MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- There is a new development in one of Minnesota's most infamous unsolved crimes: the abduction of Jacob Wetterling.
A masked stranger grabbed the 11-year-old as he biked home from a store in St. Joseph nearly 25 years ago. Now, WCCO-TV has learned that a cluster of at least six unsolved sexual assaults on boys were never looked at as a possible lead in Wetterling's case.
Those attacks happened two years prior to Wetterling's kidnapping, just 30 miles away in Paynesville. They are now being investigated by the Stearns County Sheriff's Office.
This new development in Minnesota's most notorious kidnapping case begins in the most unlikely of places.
For four years, Joy Baker, a blogger from New London, has written a detailed blog about the Wetterling case. Last summer, her research uncovered articles in the Paynesville Press in 1986 and 1987. They detailed six unsolved sexual assaults on boys just two years before Wetterling's abduction.
WEB EXTRA: Read Joy Baker's Blog
"The police chief is asking for the public's help in finding this guy who has been assaulting 12-16 year old boys," Baker said of one article. "What went through my mind is that they have to be connected. How many psychopathic pedophiles can exist in a 20-mile radius?"
WCCO-TV asked Patty Wetterling if she had ever heard of the Paynesville cases and showed her two of the original police reports from the Paynesville attacks.
"We did not know about these cases until Joy Baker put it on her blog, and it was like, 'Wow,'" Patty Wetterling said.
Those reports, as well as the newspaper accounts, list a series of striking parallels with Jacob Wetterling's kidnapping. He was abducted at 9 p.m. as he rode his bike home from a convenience store with his brother and friend. The Paynesville attacks also all happened at night as the victims were heading home.
In two cases boys were attacked while riding bikes. They were sexually assaulted. The attacker sometimes wore a mask, which in one case was described as made from candy-striped, indoor-outdoor carpeting. He had a low, gruff voice and he threatened the boys with a knife or a gun, saying he would blow their heads off.
"Some of these were taken from a group of boys. That is really rare," Patty Wetterling said. "The threat of a gun, the age of the victims, they were close to Jacob's age. I do think there is a strong possibility they are connected to Jacob's case."
While two of the Paynesville victims were questioned by law enforcement after Jacob Wetterling disappeared, one Paynesville victim, who is now 40 and did not want to be named, told WCCO-TV he and other victims he knows were not, and that to this day they feel their cases both individually and as a group were overlooked.
Patty Wetterling said it's frustrating to learn so many years later about the Paynesville cases, but she is also understanding.
"It was a different world back then. We didn't have the Internet, we worked hard so that each law enforcement agency had a fax machine," she said.
Current Stearns County Sheriff John Sanner agreed the lack of Internet and the fact that small town law enforcement agencies often acted independently may have kept the Paynesville cases from becoming a significant part of the Jacob Wetterling investigation.
"We can't look back. We are actively investigating these cases now. We want anyone with any information to come forward no matter how small. You could hold the key," Sanner said.
Sanner stressed there is another unsolved case that investigators have always linked to the abduction. Just months before Jacob Wetterling disappeared, a stranger kidnapped a 12-year-old boy named Jared in nearby Cold Spring. Jared told WCCO-TV the threat his kidnapper left him with: "I was told to run, don't look back or he would shoot."
Jared is speaking out for the first time in years. On Thursday, hear why he's convinced the same man is behind all of these unsolved crimes against boys.
If you have any information about any of these cases, please call the Stearns County Sheriff at (320) 251-4240. You can also call the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-THE-LOST.
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