One of my new favorite podcasts is The Strange Recital. It is, well, a strange recital of odd tales in audio podcast form, but I hasten to add, the stories and interviews are always of the highest literary quality.
One of Minnesota’s most memorable missing person cases touched my life, if only very peripherally. Eleven-year-old Jacob Wetterling was abducted in 1989 from St. Joseph, Minnesota, only forty miles from my hometown of Annandale, Minnesota. I was eighteen at the time, and I remember the news roiled with coverage. Bizarre theories developed, including one that pointed the finger back at Jacob’s father as the culprit.
Everyone wanted to know: Where is Jacob Wetterling?
At the time, I worked as campus security officer while attending Saint Cloud State University, which was only ten miles from where Jacob was taken. We adjusted our patrols to include state-owned quarries and the dark, far reaches of campus, to locate Jacob. We knew two things even then: it was highly unlikely we would find Jacob, and—even if we did—it was highly unlikely we would find him alive.
Fast forward to October 18, 2015. My dad and I drove from St. Paul to Annandale for a pancake breakfast fundraiser at Pioneer Park on Highway 55. We strolled around town, checking out the old house and main street. As we stood at the corner of Myrtle Avenue and Spruce Drive, just two blocks from where I attended high school, there were two things my dad and I didn’t know: 1). My dad’s life soon would be upended by dementia, and 2). We were standing in front of the house where Jacob Wetterling’s killer lived.
Danny Heinrich was arrested at his home at 55 Myrtle Avenue in Annandale, Minnesota just ten days later on October 28, 2015. DNA evidence had tied him to the 1989 abduction and assault of a boy from Cold Spring, Minnesota.
Although Heinrich later admitted to abducting, raping, and murdering Jacob Wetterling—he led investigators Jacob’s grave in Paynesville—he was not charged for that crime, nor will he ever be tried for it, thanks to a generous plea deal. He also can’t be tried for the abduction and sexual assault of the other boy, because the statute of limitations have expired.
The only crime for which Daniel Heinrich was convicted resulted from the discovery of child pornography in his Annandale home.
As of this writing in 2021, Heinrich is in a medium-security federal medical center in Ayer, Massachusetts (FMC-Devens) with about 800 hundred other prisoners with medical and/or mental health issues. The male inmates range from white-collar criminals to mobsters to sex offenders, like Heinrich. FMC-Devens has hosted the likes of the Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, mobster John Gambino, Bernie Madoff’s brother, and dick-picster Anthony Weiner.
What’s life like now for Danny Heinrich?
He’s allowed six visits a month, and (during non-pandemic conditions, at least) he’s allowed physical contact with visitors: a hug, a handshake, a pat on the back. He can receive mail. He can receive money. He receives counseling and treatment for his sex-offender “problem”. He can attend religious services. He can take adult continuing-education classes and has access to an electronic library where they can read up on case law and sentencing guidelines.
He can breathe, eat, watch television, and hang out with other pedophiles. He can play floor hockey, basketball, and soccer. He can make his own greeting cards in the hobby craft room. He can practice an instrument in the music-practice room.
Last year (2020), the ACLU petitioned the Federal Bureau of Prisons to release vulnerable inmates who pose little public risk, because of concerns over COVID-19 rates among the incarcerated. U.S. Representative Lori Trahan echoed this sentiment in January 2021.
Danny Heinrich must be salivating at the thought of potentially being released early, a tantalus of viral infection and do-gooder political showboating waving another free pass under his nose. Too bad, Danny: so close, yet so far.
Meanwhile, he still is serving his 20-year sentence. His scheduled release date is November 9, 2032. He will be seventy years old when he gets out of FMC-Devens when Jacob Wetterling would have been fifty-four years-old.
In 2032, Jacob may have been a father, maybe even a grandfather. He would have had a career. He would have had Christmases, Thanksgivings, ball games, first dates, a first love, first kiss, first car.
But a stranger, Danny Heinrich, Register Number: 18854-041, took life away from a scared boy in the woods next to a gravel pit in central Minnesota.
Heinrich damn sure doesn’t want to get sent back to Minnesota, because he likely would be committed to the state’s sex offender treatment program, which is essentially a life sentence.
We call it closure to know where Jacob’s body was hidden and to learn the gruesome details of his final moments of life.
In the latest episode of the Boxflap podcast, we have fun with the dystopian classic 1984 and chuckle at the “canceling” of six Dr. Seuss books.
We laugh, because otherwise we would cry.
What’s the connection, funny or otherwise, between Dr. Seuss and George Orwell’s classic 1984?
Dr. Seuss books are getting memory-holed!
In the latest episode of Boxflap (Dr. Seuss and 1984), I included a Seussian-styled poem that just might curl the tips of your pointy shoes!
In the dystopian novel 1984, the main character (Winston Smith) works for the Ministry of Truth. Essentially his job is to change recorded history and news stories to align with current political thinking. He “memory-holes” the undesirable truths to replace them with approved truths, meaning the less desirable thoughts are erased in hopes they are forgotten.
Beyond Dr. Seuss, there are many living voices being cancelled right now. They are being labeled as racist, dangerous misinformation, transphobic, or pigeon-holed and marginalized in some other way.
These labels are just fancy ways of saying, “I don’t agree with that opinion” or even “the government doesn’t agree with that opinion”.
The problem with that approach is that if we don’t protect free speech for all, then there is no free speech. Just as if we don’t protect the rights of all individuals, then there can be no “greater good”.
As an author, I believe in free speech, whether I agree with the speech or not. Speech is a fundamental right for any civilized society. In fact, it is not an American issue. Freedom of speech is a basic human right.
This is not about a political party or “left versus right”. This is only about rights versus the alternative, which is Not Right.
And let me be clear, when I say WE need to protect basic human rights, I am talking about YOU and ME. I am not referring to government. We should not – we cannot – entrust the guardianship of basic human rights to an exterior agency. We must acknowledge our own responsibility and duty in this regard.
If you’re familiar with satire, you’ll know that it plays an important role in using laughter to draw attention to important issues. And I gotta tell ya, we need A LOT of satire-driven laughter right now, because there are many “games afoot” to coin a phrase from Sherlock Holmes. In these games, you and I are not meant to win. That’s why we have a lot of laughs on Boxflap. For now.
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