Sheriff: Jacob Wetterling case was bungled from the get-go

"This should not have happened."

Adam Carter
September 20, 2018 - 2:31 pm

The current sheriff of Stearns County says the Jacob Wetterling abduction investigation was bungled from the very beginning.

Tens of thousands of pages from the investigative file in Jacob's disappearance were released Thursday.

Stearns County Sheriff Don Gudmundson says those pages reveal missed opportunities to get Danny Heinrich.

Heinrich confessed to kidnapping and killing Jacob Wetterling as part of a plea agreement to child pornography charges in 2016. He directed authorities to Jacob's remains.

Gudmundson, who was not the sheriff at the time of the 1989 kidnapping, says investigators from the FBI and Stearns County made mistakes early in the investigation that, Gudmundson says, should have pointed to Danny Heinrich.

"I went through around 20 things that made (the suspect) Danny Heinrich. Is it because (investigators) are overwhelmed, is it because it's too large? I can't account for it."

Gudmundson says when the FBI took over the investigation in the hours following the kidnapping, they cast much too wide of a net, when it should have been clear that the suspect wasn't far away.

"In the first week a lead is run in California, by the second week leads are run in Iowa, Vermont, and North Dakota. In essence, Sheriff Charlie Grafft has already lost control of his own investigation. This should not have happened." (Grafft was sheriff of Stearns County in 1989)

Gudmundson also pointed to the failure of investigators to connect the dots of an earlier abduction of a boy in Cold Spring, and attempted abductions and assaults in the Paynseville area.

Thursday's dramatic news conference by Gudmundson took a bizarre turn after it concluded, when Al Garber, who was the FBI agent in charge of the Wetterling case, took the podium to defend his investigation, and question Sheriff Gudmundson's experience in dealing with such large cases.

"Maybe you have Don, but if you have, you didn't say you did."

Gudmundson then came back up to the podium, saying he'd worked mafia assassinations in Chicago before telling Garber to move along.

"You know what, Al? Why don't you take it outside?" An irritated Gudmundson said to Garber.

Outside the courthouse, Garber continued to defend the investigation into Jacob's disappearance. He says it's easy for Gudmundson to criticize with the benefit of hindsight.

"He writes all these things down that point to Heinrich, which is fine. And he tells you what we should have done is no other leads, no other suspects, we should have given up, and just interviewed Heinrich again, and again, and again. That's ridiculous."

Jerry Wetterling was in attendance for Thursday's press conference. He declined to comment, other than to say he was just there to listen.

Jerry and Patty Wetterling had resisted the release of the investigative files, saying they didn't want to relive those "dark days."

Danny Heinrich pleaded guilty child pornography in 2016, and he is now serving a 20 year prison sentence.