought they did a thorough job then, so this is all new again, like it happened all yesterday is what it feels like," she said.

Schiermers and several other community members wonder why this investigation is happening now.

Law enforcement agencies point to new technology that has helped solve cold cases in recent years.

Sgt. Anita Muldoon leads the cold case unit at the St. Paul Police Department. She says the DNA lab at the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension has new technology called touch DNA that can help identify skeletal remains.

"When DNA profiling first began -- oh, you know, 20 years ago I think they started using it -- they needed a large amount of evidence or blood or some sort of bodily fluid to test, to obtain a profile from a person," Muldoon said. "And now they just need one skin cell."

Muldoon says it's possible that's what investigators may be searching for in the Wetterling case, although she's not involved in the case.