Skip to main content

Danny Heinrich admits to sexually assaulting, killing Jacob Wetterling

  • Author:
  • Updated:
    Original:

Danny Heinrich has admitted to kidnapping, sexually assaulting and then killing Jacob Wetterling.

The 53-year-old, who last fall was tabbed as a "person of interest" in the disappearance of Jacob Wetterling, was in a federal courthouse in Minneapolis Tuesday afternoon, where he pleaded guilty to one count of receipt of child porn. The rest of the charges in the original indictment will be dismissed.

Heinrich details what happened

Heinrich testified under oath, detailing Jacob's abduction and death in his own words. Note that some of these details may be difficult to read.

According to a BringMeTheNews producer at the courthouse:

Heinrich said he was driving on a rural road in St. Joseph on Oct. 22, 1989, the night of Jacob's abduction when he noticed three kids on their bikes. He pulled into a driveway, turned around and waited for them to come back the other direction.

When they did (about 20 minutes later), Heinrich put on a mask and grabbed his gun, and stopped them. He told them to get in a ditch and say their names and ages. The boys offered them the video tape they had rented, but Heinrich said he "knocked it down" they also shined a flashlight in his eyes.

Heinrich then told the other boys to run and took Jacob to his car that was hidden nearby. He handcuffed him in the front seat.

Jacob asked, "What did I do wrong?"

Heinrich drove Jacob out of St. Joseph to Paynesville, listening to police scanner traffic on the way. When he got to Paynesville, he took Jacob to an area a field he was familiar with, which is located near a gravel pit.

They both undressed, and he made Jacob touch him. Heinrich denied there was oral sex or penetration, but he did mention masturbation.

Afterward, Jacob said he was cold so they got dressed. Jacob then asked Heinrich to take him home – Heinrich said no, and Jacob cried.

Heinrich then saw cop cars and pulled a gun out of his pocket. He told Jacob he had to use the restroom and asked him to turn around. Heinrich then raised the gun to Jacob's head and pulled the trigger – the first time didn't work, so he pulled it again, shooting him.

Jacob was still standing, so he shot him again and that's when Jacob fell to the ground. Heinrich checked to make sure he was dead, and then left Jacob's body and went home.

He returned a few hours later on foot, dragging Jacob's body about 100 yards to bury it. He attempted to dig a hole with a shovel, but it was too small, so he went to a nearby construction company and borrowed a Bobcat to dig it. He buried Jacob in all his clothes, except his shoes (he didn't realize he hadn't buried them). He then camouflaged the area and returned the Bobcat. He threw Jacob's shoes in a ravine and went back home.

About a year later, he returned to the site with a flashlight and saw the grave was partially uncovered, and Jacob's jacket was visible. So Heinrich took Jacob's jacket, bones and skull, put it in a bag and transported it to the rural farm in Paynesville, just across the highway, where he buried it again.

Heinrich recently showed law enforcement the grave site (where Jacob's body was uncovered Friday), and then was returned to jail.

What happened to Wetterling remained a mystery for more than two decades. Jacob was abducted in 1989 while riding his bike home from Tom Thumb in St. Joseph. Wetterling’s friend and younger brother were there as well.

Heinrich says he acted alone in kidnapping and killing Jacob. While testifying Tuesday, he also admitted to sexually assaulting Jared Scheierl – Scheierl was 12 years old when he was assaulted, and authorities said last fall DNA evidence connected Heinrich to the crime, but the statute of limitations had run out so he could not be charged.

Sentencing for Heinrich

Last fall, Heinrich was arrested in connection with a child porn investigation, and officials at the time called him a "person of interest" in Wetterling's disappearance.

The plea deal and confession comes three days after officials in Stearns County confirmed remains discovered in Paynesville late last week are Jacob Wetterling.

Heinrich, according to the plea deal, faces a maximum of 20 years in prison, and 5 years to life of supervised release. Both sides recommended 20 years in prison.

State officials said in court he will not face any prosecution for crimes committed in 1989.

He'll be sentenced on Monday, Nov. 21.

You can watch the entire news conference below:

This embed is invalid

Next Up

Train Days

Historic locomotives to roll into St. Paul for Train Days

The festival at the Union Depot returns June 4-5.

Dalton tornado

Tornadoes, large hail, damaging wind possible in Sunday/Monday storms

The Twin Cities is among the areas that could get hit.

Redtail Ridge Elementary

Sunbather on the roof triggers shelter-in-place at Savage elementary school

The sunbather told police he was trying to "tan and relax."

Nero

The Raptor Center's ambassador, Nero the turkey vulture, dies at 47

Nero helped save the California condors before taking up his post as an education ambassador.

Ben Leber

Ben Leber named new permanent co-host of 'Twin Cities Live'

The former Minnesota Vikings linebacker was introduced Friday afternoon.

MPR

APM Reports, maker of 'In the Dark' podcast, nixed by Minnesota Public Radio

MPR said "select programming elements" of APM Reports will be incorporated into MPR News.

storm, severe

The latest on holiday weekend severe weather chances for MN

The most significant severe threats are Sunday night and again on Monday.

Arianna Vos

Charges: Driver was drunk, high in head-on crash that killed 19-year-old woman

The young woman killed in the crash was a college student studying zoology.

Related

Danny Heinrich admits to sexually assaulting, killing Jacob Wetterling

Danny Heinrich admitted he assaulted and then killed Jacob Wetterling the night he disappeared.

Danny Heinrich, who admitted to killing Jacob Wetterling, gets 20 years in prison

Danny Heinrich admitted to killing Jacob Wetterling in exchange for fewer charges.