|Born||John David Gosch
November 12, 1969
|Disappeared||September 5, 1982 (aged 12)|
|Status||Missing for 31 years, 10 months and 17 days|
|Home town||West Des Moines, Iowa|
|Parents||John & Noreen Gosch|
John David "Johnny" Gosch (born November 12, 1969) was a 12-year-old paperboy in West Des Moines, Iowa, when he disappeared on September 5, 1982 and was presumed kidnapped. His case and the subsequent publicity played an important part in the growing public awareness of missing children cases in the 1980s.
His mother, Noreen Gosch, maintains that Johnny Gosch escaped from his captors and visited her in 1997, but now fears for his life and lives under an assumed identity. Gosch's father, John, divorced from Noreen since 1993, has publicly stated that he was not sure whether or not such a visit actually occurred. Authorities have not located Gosch or confirmed Ms. Gosch's account, and his fate continues to be the subject of speculation, conspiracy theories, and dispute.
The case received publicity in 2006 when his mother claimed to have found photographs depicting Gosch in captivity on her doorstep. The photos were later shown to be not of her son.
On Sunday, September 5, 1982, in the suburb of West Des Moines, Johnny Gosch left home before dawn to begin his paper route. Though it was customary for Johnny to awaken his father to help with the route, the boy took only the family's dachshund, Gretchen, with him that morning. Other paper carriers for The Des Moines Register would later report having seen Gosch at the paper drop, picking up his newspapers. It was the last sighting of Johnny Gosch that can be corroborated by multiple witnesses.
A neighbor named Mike reported that he observed Gosch talking to a stocky man in a blue two-toned Ford Fairlane with Nebraska plates; Mike didn't know what was discussed because he was observing from his bedroom window. As Gosch headed home, Mike noticed another man following Gosch.
John and Noreen Gosch, Johnny's parents, began receiving phone calls from customers along their son's route, complaining of undelivered papers. John Gosch performed a cursory search of the neighborhood around 6 a.m. He immediately found Johnny's wagon full of newspapers two blocks from their home.
The Gosches immediately contacted the West Des Moines police department, and reported Johnny's disappearance. Noreen Gosch, in her public statements and her book Why Johnny Can't Come Home, has been critical of what she perceives as a slow reaction time from authorities, and of the then-current policy that Gosch could not be classified as a missing person until 72 hours had passed. By her estimation, the police did not arrive to take her report for a full 45 minutes.
Over the years, several private investigators have assisted the Gosches with the search for their son. Among them are Jim Rothstein, a retired New York City police detective; and Ted Gunderson, a retired chief of the Los Angeles FBI branch.
In 1984, Gosch's photograph appeared alongside that of Juanita Rafaela Estavez on milk cartons across America; they were the second abducted children to have their plights publicized in this way. The first was Etan Patz.[dubious ]
Noreen Gosch's claims
According to Noreen Gosch's account, she was awakened around 2:30 a.m. one morning in March 1997 by a knock at her apartment door. Waiting outside was Johnny Gosch, now 27, accompanied by a man she had never seen before. Gosch said she immediately recognized her son, who opened his shirt to reveal a birthmark on his chest. "We talked about an hour or an hour and a half. He was with another man, but I have no idea who the person was. Johnny would look over to the other person for approval to speak," says Ms. Gosch. "He didn't say where he is living or where he was going." Noreen's claims have not been seen as credible by her ex-husband or by law enforcement.
In a 2005 interview, Ms. Gosch said, “The night that he came here, he was wearing jeans and a shirt and had a coat on because it was March. It was cold and his hair was long, it was shoulder-length and it was straight and dyed black.” After the visit, she had the FBI create a picture she says looked like Johnny.
Noreen Gosch self-published a book in 2000 titled, Why Johnny Can't Come Home. The book presents her understanding of what her son went through, based on the original research of various private investigators and her son's visit.
On September 1, 2006, Noreen reported that she found photographs left at her front door, some of which she posted on her website. One color photo shows three boys bound and gagged. She claims that a black-and-white photo appears to show 12-year-old Johnny Gosch with his mouth gagged, his hands and feet tied, and an apparent human brand on his shoulder. A third photo shows a man, possibly dead, who may have something tied around his neck. Ms. Gosch alleged the man was one of the "perpetrators who molested [my] son".
Ms. Gosch later said the first two photos had originated on a website.
On September 13, an anonymous letter was mailed to Des Moines police.
Someone has played a reprehensible joke on a grieving mother. The photo in question is not one of her son but of three boys in Tampa, Florida about 1979-80, challenging each other to an escape contest. There was an investigation concerning that picture, made by the Hillsborough County (FL) Sheriff's Office. No charges were filed, and no wrongdoing was established. The lead detective on the case was named Zalva. This allegation should be easy enough to check out.
Nelson Zalva, who worked for the Hillsborough County, Florida Sheriff's Office in the 1970s, confirmed the details of the letter and adds that he also investigated the black-and-white in "1978 or 1979", before Gosch's disappearance. "I interviewed the kids, and they said there was no coercion or touching. ... I could never prove a crime," Zalva says. Lt. Jeff Miller, spokesman for the West Des Moines Police Department, said that he does not believe any new leads are being pursued. The photos do not depict Gosch.
These photos were actually of three boys that were voluntarily photographed, and not of Johnny and not related to Johnny at all.
Johnny Gosch quickly became a poster boy for missing children across the Nation. Gosch's disappearance became something of a cautionary tale to midwestern youth, Johnny Gosch jokes swept the Nation's schoolyards, and dollar bills began turning up with "Help me! - Johnny Gosch" scrawled across them.
The case generated national interest as Noreen Gosch became increasingly vocal about the inadequacy of law enforcement's investigation of missing children cases. She established the Johnny Gosch Foundation in 1982, through which she visited schools and spoke at seminars about the modus operandi of sexual predators. She lobbied for "The Johnny Gosch Bill", state legislation which would mandate an immediate police response to reports of missing children. The bill became law in Iowa in 1984, and similar or identical laws were later passed in Missouri and seven other states.
In August 1984, Ms. Gosch testified in Senate hearings on organized crime, speaking about "organized pedophilia" and its alleged role in her son's abduction. She began receiving death threats. Ms. Gosch also testified before the U.S. Department of Justice, which provided $10M to establish the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Ms. Gosch was invited to the White House by President Ronald Reagan for the dedication ceremony.
In 1989 Paul Bonacci told his attorney John DeCamp that he had been abducted into a sex ring with Gosch as a teenager and was forced to participate in Gosch's kidnapping.
FBI and local police do not believe that Bonacci is a credible witness in the case.
In 1990, a county grand jury declined to charge King, finding the allegations to be "a carefully crafted hoax". Paul Bonacci and Alisha Owen were indicted on state perjury charges. A federal grand jury also declined to indict anyone for child prostitution but did return indictments against Owen for perjury and King for fraud related to the credit union.
Another missing paperboy
In 1984, another Des Moines-area paperboy disappeared under similar circumstances. Eugene Wade Martin disappeared while delivering newspapers on the south side of Des Moines.
Authorities were unable to prove a connection between the two cases, yet Noreen Gosch claims that she was personally informed of the abduction weeks in advance by a private investigator who was searching for her son.
- Etan Patz
- Genette Tate
- Jacob Wetterling
- Steven Stayner
- Natascha Kampusch
- List of people who disappeared mysteriously
- "Gosch Case Resurfaces" Mason City Globe-Gazette September 12, 2006 by Associated Press
- amw.com | John Gosch - Missing Child
- Frank Santiago (1997). "Noreen Gosch: I saw Johnny." Des Moines Register February 7, 1999 archived URL retrieved on 18 May 2012.
- Des Moines Register "The Latest Word: Photos Aren't Gosch" September 13, 2006 Lee Rood
- "100 Photographs That Changed the World," Life Magazine, 2003, p.86
- "Has Johnny Gosch been found?" Iowa NBC affiliate KWWL, April 18, 2005 
- The Johnny Gosch Foundation at www.johnnygosch.com
- "Ex-investigator: No proof photos aren't of Gosch" Des Moines Register September 22, 2006 by Lee Rood 
- Probe Over Boys' Photos Continues - Des Moines News Story - KCCI Des Moines
- "The Latest Word: Photos Aren't Gosch" Des Moines Register September 13, 2006 by Lee Rood
- WOI-TV "Gosch Not In Photos" October 17, 2006
- "Homosexual Prostitution Inquiry Snares VIPs with Reagan, Bush" The Washington Times June 29, 1989 by Paul Rodriguez and George Archibald
- "A Lurid, Mysterious Scandal Begins Taking Shape" New York Times December 15, 1989? by William Robbins 
- Case FAQ at Johnny Gosch History
- johnnygosch.com Noreen Gosch's website ← both photos described above are posted here
- John David Gosch in Iowa Missing Persons database
- John David Gosch in National Center for Missing & Exploited Children database
- CNN News Story Mom gets photos of son missing for 24 years
- Justice for Johnny Gosch Website Latest site dedicated to Johnny Gosch
- Franklin Files Message Board