Posted on: June 30, 2016

Johnny Gosch was a 12-year-old newspaper boy, who – like our own Genette Tate here in Britain 4 years previously – disappeared whilst out on his round.  What looks at first like a tragic, but all too depressingly familiar case of child abduction though, has had a very strange aftermath.  All I can say about this case is that it’s an extremely odd one, with bizarre claims and counter-claims galore.  I apologise in advance for how confusing this case is.  It’s one of those that – the more you look into it – the more bewildering it gets.

Just before dawn on 5 September 1982, Johnny set off to do his round in the suburb of West Des Moines, Iowa.  Normally he would awaken his father, John, who could come and help him, but on this day he set off accompanied only by the family’s pet dachshund, Gretchen.  According to one website I saw Johnny had asked his parents the night before if he could do the round on his own.  They had refused, so he had sneaked off without waking them.

He collected his stache of papers at the collection point, along with the other paper-carriers.  A neighbour said he saw Johnny from his bedroom window, talking to a stocky man in a two-toned blue Ford Fairlane (a very classic American-looking car), which had Nebraska plates.  He couldn’t make out what they were talking about from where he was.  Johnny told another paper-boy that the man had stopped him to ask for directions, and that something about the man disturbed him.

Johnny’s parents were alerted that something was wrong when they began to get telephone calls from disgruntled neighbours, complaining that their papers hadn’t been delivered.  At 6 AM (have also seen this noted as 7 AM) John Gosch did a search of the neighbourhood, and found his son’s abandoned paper cart a couple of blocks away.  The family called the police, who finally turned up to take the report 45 minutes later.  It would be 72 hours before Mr and Mrs Gosch were allowed to report him as officially missing.  This apparently was standard procedure at the time.  There has been much criticism of the police handling of this case.  They seemed reluctant to treat it as an abduction case, and wanted to regard Johnny as a runaway (which, when looking at the details of the case, is frankly absurd).  They seemed to stick to this even when witnesses spoke of seeing a car screeching it’s tyres as it made a quick getaway.  And one witness said she had seen an unknown man taking Johnny’s picture outside his school a couple of weeks earlier.


Over the next few years police investigations, private detectives assisting the family, Johnny’s mother’s own exhaustive efforts, and Johnny’s face appearing on milk cartons, all failed to uncover any trace of the boy.  And then in 1997 things were to take a very curious turn indeed.  Johnny’s mother, Noreen, (now divorced from her husband), claimed she was awoken at 2:30 AM one night in March that year by a knock on her apartment door.  Outside was Johnny, now aged 27.  He was wearing jeans, shirt and a coat, and had shoulder-length hair, dyed black.  Noreen said she recognised him immediately, although Johnny opened his shirt to disclose a birthmark on his chest, to prove that it was him.  Johnny was accompanied by another man, who was a stranger to Noreen.

Mother and son chatted for an hour-and-a-half, but the other man was present the whole time.  Noreen said Johnny would keep looking across to him, as though waiting for approval for him to speak.  “He didn’t say where he was living, or where he was going”, said Noreen.  They left before daybreak, and that was the last she was to see of her son.

(I’ve also seen another version of this strange visit, in which Johnny came alone, and claimed he was on the run from his abductors, and that he couldn’t reveal where he was living).

Whatever the truth of the matter, sadly this was to be no joyful reunion, with Johnny safely home again.  A few more years passed.  Noreen self-published a book explaining what she believed had happened to her son, and started up a website.   Over the years she has also campaigned about the law’s mishandling of missing children cases, and to raise awareness of high-level paedophile rings involving the CIA, the military, and politicians in Washington (all this should sound distressingly familiar to many Brits).

Then, in September 2006, some disturbing photographs were left at her front door, showing boys bound and gagged.  One photograph showed the 12-year-old Johnny with his feet and hands bound, and a human brand on his shoulder (it was later claimed that Noreen had photo-shopped this image).  A few days later, on 13 September, an anonymous letter was sent to the Des Moines police claiming that the photographs were a vile practical joke, and that the boys in the photographs were 3 Tampa, Florida boys, who had taken the pictures during an “escape contest” a couple of years earlier.

There is also the strange tale of a woman who claimed she was approached by a boy in the car-park of a convenience store in Oklahoma, about 6 months after Johnny’s disappearance.  She said the boy screamed “I’m Johnny Gosch, I’ve been kidnapped!” before being bundled away by two men.  The woman notified the police of this odd incident after seeing Johnny’s photo on TV.  The FBI later confirmed that they believed this had been Johnny.  At another time a dollar bill was handed to the Gosch’s, with the words “I am alive. Johnny Gosch” written on it in his handwriting.  About a month after the disappearance Noreen had received a phone call from a boy who said “please help me, please help me, I can’t get away”.  She said his voice had sounded slurred.  She asked him where he was, but the boy hung up.  Noreen believes this to have been her son.

There are cases of other missing paperboys in this area, including that of 13-year-old Eugene Wade Martin in 1984.  Authorities said they were unable to prove a link between the two cases, but Noreen said that she had been warned of the abduction a few weeks previously, by a private investigator, Sam Soda, whom she had hired to look for her son.  The police though said they had never been able to trace Sam Soda, and they didn’t believe he had ever existed, that Noreen had made him up.   Eugene has never been found. He was normally accompanied by his step-mother on his rounds, but like Johnny, on this day he was alone.


And then we have the weird case of Paul Bonacci, who was arrested for prostitution in Nebraska in 1989.  On being questioned by the police Bonacci said he had been part of a child sex-ring.  He made wild claims that this ring had supplied children to the White House.  Not only that, but the ring was run by bankers, the Franklin Credit Union, who were already being investigated by police for embezzlement, and using male prostitutes.  Lawrence E King of the Franklin Credit Union was subsequently jailed for embezzling $38 million.  Bonacci said that as he got older his abductors lost interest in him for sex purposes, and instead he had to become an abductor himself.  One of his victims was Johnny Gosch.  The police though said that Bonacci was an unreliable witness, so much so that they hadn’t been able to use any of his evidence against the Franklin Credit Union.  They also doubted he had been in Iowa at the time of Johnny Gosch’s disappearance.


Where Johnny is now is completely unknown.  He would now be in his 40s.  One message-board I saw said that he had escaped his captors many years ago, and was now living anonymously.  Even his own mother doesn’t know where he is.  Unless he turns up alive and well one day (here’s hoping), and tells us exactly what happened to him, this case will continue to be lost in the murk.




A very bizarre case – I presume the reason why the mystery man turned up at 2.30 am with “Johnny” was to stop any of the neighbours seeing what was happening, and possibly calling the police?

I just watched the documentary about this case and it was incredibly disturbing. I can’t imagine spending 34 years not really knowing what has happened to your child. Just heartbreaking.

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