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
Investigating Agency: West Des Moines Police Department
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.

Twelve-year-old Des Moines Register paperboy Johnny Gosch left his West Des Moines home on Sunday morning, September 5, 1982, to begin his paper route.  Normally, his father, John Gosch, 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.

noreen_john_gosch_groupCourtesy Des Moines Register
Noreen and John Gosch during a meeting of the Johnny Gosch Foundation. © Des Moines Register

“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.'”

milk_carton_missing_johnny_goschCourtesy photo Des Moines Register
Johnny Gosch became one of the first children to appear on a milk carton after he went missing.

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.

Here’s how to set up a screening in your hometown theater.

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.

Trailer for “WHO TOOK JOHNNY?” Rumur Films, an independent studio based in Brooklyn, New York, produced a film in 2014 about Johnny’s disappearance. Filmmakers traveled to Des Moines, Iowa, to make Who Took Johnny, which compiles decades of interviews of dozens of people involved with the case. The film focuses on the heartbreaking story of Johnny’s mother, Noreen Gosch, and her relentless quest to find the truth about what happened that tragic September morning in Des Moines when Johnny never returned from his paper route.

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:


Copyright © 2015 Iowa Cold Cases, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


77 Responses to Johnny Gosch

  1. 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

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

  3. Jody Ewing says:

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

  4. 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”.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. I remember this like yesterday :( There are so many who have not been found, Jacob Wetterling in MN …

  8. Cyd Koehn says:

    God bless his MOM! She has never given up.

  9. I was 11 & I can still remember that terrible day…

  10. Kris Starks says:

    Heartbreaking! He looks SO much like my brother did at that age. I pray one day for his momma to get some much needed answers. <3

  11. He was taken from the sidewalk in front of my old employees home.

  12. Beth McFall says:

    yes Jacob Wetterling!!!

  13. Beth Jargo says:

    Gosch and I are the same age, in fact I am only a few days older than he is. I remember when he went missing and it frightened me for a long time being so close to his same age. I think about him still and pray that someday his family will get closure. Please also pray for closure for the Eugene Martin family. He was also a teenager who went missing at age 13 from the DM area.

  14. me too! i was just a little younger than him when this happened and i remember being caught up with the articles in the paper along with the Eugene Martin case. As a kid it scared me to death! i wish this could be solved

  15. Yes you just have to wonder where he is and what happened to him. He must be dead cuz otherwise he would have surfaced when he got older. Unless he is imprisoned somewhere.

  16. God bless the mom. My heart is with you.

  17. I remember this…I was in 4th grade and Johnny Gosch and Eugene Martin were well talked about in our current events time. So sad.

  18. Johnny you will never be forgotten !

  19. My husband grew up in Urbandale and we still live in the area. He remembers this well too-his mother made sure he and his four siblings weren’t alone. Sounds like a lot of you have those same sad and scanty memories. ~~Kerry at Iowa Cold Cases

  20. 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

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

  22. 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.

  23. Lisa Andrews says:

    One that no one can ever forget. I’ve always followed the case. Johnny is one year younger than myself and I live one state away, in MN. I pray one day it will be solved.

  24. Beth Jargo says:

    I have never forgotten Johnny and always followed this story. He is 8 days younger than me and I have felt a connection to him because we are so close in age. Since I live in Iowa, there have been a number of stories in the news over the years in the media. I pray that his family can get closure whatever it may be. God bless Johnny and his family!

  25. I don’t know if it’s even possible to forget something so scary and heart breaking! I was 7 when this happened and it always is the first to cross my mind when the news reports another missing child! Pray that this is solved someday soon!!

  26. Mark Becker says:

    Thanks to the gay lobby we’ll never know….but they kinda know where Martin and him ended up. ..

  27. This is so heart breaking. I pray for his family . God Bless.

  28. I was 6 when this happened and i was not aloud to ever play out side by my self unless my grandma could see me from the window and its a name i grew up hearing and Eugene Martin we may never know what really happened but i hope one day for the families sake they find out

  29. Mark Becker I don’t follow?

  30. I think Mark is referring to the fact that the theory is that Johnny ended up in a sex slave/child prostitution ring that supplied young boys like him to Gay politicians, businessmen and the like and Mark may be implying that there could be an agenda on the part of the “gay lobby” to keep that a dirty little secret, even though court transcripts you can find on the site Johnny’s mother has on the web reveal that it very much has and is happening in the corridors of power in these United States and around the world.

  31. Nissa Fox says:

    The very 1st face ever on a milk carton

  32. I was young when this happened and grew up with Eugene cousins and have some memories of Eugene personally from bday parties and my hope for there families sake someone comes clean and they find them

  33. I have just been looking at all the websites. I am SHOCKED I had NO idea this is what was thought to have become of these kids

  34. I remember that case, very sad.

  35. This child’s family and friends need closure. I pray to for them.

  36. I still think about him & Eugene Martin every time I hear about a child missing. I was only 8 when this happened, but still remember seeing his face on milk cartons! I’ve always prayed that they would find out what really happened!

  37. 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!!

  38. What I think it particularly horrible about this case is all of the fraudsters that have contacted poor Maureen. I think one man even claimed to be Johnny (maybe he’s still claiming it, I’m not sure)

  39. Regarding Mark and Robert’s comments….please don’t confuse homosexuals with pedophiles.

  40. Eva Smith says:

    i recall when this happed but never heard the out come the hell these family’s must be going through not knowing what and where there love one’s are or who took there live’s

  41. Amanda Brown says:

    What websites Candi Rowe

  42. Will never forget this! So sad!!

  43. Judy Midthun says:

    So sad….. Never forget him!

  44. Molly Ochs says:

    Will never forget ;(

  45. a parents worst nightmare..

  46. I will never forget this! Still hope he is out there somewhere alive and well. Prayers to his family.

  47. Tom Fine says:

    If I remember , was not there another paperboy that disappeared a year later in the same West Des Moines neighborhood?…seems like they may be connected

  48. Google that very interesting case he is alive!!! Ask his mother the story..

  49. I remember when this happened. Heartbreaking.

  50. Tom Fine, yes, the other paperboy who disappeared was Eugene Martin. He went missing Aug. 12, 1984, almost two years after Johnny. Eugene’s page at shows the reward poster for both boys. The Des Moines Register pledged $25,000 of the $94,000 reward, which went unclaimed. Both cases are still unsolved.

  51. Karla Cox says:

    It just makes you wonder?

  52. Jon Himes says:

    Julie Jones Elizabeth Gregg

  53. Lisa Kuzela says:

    Johnny Gosch’s parents were patients of “mine” when I worked as dental assistant. Only months after his disappearance, his dad came in for a cleaning. My boyfriend at the time was very abusive, and I had black eye and bruises. He asked about them and showed so much concern about them. I thought to myself – here his son is missing, and he’s so kind and caring about some stranger’s bruises. I have and will never forget that. He made me feel quite special – which at that time, I needed to.

  54. Mel Henry says:

    I remember when this happened. It scarred me for life and made kidnapping a very real fear. This happened “at home” as opposed to “out there” in the world. I hope someday we find out what happened to Johnny Gosch.

  55. Marj Bensley says:

    This case has haunted me from day 1. I can’t imagine never knowing for sure what happened to your child. He and Eugene Martin will be forever etched in my memory…so very sad.

  56. I think about this everyday & wonder where he’s @, too. I hope we can find him soon. And lets keep this case open. And if there’s any possible way. Can somebody find a way to update his picture & try to find out what he might look like today? That would help us all out, too. Thanks.

  57. Carrie Sue says:

    To imagine he’d be 45 years old….I can’t imagine losing my baby.

  58. I was only 7 when he disappeared. I remember it like it was yesterday. I was always scared after I heard about it. Still praying that Johnny comes home to his loved ones.

  59. I can’t start to imagine what his parents have gone through not knowing! My heart and prayers go out to them. So wish this could be solved!

  60. Yes, I wish for both mysterious cases to be solved….for closure.

  61. I too remember when all three boys went missing and as a kid it scared me, and as a parent it scares me. I pray that all three families get information that will lead to some sort of closure so they can have some peace .. Someone knows something. It’s time for these families to heal and know what happened to the boys. Let them bring them home..

  62. Diana Wilson says:

    A family member went missing for awhile….a teen. I saw first hand how painful it can be. I never want to a family go through that again. I thank God it was only a run away and she was home again. Her dad even went looking in all the dumpsters all over town. Her mom just bawled her eyes out. Not knowing was the worse. I don’t know how these families get through this. God bless them.

  63. His Mom claims to know what happened to him.

  64. I remember it like it was yesterday —

  65. He is NEVER forgotten.

  66. This still haunts me to this day! Hit home to me i was always afraid i would be kidnapped , i was afraid to go any Where!

  67. Tammy Davis says:

    He would be 2yrs younger than me. I remember when it happened as well. Sad to go all these years without any type of evidence or clue of what or where he might be or even finding a body. Just vanished, makes people think they might of been kidnapped and sold in the childrens sex slave market.

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