FBI and sheriff continue spat over Jacob Wetterling investigation

The Stearns County Sheriff's Office hit back after a former FBI agent held a press conference.
Publish date:

The fallout from the release of the Jacob Wetterling investigative files last month continued on Tuesday, as a former FBI agent held a press conference denouncing comments made by Stearns County Sheriff Don Gudmundson.

After reviewing the file, which has just been released to the public for the first time since Jacob's 1989 abduction, Gudmondson was highly critical of how law enforcement failed to identify Danny Heinrich as the 11-year-old's killer.

Some of that criticism was reserved for the FBI, which Gudmundson accused of several mistakes. Not least of these was the way two agents interrogated Heinrich in 1990, which he dubbed "the fatal flaw" in the investigation.

He also said the FBI ignored local officers and failed to keep them abreast of developments in the case, while investigators failed to link Jacob's abduction to a sexual assault carried out by Heinrich in Cold Spring nine months prior, and several in Paynesville in the years before.

On Tuesday Steve Gilkerson, one of FBI agents who interviewed Heinrich at the time, held a press conference in St. Cloud to respond to Sheriff Gudmundson's views on the case.

As WJON reports, Gilkerson said that the sheriff's conclusions "create a false picture for the public that Heinrich should have been thrown in jail," noting that "Sheriff Gudmundson was not there."

"The only way this case could have ever been solved, and was solved, was through confession," he added.

"My impression of Heinrich was he would never confess to this crime without evidence showing he committed this crime and given something for his confession.

Sheriff's office accuses the FBI of 'willful blindness'

Within hours of Gilkerson's appearance, the Stearns County Sheriff's Office responded in scathing fashion, saying his comments are an example of "a retired FBI agent defending the indefensible."

"When Agents Garber and Gilkerson are hired as private investigators to investigate the Wetterling case again in the 2000s, they do not go back to Heinrich," it added. "They instead focus on two brothers in Morrison."

The sheriff's office then described what the FBI and other investigators missed about Heinrich, referring to "multiple missteps ... that almost appeared to be acts of willful blindness."

"Heinrich registered deceptive in the polygraph examination, fits the composite and descriptions, has tires and shoes that correspond to prints at the scene, had the vehicle used in the Cold Spring abduction ... a fiber from that victim’s clothing is consistent with a fiber from the carpet of that car, has photos of children in his possession not confiscated by the FBI or the Sheriff’s investigators, has the gray portable police scanner, says similar things to victims, has a distinctive voice, has clothing which is similar to clothing worn by the perpetrator in all the assaults, has the handgun and asks another perpetrator how to get rid of a body.

"No other suspect in the entire case file have multiple indicators that they were even remotely involved in the Paynesville assaults, the Cold Spring case, or the Wetterling abduction. Yet no one goes back to look at Heinrich for more than 20 years."

Next Up

Karl-Anthony Towns

Wolves-Grizzlies game off, KAT tests postive for COVID

The Timberwolves star was among several players that are dealing with COVID-related issues.

minnesota state fair

Planning for the 2021 Minnesota State Fair is underway

The fair suffered huge financial losses due to COVID-19, but organizers are moving forward with planning "different scenarios" for this summer.

Screen Shot 2021-01-15 at 2.16.44 PM

Heather Brown named as new WCCO 'This Morning' anchor

She will be joining Jason DeRusha on the CBS affiliate's Morning Show.

DPS John Harrington

DPS Commissioner: No credible threats to state Capitol, but ready if something arises

Local and state law enforcement officials have a plan in case a threat arises.

snow, slush (submitted photo, ok to use)

Here are snow totals from Thursday-Friday winter storm

It's a slushy mess in the metro, but snow did pile up in southern counties.

tim walz

Walz fury after report that government's COVID vaccine reserve is nonexistent

The Washington Post reported Friday that the Trump Administration has shipped out all the vaccines it has already, with none in reserve.

closed sign

What's open and closed in Minnesota on MLK Day 2021?

Local government offices will generally be closed on Monday.

BMTN 900x450 (8)

Company that falsely promised student loan forgiveness banned from MN

It's also been ordered to repay $11,499 in fees taken from Minnesotans.

covid-19, coronavirus

Here is Minnesota's COVID update for January 15

Hospitalizations are the lowest in Minnesota since October 25.


Osterholm: B117 COVID strain could become major issue in 6-8 weeks

The B117 variant is believed to be more easily transmitted.


Jacob Wetterling case files to be released next week

The release of the files has been subject to legal challenges.

Wetterling case files reveal bungled response to Jacob's abduction

Tens of thousands of documents have been released on Thursday.

Remains discovered are Jacob Wetterling, medical examiner confirms

Jacob Wetterling's remains have been found, nearly 27 years after the boy disappeared, the Stearns County Sheriff's Office confirmed Saturday afternoon.

Jacob Wetterling files must be released, judge rules

Jacob's parents say some of the documents are an invasion of privacy.

Wetterlings given more time to fight release of 'intensely personal' case files

A judge granted an extension because "new issues" have arisen.