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Fmr. FBI Agent: Early Wetterling Investigation Was 'A Bad Mistake'

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- A former FBI agent who supervised the Jacob Wetterling investigation says the agency botched how it first handled the man now considered a person of interest in the case.

Striving To Be Best - Al Garber's Book
(credit: CBS)

Al Garber wrote in "Striving To Be The Best," his out-of-print 2009 memoir, that the FBI's encounter with Danny Heinrich in 1990 was a "comedy of errors" and "a bad mistake."

The book details Garber's career, including his work as an FBI supervisor in charge of the Wetterling investigation from 1989 to 1992.

While Garber does not identify Heinrich by name, the account matches details in documents made public when Heinrich was arrested last month.

Sketch of the suspect, compared with a 1990 photo of Heinrich.
(credit: U.S. Attorney's Office)

It was on Dec. 14, 1989, seven weeks after Wetterling's kidnapping, that the FBI announced they believed there had been another victim.

"These facts match up with Jacob's abduction," FBI Special Agent Jeff Jamal said in 1989.

That victim was 12-year-old Jared Scheierl. Nine months before Wetterling, Scheierl was abducted, sexually assaulted and let go in nearby Cold Spring.

Jared Scheierl
Jared Scheierl (credit: CBS)

Scheierel told us in 2014 that his abductor let him go after threatening him.

"I was dropped off and told to run," Scheierl said. "Don't look back or he would shoot."

At that same press conference in 1989, investigators unveiled a sketch that Scheierl had helped create -- which bears a striking resemblance to Heinrich. The FBI interviewed Heinrich for the first time two days later.

"We surveilled [Heinrich] for weeks without success," Garber wrote.

He adds that an FBI lab found that a fiber from Heinrich's car was similar to a fiber found on Scheierl's coat.

The book does not include evidence released last month that by January of 1990, the FBI had determined Heinrich's shoe print and a tire track were consistent with prints left at the Wetterling scene.

Shoe prints at the crime scene, compared with Heinrich's shoes
(credit: U.S. Attorney's Office)

"Finally we convinced the county attorney to charge the man with the Cold Spring (Scheierl's) kidnapping," Garber wrote. "This proved to be a bad mistake."
Heinrich was arrested on Feb. 9, 1990. Garber writes that what happened next was "a comedy of errors."

FBI profilers were flown into St. Cloud to help with Heinrich's interrogation. He was in the Minnesota National Guard at the time.

FBI profilers "placed a flag and special lights in the room, " but Heinrich "said he wanted a lawyer. That was the end of the interview."

Heinrich himself described the encounter in a WCCO undercover investigation in 1996.

"'We know it's you, it's you, it's you, it's you, it's you,'" Heinrich said. "'No it isn't, no it isn't, no it isn't,' until finally I said, 'I have nothing more to say until I speak to a lawyer.'"

The charges were dropped and Heinrich was released. Garber writes that the county attorney never wanted to charge Heinrich, and that the FBI did not tell the BCA that the charges were coming.

"The BCA agents and the county attorney were furious with us," Garber wrote.

Al Garber
Al Garber (credit: CBS)

We showed the book to criminal defense attorney Joe Tamburino.

"If you arrest too early you could do huge negative, it could be a detriment to your case," Tamburino said.

But Tamburino says infighting between agencies is common.

"That is something that still goes on today," Tamburino said.

Garber's book also describes the exhaustive hours he and investigators spent pursuing other suspects, and their anguish at not being able to get answers for the Wetterlings -- a frustration he voiced in a 1992 interview.

"We're disappointed obviously because we're not used to not succeeding," Garber wrote. "My belief is that we haven't talked to the right person. I believe that we just have not talked to the person who has the information."

WCCO reached Garber Tuesday night. He told us he wanted to wait to comment until he saw our story.

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