In St. Joseph, new hope for resolution in Wetterling abduction

Jean Marthaler
Jean Marthaler, the manager at Kay's Kitchen in St. Joseph, Minn., has lived in the town since the 1970s. Her son was Jacob Wetterling's age when the kidnapping happened.
Peter Cox | MPR News

Restaurant manager Jean Marthaler bussed tables at Kay's Kitchen in St. Joseph as the lunch rush slowed. She listened to a news conference announcing a "person of interest" in the Jacob Wetterling case had been arrested for possession of child pornography.

"This one sounds much more promising as a possibility than anything else has sounded," she said.

Danny Heinrich, 52, was arrested on five counts of possessing and receiving child pornography. He has not been charged in Jacob's 1989 abduction or any other crime directly connected to Jacob. However, authorities say shoe patterns near where the boy was taken match Heinrich's shoes, and that his car's tires were consistent with tread marks on the scene.

Jacob was riding his bike with two other boys when he was kidnapped by a masked gunman on Oct. 22, 1989, near his St. Joseph home.

Marthaler's son was the same age as Jacob. Like many parents in town, she kept close watch over her child after Jacob disappeared.

"You always wanted to know where he was, who he was with. It just took some of that freedom away from him and from us," she said.

Marthaler says in the years that followed everyone in St. Joseph still thought about Jacob.

"The sadness was in town for a long time as you knew Jacob still hadn't been found."

Where Jacob Wetterline was last seen by friends
The intersection at 16th Avenue Southeast where Jacob Wetterling was last seen by his friends on Oct. 22, 1989.
Peter Cox | MPR News

Down the road from the Wetterling home, Tony Rassier expressed some relief at the news Thursday. Until now, Rassier's brother, Dan, was the only "person of interest" named in Jacob's case.

"We think the Wetterling family needs the closure more than our family does," he said. "The community needs closure. But ... my brother Dan has had a cloud over his life for 26 years, and for that be gone would be a blessing in disguise."

Dan Rassier had been home alone and the family's property sits right across from where Jacob disappeared. Their land has been searched several times.

Barb Plantenberg says she knew Patty Wetterling, Jacob's mother, from the North Junior High PTA. She remembers the last time she saw Jacob — not long before he vanished.

"I pray to God it's the end of the questioning and for the Wetterling family and everything," she said. "It's hard to talk about, because you wish that there was something more that you could've done or that you could have seen."

Jerry and Patty Wetterling
In this Oct. 17, 2014 photo, Jerry and Patty Wetterling stand next to a tree planted in 1990 for their son Jacob near the entrance of North Junior High School in St. Cloud.
Dave Schwarz | St. Cloud Times via AP

Plantenberg is frustrated it's taken so long for investigators to get to this point.

"Until he's actually found or something, it will always be here. It will always be with me. It doesn't go away," she said.

The Wetterling family has not talked about the arrest, but released a written statement thanking authorities.

"The search for Jacob is an ongoing investigation and we will watch and learn with everyone else," the family said.

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