by Dennis Dalman
The Jacob Wetterling case, in all of its long-time shock, hopes and horrors, is revisited vividly in a series of nine podcasts entitled “In the Dark.”
It is a production of American Public Media featuring reporter Madeleine Baran and Jennifer Vogel, and can be found at www.apmreports.org. On that same website, there are also features about other cases in Minnesota, some of them still unsolved, like the disappearance of St. John’s University student Joshua Guimond from his Collegeville campus and the murder of young St. Cloud girls Susan and Mary Reker many decades ago.
The podcasts are chilling in their immediacy because they contain original transcripts, vintage video footage, time frames, documents, maps, charts, music, news clippings and interviews with many people involved with the 27-year-old appalling mystery, which was “solved” only last year when Jacob Wetterling’s killer, Danny Heinrich, confessed to the crime. Much of the information in the podcasts has never been released, at least widely, to the public before.
Wetterling, 11 at the time, was abducted by Heinrich on the road leading to his St. Joseph home on the night of Oct. 22, 1989. In the first podcast, the actual 911 call can be heard, the one called in after Wetterling’s disappearance.
There are nine podcasts that explore virtually every angle of the case, from the night of the abduction to the sentencing of Heinrich, who could not be tried for Wetterling’s death as part of a plea agreement and in exchange for Heinrich revealing where he buried the boy, in a farm grove near Paynesville.
At times, the podcasts are quite critical of law enforcement for not connecting the dots about Heinrich’s behavior sooner in the case. Just nine months before Wetterling’s disappearance, Heinrich, a Paynesville resident at that time, was the main suspect in the abduction and sexual assault against a boy in Cold Spring.
The nine podcasts, narrated by reporter Baran, are entitled The Crime, The Circle, The One Who Got Away, The Circus, Person of Interest, Stranger Danger, The Quiet Place, What’s Going On Down There? and The Truth.
There are also many podcast updates and related news, including an interview with Wetterling’s parents, Jerry and Patty, about their reactions to the crime being solved after so many years. The following is an excerpt from that interview in a podcast update entitled Update: A Sentencing, A Demand, No Closure.
Knowing details in the final minutes of her son’s life is hard on Patty Wetterling, but she wonders whether Heinrich someday might say more, reporter Baran says on the podcast.
“I’m still struggling with a lot of this,” Patty Wetterling said, “but I am strengthened by so many good people doing amazingly good things to help out. So that’s what carries us and it will continue to help us grow out of this very dark place and keep fighting for the world that Jacob knew. I still believe that that’s worthy.”
Dalman was born and raised in South St. Cloud, graduated from St. Cloud Tech High School, then graduated from St. Cloud State University with a degree in English (emphasis on American and British literature) and mass communications (emphasis on print journalism). He studied in London, England for a year (1980-81) where he concentrated on British literature, political science, the history of Great Britain and wrote a book-length study of the British writer V.S. Naipaul. Dalman has been a reporter and weekly columnist for more than 30 years and worked for 16 of those years for the Alexandria Echo Press.