Duane Hart lives in a cell at the Minnesota Sex Offender Program facility in Moose Lake, civilly committed since 1993 to a system designed to house and treat "sexual psychopathic personalities" and "sexually dangerous" people. But in the 1980s, he lived near Paynesville, in proximity to a string of sex offenses that grew in severity and then seemed to end after the abduction of Jacob Wetterling in 1989.
Hart, who sometimes goes by the nickname "Dewey," was investigated for a possible connection to the Wetterling abduction but never charged. He was convicted, in 1990, of sexually assaulting four boys in central Minnesota. When asked at a plea hearing whether the boys had consented to the contact, he responded, "No, sir. Didn't bother to ask them." He was not tied to a number of sexual assaults in Paynesville in the late 1980s.
Hart also was important to Jared Scheierl, the victim of a sexual assault in Cold Spring nine months before the Wetterling abduction. When, as an adult, Scheierl began investigating his own case, Hart's name came up. Scheierl, by that time a resident of Paynesville, wanted to talk to him behind bars, to hear his voice, in an effort to eliminate him as a possibile suspect in his case. He said he was not allowed to talk with Hart.
Since then, investigators determined the perpetrator in Scheierl's case was Danny Heinrich, who also recently admitted to abducting and killing Jacob Wetterling.
A private investigator involved in Hart's case said Hart told him he had spent time with Heinrich. Others said Hart and other boys partied at a place outside Paynesville, a place where Heinrich later shot and killed Wetterling.
Hart didn't respond to a written interview request from APM Reports.
Born in Longview, Wash., in 1947, Hart made it only through the ninth grade and never learned to read or write very well, he said in court at one point. At one point he served in the Job Corps.
When Hart was committed to the state sex offender program, a doctor summed up his thinking and methods this way, according to a later appeal: "Hart lacks the ability to control his sexual impulses, fixates on young males, experiences intense urges to sexually offend despite a victim's protests or resistance, and has profound difficulty controlling his behavior." The appeal was denied.