MN officials: After search, no break in Wetterling case

Wetterling searfh
A farm near where Jacob Wetterling was abducted in 1989 in St. Joseph, Minn., was searched this summer.
Kimm Anderson/St. Cloud Times via The AP

Forensic tests on items taken this summer from a Minnesota farm near the site of 11-year-old Jacob Wetterling's 1989 abduction have revealed no evidence linking them to the crime, the Stearns County sheriff said Tuesday.

Sheriff John Sanner said various tests "were unable to establish, distinguish or identify potential evidence." He said more tests are possible, but declined to elaborate or provide any details on what tests had been done so far.

"We're hopeful that the test results will lead us in one direction or another," he said.

Jacob was abducted Oct. 22, 1989, by a masked gunman on a rural road in St. Joseph, about 80 miles northwest of Minneapolis. He hasn't been seen since. Authorities have examined more than 50,000 leads, but there have been no arrests.

The case drew national attention, leading to changes in sex offender registration laws. Jacob's mother, Patty Wetterling, became a nationally known advocate for missing children.

Interest in the case was renewed this summer when authorities converged on the 158-acre farm near the abduction site and hauled away truckloads of dirt and other items.

Rassier farm
Rita and Robert Rassier have placed "private property/no trespassing" signs at the entrance of their driveway. Officials announced Tuesday, September 28, 2010 that no new evidence was gained from a search this summer.
MPR Photo/Ambar Espinoza

At the time, Sanner told the St. Cloud Times that a man who lived at the home with his parents was a person of interest in the case. The man has told The Associated Press he had nothing to do with it. He did not immediately return messages Tuesday.

Patty Wetterling didn't immediately return calls seeking comment.

Jacob was abducted on a Sunday night in the middle of a three-day weekend. He, his 10-year-old brother Trevor, and his 11-year-old friend Aaron Larson rode their bikes and a scooter up to a nearby convenience store to rent a movie.

The boys were riding the familiar road home before 9:30 p.m. and were about a half-mile from the Wetterling house, and near the end of the driveway to the property, when a masked gunman told them to stop and lay on their stomachs in a ditch. The man asked the boys their ages, and ordered Aaron and Trevor to run away or he'd shoot.

The boys ran, and when they looked back, Jacob was gone.

Jacob Wetterling
This computer-enhanced image provided by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children on Tuesday, March 20, 2007, shows Jacob Wetterling in an aged-progressed image. Wetterling was abducted from near his home in St. Joseph, Minn. in 1989, when he was 11.
AP Photo/National Center for Missing and Exploited Children

In the days that followed, hundreds of police and volunteers searched on foot and horseback for the boy. More than 300 National Guard troops and Department of Natural Resources workers made shoulder-to-shoulder searches of woods and fields.

Rewards totaling $125,000 were offered, and in following weeks, 50 million fliers with Jacob's photo and description were mailed out nationwide. Tens of thousands of tips poured in.

In 2004, authorities ruled out a suspicious car they had been seeking for over 14 years, and instead began focusing on the possibility that Jacob was taken by someone on foot. The revelation, Sanner said at the time, led investigators to rethink their "theories of who's involved."

On June 30 of this year, authorities converged on the farm, which is owned by Robert and Rita Rassier, with search warrants. A day later, they began digging. The property had been searched before, but not so thoroughly. Sanner wouldn't say exactly what led to the recent search.

Sanner said the man was home alone on the night of the abduction, and authorities have talked to him over the years under many circumstances.

"I had nothing to do with it," he said in a recent e-mail to the AP. When asked if he had obtained a lawyer, he said no. "I have nothing to hide and still trust law enforcement may come around."

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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