Johnny Gosch

Johnny Gosch

Johnny Gosch

Missing Person

John David Gosch
Age at Report: 12
DOB: November 12, 1969
NCIC #: M-089641270
DCI Case # 82-04613
Des Moines PD Case # 82-2976
NCMEC #: NCMC601763
NamUs MP # 6131
West Des Moines, IA
Polk County
Missing Since: September 5, 1982

Also See: Johnny Gosch Videos and Johnny Gosch Photos

Case summary by Jody Ewing and Aaron Brilbeck
Noreen GoschCourtesy photo WHO-TV
Noreen Gosch spoke with Channel 13’s Aaron Brilbeck about her son’s disappearance and the things she still wonders about today.

It’s a story that shocked communities and catapulted Iowa into the national spotlight, changed state law and forever changed the way parents monitored their children’s activities.

On Sunday morning, September 5, 1982, Johnny Gosch left his West Des Moines home to work his Des Moines Register paper route. Normally, his father accompanied him on the route, but on this day Johnny went alone.

He never came home.

What happened after that has been the subject of speculation for more than three decades.

composite-of-johnny-gosch-kidnapper-reward-posterIn a November 11, 2010 interview — the day before Johnny would have celebrated his 41st birthday — Johnny’s mother Noreen Gosch told WHO-TV Channel 13’s Aaron Brilbeck that several other paper boys, all witnesses to the abduction, said Johnny was approached by a man driving a blue Ford Fairmont.

“The guy shut off his engine, opened the passenger door and swung his feet out on the curb right where the boys were assembling their newspapers. And he started talking about where’s 86th street?” Ms. Gosch told Brilbeck. “Johnny turned to Mike and said, ‘I’ve got my papers loaded in the wagon. I’m scared. I’m getting out of here. I’m gonna head home.'”

As Johnny left, the driver of the car took off, too, the boys told police.

“The man pulled the door shut and started up the engine, but before he left he reached up and flicked the dome light three times. Then he pulled out and left,” Ms. Gosch said.

Lt. Jeff Miller of the West Des Moines Police Dept.Courtesy photo WHO-TV
Lt. Jeff Miller of the West Des Moines Police Department

She said she believes the driver was signaling another person who later grabbed Johnny, and that one of the paperboys saw a tall man come out from in between two houses and follow her son.

West Des Moines Police Lt. Jeff Miller — a rookie cop at the time — told Brilbeck police began scouring the area immediately but hit one wall after another.

“They went ahead and called in the staff,” Miller said. “The troopers. They called in detectives. Reserves. Contacted Polk County Sheriffs. The State Patrol.

why-johnny-cant-come-home-coverNoreen wrote Why Johnny Can’t Come Home 18 years after her son’s disappearance.

At that point they did a door to door canvass of that neighborhood trying to find someone who saw something of Johnny.”

Nothing was found, and they saw nothing at all.

A Mother’s Crusade

One month after her son’s disappearance, Noreen founded The Johnny Gosch Foundation and also developed a program called “In Defense of Children.” She began touring the nation, making nearly 1,000 personal appearances with law enforcement, missing persons organizations, those involving human trafficking, and doing whatever she could to increase overall awareness of crimes involving children.

On July 1, 1984, a bill she authored — the Johnny Gosch Bill — was passed into Iowa law. It mandated immediate police involvement whenever a child went missing, and was subsequently adopted by eight additional states.

Johnny Gosch as a young Boy ScoutCourtesy photo WHO-TV
Johnny Gosch as a young Boy Scout.

That same year, she traveled to Washington, D.C. and testified before Congress during hearings on organized crime. Her testimony, she said, led to death threats and also, in part, the eventual establishment of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. President Ronald Reagan invited her to the center’s opening and dedication.

She went to work on two documentaries — one for HBO and another for the State Department.

Her story and what she believed happened to her son led to her writing Why Johnny Can’t Come Home, a book published in 2000.

Time marched onward — months turning into more years — still with no sign of her son.

Eugene Martin

Eugene Martin

In the interim, two more young Des Moines boys also vanished under mysterious circumstances. Thirteen-year-old paperboy Eugene Martin vanished from Des Moines’ south side on August 12, 1984.

Marc Warren Allen

Marc Warren Allen

Not quite two years after Martin’s disappearance, 13-year-old Marc Allen told his mother he planned to walk to a friend’s house down the street but never arrived at the neighbor’s home and hasn’t been seen since March 29, 1986.

Marc Allen’s mother, Nancy Allen, has stated she doesn’t know whether her son’s disappearance is linked to the disappearance of either Johnny Gosch or Eugene Martin, but felt police were reluctant to pursue her son’s case because of the other two missing boys.

Courtesy photo WHO-TV Channel 13
Marc Allen’s mother, Nancy Allen, told Channel 13’s Aaron Brilbeck that every time the news reports a body has been found, her feelings jump from not wanting it to be her son yet wishing for the chance to finally bury him and give them both peace.

“I got the distinct feeling [police] did not want parents to be frightened to let their children sell newspapers or do different things,” Nancy Allen told WHO-TV’s Aaron Brilbeck in a story Channel 13 aired November 25, 2010.

More than two decades after all three boys disappeared, one mother received a stark reminder.

Early one September morning in 2006, Noreen Gosch said a mysterious envelope showed up on her front doorstep. Inside, she said, she found three disturbing photos of several boys, all tied up. One of the boys appeared to be Johnny.

Fighting for Answers

“I literally could not breathe. I could not get my breath,” Gosch told Channel 13’s Brilbeck. “I was so totally unprepared to see something like that. All these years had gone by and here was this picture.”

The image in question depicted a young boy, hog-tied and wearing only his underpants and socks.

Gosch took the photos to the West Des Moines police department.

“When I did we spread them out and the detective kept saying ‘That’s Johnny, that’s Johnny,'” said Gosch. “I said ‘I know that’s Johnny.'”

The press went wild. Newspapers and television stations across the country reported Gosch’s story. Then came a call from the West Des Moines police, who told Gosch they were planning a press conference of their own; they planned to announce the pictures weren’t of Johnny after all.

“I said that picture is Johnny, and the detective said to me, ‘Well, somebody from Florida called in and said he used to be an investigator and remembered the pictures — those pictures — from a case in 1970-something,'” Gosch said.

Noreen Gosch said she asked the detective if the caller had provided them with any evidence, and he’d responded with ‘no,’ telling her they just had the phone call.

“And based on his phone call you’re going to do a press conference and say that picture’s not Johnny?” she recalled asking him. “And he said, ‘Well, yes I am.'”

To this day, Gosch believes the boy in the photo is her son, and that he was bound, gagged and abused, and taken for the purpose of satisfying pedophiles. Police continue to insist it’s not him.

“We found out where the photos were taken,” Lt. Miller told Brilbeck. “We talked with investigators in Florida and they were able to identify all of the kids in that picture and they weren’t Johnny Gosch.”

An Ideal World
Johnny Gosch as toddlerCourtesy photo WHO-TV
Johnny Gosch as a toddler.

The differing opinions on the boy’s identify hasn’t stopped Noreen Gosch, who continues to dedicate her life to finding her son’s abductors and raising awareness about kidnapping and human trafficking. Her lobbying helped change laws and improve child safety. Her son was one of the first children ever to appear on a “Missing Kids” milk carton.

“The things that are good is the awareness that this has brought. The case changed the country. It was a watershed case,” she said.

In a personal note to her son on a website she created in his honor, Noreen wrote, “My hope is that the latest report saying you are still alive is true and that one day we will be able to see each other again.”

She also posted a list of things she knows about her son’s kidnapping and notes how it all feels “like it was yesterday.”

Police, however, doubt he’s alive and believe the only real break in the case will come when Johnny’s remains are found.

“In the ideal world he is alive and he comes home and everybody’s happy,” Lt. Miller said. “But in the real world more than likely our best lead will come when his body is found. And at that point it becomes a crime scene.”

WHO-TV Channel 13’s Aaron Brilbeck talks with Noreen Gosch, mother of Iowa missing paperboy Johnny Gosch, and the West Des Moines Police Department on what would have been Johnny’s 41st birthday. WARNING: Some viewers may find the content disturbing. Viewer discretion is advised.  Air date: November 11, 2010

Miller told Brilbeck that as a parent, he didn’t know what Ms. Gosch is going through, and felt his statements might be kind of harsh.

“But that’s reality,” he said. “That’s more than likely what will happen.”

Johnny Gosch age progressed to 40 YOAThe National Center for Missing and Exploited Children released this photo showing how John Gosch might look at age 40.

With her son’s 41st birthday here, Noreen said she often thinks about what his life would have been like had it not been for that fateful day in 1982.

“He would have gone on, probably found the love of his life. Maybe, hopefully settled down. Had a family, an interesting career that he enjoyed like his siblings,” she said. “You want the best thing for your child and the sad thing is that was all robbed from him…and those years are missing. The clock stopped at 12 years old for us.”

‘Who Took Johnny’ premieres at film festival

The documentary feature film “Who Took Johnny,” which chronicles the mystery surrounding the young boy’s disappearance, premiered Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014 at the Slamdance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, according to a Des Moines Register article published that same day. The festival featured a second showing on Jan. 23.

The film “captures the endless intrigue surrounding the eyewitness accounts, compelling evidence and emotional discoveries” that span three decades, according to filmmakers with the New York-based studio Rumur, which produced the film.

Noreen GoschCourtesy photo Andrea Melendez / The Des Moines Register
Noreen Gosch, center, and others recently gathered in West Des Moines where Gosch’s son Johnny was last seen Sept. 5, 1982.

“Who Took Johnny” grew out of a 2012 MSNBC film titled “Missing Johnny.” The film combines archive footage and new interviews with Gosch’s parents, Noreen and John Gosch, along with investigators and others connected to the case.

The Fleur Cinema in West Des Moines has scheduled to show the documentary the week of April 24, 2015.

Noreen Gosch, who’d never before agreed to take part in a film until “Who Took Johnny,” said the filmmakers tackled it with “honesty and compassion.” She said the film sheds light on how little was known at the time about pedophilia and the child sex trade, which she is convinced played a role in her son’s abduction.

Information Needed

If you have any information about Johnny Gosch’s disappearance or whereabouts, please call West Des Moines Police Department Detective Tom Boyd at (515) 223-3211 or FBI Special Agent Gerald Ingrisano at (515) 223-4278.

Related: More Johnny Gosch Videos and Johnny Gosch Photos

Sources and References:


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12 Responses to Johnny Gosch

  1. Jessie says:

    I am born an raised in des moines/west des moines, IA….and this is kind of like…a legend to me…I want to say that in the most respectul terms…I remember, when I left the house.on my bike.for the day (those were different.times from now)…but I honestly rekember my mom always saying….you remember what happened to Johnny Gosch, dont you?!? U dont want to end up like that poor lil boy!! We learned about him in school…he was sorta a constant in my life…and then I remember when those pictures surfaced…I was much older by then….but I have ALWAYS, honestly held a spot in my heart for this boy…this man he would be…or hopefully IS today…and…regardless of the turn out…wether it be his return, ir the find of his remains (of course, I’m hoping the prior situation) that his family and friends are FINALLY offered PEACE….I can’t Imagine the day to day living of NOT KNOWING :-/ anyone who is out there, still caring and hoping…bc…I didnt even know him….and I still am!!

  2. shelley says:

    I was reading online about a double murder that occurred in my town in 1978. The murderer, Bryan Barrett, left a journal in an Iowa City restaurant earlier that year detailing multiple murder scenarios and one of them was:

    “It describes plans for the kidnapping and murder of a Des Moines Register paper carrier,” the Iowa Supreme Court wrote years later. “These plans include planting false clues for the authorities indicating the crime was committed by some unidentified person other than defendant. They suggest that it is defendant’s intention to convince authorities that this person committed the crime in order that defendant might collect a reward.”

    Bryan Barrett was not convicted of the double homicide until 5 years after the crime so he may have been on the loose at the time of the Gosch kidnapping.

    Since this information was known to law enforcement, I’m sure this lead was checked, but didn’t think it would hurt to mention it.

  3. […] Iowa’s Cold Cases (with Johnny Gosch’s profile & case number) […]

  4. julie says:

    My son was a toddler and i was a teenage mom at the time of this very sad event because of this I became what some would describe as a overly protective mother this was and even more so today a crazy world and our children are our greatest gifts from God you can never be to çareful My prayer for his family and others suffering this same nightmare would be that someday they will be reunited may god bless you all with peace

  5. andrea says:

    That Doe has an A with a circle around it (an “Anarchy” A) and the letters PIL which, in my experience, probably indicate he was a fan of Public Image Limited, which was Johnny Rotten’s band from 1978 to 1992.

  6. andrea says:

    Charles Ray Hatcher was arrested on August 5, 1982, a month before Johnny Gosch disappeared. Hatcher was arrested under the name Richard Martin Clark, but eventually his real name was ascertained.

  7. Robert Lucht says:

    Charles Ray Hatcher was in Iowa about this time he tried to kill a paper boy one time.

    • Robert Lucht says:

      Charles Hatcher was a suspect in the homicides of Rose Burkert and Roger Atkison.It says the killer scrawled a message and obliterated the rest leaving the word ‘this’.It said that Charles Hatcher was in San Francisco in 1969. I would be willing to bet the rest of the message said “This is the Zodiac Speaking”.

  8. Jody Ewing says:

    Thanks so much for the link, Jeff! I remember hearing about this and am going now to watch the video.

  9. John Joubert was a military man who killed two paper boys in Nebraska. Robert Ressler FBI profiler from Iowa worked the case.

  10. Terri Lunn says:

    Picture of Johnny aged, by Noreen his mother.

    Picture of John Doe found in Colorado, never identified. This would represent the time after Noreen said she saw her son. The man was found in an area of Colorado that Noreen said Johnny was taken during his time held captive. There is an obvious resemblence, including the front teeth gap. The recreation was done of the deceased man, but he was found within 24 hours of his death.

    The link to this unsolved case is:

    This information was submitted to Noreen’s sight but no reply was received. It would be great to finally bring Johnny home, but I hope he is still living and in peace.

    • Jody Ewing says:

      Thank you for the links, Terri! I hadn’t seen this Colorado case before, but you’re right about the resemblance. The Doe Network states that dental records and DNA are available, though I have no idea whether they’ve been compared to Johnny’s records. Thanks for passing this along, and hopefully someone else might have further insight. All best, Jody

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