When the Jacob Wetterling case was finally solved last year after almost three decades, it refocused the public’s attention and made people want to learn more about one of the most high-profile child abduction cases, not just in Minnesota history, but nationwide. The podcast In the Dark, from our colleagues at APM Reports, told the story — and mentioned a song that became an anthem of hope for Jacob’s friend and family.
Many musicians were drawn to write songs about what was going on. One of those musicians was a man named Douglas Wood, who lived near Jacob’s St. Joseph home.
When Jacob was abducted 27 years ago, Wood felt the same way many others in the area did: shocked that a young boy could be taken in such a small town, and scared for his own children. With two young boys of his own, Wood wrote the song “Jacob’s Hope,” out of empathy for Jacob and his family.
At the time there were dozens and dozens of songs written about Jacob, but “Jacob’s Hope” was one of the most popular of them all. The idea for the song first came to Wood shortly after the kidnapping; he was among the volunteers passing out flyers and was working to help spread the word about Jacob.
Jacob’s father Jerry “came in to thank everyone and said some very simple but very moving words, and I remember he used the phrase ‘Jacob’s hope,’” Wood remembered. “At that moment, as soon as he finished talking, I started hearing the song in my head: the lyrics and the music. I tried to stuff envelopes for five or ten minutes and then I had to excuse myself, because I was afraid if I didn’t go and do it right away then I’d lose it.”
At that time Wood was already an experienced musician with several albums to his credit, but none of his songs had ever been very widely heard, so he enlisted the help of other Minnesota musicians to help him arrange, record, and produce the song.
Once he had completed the song, Wood drove around to as many radio stations as he could to try and get the song on the air. After first being played on WCCO Radio, “Jacob’s Hope” started getting the attention of other radio stations and listeners nationwide.
“All of that happened because nobody was trying to make any money off of it,” said Wood. “Nobody was doing it for any personal gain. It was all out of feeling for Jacob and for the situation that he and his parents in the central Minnesota community were experiencing, so I think that’s why it all went so well.”
What was more rewarding to him was that, as a friend of the Wetterlings, Wood said he knew it brought comfort to Patty Wetterling, who would listen and sing the song to herself every time she traveled to advocate for her son and other missing children.
While the song was inspired by and written for Jacob, Wood also hoped it would inspire people to not only keep looking for other missing children like Jacob all over the country. That’s why he gave the song the subtitle “The Missing Children’s Song.”
Last fall, after almost three decades, the case finally come to a close when longtime suspect, Danny Heinrich, was finally sentenced to a maximum 20 year prison sentence after accepting a plea deal.
Nowadays, having recently published a children’s book and memoir along with more than 35 other books, Wood sees himself more as an author than a musician, but you can still find him performing in his group, Douglas Wood and the Wild Spirit Band. Looking back on the Wetterling case, Wood wishes that he didn’t have to have a reason to write the song — and that Jacob was still around today.
“I’m very glad [the case] was resolved and very glad that Patty and Jerry were at least finally able to know what happened, but very sad at the facts of what happened and the stupidity and inhumanity that one person has caused so much grief and so much pain for one particular family and many others who have shared that grief,” said Wood. “There is nothing happy, nothing good that you could say about it. There it no silver lining. It was an awful thing that one human being did to cause so much grief for so many other people.”
Simone Cazares is a sophomore at the University of St. Thomas, majoring in communication and journalism. Originally from Miami, Fla., she survives Minnesota’s cruel winters by immersing herself in the Twin Cities music scene.