The Disappearance of Martha Lambert


Martha Lambert’s brothers had previously run away from their St. Augustine, Florida, home, and when she was reported missing on November 27, 1985, many thought the twelve-year-old had done the same.

The home was often more like hell for the Lambert children. They had a great relationship with their mother, but their father was an abusive alcoholic. Neighbors recall frequent and loud fighting between Margaret and Howard Lambert. Howard was over 40 years older than his wife, and his ire often extended to his children, who had been placed in foster care on several occasions because of abuse. Each time they were returned home, and each time the brothers ran away. With Martha, it was a different story.

Police initially concurred that Martha had voluntarily left home but soon came to a different conclusion. Margaret believes her daughter was the victim of random killing by an unknown person. Investigators think she was killed by someone from her own troubled home.

Neighbors recall Martha as a friendly and polite child. But, she was more often than not dirty, frequently appearing to go several days without bathing.

Friends recall Martha being excited after school let out on Wednesday, November 27, the beginning of the extended Thanksgiving weekend. She went to a friend’s home, where she stayed until approximately 7:30 p.m. then returned home for supper. What happened afterward is still not known.

When Martha failed to return home by bedtime, Margaret grew concerned. After searching all night without success, she reported her daughter missing at 3:00 a.m. the morning of November 28. Police, however, also had no luck as they found few clues in their search for Martha.

When police questioned the Lambert family, Martha’s brother David, one year older than she, gave conflicting accounts regarding the last time he had seen his sister. He initially claimed Martha had left home after dinner without saying where she was going and that he saw her walking toward State Road 207. Later, however, he claimed to have seen her get into a black vehicle. Police could not find such a car.

Martha’s disappearance remained cold for 15 years before David Lambert was once again on center stage.

David grew from a troubled youth into a troubled adult. After being arrested for writing a bad check-in 2000, the 29-year-old dropped a bombshell. Saying he needed to get it off his conscience, David said he had accidentally killed Martha and buried her not far from the Lambert home in a Coquina Mine known as “The Pitts.” Authorities searched the mine but did not find Martha’s body. David was not charged with any crime.

Nine years later, in September 2009, David again said he accidentally killed his sister, this time claiming Martha’s death occurred as they were playing on the grounds of the abandoned Florida Memorial College near their home. David said Martha attacked him after he refused to give her money and that, in response, he punched and pushed her. According to David, Martha fell backward during the scuffle, hitting her head on a piece of metal, and died. He said he panicked after no one answered his cries and buried his sister’s body on the former college grounds. He said he did not tell anyone what occurred because he feared his father would have killed him.

Cadaver dogs searched the site where David said he buried Martha. Authorities say the dogs showed a “change in behavior” when sniffing the grounds where Florida Memorial College once stood. However, in the 24 years since Martha’s disappearance, the original buildings had been razed and replaced with several new structures. No trace of Martha’s remains were found, and if David’s claims of burying her there are true, they likely never will.

Police believe David’s accounts of accidentally killing his sister. Still, prosecutors declined to charge him because Martha’s body had not been recovered, and the statute of limitations for manslaughter crimes had expired.

David later recanted both of his confessions, saying he was led into them by police interrogators and that he only told authorities what they wanted to hear.

Margaret Lambert does not believe David killed Martha, saying her son is mentally incompetent, has suffered from lifelong emotional problems, and often makes up or sensationalizes stories to get attention. She still believes a stranger abducted Martha.

Martha Jean Lambert has been missing for 35 years. At the time of her disappearance, she was 12-years-old, stood 4’0 feet tall, and weighed approximately 70 pounds. She had blonde hair, blue eyes, and her upper front teeth protruded slightly. She has birthmarks on the front of her right thigh and on her upper left chest. Martha would today be 46-years-old.

If you have any information on the disappearance of Martha Lambert, please contact St. Johns, Florida, County Sheriff’s Office at 904-824-8304.

Further Reading:
Charley Project
Doe Network


THIS LIST OF LINKS IS NOT AN ALL-ENCOMPASSING SOURCE CITING. ALL OF THE INFORMATION USED IN THIS ARTICLE CAN BE EASILY FOUND ONLINE. LINKS BELOW WERE USED AS SOURCES AND ARE RECOMMENDED READING FOR SYNOVA’S READERS. SYNOVA STRIVES TO CITE ALL THE SOURCES USED DURING HER CASE STUDY, BUT OCCASIONALLY A SOURCE MAY BE MISSED BY MISTAKE. IT IS NOT INTENTIONAL, AND NO COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT IS INTENDED.


Each week Synova & her team of guest bloggers highlight an obscure cold case. Synova works directly with the victims’ families to give them a voice and to generate leads for law enforcement. The potential viewership currently sits at 500,000!

Help Synova’s team reach a million people with these cold cases. Together we can solve some of these cases.

As a way of saying “Thank You” when you sign up for Synova’s true crime newsletter, you will get her Grim Justice eBook as a free gift! Please help us reach out to more people in our search for truth.

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The Missing Ballerina – Jennifer Casper Ross

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-6afxp-1043c4d

Jennifer Casper-Ross had achieved every little girl’s dream of becoming a professional ballerina. At the age of 19, she was the youngest to ever audition for the Greg Thompson Productions. Eleven years later she would disappear completely without a trace. What happened to this beautiful dancer?

Read Synova’s Blog Post Here:

https://mytruecrimestories.com/2018/11/15/missing-ballerina-the-jennifer-casper-ross-disappearance/

Get Synova’s Book Shattered Here:

https://www.amazon.com/Shattered-Behind-Every-Story-Synovas/dp/1703143213/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=shattered%3A+behind+every+story+is+a+shattered+life&qid=1621733310&sr=8-1

Follow Hootie’s Social Club Here:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCtF9CGDw0zQQyjicH4sLPGA

 

Murder of Dexter Stefonek

David Stefonek enjoyed the autumn and early winter of 1985, chiefly because his father was finally enjoying life again. Sixty-seven-year-old Dexter Stefonek had traveled from Wisconsin to spend a few months with David and his family in Oregon. Dexter was relishing the time with his grandchildren, and it brought joy to David to finally see a smile return to his father’s face.

Dexter had been despondent for much of the past year as his wife Vivian’s health deteriorated. Her death occurring on Christmas day of 1984 was particularly hard.

David wanted his father to stay with him through the end of winter, or at least through the Christmas season. Dexter, as much as he had enjoyed his extended stay in Oregon, however, wanted to get back home. Against David’s wishes, Dexter began the drive from Oregon to Wisconsin in the early morning hours of November 18.

The winter of 1985 was a particularly cold one across the northern United States. Dexter’s drive encompassed going through six frigid states; he did not make it out of the third state.

Three weeks after leaving Oregon, Dexter Stefonek was found shot to death in eastern Montana. Over thirty-five years later, his murder is one of the coldest cases from one of America’s coldest states.

The distance between Corbett, Oregon, and Rhinelander, Wisconsin, was nearly 2,000 miles. Dexter, anxious to get back home, told David he planned to pull into rest areas when he got tired instead of staying in motels.

Located off Interstate 94, 20 miles from the town of Glendive, the Bad Route Rest Area in southeastern Montana is approximately 30 miles from the North Dakota border.

When Fred Siegle, the rest area’s custodian, arrived for work at 8:30 a.m. on November 19, he noticed an unoccupied pick-up truck parked at the facility. Fifteen minutes later, Clyde Mitchell, a highway maintenance supervisor, stopped at the rest area and also saw the truck. He remembered it as a white four-wheel-drive Chevy with blue trim and a cowcatcher on the front. He noticed numerous clothes and bedding in the back. Clyde recalled the vehicle having Arizona license plates.

Other than employee vehicles, the Chevy was the only car at the Bad Route Rest Area. The seldom-used rest stop was a sprawling area with room for at least a dozen freight trucks and a few dozen cars. Fred and Clyde thought it was strange that the Chevy was parked far from the bathrooms on a frigid day.

Clyde left the Bad Route Rest Area to complete his rounds. Fifteen minutes later, as Fred was leaving the rest stop, he saw a brown Plymouth Horizon pull into the parking lot. The driver got out, carrying two large plastic containers. Fred believed they were milk jugs. He said the car’s driver was at least six feet tall, between 35-40 years old, with light skin, and wearing a parka.

Half an hour later, Dawson County Sheriff received a call about a car fire at the Bad Route Rest Area. When he arrived at the scene shortly after 10:00 a.m., the inside of the vehicle was engulfed in flames.

Police found that the car to be Dexter’s Plymouth, and it was determined to be the same car seen earlier by Fred and Clyde. However, it was clear that Dexter was not the man who drove the car to the rest stop. Fred described a much younger and taller driver. An examination of the charred vehicle supported the latter description. The driver’s seat was pushed all the way back, indicating a man likely at least six feet tall had been driving. Dexter was only 5’5.

An arson expert determined that gasoline had recently been put into the car, not to fill it up but to set it on fire.

A little over twenty-four hours had passed since Dexter left Oregon when his burning car was found nearly 1100 miles away near Glendive, Montana. Dexter was last seen filling his car with gas the day before in Park City, Montana, 220 miles southwest of The Bad Area Rest Stop.

Deputies searched the area but found no trace of Dexter.

Four months later, in February of 1986, Bill and Cindy Shaw made a routine run to dump garbage at a landfill 17 miles northwest of the Bad Route Rest Area where Dexter’s car had been found ablaze. Cindy was an artist and often found materials to use in her artwork at the landfill. On this day, she found something much worse.

Cindy found a wallet on the ground. Inside was Dexter’s driver’s license and a substantial amount of money. As Bill and Cindy searched the landfill, they found several scattered items of clothing and a suitcase that also contained money.

Upon further search of the landfill, Bill discovered something more horrifying. When he picked up a boot, he was shocked to see a man’s foot sticking out from beneath a mattress.

It was Dexter. He had been beaten and shot twice in the head. There were bruises on his hands, throat, and the front part of his skull.

The suitcase and clothing items found at the Shaws at the landfill were identified as Dexter’s. They were still in good condition, appearing to have been recently discarded. The Shaws did not see any of those items when they had been to the landfill the previous week.

After completing the autopsy, however, the Dawson County Coroner believed Dexter’s body had probably been at the dumpsite from the time his car was found burning when it was discovered.

One week later, graffiti written in pencil was found on the wall in the men’s restroom at the Bad Route Rest Area. The note read, “HOT JOCK SHOT WAD FROM WISCONSIN 11/85 SATURDAY THE 3rd”.

Police believed the graffiti is a reference to Dexter’s murder. “HOT JOCK” may be a trucker’s CB handle, and the “WISCONSIN” is Dexter’s home state. The “SATURDAY THE 3rd” is not clear. November 3, 1985, was a Sunday and was two weeks before Dexter was last seen.

It was never determined who wrote the graffiti.

The man seen parking Dexter’s Plymouth at the Bad Route Rest Stop is suspected of murdering him. He is believed to have been 35-40 years old in 1985, making him in his late 60s to early 70s today. He is described as at least six feet tall with a light complexion. In November of 1985, he was clean-shaven.

The suspect’s vehicle was a white Chevy 4 x 4 truck with a Hawaiian blue horizontal stripe on its side. It had a white camper shell top and a cattle guard on the front bumper.

Clyde Mitchell saw that the truck had Arizona license plates with a Phoenix plate holder. Under hypnosis, he recalled the first three numbers of the license plate as 147. Investigators found 279 vehicles in Arizona with those numbers. They narrowed the possibilities to 60 plates with the numerical beginning of 147 but could not link any of them to Dexter’s murder.

Over thirty-five years after meeting a brutal end in the brutally cold Montana winter, Dexter Stefonek’s murder remains unsolved. The murder is a cold case, literally and figuratively, as investigators said they have received few clues in recent years.

If you have believe you have any information on the murder of Dexter Stefonek, please contact the Dawson County Montana Sheriff’s Department at (406) 377-5291.

Further Reading:
Billings Gazette
Eau Claire Leader
Green Bay Press-Gazette
Unsolved Mysteries

THIS LIST OF LINKS IS NOT AN ALL-ENCOMPASSING SOURCE CITING. ALL OF THE INFORMATION USED IN THIS ARTICLE CAN BE EASILY FOUND ONLINE. LINKS BELOW WERE USED AS SOURCES AND ARE RECOMMENDED READING FOR SYNOVA’S READERS. SYNOVA STRIVES TO CITE ALL THE SOURCES USED DURING HER CASE STUDY, BUT OCCASIONALLY A SOURCE MAY BE MISSED BY MISTAKE. IT IS NOT INTENTIONAL, AND NO COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT IS INTENDED.


Each week Synova & her team of guestbloggers highlight an obscure cold case. Synova works directly with the victims’ families to give them a voice and to generate leads for law enforcement. The potential viewership currently sits at 500,000!

Help Synova’s team reach a million people with these cold cases. Together we can solve some of these cases.

As a way of saying “Thank You” when you sign up for Synova’s true crime newsletter, you will get her Grim Justice eBook as a free gift! Please help us reach out to more people in our search for truth.

SIGN UP HERE


Order Your Copy Today!

Deep in the heart of Dixie lies a hidden evil. It’s tentacles stretch from state to state, from county to county. The Dixie Mafia has produced infamous outlaws, bank robbers, and murderers. The story contains tidbits from each of their lives and even includes the story of a famous sheriff, but this book is not about them.

Silenced by the Dixie Mafia is about a big sister who has fought for answers for over five decades. It’s about a father who was an ex-alcoholic turned into a gambling addict. A father’s decisions would lead to the death of his disabled son and eventually lead to his own demise. Now left alone to find answers and make sense of the chaos is a brave little southern belle named Phyllis.

Tying back to the ambush of Sheriff Buford Pusser on August 12, 1967, this story will change history as we know it. The world knew nothing about the Dixie Mafia until the murders of Judge Vincent Sherry and his wife Margaret in 1987. This public assassination brought this band of ruthless criminals into view, but the truth was still hidden until the death of the Andersons.

Order Your Book Here

The Strange Death of Janice Wilhelm

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-x8fww-1038747

One suspicious suicide in a small town may not be unusual, but five deaths within a square mile of each other? Within a year an oil boom hits Centerville, Texas and the deaths are all swept under the rug. While a handful of people get rich, the family members of the victims are left with nothing but questions.

 

Synova’s new book Black Gold Runs Blood Red in Texas covers a series of suspicious deaths in a rural Texas county. Could all of these deaths be a series of unfortunate coincidences? 

 

Janice Wilhelm was found dead by a gunshot to the neck when she was disabled and couldn’t use that arm. Her father Morris Robeson died by a gunshot to the back of the head when he had a neck injury and couldn’t shave his own face. The only man to question and try to investigate Morris’ suicide ends up taking his own life in a bizarre way. Is there a conspiracy over oil rights in this community?

 

Synova’s book will be available for preorder on June 1, 2021.

 

Check out www.synovaink.com today and follow Hootie on Youtube under Hootie’s Social Club

A String of Murder – The Death of Rena & Danny Paquette

Lying on the Merrimack River in south-central New Hampshire, the town of Hookset is between Concord, the Granite State’s capital, and Manchester, its largest city. With a population of approximately 14,000, the community views itself as a quintessential New England town.

Hookset is home to Robie’s Country Store, a National Historic Landmark, and a venue frequented by presidential candidates during New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary. While Robie’s Country Store is Hookset’s claim to fame, the fortunes of the Paquette family are its claim to infamy.
In 1964, 13-year-old Danny Paquette found his mother burned to death in a suspicious fire. Rena Paquette’s death was ruled a suicide, but many believed she had been murdered.

Over twenty-one years later, on November 9, 1985, Danny Paquette was shot to death only a few blocks from where he had found his mother. Despite over two decades between the incidents, residents believed the deaths were related. It was ultimately proven they were not. One of the Paquette deaths has been solved, but the other remains shrouded in mystery.

Two brutal murders occurred in Hookset during the 1960s when the town’s population totaled only 2,500 people.

On February 1, 1960, 18-year-old Sandra Valade disappeared after leaving a YMCA swimming class in Manchester. Nine days later, her body was found in a snowbank. She had been sexually assaulted and shot.

On January 12, 1964, fourteen-year-old Pamela Mason responded to a newspaper ad asking for a babysitter. The following day, she was picked up at her home by the person who had placed the ad. Her remains were found eight days later in a ditch along what is now Interstate 93 near Manchester. She had been beaten, stabbed four times, and shot twice in the head.

Authorities believed the same person had killed the two young women and that he was someone local.

Rena Paquette, a 54-year-old housewife, told friends and family she believed she knew who had murdered the girls. She also believed one of them had been killed in the barn on the Paquette family farm. She told the police of her suspicions, but they deemed her claims uncredible.

When Danny Paquette, Rena’s youngest child and the only one still living at home, awoke on February 3, 1964, he was surprised to find no sign of his mother. As his father, Arthur, was away on a business trip, Danny called his uncle Charlie, a Manchester policeman.

Charlie had not seen or heard from his sister. It was a cold morning, and he became alarmed when he arrived at the home and found Rena’s winter clothing accessories still in the house.

Danny and Charlie had searched for over an hour before Danny noticed smoke coming from the barn, one mile from the family home. Inside the barn where Rena had told police one of the girls had been murdered, her son found her lifeless body.

Rena had mental issues; she would likely today be diagnosed as suffering from depression. The police ruled her death a suicide, concluding she had set herself on fire and then crawled into the barn to die.

The Paquette family did not share the police sentiments, chiefly because no flammable substances or containers were near the barn’s vicinity. They were certain Rena had been murdered, possibly by the same person who killed Sandra Valade and Pamela Mason.

In January 1966, 11 weeks after Rena’s death, 28-year-old local delivery man Ed Coolidge was arrested for the murder of Pamela Mason. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

Coolidge’s conviction, however, was overturned in 1971 when the Supreme Court claimed the evidence was illegally obtained. He then pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and received a reduced sentence. Coolidge was never formally charged with the murder of Sandra Valade.

Coolidge was the person Rena Paquette believed had murdered the teenage girls. He was cleared of any involvement in Rena’s death, which remained ruled a suicide.

After serving 25 years as a “model prisoner,” Ed Coolidge was paroled in 1991.

All of Rena’s children were devastated by her death, but it was the most traumatic for Danny as he was tormented by the experience of finding his mother’s burned body.

Danny grew from a troubled teen into an even more troubled adult. He married and had children but was devastated when he lost custody of them after his wife Denise divorced him in 1981.

Shortly after the divorce was finalized that summer, Danny went to Denise’s home, demanding to see his children. After he tried to beat down the door, she called the police, and Danny was arrested.

Danny was sent to a psychiatric hospital to undergo hypnosis to help alleviate his anger. The session, however, resulted in a shocking allegation.

Under hypnosis, Danny said that shortly after waking up on the morning of February 3, 1964, the day over twenty years earlier when he would find his mom dead, he had seen her arguing with a delivery man. He then said he briefly returned to bed before awakening again to an empty house.

In a subsequent session, Danny claimed the man he saw was Ed Coolidge and that he had threatened to kill Danny’s mother.

After the revelations, police re-examined their investigation into Rena Paquette’s death.

They again found no evidence linking Coolidge to the incident and stood by the suicide ruling.

Danny Paquette was released from the psychiatric hospital after five months. By mid-1985, he had remarried, and his mental state had improved.

On November 9, 1985, Danny was repairing a bulldozer at his home while his friend Kevin Cote worked in the garage. At around 11:00 a.m., Kevin heard a loud pop. When he went outside, he found Danny lying on the ground. Paramedics quickly arrived but pronounced Danny dead at the scene.

Kevin initially believed Danny had been electrocuted, but an autopsy found he had been shot in the heart. Phone service had stopped when Danny was shot, and authorities pulled the fatal bullet from the telephone cable.

As it was the first day of hunting season, police suspected Danny had been accidentally shot by men hunting in a local gravel pit, approximately one mile away. Ballistics experts, however, determined such a shot was impossible. They concluded the shot was fired deliberately from close range, a finding supported by two sets of footprints found near the crime scene. After shooting Danny, the culprit had fled into the woods.

Many Hookset residents believed Danny’s murder was related to his mother’s death over 21 years before.

Rena Paquette’s body was exhumed in 1991.

New Hampshire State Medical Examiner Roger Fossum found the burn patterns on her body inconsistent with self-immobilization patterns. He believed Rena might have been stabbed or suffocated in another location and then moved to the barn.

Dr. Fossum changed the cause of Rena Paquette’s death from “suicide” to “undetermined.” It has, however, been determined that Danny’s murder was not related to his mom’s death.

In 2005, 20 years after the murder of Danny Paquette, Eric Windhurst was charged with the crime.

Windhurst was dating a high school friend of Danny’s. At the time of the 1985 murder, he was dating Danny’s 17-year-old stepdaughter Melanie Cooper.

The couple was questioned after Danny’s death. They said they were attending a field hockey game at the time of the murder. Twenty years later, however, Cooper admitted she was with Windhurst when he killed Danny because, she claimed, her stepfather was sexually abusing her.

After his arrest, Windhurst’s relatives told police it had been an “open secret” among the family that he had committed the murder.

Melanie Cooper was sentenced to fifteen months in prison for hindering the investigation into her stepfather’s murder. Eric Windhurst pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to fifteen to thirty-six years in jail.

Melanie Cooper was released from prison in 2008.

Eric Windhorst has recently gained his freedom, having been released in October 2020.

Some sources say Danny did sexually abuse Melanie, but others say he didn’t. We may never know, and he was never formally charged with the crime.

SOURCES:
• Boston. com
• Boston Globe
• Dailymail. Com
• Unsolved Mysteries


THIS LIST OF LINKS IS NOT AN ALL-ENCOMPASSING SOURCE CITING. ALL OF THE INFORMATION USED IN THIS ARTICLE CAN BE EASILY FOUND ONLINE. LINKS BELOW WERE USED AS SOURCES AND ARE RECOMMENDED READING FOR SYNOVA’S READERS. SYNOVA STRIVES TO CITE ALL THE SOURCES USED DURING HER CASE STUDY, BUT OCCASIONALLY A SOURCE MAY BE MISSED BY MISTAKE. IT IS NOT INTENTIONAL, AND NO COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT IS INTENDED.


Each week Synova & her team of guestbloggers highlight an obscure cold case. Synova works directly with the victims’ families to give them a voice and to generate leads for law enforcement. The potential viewership currently sits at 500,000!

Help Synova’s team reach a million people with these cold cases. Together we can solve some of these cases.

As a way of saying “Thank You” when you sign up for Synova’s true crime newsletter, you will get her Grim Justice eBook as a free gift! Please help us reach out to more people in our search for truth.

SIGN UP HERE


Order Your Copy Today!

Deep in the heart of Dixie lies a hidden evil. It’s tentacles stretch from state to state, from county to county. The Dixie Mafia has produced infamous outlaws, bank robbers, and murderers. The story contains tidbits from each of their lives and even includes the story of a famous sheriff, but this book is not about them.

Silenced by the Dixie Mafia is about a big sister who has fought for answers for over five decades. It’s about a father who was an ex-alcoholic turned into a gambling addict. A father’s decisions would lead to the death of his disabled son and eventually lead to his own demise. Now left alone to find answers and make sense of the chaos is a brave little southern belle named Phyllis.

Tying back to the ambush of Sheriff Buford Pusser on August 12, 1967, this story will change history as we know it. The world knew nothing about the Dixie Mafia until the murders of Judge Vincent Sherry and his wife Margaret in 1987. This public assassination brought this band of ruthless criminals into view, but the truth was still hidden until the death of the Andersons.

Order Your Book Here


The Chosen One – The Horrific Kidnapping & Murder of Jacob Wetterling



According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, approximately 800,000 children go missing each year, but 97% are returned unharmed within a few days. The vast majority either run away or are abducted by a relative, generally the non-custodial parent; most of the rest are taken by someone they know.

Every once in a while, though, there is a rare and sensational exception. The kidnapping of 11-year-old Jacob Wetterling was one of the oddest on record; the FBI could find no similar abduction in its files, past or present.
For over 27 years, the abduction of Wetterling was one of America’s most infamous kidnappings, and the clues to his fate were few and far between. Jacob Wetterling‘s kidnapping may have been unique, but of the 3% who do not return within a few days, the end result is all too common.

On the evening of October 22, 1989, 11-year-old Aaron Larson stayed overnight at Jacob’s home. It was a Sunday, but because of a teacher’s conference the following day, the boys would not have to go to school and could stay up later than usual.

Shortly after 9:00 p.m., Jacob called his parents, Jerry and Patty, who were attending a dinner party. He asked if he, Aaron, and Jacob’s 10-year-old brother, Trevor, could ride their bikes to the nearby Tom Thumb convenience store to rent a video. The store was only one mile from the Wetterling home.

After a bit of pleading, Jacob convinced his dad to let them go to the store. The boys left home shortly after 9:00 p.m. It was dark, but they all had lights on their bicycles.

Jerry told the boys to be careful and to watch out for cars. The thought of a lurking kidnapper never crossed his mind.

The boys arrived at the store, purchased a video, and headed back to the Wetterling home.

Halfway there, a masked man jumped out in front of them and ordered the boys off their bicycles. The boys laughed, believing it was an early Halloween gag: Aaron even said something to the effect that Halloween was still over a week away. But when the man repeated his instructions, this time brandishing a gun, the chuckles instantly turned to fear.

The masked man ordered the three boys to toss their bikes to the side of the road and lie face down. He then asked each boy his age, and each boy answered. The man ordered Trevor to run into the woods, saying he would be shot if he looked back. The gunman then ordered Aaron and Jacob to turn over; when they complied, he looked at each boy. He then ordered Aaron to run from the scene. Aaron caught up with Trevor, and when the two no longer heard voices, they looked back and saw nothing but darkness. The masked man, and Jacob, were gone.

With their hearts pounding and still in shock over what had occurred, Aaron and Trevor ran to the Wetterling home and summoned neighbor Merlyn Jerzak who called 911. Police arrived within minutes and immediately mounted a search, confident they would find the culprit and Jacob would be home that evening. They were wrong on both counts.

Despite the prompt action of police and the extensive national publicity, the kidnapper was not identified, and Jacob never came home.

As the days passed, police received thousands of tips of possible sightings of Jacob from across America, Canada, and even overseas. None, however, checked out.

Even as the years grew into two decades and then a quarter of a century, Jacob’s kidnapping continued to be periodically profiled on crime shows and news magazines. Despite the continued publicity and the offer of a $200,000 reward, few substantive leads surfaced in the case.

In May 2014, investigators announced they believed Jacob’s 1989 kidnapping was related to the sexual assaults of five teenage boys, which had occurred southwest of St. Joseph in 1986 and ’87. The assaults occurred in and around Cold Spring and Paynesville, 11 and 28 miles, respectively, from St. Joseph.

All of the boys, like Jacob, were kidnapped from the roadside. All of the others, however, were taken in daylight. All were sexually molested and, unlike Jacob, were then released. No arrests were made, and no suspects were publicly named.

One of the Cold Spring’s victims, twelve-year-old Jared Scheierl, had been abducted and sexually assaulted in January of 1989, seven months before Jacob’s kidnapping.

It was not until October 2015 that DNA from his sexual assault was found to match that of Danny Heinrich, a lifelong area resident living in Paynesville at the time of the attack.

Heinrich was interviewed by investigators in December 1989, two months after Jacob’s kidnapping, and again several months later. He bore a strong resemblance to the composite made based on Jared’s description of his attacker. Police, however, could find no evidence linking him to the crime, and Jared did not pick him out of a photo lineup.

Heinrich’s DNA was taken, but it would be nearly 27 years before the technology advanced enough to produce a match to that found on Jared Scheierl.

Heinrich could not be charged with the sexual assault of Jared Scheierl because the statute limitations for the crime had expired. When they searched his home, police found thousands of images of child pornography involving young boys on his computer. Heinrich was arrested on October 28, 2015, and charged with multiple counts of possession of child pornography.

Because of the similarities between Jared and Jacob’s cases, Heinrich was also officially named as a person of interest in the 1989 kidnapping of Jacob Wetterling. With the federal pornography charges certain to imprison him for the rest of his life, Danny Heinrich decided it was time to come clean.

In August 2016, the imprisoned Heinrich, through his attorney, told authorities he was the man in the mask from that October evening of nearly 27 years ago. He agreed to lead them to Jacob’s remains in exchange for a reduced sentence.

On September 1, 2016, Heinrich led investigators to some farmland near Paynesville, approximately 30 miles from where Jacob was abducted. After an hour of digging, Jacob’s clothing was found.

Human remains were discovered a short time later. On September 3, dental records confirmed the remains were Jacob’s.

Under the terms of the agreement, for revealing the location of Jacob’s remains, Heinrich, plead guilty to only one of the 25 federal child pornography charges. He had to testify in court about the sexual assault of Jared Scheierl and give the details of Jacob’s kidnapping and murder but would not be charged with either crime.

In a soft, somber tone far from the demanding and thundering tone of 1989, Danny Heinrich described in chilling detail how he ended Jacob Wetterling’s life.

Heinrich testified that he drove Jacob to a remote location near Paynesville, where he handcuffed and sexually molested him. Afterward, he uncuffed Jacob and told him to get dressed. As Jacob was doing so, Heinrich said he was crying, “What did I do wrong?” and begging, “Please take me home.”

Heinrich claimed he told Jacob he would take him home and planned to let him go, but the sirens of a police car racing to the kidnapping scene caused him to panic. Instead of releasing Jacob, as he had done with his other victims, Heinrich shot him in the back of the head and buried him at the locale near a gravel pit.

A year later, Heinrich says he returned to the site and found that Jacob’s jacket had risen to the surface, becoming visible. He then moved the remains and reburied them on the farmland where they would be found.

In accordance with the plea agreement, Danny Heinrich was sentenced to the maximum prison term of 20 years for the child pornography charge. He will be eligible for parole after 17 years, in 2033, when he will be 70 years old.

State authorities may seek Heinrich’s civil commitment as a sexual predator at the end of his federal prison term, which could prevent him from ever going free. Should he ever be released from prison, he will be required to register as a sexual offender for the rest of his life.

Investigators say they are certain Jacob is the only person Heinrich murdered.

Four months after Jacob’s abduction, his parents, Jerry and Patty Wetterling formed the Jacob Wetterling Foundation, an advocacy group for children’s safety. In 1994, the federal Jacob Wetterling Act was passed. It was the first law to institute a state sex-offender registry.

Patty Wetterling ran for the congressional seat of Minnesota’s sixth district in 2004 and 2006 but was defeated both times. She is the current chair of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.


THIS LIST OF LINKS IS NOT AN ALL-ENCOMPASSING SOURCE CITING. ALL OF THE INFORMATION USED IN THIS ARTICLE CAN BE EASILY FOUND ONLINE. LINKS BELOW WERE USED AS SOURCES AND ARE RECOMMENDED READING FOR SYNOVA’S READERS. SYNOVA STRIVES TO CITE ALL THE SOURCES USED DURING HER CASE STUDY, BUT OCCASIONALLY A SOURCE MAY BE MISSED BY MISTAKE. IT IS NOT INTENTIONAL, AND NO COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT IS INTENDED.


Further Info:
• ABC News
• Fox News
The Hunt with John Walsh
Minnesota Daily
Minnesota Star Tribune
NBC News


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Deep in the heart of Dixie lies a hidden evil. It’s tentacles stretch from state to state, from county to county. The Dixie Mafia has produced infamous outlaws, bank robbers, and murderers. The story contains tidbits from each of their lives and even includes the story of a famous sheriff, but this book is not about them.

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