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Investigators tried hypnosis, secret taping in Wetterling search

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The site of Jacob Wetterling's remains.
Disturbed dirt lies at the location in a cow pasture of a farm in Paynesville, Minn., where Jacob Wetterling's remains were found.
Judy Griesedieck for MPR News

Investigators early in the Jacob Wetterling search were focused heavily on Wetterling neighbor Daniel Rassier, so much so that they spoke to Rassier under hypnosis and at one point asked Patty Wetterling to talk to secretly record him.

On Tuesday, another man, Danny Heinrich confessed to capturing, molesting and killing Jacob on the night of Oct. 22, 1989. But court documents released Friday by the Stearns County Attorney's Office show that authorities long had their eyes on Rassier, whose long driveway ended at the spot where Jacob was grabbed.

Danny Heinrich
Danny Heinrich
Courtesy of Sherburne County Jail

Rassier lived at the home with his parents, who were out of the country at the time of Jacob's abduction. Investigators interviewed Rassier multiple times including the night of the kidnapping, according to a 2010 search warrant.

Rassier had told law enforcement he saw a smaller dark blue vehicle enter and leave the driveway between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. that night. He also said during a November 1989 interview that he "may have seen Jacob in the front seat of that car," according to the search warrant.

Police, though, also spoke with a man named Kevin Hamilton who said he'd pulled his car into the Rassier driveway that night after hearing a police call on his scanner about the abduction. 

Dan Rassier
In this Sept. 3, 2016 frame grab provided by KSTP-TV, Dan Rassier talks with a reporter at his farm near St. Joseph, Minn.
Cory Kampschroer | KSTP-TV via AP

"It is believed that the Hamilton vehicle is the one described by Rassier as being in his driveway between 9 and 10 p.m. on Oct. 22, 1989," wrote Kevin McDonald, a special agent with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.

Nearly a week after Wetterling's disappearance, FBI agents interviewed Dena Boettcher, a teaching colleague of Rassier's who said she'd gone on one or two dates with Rassier. Boettcher said she asked Rassier at one point if he'd ever had sex. "Rassier advised her that at the time he believed he had a double personality and that his other self had had sex," McDonald wrote.

The warrant states that Rassier told FBI agents in a November 1989 interview he had no female friends and didn't have much of a social life.  

Later that month, a licensed consulting psychologist interviewed Rassier under hypnosis. Investigators said they wanted to enhance Rassier's memory of the two cars he claimed to see turn around in his driveway the day of the abduction.

More than 14 years later, in early 2004, investigators reviewed Rassier's voluntary, videotaped hypnotic interview. According to McDonald, investigators had formed the opinion that the man who abducted Jacob came from the Rassier farm and did not use a vehicle in the commission of the kidnapping. 

   "The hypnotic interview showed that Rassier is very detail oriented, and in the interview Rassier gave extensive details regarding this planning, quoting, 'I enjoy getting everything perfect ... so I feel good about it,'" McDonald wrote.

The investigator added that Rassier seemed to lose track of time when asked about the time frame in which Wetterling was abducted. 

Rassier also got emotional when recounting his memory of the car pulling into his driveway. "At this point in the hypnotic interview, Rassier began crying," writes McDonald. "Rassier said he ran from room to room to watch the vehicle. Rassier was very upset and notably shaking when he was discussing this."

The 2010 search warrant also details an effort to capture information from Rassier by having Jacob's mother Patty wear a concealed recording device and "accidentally run into Dan and have a conversation with him." 

Jacob Wetterling
Jacob Wetterling
Courtesy of Wetterling family

On Oct. 20, 2009, writes McDonald, Patty Wetterling wore a body recording device and spoke with Rassier outside a health club in St. Cloud. Wetterling asked Rassier if he knew what happened to Jacob. "Rassier responded no, no one knows for sure. I do know that the driver of the car was the person who did it," writes McDonald. 

The warrant also states that Rassier told Patty Wetterling that he'd done some digging on his property and found a dead dog and thought it was Jacob.

McDonald used details from this conversation and the hypnotic interview in his request to return to and search the Rassier property in 2010. However, Judge Vicki Landwehr was skeptical.

In a transcribed conversation between Landwehr, McDonald and Stearns County Attorney Janelle Kendall, Landwehr expressed concern about whether there was enough evidence to justify approving the search warrants. 

"I'm assuming the basis for the search warrant request is just a culmination of incidents and information gathered with respect to this Dan Rassier, is that correct?" asked Landwehr in the transcript. "My concern is that whether there's enough here to get the search warrants."

Yet, she approved the warrants. A few days later law enforcement officials brought in digging equipment to the Rassier property.

Heinrich's confession this week swept away any question of who killed Jacob. MPR News reached out to Rassier for comment on the documents released Friday. He did not return the call. 

But in an interview with the Associated Press, he detailed how being under an umbrella of suspicion — authorities had named him a "person of interest" in the disappearance — made life a struggle.

Rassier said he thought he was helping and because of the experience he no longer trusts law enforcement. The stress in recent years also hurt his health, leaving him with headaches and causing him to miss work. As his relationships changed, he had to adapt and do more things on his own.

"It's impossible," Rassier told the AP, "to fix what they broke."