Search, dig at Minnesota farm revives 21-year-old case of Wetterling boy’s abduction

By Amy Forliti, AP
Friday, July 2, 2010

Dig revives 21-year-old Minnesota abduction case

MINNEAPOLIS — Nearly 21 years after an 11-year-old boy was abducted on a familiar central Minnesota road, authorities acknowledged Friday there is new activity in the case, after investigators spent two days searching and digging at a farm near where Jacob Wetterling was last seen.

The Stearns County Sheriff’s Department said Friday they had seized several items during their search of the 158-acre property in St. Joseph and confirmed that the search was related to Jacob’s disappearance, which drew national attention and led to state and federal sex offender registration laws.

Authorities did not describe the items seized or release any additional details. The department said in a statement that analysis of the items could take weeks or months.

Jacob was riding his bicycle with his brother and a friend on Oct. 22, 1989 when they were approached by a masked gunman who told the boys to stop and lay on their stomachs in a ditch. He ordered the other two boys to run away, and Jacob has been missing ever since.

There have been no arrests and authorities have cleared more than 40,000 leads over the years.

Jacob was abducted along the road at the end of the driveway to the property that was searched. The farm is owned by Robert Rassier and his wife, Rita, who are both in their 80s. Their son, Daniel Rassier, also lives there and was home the night of the abduction. A woman who answered the phone at the house Friday said no one would comment. Another message left by The Associated Press was not returned.

But Daniel Rassier, 54, told the St. Cloud Times that investigators have interviewed him “numerous times” about Jacob’s disappearance, and that he has submitted to a lie-detector test, hypnosis and DNA sampling.

“I had absolutely nothing to do with anything with Jacob,” he told the newspaper. “I didn’t do it. I had nothing to do with it.”

Sheriff John Sanner told the Times that Daniel Rassier is a “person of interest” in Jacob’s disappearance.

Rassier said he believes investigators came to his property because of new canine resources, and he’ll do what he can to help. Sanner told the newspaper that investigators developed probable cause in recent weeks that led to the search, although he would not elaborate.

Sanner did not return a phone message left by the AP.

Officials from the sheriff’s office, the FBI, the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, K-9 handlers, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children converged on the Rassier property Wednesday. By Thursday, earthmoving equipment began digging, and truck loads of what appeared to be dirt were hauled away.

Officials said they couldn’t release additional details of their investigation.

Court orders by Stearns County District Judge Vicki Landwehr said four separate search warrants would not be made available to the public at this time because their release could hamper the investigation.

There have been no arrests connected to the search, which wrapped up Thursday.

After the kidnapping in the town about 80 miles northwest of Minneapolis, Jacob’s mother, Patty Wetterling, became an advocate for missing children and helped pass federal and state laws to track sex offenders and alert the public when children go missing. In 1990, she and Jacob’s father, Jerry Wetterling, founded what’s now known as the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center.

Patty Wetterling said Friday that the sheriff shared the news with her the night before, but didn’t answer any questions or say anything beyond what he told the media.

“They can’t. So we know as much as you know,” she said. “I didn’t really ask a lot of questions. I was grateful for the heads up.”

“It’s been my experience that these things take a long time,” she added. “You wait and see — and you hope. We hope we get some answers.”

will not be displayed