Jacob Wetterling was 11 when he went missing near his home in Minnesota, US, in October 1989. He was never found until Joy Baker started a blog and began investigating the case decades later
A blogger turned detective has revealed how she solved the 27-year-old cold case of a 11-year-old boy who was kidnapped and killed by a masked stranger.
Jacob Wetterling, along with his best friend and younger brother, went for a bike ride on the evening of October 22, 1989, to a video store which was just a mile away from their home in St. Joseph, Minnesota, US.
But on the way home Jacob was suddenly abducted by a masked stranger and never seen again – despite police arriving to the scene in less than six minutes.
The case captivated Minnesota as the local community rallied round to try and help parents, Patty and Jerry Wetterling, find their son.
But despite extensive searches and witness interviews the case remained open with police unable to find Jacob’s killer – until mum-of-two Joy Baker started to investigate.
The 56-year-old marketing consultant, from New London, Minnesota, remembered the case vividly as it shocked the community.
She told The Sun: “Everyone was shocked and horrified and everyone wanted to help… it is so hard to describe what our state was like at that time. Everything changed after Jacob.”
The amateur blogger drove out to St Joseph, the home of the abduction, on October 23, 2010 and sat in her car wondering where Jacob disappeared to.
She came back home and wrote a piece titled “Where are you Jacob” after all the memories of the case came flooding back to her.
Joy ended her blog post writing: “The truth is, I still hope for a happy ending to this story, as impossible as that may seem. Maybe if I pray hard enough, if I look hard enough, if I think about it long enough… maybe, just maybe…”
Little did Joy know she would spend nearly 13 years of her life trying to finding information on the whereabouts of Jacob.
She said: “I went bananas, took a deep dive and became obsessed. I believed in the power of blogging and the internet and interacting with people.”
Joy looked at old newspaper reports, archived police files, credible leads, and any evidence which had been submitted to officers in a bid to find the killer.
She would interact with other bloggers and exchange different theories and ideas.
However, she made a breakthrough when she met Jared Scheierl, a boy who had been abducted just ten miles away from Jacob’s home in January 1989.
Jared, now in his thirties, spent years wanting answers after he managed to escape the kidnapping and began digging through old newspaper articles.
A local article in 1987 caught their eye which reported a number of sexual attacks on young boys by a masked suspect in 1986-1897.
The attacks were all near Paynesville, which is thirty minutes away from where Jacob lived. It prompted Joy to track down victims thanks to Jared.
She revealed: “All these young kids now grown into young men were suddenly willing to talk, they wanted answers.”
The pair mapped all the incidents into the “Paynesville Assault Cluster” and the story went viral across social media and national television stations.
Dozens of tip-offs were given to police and Joy’s blog was paused as officers investigated the new evidence.
Daniel James Heinrich, 59, was named as a person of interest in October 2015 after DNA testing from the attack linked him to the case.
In September 2016, Heinrich confessed to the abduction, sexual assault and killing of Jacob after striking a plea not to be charged with his murder.
As part his plea, he revealed the location of Jacob’s remains which were found in a field in Paynesville – not far from his other heinous attacks.
He admitted federal child pornography charge but did not face charges in the killing.
Jacob’s mum, Patty Wetterling, told the court: “I want to say to Jacob, I am so sorry.
“It’s incredibly painful to know his last days, last hours, last minutes. Our hearts are hurting. For us, Jacob was alive until we found him.”
Joy had mixed emotions after helping to find Jacob’s killer – with her husband even wanting her to quit the search.
She revealed: “I would love to say I felt validated but I just felt guilty, I questioned what I had done and whether I had helped them – I questioned everything.”
“The closer I got to [the family], the harder it all became”.