On the night Jacob Wetterling was abducted in October 1989, Kevin and his girlfriend at the time were playing cards at her mother's house in St. Joseph. About to head home, Kevin, who has agreed to be quoted about his experiences that night on the condition his last name not be used, caught the broad sketches of an alert from the squawking police scanner in the kitchen. He then saw three police cars fly by the house. Something big was up for a Sunday night.
It's not what everybody would do, but Kevin, then 21, jumped into his girlfriend's Grand Prix — her brother, a local volunteer firefighter, dashed for his truck with his wife — and the four set out to follow the police. They didn't find them, but Kevin said he and his girlfriend turned up a gravel driveway and rolled through the Wetterling abduction site before officers had cordoned it off, leaving behind a set of fresh tire tracks. He remembered shining the car's headlights onto the bikes and scooter, still resting in the ditch where Jacob and his brother and best friend had left them.
On the way back to town, unaware of the crime's contours, Kevin, thought he saw a police car in the local Tom Thumb parking lot. He said he stopped, went inside and had a puzzling encounter with a person who identified himself as a "medical cop." Then, spotting a genuine police officer parked outside a dental office, he said he approached and began to explain what he'd witnessed. "It's always bothered me," Kevin said. "He just told me to go," without asking for details or contact information. "He was rude to me. He said, 'Yeah, we already know about it.'" Reached by email, the girlfriend's brother declined to comment. Kevin's girlfriend at the time did not return calls.
Kevin was raised in St. Joseph with nine siblings. "I had four older brothers and five sisters," he said. "My older brothers were pretty rowdy and got in trouble with the cops a lot." The police broke up parties and hassled the younger children on their bikes in town. Kevin's criminal record shows nothing more significant than traffic infractions, but, he said, "I didn't really trust cops. I didn't have that good of a rapport with them. Every time I ever dealt with them, they were always mean to me."
That's how he explained the fact that, in the months after the Wetterling abduction, when investigators were publicly trying to match a variety of cars to tire tracks found at the crime scene, Kevin didn't call to say that some of the tracks were his. Although he seems to have had an alibi, he worried he could become a suspect. "I didn't want to be caught up in that and have my life ruined," he said. Also, he was convinced that police already knew he was there, that his then-girlfriend's brother, the firefighter, had told them or that the officer in the parking lot had said something.
Following the abduction, Kevin slept in his clothes and abstained from alcohol in order to be ready when officers banged on his door. But they never did. From that, he concluded that what he saw must not have been important. When he finally did talk to investigators in 2003, at the urging of a U.S. marshal he met at a party, the tale of his drive through the crime scene would turn the case on its head, leading the police to believe the perpetrator had been on foot rather than in a car.