ST. CLOUD, Minn. - As the first deputy to respond on October 22, 1989, the Jacob Wetterling case has come full circle for Stearns County Chief Deputy Bruce Bechtold, who was named lead Wetterling investigator earlier this year.
“It’s pretty surreal,” Bechtold said.
When authorities made Danny Heinrich's name public last year, Bechtold says they were hoping for a tip that would bring them to Jacob. Or give them some evidence to charge him with murder.
But he believes Heinrich kept the crime secret this whole time.
Bechtold, like everyone else, is disturbed by what Heinrich has admitted doing to the 11-year-old boy.
“That's the bogeyman. The monster your parents warned you about growing up,” Bechtold said.
And Bechtold understands how, now, having answers doesn't make many people feel better.
“I think people relate it to their own children and own child. And think how horrific it would be for Jacob,” Bechtold said.
But he agrees that striking a deal with Heinrich to bring Jacob home was the best possible outcome.
He was there for the final search for Jacob.
“And while we were doing the initial small digs, one of the BCA lab people saw a piece of red fabric sticking out of the ground. And upon further excavation, we discovered that was the main body of the red hockey jacket Jacob had been wearing,” Bechtold said.
A surreal moment -- Bechtold said -- as they searched meticulously by hand.
Underneath the jacket were bones that turned out to be animal bones. Two days later, they found Jacob’s remains about 10-15 feet away.
And now the biggest case his department ever worked is over. 27 years after it began, he reflects with modesty.
“I would think everyone around here would say it's not about us,” Bechtold said.
Bechtold said no major questions remain for him. He believes Heinrich told the truth in his awful recounting of the crime.
As for the farm where they found Jacob. Bechtold said he doesn't think it's ever been searched before. He said they never had any reason to.