Officials sort out almost 30 years’ worth of Wetterling information

Published 8:57 am Monday, November 21, 2016

ST. CLOUD — Officials in Stearns County are reviewing almost 30 years’ worth of evidence gathered in the search for Jacob Wetterling as they prepare to release all the documents to the public.

Teams of five to 14 people are going through every box, every page and every line of information to blot out certain details such as Social Security numbers, private medical data and children’s names, according to a press release.

The teams have gone through a mile and half of redaction tape as they’ve read more than 37,000 pages of investigative records so far.

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The information gathered during the search for the 11-year-old boy will become public sometime after the sentencing Monday for Danny Heinrich, who in September confessed to kidnapping, sexually assaulting and killing Jacob in 1989.

Staff from the county attorney’s office, the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office and the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation have combed through the reports twice and may choose to do in one more time. Stearns County Attorney Janelle Kendall said that if they miss a detail, such as a Social Security number, and it becomes public, “real-life human beings will pay the price.”

And while officials are redacting private data, they are not blotting out embarrassing information. Some may be surprised by the details those boxes contain.

“There’s stuff that could probably damage relationships,” said Stearns County Chief Deputy Bruce Bechtold. He explained that if someone contacted authorities to report that their Uncle Ralph molested them when they were young, the name of the young victim would be redacted, “but Uncle Ralph’s going to be in there.”

Every paper trail in the search for Jacob ended up in a box in a windowless room in the basement of the county Law Enforcement Center in St. Cloud. There are files from Interpol and other documents that are in Japanese and Spanish, awaiting translation. There are documents detailing leads, interrogations and calls from psychics who reported their visions.

The county attorney’s office does not know yet when exactly the records will be released. However, Kendall said that when they are ready, they’ll be posted online.

“I know there’s a bunch of questions about what was done and what wasn’t done” during the almost 27-year course of the investigation, Kendall said. “Well, it’s all in there. All of it.”