Eleven-year-old Jacob Wetterling, bicycling home from a convenience store with friends after dark, is abducted in St. Joseph, Minn., a small town about 75 miles northwest of Minneapolis. Search and investigation begin within minutes.
FBI and other agencies join investigation. Investigators are inundated with tips; they find tire and shoe tracks they think might be important. Officers and volunteers conduct aerial and ground searches. Stearns County Sheriff Charlie Grafft decries lack of evidence. Wetterlings meet with friends and make conscious decision to seek as much publicity for the case as possible.
FBI expert in psychological profiles joins case, producing suggestion that the abductor is "likely a white loner with a physical deformity who committed a similar crime in his past." Investigators say they are getting hundreds of calls.
Prayer vigil draws 500 people to St. Joseph church. Grafft (pictured) says investigators are sure the abduction involves a sex offender, think the abductor has likely left the area and suggests Jacob could be dead.
Television newsmagazine show "A Current Affair" broadcasts national report on the abduction, generating many more phone tips from around the country. Minneapolis and St. Paul business leaders offer $100,000 reward for Jacob's safe return. Deputies search on horseback. FBI says it has 20 agents assigned to the case. Gov. Rudy Perpich meets with National Guard, state officials, Grafft and the Wetterling family.
Perpich says he will activate the National Guard, the State Patrol and the Department of Natural Resources to search a 700-square-mile area for Jacob. The Wetterlings appear on "CBS This Morning."
FBI debunks reports that Jacob had been found safe. Meanwhile, a foundation begins a nationwide mailing campaign to notify hospitals, truck stops, social agencies and others about the abduction. Ultimately, a million fliers are sent around the country.
Minnesota Twins baseball players and officials join 7,000 to 10,000 others in a public show of support for the Wetterlings.
Banners of support are on display at a Minnesota Vikings-Los Angeles Rams football game. Reporting no significant progress in the investigation, authorities give half of the investigators the weekend off.
Starting their inaugural basketball season, the Minnesota Timberwolves donate proceeds from 5,400 tickets to the team's first home game to the search for Jacob.
Wetterlings record an interview to be broadcast on the Geraldo Rivera show next week.
Police release two more sketches. One is of a man heard talking about the abduction in the Tom Thumb store two weeks after it took place. The other is of a man thought to have tried to abduct a boy in the Minneapolis suburb of New Brighton. They say the two match the earlier sketch of the man seen lurking in the Tom Thumb convenience story the night of Jacob's abduction. Flurry of tips follows.
Six Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and five FBI agents are taken off the case.
Investigators release what they consider a better sketch of the abductor, combining aspects of previous sketches.
Jared Scheierl, a 12-year-old victim in a sex assault abduction in January 1989 in nearby Cold Spring, meets with FBI agents to create a sketch of the man who assaulted him. Investigators think the two cases are related. The sketch generates hundreds of new tips and more investigators are added to the Wetterling case.
FBI agents interview Danny Heinrich, a resident of Paynesville, 30 miles from St. Joseph. He denies any knowledge about the abductions of either Jacob or Jared.
Paynesville police chief tells Wetterling investigators that his town has had a year of molestation episodes. The chief, Robert Schmiginsky, believes Heinrich should be considered a suspect in those cases. Several incidents of an unknown adult male groping or chasing juvenile males had been reported to Paynesville law enforcement from about September 1986 through the following September. No arrests were ever made.
Investigators interview Heinrich again. He provides them with his tennis shoes and samples of body hair.
Heinrich authorizes investigators to take the rear tires from his blue 1982 Ford EXP hatchback.
Investigators get access to a 1987 Mercury Topaz that Heinrich owned until March 1989. When they have Jared sit in the car, he tells them that on a scale of 1 to 10, the vehicle is an 8 or 9 in terms of how similar it was to the car in which he was abducted a year earlier.
Wetterlings announce plans to establish the Jacob Wetterling Foundation.
Investigators search the Paynesville home of Heinrich's father, where Heinrich has been living since November 1989. They're looking for Jacob, his clothing, a gun, documents and other material. They find and collect two police scanners, a carrying case, lists of scanner frequencies, a pair of boots, clothing. During the search Heinrich tells investigators he most likely was at home the day of the Wetterling abduction and that he was not in St. Joseph that weekend. Investigators find a trunk containing photos of children, one with a towel wrapped around him and another in his underwear. Heinrich objects to officers seizing them because "they just didn't look right." He later tells investigators he has burned them.
Heinrich appears in a police lineup with five other white males. Jared is unable to identify any as the person who assaulted him. He says one of the men is a "7" on a scale of one to 10 in similarity. He rates Heinrich a "4."
FBI tells investigators the Sears Superguard Response tires from Heinrich's Ford were consistent with but not an exact match of the tire tracks at the Wetterling abduction scene.
FBI takes six agents off the case, leaving nine.
FBI tells investigators a fiber found on Jared's clothing had similar microscopic and optical properties as fibers taken from the Mercury Topaz that Heinrich owned in January 1989.
Heinrich is arrested in connection to the Jared Scheierl abduction and sexual assault. He denies involvement. He is later released without being charged.
About 200 people gather to mark what would have been Jacob's 12th birthday and to launch formally the Jacob Wetterling Foundation to focus on the prevention and elimination of stranger abductions of children. By the launch, $200,000 has been raised.
FBI reports to investigators that a shoeprint at the crime scene "corresponds" to Heinrich's right shoe but because there was insufficient detail, the lab examiner could not determine that it was made by Heinrich's shoe.
The Jacob Wetterling Foundation offers a national database assistance program to help families of missing children.
About 1,000 people gather to commemorate the first anniversary of Jacob's abduction.
Heinrich gets his property back from the search warrant that was executed on Jan. 24, 1990.
U.S. Sen. Dave Durenberger proposes a national registry of people who have committed crimes against children. The measure would be known as the Jacob Wetterling Act.
Congress passes the Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act and Child Safety Act. Part of a larger violent-crime bill, it requires any person convicted of a criminal offense against a minor or who is convicted of a sexually violent felony to register with police for 10 years after release from prison, parole or probation. The law permits, but does not require, police to tell the community where such offenders are living. Later laws make this a requirement.
National broadcast system known as Amber Alerts is created to inform public of cases of potentially abducted children.
National organization creates a computer-enhanced photo of what Jacob could look like at age 19 and sends it to 73 million U.S. homes.
John Sanner (pictured) replaces Jim Kostreba as Stearns County sheriff.
A man named Kevin, who agreed to speak this year with an APM Reports journalist on condition his last name not be used, comes forward to authorities. He tells investigators he drove his car through the Wetterling crime scene out of curiosity after hearing reports about the search on a police scanner. He is not considered a suspect, and, as a result, investigators start to focus on suspects who would have been on foot.
Investigators ask Dan Rassier, a Wetterling neighbor, to admit he abducted Jacob.
U.S. Department of Justice begins the national Child Abduction Response Team initiative to prepare multiagency law-enforcement teams to quickly respond to incidents involving missing, endangered, or abducted children.
President Bush signs the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, creating a national sex offender registry and requiring states to disclose to the public information about the most serious offenders.
At the request of law enforcement, Patty Wetterling invites Rassier to talk and asks him if he abducted Jacob. He tells her no.
Investigators search the farm where Rassier and his parents still live, digging up parts of it and declaring Rassier a "person of interest."
Sheriff's office says laboratory tests on material taken in the July search didn't provide evidence in the Wetterling investigation.
Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension reports that it obtained a DNA profile from the wrist of a sweatshirt worn by Jared when he was abducted in January 1989. It reports the sample contained DNA from at least two people. Jared could not be excluded as one of those, but the predominant male DNA profile did not match Jared's DNA. The BCA reports that 99.5 percent of the general population could be excluded.
A BCA lab report to investigators indicates DNA profiling was performed on a sample collected from a baseball hat taken after an attack in Paynesville May 17, 1987. Analysis found a mix of three or more unidentified people.
BCA reports that the predominant male DNA profile from the wrist of the sweatshirt Jared wore in January 1989 matches the DNA in body hair samples taken from Heinrich in 1990. "The predominant profile would not be expected to occur more than once among unrelated individuals in the world population," the BCA reports. The agency also tells investigators Heinrich could not be excluded from being a possible contributor to the mixed DNA on the Paynesville baseball cap. "It was estimated that 80.5 percent of the general population could be excluded from being contributors," the BCA says.
Investigators search Heinrich's Annandale, Minn., home, a small one-bedroom house owned by his father. Looking for evidence regarding the abductions of both Jacob and Jared, investigators seize 19 three-ring binders containing child pornography, a pair of silver handcuffs, duct tape, camouflage pants and shirt and four bins filled with boys' sized athletic wear. Prosecutors say Heinrich was making his own pornography using copies of a Paynesville yearbook from the 1970s. Officers also found "numerous videotapes of what appear to be surreptitiously recorded footage of neighborhood children delivering newspapers, riding bicycles, playing in public playgrounds and participating in sporting activities."
Heinrich speaks with investigators during the search and acknowledges he has child porn, stating that some of the things law enforcement would find are "pretty damning." He says he downloaded the images from the internet.
A sealed criminal complaint against Heinrich is signed by Special Agent Shane Ball, in presence of U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffrey J. Keyes.
Heinrich's lawyers ask judge to declare the search of his home illegal.
After his attorneys agree to a deal in which Heinrich will be charged only on the pornography case and not kidnapping or murder, Heinrich shows investigators where he buried Jacob's body. The site is on a farm just outside Paynesville, not far from where Heinrich lived at the time. It is about 30 miles from St. Joseph.
Heinrich describes in court how he abducted, assaulted, killed and buried Jacob. He also confesses to the assault of Scheierl in Cold Spring earlier in 1989.