What bothers me more about the Wetterling case aren't the details themselves, as horrific as they are. What bothers me more is how one man, Danny Heinrich, did so much to fundamentally alter the childhoods of millions of Americans. I wrote about this briefly yesterday, but it deserves amplification. I was born fifteen years before Jacob Wetterling. I grew up in Appleton, Wisconsin, a town that's about the same size as St. Cloud. The Wetterlings lived outside of St. Cloud, in a somewhat rural area. The landscape Jacob Wetterling knew wasn't much different than what we saw growing up in Wisconsin. When I was young, I didn't have to worry about my safety, as long as I was careful and didn't take stupid chances.
We did worry about monsters, though. It would have been about 1970 or so when the kid rumor mill went nuts in Appleton about an evil guy named Biggie Rat.
|Biggie Rat, wearing his cape, with an assortment of the local citizenry|
He hung out mostly on the east side of town and apparently spent a lot of time in the cemeteries. He wore a cape and carried a sword. He supposedly was a big fan of satanic rituals and the stories we would hear and share on the St. Therese playgrounds made him into a figure of great fear. I was in the second grade at the time and we heard the wildest things about him. He'd killed people. He would take you to the cemetery and do horrible things to you. He had supernatural powers. We also heard he had a nemesis named Biggie Cat, who was coming to get Biggie Rat.
I was genuinely terrified of this guy. Looking back, the whole thing was ridiculous. Biggie Rat was just a guy who was looking for attention. In the end, he was harmless. But there was a real monster in Appleton at that time, although we didn't know it yet. And we'll come back to that.