Vince Bugliosi once shook his head, in effect, and commented on how absolutely simple the JFK assassination was. One unbalanced individual pulled off a notorious crime. Bugliosi has held this conclusion all along. Meanwhile he observes the industry that has produced reams of conspiratorial and speculative stuff.
In the case of Jacob Wetterling, it's not so much a conspiracy that sprouted - instead the wheels of law enforcement churned for years, eating up what I presume to be a considerable amount of precious (and limited) investigative resources.
Something like 50,000 leads had to be catalogued. The outrageousness of most of those leads would appear self-evident. Because, we learn that in the end, as with the JFK assassination, it was one weird and dangerous individual who was accountable 100 percent. He was a suspect from early-on. He slithered away to escape charges while Post Office patrons all over Minnesota had to look at that poster with drawings of possible suspects: "We MUST FIND these men." The drawings seemed like generic men. We might bump into dudes like that at McDonald's on any given morning. Did anyone think those drawings would result in anything? I'm sure people got paid well for producing and distributing this material. The caption for one of the men was "bold, authoritative nature." Reminds me of schoolteachers I had.
The FBI was doing interviews many years after the abduction of the child. A friend of mine has a friend who had to deal with this. Most notoriously, a person I knew at St. Cloud State University was made an official "person of interest." This is a perfect example of how the state can swoop in and disturb anyone's life. The state must be vigilant not to do this, or it may have some of its precious power removed.
Dan Rassier might have been a little clumsy in how he dealt with the investigation's glare. Did the state develop suspicions about him because he was an adult living with his parents? Let's observe here that extended-generation families are far more common today than 30 years ago. In that earlier time, a stigma loomed. The trend toward families sticking together is much commented upon. They can share resources. A middle-age child is a tremendous asset for aging parents.
Obvious as this is, many people are still inclined to disapprove, though these voices seem less strident. Seems Rassier had some press clippings in his possession about the Wetterling abduction. Using this as a basis for suspicion is simply overreach or hallucination. One minute, Rassier is living a peaceful and responsible life, and then, because of the actions of a single psychopathic individual, his life changes and becomes unpleasant.
Think if the Wetterling abduction happened in your neighborhood. And let's say you live an unconventional lifestyle like Rassier. Then the perp is eventually identified after so many years pass. Think you'll get an apology?
Page is turned
We were greeted a few days ago by headlines proclaiming that the Wetterling mystery was solved. Our collective jaw dropped. Many of us were prepared to assume that the picture of that smiling boy would hover out there forever, symbol of a mysterious tragedy. Then the headlines leap off the newspaper page at us.
A sense of relief? A part of us reacted that way, most assuredly. It's over. The perp is known and he will now be punished? Except that he won't, because he is not being charged with Jacob's murder. He is going to be put away because of unrelated offenses. He at least will be in possession of his life, which is more than Jacob was allowed.
In the days that have passed, I think our feelings have morphed. Relief or exhilaration has been replaced by depression and despair. The perpetrator was allowed to strike a deal that left him satisfied in some respects. If what he wanted was a feeling of power, he certainly got it. It was just like the power he leveraged vs. Jacob. His power at the end was his power of knowledge. He was the only one with the power of knowledge of what happened to Jacob.
Psychopaths relish power. He used that power to influence prosecutors to strike a deal that would spare him murder charges, even though he committed the most heinous murder imaginable.
The Wetterling family wanted closure. Their wishes weighed in I'm sure. But is this the type of closure we find satisfactory? The stage got set for the criminal to tell his whole ugly story. Then it was on the pages of the Star Tribune, making our stomach turn as we digested the details. Did we really have to know all the details? Was Heinrich thumping his chest, figuratively speaking, as he got to reveal the whole story? Was he deliberately torturing us? He succeeded.
All I needed to know is that Heinrich was responsible for the abduction and murder. Then let's close the book. Were the Wetterlings simply determined to bury Jacob's remains? This might seem understandable. I would disagree, on the basis that once a person is dead, the disposal of the physical remains doesn't matter much if at all. I'm not sure it was worth it, striking the deal and empowering Heinrich because of the knowledge he possessed, just to recover Jacob's remains.
There is something permanently haunting us about the Wetterling episode. We can never gain the kind of closure that could seem truly satisfying. So in the end it was just one psychopathic man, acting on a sudden sick impulse to do the most horrific things, and for the next 27 years he could avoid taking responsibility, never mind he appears to have been a prime suspect from the get-go.
Law enforcement wheels kept turning over those 27 years, as if some answer might emerge that didn't involve Heinrich. The drawings of those two dudes at the Post Office. The extensive interviews. The application of limited law enforcement resources that might have been applied in other ways. And in the end, it was just one guy. One guy who turned our lives upside down on a single fateful evening in St. Joseph MN.
The current news coverage casts a pall, IMHO.
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - firstname.lastname@example.org