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JOHNNY GOSCH - 12 yo (1982) - DesMoines IA

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JOHNNY GOSCH - 12 yo (1982) - DesMoines IA Empty JOHNNY GOSCH - 12 yo (1982) - DesMoines IA

Post by mom_in_il Wed Sep 05, 2012 4:14 pm

Thirty years after missing child Johnny Gosch vanished, volunteers relive case
Two young cousins missing from Evansdale cause old memories to resurface

12:58 AM, Sep 4, 2012
Written by Emily Schettler

A group of old friends recently returned to the ground that connected them — the corner of 42nd Street and Marcourt Lane in West Des Moines where 12-year-old Johnny Gosch was last seen before he disappeared on a quiet Sunday morning 30 years ago.

Many in the group did not know each other before the boy went missing, and they lost touch with each other in the decades since. But for two years following Johnny’s disappearance on Sept. 5, 1982, they worked tirelessly to find the boy and bring him home to his family in West Des Monies.

For those who followed that case, news of the recent disappearance of two Iowa cousins was unsettling.

Both cases involved children doing the activities children are supposed to do without worry: Gosch was delivering newspapers around his neighborhood. Lyric Cook-Morrissey, 10, and Elizabeth Collins, now 9, who vanished from Evansdale on July 13, were riding their bicycles on a summer afternoon.

Both investigations have yielded few clues as to what happened to the youngsters or where they might now be.

“I think everybody could grasp the intensity of this; they just didn’t realize that it could go on like this,” said Ron Sampson, a former newspaper editor and publisher who served as president of the Johnny Gosch Foundation after the boy’s disappearance. “That’s the unbelievable part. It’s been 30 years, and we still haven’t got our first clue.”

Both the Gosch case and now that of the missing Iowa cousins brought out hundreds of volunteers to search through backyards and nearby wooded areas.

Bob Duitch, who worked with Johnny’s mother, Noreen, at the time the boy disappeared, heard what had happened from a family friend.

“I searched just south of here at the railroad tracks and through the fields,” Duitch said last week, pointing south toward Ashworth Road.

Thirty years ago, the Gosch case gripped the local community and the state, just as the case of the missing Iowa cousins is now doing.

“Possibly another reason I feel deeply about your son John is because we are Iowa people,” one woman wrote in a letter to John and Noreen Gosch 30 years ago. “We all read about the many youngsters that were kidnapped but we feel responsible for our own state. We feel John belongs to all of us in Iowa, sort of like one big family.”

Sampson republished a portion of the letter in the Ankeny Press-Citizen.

Gosch left his home early on Sept. 5 like he did each morning with his wagon, paper bag and miniature Dachshund, Gretchen, to pick up The Des Moines Register newspapers to deliver.

Gretchen returned home alone, and John and Noreen began receiving phone calls from neighbors wondering why they hadn’t received their morning newspapers.

Noreen said she has pieced together what happened next from five local witnesses who saw Johnny kidnapped by at least two men in a blue car.

The abduction was a well thought-out, orchestrated crime, Noreen Gosch said.

It’s not the type of crime that happens in Iowa.

“There were kidnappings but it was never kids, at least not that we’d seen in our lives,” Sampson said. “We were all raised watching ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ and ‘Leave it to Beaver,’ and these things didn’t even occur to us.

“That was the most bothersome thing was that this kind of stole our innocence from us,” he said.

Sampson watched closely as the case unfolded, but it wasn’t until a reader called him some months later that he felt compelled to reach out to the Gosch family personally.

He went to his first Friday meeting about six months after Johnny’s disappearance, intending to interview the family and write one story.

“I guess you could say I was hooked,” Sampson said. “I got so involved mentally — I suppose emotionally, too — that I just started going every Friday night and seeing if there was something new. Every Friday you thought there won’t be a meeting next Friday, because this will be solved.”

Child kidnappings are often tragedies that have a far-reaching impact. Friends, neighbors and strangers alike feel compelled to help in whatever ways they can, because the grief families feel seems so unimaginable.

“We gave of our time, gas money, groceries, whatever we could, because they needed it,” Spero Davis, the Gosches’ former neighbor, said.

Davis, Sampson and others looked to their own families for motivation to keep searching.

“I would come home at night, and everything with my family would be normal,” said Sampson, who had two young sons at the time. “Nothing about (the Gosches’ lives) was normal, and it never would be until Johnny came home.”

In Evansdale, a northeastern Iowa town of 4,500, it’s estimated that more than 1,200 people turned out to search for Lyric and Elizabeth in the days immediately following their disappearance. Concerned friends drove from as far away as Kearney, Neb., and Kansas City, Mo., to hang up posters bearing photos of the girls.

More than seven weeks later, Linda Wachal still gets daily requests for fliers, T-shirts and bracelets at her graphic design and screen printing company in Evansdale, Creative Impact.

“People who are going on vacation want to take fliers along to hang up,” she said. “They want T-shirts that they can wear to spread awareness. That’s really the priority now, keeping the awareness going.”

The Johnny Gosch Foundation grew to as many as 125 volunteers at one point, Noreen Gosch said. Members met to discuss the latest news in the case and what fundraisers they could do to bring in money. Volunteers sold candy bars door-to-door to help pay for a private investigator and print fliers. They hosted a concert at the Val Air Ballroom and had a horse race sponsored at a friend’s racetrack in Moline, Ill.

Sampson often accompanied John Gosch to investigate new leads that came into the family, including following a psychic out into a blizzard at 3 a.m. and to an adult bookstore where someone said he had seen Johnny’s photo in a magazine. That one, like many other tips, turned out to be cruel jokes.

“You can’t not do it,” Sampson said of following up on even the faintest of leads. “If you’re going to do this thing, you have to follow it all the way through.”

There were lighter moments as well, such as when Noreen wanted to conduct a canine search. Dallas Davis, Spero’s wife, showed up at her house with a German Shepherd and a Chihuahua.

“There were moments that brought a little humor, and gosh, we needed it,” Noreen said. “It was so sad.”

Noreen Gosch and Dallas Davis spent many evenings crisscrossing Iowa, giving speeches and raising awareness about Johnny’s case.

Some of those talks drew up to 1,500 people, Noreen Gosch said.

They joke now that Noreen might have been the only gig in town, but it doesn’t take away from the message she delivered: Watch your children and teach them to stay away from strangers.

“We went on our trips to different towns and we’d be laughing all the way there and all the way back home,” Dallas Davis said. “You had to laugh. You’d go crazy if you didn’t.”

The intense search for Johnny lasted about six years, and the time that followed that was the most difficult, Noreen Gosch said.

“When the leads die off, that’s when it requires a lot of patience, a lot of prayer, just to keep going day to day,” she said. “When it’s so dead, you think ‘Gee I wonder if he’s dead. I wonder if he’s still alive.’ ”

West Des Moines police over the years have said they don’t know what happened to Johnny Gosch. The FBI stopped looking. No suspects were ever arrested.

Two years after Gosch’s disappearance, another Iowa paperboy, Eugene Martin, vanished.

Thirty years without answers about what happened to your child can take a toll on anyone, Noreen Gosch said. She and John divorced a few years after Johnny disappeared.

John Gosch has moved out of state. Messages left for him were not returned.

Noreen Gosch often finds herself wondering what Johnny would be doing right now if he were still here. Would he be married with children? What would he do for a living?

“For us, the clock stopped at 12 years old. There was no more,” she said. “I feel very badly that so much of his life has been taken from him.”

Noreen Gosch used the awareness and publicity Johnny’s case received to help pass new legislation for missing children cases. Specifically, she helped change Iowa code to prevent law enforcement agencies from waiting a certain length of time before declaring a child missing and starting their investigation, and another that left it up to the discretion of the parents when a missing child would be declared dead.

She also worked on federal legislation for sexually abused children known as the Children’s Bill of Rights and on how missing children could be claimed on tax forms.

“To know I was a part of something so much greater than myself is a legacy that will be left in Johnny’s name forever. That was very important to me that that take place,” Noreen said. “You do something even if it doesn’t benefit your immediate child. You do it for innocent children that are still out there.”

Now, she’s helping Elizabeth Collins’ family and other advocates with ideas for new legislative changes brought about by the Evansdale disappearance.

“Now there’s a need for new legislation and more changes,” Noreen said. “Each time there’s a missing child, there are parents that jump in and do something and pay it forward to the next generation or next group of kids that are taken.”

The disappearances of Johnny Gosch, Eugene Martin, Lyric Cook-Morrissey and Elizabeth Collins have had a profound impact not only on family members, but on their communities and those close to the cases as well.

As a newspaper publisher, Sampson saw the impact immediately in parents no longer allowing their children to run their own paper routes.

He still calls both of his sons and his parents every day, just to check in.

Evansdale business owner Travis Scott no longer allows his youngsters to walk around town or to the library unsupervised.

He watches them from the shop door until they reach the other building, Scott said. When they’re ready to walk back, they’re supposed to call first.

“There’s no more walking down to the convenience store for a pop anymore,” he said. “People just don’t let their kids do that.”

Looking back on the past three decades is difficult, but Noreen Gosch takes comfort in some of the changes she’s been able to champion since Johnny disappeared.

She sees it in the response on the Evansdale case by local, state and federal authorities and in the attention the girls’ disappearance has garnered.

“Thirty years ago, we didn’t have that,” she said. “There was no network media flocking in with their big equipment and all that publicity. I know that the overall view is that their two daughters are missing and gone and it’s very painful, but there’s so much to be thankful for.

“Everybody knows who Lyric and Elizabeth are,” Noreen Gosch said. “That just shows the progress that’s been made by one set of parents after another. There’s a bunch of us.”

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JOHNNY GOSCH - 12 yo (1982) - DesMoines IA Empty Re: JOHNNY GOSCH - 12 yo (1982) - DesMoines IA

Post by ladibug Tue Jun 10, 2014 1:41 pm

The Original Missing Boy on the Milk Carton
The unsolved cold case of Johnny Gosch, a 12-year-old paperboy who vanished in 1982, and a mother's enduring obsession

Author: Elizabeth Kulze
Posted: 06/06/14 08:59 EDT

In the early morning of Sept. 5, 1982, Johnny Gosch, a 12-year-old paperboy, left home for his morning delivery route and never returned. He had been pulling a red wagon because the paper was particularly heavy that day, with his dachshund, Gretchen, at his side. The wagon was later discovered abandoned in the grass flanking a street in his West Des Moines, Iowa, neighborhood, and his dog found its way home alone. Two years later, Johnny became one of the first missing children to be featured on the side of a milk carton.

The 31-year-old cold case is the subject of a new documentary, Who Took Johnny, which tells the story of through the eyes of Johnny’s mother, Noreen Gosch. Through interviews and archival footage of news segments, the film chronicles Noreen’s struggles with an incompetent local police department and the media as she fought aggressively to find her son. She was characterized as exhausting and relentless by her critics, but her headstrong efforts served to initiate major changes in how law enforcement and the government handle missing children and abduction cases, and for the first time, brought to light the gruesome reality of child sex trafficking on American soil.

The morning of their son’s disappearance, Noreen and Johnny’s father, John, initially became alarmed after the neighbors called to say that they had never received their paper, which was unusual for the boy who always won the “perfect service” award. After John searched the neighborhood and found his son’s deserted wagon full of Des Moines Register Sunday editions, he immediately called the police. And though the station was only 10 blocks away, it took them 45 minutes to arrive, according to Noreen’s account—the first in a series of missteps that may have severely undermined efforts to recover her son.

A local Iowa dairy is believed to have come up with the idea to put missing children's faces on milk cartons, one of the first being Johnny's.

Compared with how missing children’s cases are handled today, 1982 was a different time. The country had virtually no national infrastructure to aid in the search of missing children, like Amber Alerts or the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which the Goschs later helped launch. At the time, police protocol in the state of Iowa required that officers wait a full 72 hours before investigating an abduction case, though we now know that the first three hours of such cases are the most critical. It was also an era when words like “pedophile” and “sex trafficking” weren’t part of the public lexicon—they were considered too unmentionable to name. A desperate mother like Noreen was left with two choices: sit back helplessly and wait for her kid to magically return, or take matters into her own hands.

“It was difficult to get up and put one foot in front of the other,” Noreen says in a phone call from her home in Des Moines. “But I knew I had to do it. I knew no one else was looking for him, and I knew that if I didn’t keep moving forward that no one would remember him today.”

Noreen butted heads with the local police force many times during their investigation, mainly because they didn’t do much investigating at all. From the start, the department categorized him as a runaway, a common knee-jerk reaction to children who suddenly vanish, which also provided convenient pretext for an inadequate investigation. They chose to disregard multiple witnesses who reported seeing Johnny speaking to a stocky man in a blue, two-toned Ford Fairlane. And they ignored yet another account of a witness who claimed he saw Johnny being followed by a man who eventually incapacitated him and tossed him into the same car. Noreen was also denied any assistance from the FBI, after the police chief decided he could find no evidence of a crime.

“I was stunned. I couldn’t believe this was happening in America,” Noreen says. “Their decisions cost a family one of their children.”

Noreen eventually hired private investigators and worked multiple jobs to help pay for their services. She was dedicated, leaving the porch light on every night in case he came home, and sending President Reagan a flier with Johnny’s face on it every day for two years. She personally vetted each tip she received. “That was the difference between them and me,” she says. “I left no stone unturned. You don’t take chances on your loved one’s life.”

In time, Noreen and the detectives turned up some disturbing clues about Johnny’s disappearance, the most significant of which was the confession of a 24-year-old convicted sex-offender named Paul Bonnacio, who admitted to helping kidnap Johnny for the purpose of child prostitution. He corroborated his statements with specific details about a birthmark and scars on Johnny’s body, and claimed he had also been a victim of the trafficking group and had been manipulated into becoming an accessory.

“I couldn’t believe it when I first heard it, but I had to accept that it was not only real, but organized,” Noreen says. “My son’s kidnapping was planned. They knew who they were coming after.”

Ultimately, the lead went nowhere because the police refused to interview Bonnacio, who suffered from multiple personality disorder, which in their eyes discredited him as a witness. The general public also found his story hard to believe. After a rash of highly publicized kidnappings, including those of Etan Patz (‘79), Adam Walsh (‘81), Kevin White (’84), Jacob Wetterling (’89) and Eugene Martin (’84), another Des Moines paperboy, most parents were hesitant to face a rationale as horrific as pedophilia. “People were scared,” says Noreen. “People were becoming painfully aware that people were taking other people’s children, and they weren’t taking them to Disneyland.”

Johnny’s case remains unsolved, but the prevailing theory, which his mother believes, is that he was sold into a pedophilic prostitution ring based out of Omaha. In 2006, she received an email with several photos depicting a young boy resembling Johnny bound and gagged on a bed. She remains convinced that it’s her son, but the FBI and her ex-husband believe otherwise. This kind of organized child sex trafficking was relatively unheard of at the time but has since become a mounting national crisis. Earlier this month, Congress passed five separate pieces of legislation to help curtail it.

The good news is that more missing children are being returned to their homes than ever before, thanks to the efforts of Noreen and the parents of other children who were never found. Since its inception in 1984 the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has assisted law enforcement in the rescue of nearly 200,000 minors, and increased their recovery rate to 97 percent, up from 62 percent in 1990. That was the year Noreen was able to pass the Johnny Gosch Bill in Iowa, common sense legislation she wrote at her kitchen table that requires law enforcement to begin their investigations immediately, instead of 72 hours after children are reported missing. Eight other states have since adopted the law.

She also speaks around the country through her work with the Johnny Gosch Foundation, discussing the issues families typically avoid at the dinner table, like what to look for in a garden-variety pedophile. And though she has surrendered herself to the fact that her own child may never live under her roof again (she insists that he is still alive), she has no plans to end her crusade. “I continue to work on this issue, and I will as long as I am able because there are always new victims,” Noreen says.

Acting as a sort of godmother, she will continue to council the families of the missing and abducted, like the parents of 8-year-old Elizabeth Collins and her 10-year-old cousin, who went missing in Iowa in the summer of 2012. She advises them as to the best plan of action (who to call, who to trust, what questions to ask), but she also teaches them how to survive as the days pass and their children’s bedrooms remain hauntingly empty.

“I tell them that I never considered myself to be a victim. My son was the victim,” she says. “Many parents I’ve met over the years fall into being a victim. And yes, you have a terrible heartache to bear, but now, more than ever, you need to remain strong. You need to be capable of doing as much as you can to find your child.

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