“This case haunts me. It’s the case I’ll take to the grave.” Retired Des Moines Police investigator James Rowley handled the abduction case of Eugene Martin in 1984, a young boy who disappeared while delivering his Des Moines Register newspaper route. Rowley saved this poster, which is wrinkled and torn, as a memory of a case that has yet to be solved.
Almost two years after Johnny Gosch vanished on his paper route in West Des Moines, Eugene Martin disappeared under similar pre-dawn circumstances on the south side of Des Moines.
That was 25 years ago today, the year the Center for Missing and Exploited Children opened for business. A few days before Eugene’s 14th birthday.
He’d be almost 39 now. Though his whereabouts are still a mystery, Eugene Martin isn’t forgotten.
Jeannie McDowell still remembers how her nephew enjoyed football, fishing, skating, video games and TV. Eugene had an ornery streak, she says now, but what healthy kid doesn’t?
Eugene’s mother, Janice, died recently from diabetes. His stepmother, Susan, and his father, Donald Martin, are divorced.
Eugene’s father will be 64 in October. He has Alzheimer’s disease and has been living in a nursing home for almost three years. Though his memory is slipping, every now and then he’ll ask about his son.
“My brother will be watching TV,” McDowell says. “Something will spark it and all the old questions will come back. ‘Where is he? What happened?’ And he’ll go off the deep end. He’ll become angry, sometimes violent.”
Where is Gene? What did happen to him?
Noreen Gosch says her Johnny is alive and hiding, in fear for his life. She believes the people who said her son was forced into a child pornography/prostitution ring. In her mind, the two cases are linked.
Case links questioned
James Rowley, the retired Des Moines police detective who was on the Martin case until his retirement in 2001, recognizes the similarities — two paperboys, about the same age — but has questions about linkage.
Why the two-year gap? That isn’t how it normally works with serial killers, kidnappers and other vermin. The criminal’s “growing appetite” for crime doesn’t allow for lengthy holding patterns.
“Where was he before ’82?” Rowley says. “Where was he between ’82 and ’84, and where was he after ’84?”
Rowley, 63, has heard all the theories, conspiracy and otherwise, and none makes sense.
“The person or persons who did this will have to show us the body and convict themselves, because there is no evidence. None.”
With the focus and publicity centered on Johnny Gosch for so many years, Eugene Martin seemed, in some ways, like the other kid who dropped out of sight.
His mother, father and stepmother weren’t media-savvy. Not like Gosch’s mom, who grew in the spotlight.
Martin’s blue-collar family members never seemed comfortable peering into a camera lens or prodding law enforcement officials. They didn’t create a Web site or write a book or go talk to politicians in Washington, D.C.
But they still haven’t forgotten or given up. A year ago, another aunt went to a psychic. Let it go, the psychic said. Martin is gone and his remains will never be found.
It wasn’t what anyone wanted to hear. Martin was never the other kid to his family or to Rowley. A poster of Martin, forever 13, hangs in the old cop’s garage.
Rowley says he thinks about Martin daily, always wonders what he could have done differently and hopes Jeff Shannon, the detective on the case now, has better luck.
No credible leads
Rowley traveled as far as Mexico and Canada on leads. “We chased 2,000 to 3,000 of them,” he says. “Not one was credible.”
All those leads, Rowley says, enabled the cops to nab five sex offenders. People looking for good news, that’s it.
Witnesses said they saw Martin talking to a clean-cut man in his 30s between 5 and 5:45 a.m. at Southwest 12th Street and Highview Drive. Some said the two were engaged in a “friendly father-son” conversation.
Rowley believes the man talked Eugene into leaving his route. He doesn’t like to think what happened next, but he fears the worst.
In his time as a cop, Rowley worked more than 200 homicides and 50 bank robberies. He helped solve 80 percent of them.
“This case haunts me,” he says. “It’s the case I’ll take to the grave.”
Rowley will never forget Eugene Martin or the date he went missing. As it happens, Aug. 12 is also Rowley’s son’s birthday, which has a way of bringing it home.
Marc James Warren Allen
Age at Report: 13
DOB: May 13, 1972
Weight: 85 lbs.
Case Type: Endangered Missing
Missing From: Des Moines, IA Polk County NCIC #: M-190867573
NCMEC #: NCMC1053047
Missing Since: March 29, 1986
On March 29, 1986 — the day before Easter — Marc James-Warren Allen became the third Des Moines, Iowa paperboy to vanish without a trace. Johnny Gosch, 12, of West Des Moines disappeared September 5, 1982. Thirteen-year-old Eugene Martin vanished from Des Moines’ south side just two years later on August 12, 1984, under very similar circumstances.
Then, not quite two years later, 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.
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.
Nearly three decades later, all three boys’ cases remain unsolved.
Marc’s mother, Nancy Allen, admitted her son had been a handful; the teen had been shifted back and forth between her Iowa residence and his father’s Minnesota home most of his young life and he’d often get into trouble. But in a week normally filled with family get-togethers, shopping and holiday activities, Nancy took time to speak with WHO-TV Channel 13′s Aaron Brilbeck about what it has been like waiting so many years for answers and wondering about the fate of a young son who never quite seemed to fit in.
“It was hard because he had been living with dad for a while and then came back and lived with me, and [his] younger brother and older sister were real close and he wanted to be in there. In tight,” she said.
Courtesy photo WHO-TV
Marc Allen waved goodbye to his mother while walking along this Des Moines sidewalk and was never seen nor heard from again.
They never got the chance for that to happen.
The night before Easter in 1986, the teen left his southwest Emma Avenue home to hang out with friends and perhaps take in a movie just as his siblings prepared for a pizza dinner.
“He walked out the door and the kids were getting ready to have pizza and I’ll never forget it as long as I live,” Allen told Brilbeck. “The last thing he said to me as he walked out the door was ‘Save me some pizza, Mom. I’ll be hungry when I get home.’”
Nancy watched her son walk down the sidewalk, past the bushes, and then he was gone.
Courtesy photo WHO-TV
Marc Allen as a youngster.
“He waved when he got to the bushes and I waved at him and that was that and I never saw him again,” his mother said.
The next morning when Nancy realized Marc hadn’t come home the night before, she knew immediately something wasn’t right but hoped against hope he’d prove her wrong.
The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children released this age-enhanced photo of what Marc Allen might look like today.
“It was Easter Sunday so I thought maybe he went to Grandma’s knowing Grandma would have an Easter basket there for each of the kids. So I asked my mom but he wasn’t there,” she said. “I had phone numbers for his friends. Called all of them. No one had seen him.”
Allen said she called police, but they told her they couldn’t do anything for 48 hours. Days turned into months.
Police checked in Minnesota where Marc’s father lived, and in Connecticut where the boy’s paternal grandmother lived. Nothing.
Allen told Brilbeck she didn’t know whether her son’s disappearance was linked to the disappearances of Johnny Gosch and Eugene Martin, but said police seemed reluctant to help her because of the other missing teens.
“I just feel like, at this time, they were just afraid of …afraid of what would happen with the Eugene Martin and Gosch thing. I got the distinct feeling that they did not want parents to be frightened to let their children sell newspapers or do different things,” she said.
The Des Moines Police Department’s Sgt. Jeff Edwards disagrees.
Courtesy photo WHO-TV, Des Moines
Sgt. Jeff Edwards of the Des Moines Police Department
“I know detectives followed up on leads that did not pan out,” Edwards told Brilbeck in a separate interview for the story WHO-TV aired Thanksgiving Day 2010. “They were not able to locate him. He’s still listed as a missing person.”
Marc’s mother said she doesn’t know whether her son is alive or dead, but that after 25 years she’d like to know for sure so she — and her son — can find peace.
“There are times when the news says they’ve found a body and they’re not sure yet how old it is but they’re pretty sure it’s male,” said Nancy. “And in one instant you hold your breath and bite your fingernails and hope that it’s not your child. And in other ways you wish they would come out and say that it is your child — so you can finally bury them and go to rest.”
WHO-TV Channel 13′s Aaron Brilbeck reports on the unsolved March 29, 1986 disappearance of 13-year-old Des Moines paperboy Marc James Warren Allen. November 25, 2010
Marc Allen was last seen wearing a light blue t-shirt, blue jean shorts, white socks and gray tennis shoes with velcro tabs. He has a small scar on the top of his head, and his first name might be spelled “Mark” by some agencies involving missing children and persons.
To date, there is no definitive evidence connecting Marc Allen’s case to that of Johnny Gosch or Eugene Martin.
If you have any information concerning Marc Allen’s disappearance, please contact the Des Moines Police Department at 515-283-4811 or Iowa Cold Cases via our Contact form or Anonymous Tip Form.
COLD CASE: The story of a teen boy who disappeared is told yet again, WHO-TV Channel 13, Nov. 25, 2010
Eugene Wade Martin
Age at Report: 13 YOA
DOB: August 17, 1970
Missing From: Des Moines, IA Polk County Hair Color: Brown
Eye Color: Brown
Weight: 110 lbs.
Case Number: 84-03891
NCIC Number: M-129642239
NCMEC Number: NCMC601815
Incident Type: Involuntary Disappearance
Missing Since: August 12, 1984
On Sunday morning, August 12, 1984, 13-year-old Eugene Martin left his home at approximately 5 a.m. to deliver the Des Moines Register newspaper in the Des Moines area. He wore blue jeans, a red shirt and a gray pullover.
Eugene normally delivered the papers with his older stepbrother, but on this day went alone. The Iowa State Fair was in town, and Eugene — who in his free time enjoyed football, fishing, skating, video games and TV — wanted to make some extra money.
Witnesses said they saw Martin talking to a clean-cut white male in his 30s sometime between 5 and 5:45 a.m. at Southwest 12th Street and Highview Drive. Some stated the two appeared to be engaged in a friendly “father-son” sort of conversation, and others recalled seeing the teen folding papers and talking to the man sometime between 5:45 and 6:05 a.m.
A poster announcing a $94,000 reward for information about Johnny Gosch or Eugene Martin, including $25,000 offered by the Des Moines Register, did nothing to solve either boy’s case.
Between 6:10 and 6:15 a.m., Eugene’s bag was found on the ground outside of Des Moines with 10 folded papers still inside. When customers called to report not receiving their morning newspapers, the manager went out, found the bag and delivered the papers.
At approximately 8:40 a.m., the search for Eugene began. He has not been seen since.
Suspect Likely ‘Loner’
Federal agents said at the time there might be a “definite connection” to the disappearance of another Des Moines paper carrier — 12-year-old Johnny Gosch, who disappeared two years earlier on September 5, 1982 — and described the suspect as a “loner.”
Authorities said they were treating the Martin case as a kidnapping and had issued a nationwide bulletin for a man described as between 30 and 40 years old, 5 feet, 9 inches tall, clean shaven and with a medium build.
“Generally, the person is an introvert, a loner who may or may not be extra guilt-ridden on what he does but will not turn himself in,” said Herb Hawkins, special F.B.I. agent in charge of the Nebraska-Iowa field office in August 1994. Hawkins said some useful information was being gleaned from witnesses.
None of it panned out, however, and neither boy has ever been found.
“… when he left”
In a July 2010 interview with WHO-TV Channel 13′s Aaron Brilbeck in Des Moines, Eugene’s aunt, Jeannie McDowell, said she believes the cases are connected, though shudders to think of what the teens may have gone through. McDowell also said she does not think Eugene is still alive.
Eugene Martin’s aunt, Jeannie McDowell, spoke with Channel 13′s Aaron Brilbeck in July 2010 about her nephew and the toll his disappearance took on the family. Courtesy photo WHO-TV
“I hope that he died instantly. I hope he didn’t suffer much,” she told Brilbeck in the second of five cold case installments WHO-TV aired throughout the month.
After losing his youngest son, McDowell said her brother, Don Martin, became withdrawn and spent all his time trying to find out what happened to his boy.
“Eugene was the baby,” McDowell said. “And when he left, it just killed my brother.”
McDowell said her brother went into his own little shell and didn’t want to speak to anybody. Still, day after day he would read every paper and cut out clippings of anything that had to do with Gene.
Courtesy photo KCCI Channel 8 Des Moines
NOTE: Eugene Martin’s father, Donald Martin, passed away on Dec. 27, 2010, due to complications from Alzheimer’s Disease and colon cancer. Donald Martin served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War from 1963 to 1966. He earned the Good Conduct Medal, Expert M-1 Rifle Medal, Sharp Shooter M14 Medal, along with the Vietnam Service Medal. Memorial contributions may be made to the National Central for Missing and Exploited Children, 699 Prince Street, Alexandria, VA 22314.
As he approaches his 65th birthday in October 2010, Don Martin now is in the final stages of Alzheimer’s Disease and cancer is slowly eating away at his body. Eugene’s mother, Janice, recently died from diabetes without ever knowing what happened to her son.
Despite the amount of pain he’s in, McDowell believes her brother is hanging on because of Gene and said they need some type of closure so he can go. If he knows Gene is there “waiting for him,” she said, she thinks he’d go.
At one time, a $94,000 reward was offered — including $25,000 by the Des Moines Register — for information leading to the recovery of either Johnny Gosch or Eugene Martin. It, too, eventually went by the wayside as weeks turned to months, and then years with no viable leads.
“It’s the case I’ll take to the grave.”
James Rowley, the retired Des Moines police detective who worked the Martin case until his retirement in 2001, also recognized the similarities in the two cases but still has questions about how they are linked.
Retired Des Moines police detective James Rowley worked the Eugene Martin case until his retirement in 2001, and has never given up on finding out what happened to the teen. Courtesy photo WHO-TV
“Why the two-year gap?” he stated in an August 12, 2009 interview with the Des Moines Register. That just wasn’t how it normally worked with serial killers and kidnappers. A criminal’s “growing appetite” for crime, he told the Register, doesn’t allow for lengthy holding patterns.
“Where was he before ’82?” Rowley asked. “Where was he between ’82 and ’84, and where was he after ’84?”
Another young Des Moines teen — 13-year-old Marc James Warren Allen — did in fact disappear from Des Moines in 1986. On March 29, 1986, Allen told his mother he planned to walk to a friend’s house down the street, but then just vanished.
Rowley told the Register he has heard all the theories, conspiracy and otherwise, but that none made sense. He’d even traveled to Mexico and Canada to follow up on tips — chasing down somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 leads during the investigation — but found not one credible.
WHO-TV’s Aaron Brilbeck reports on the 1984 disappearance of missing Des Moines paperboy Eugene Martin. Air Date: July 8, 2010
Rowley, who worked more than 200 homicides and 50 bank robberies during his tenure as a police officer — helping to solve 80 percent of them — believes the clean-cut man near Martin’s home talked Eugene into leaving his route.
Rowley said Eugene Martin’s case bothers him more than any others he’s worked. In his home garage hangs a poster of Eugene to remind him every day.
An age-progression composite of how Eugene might look today. Eugene has a scar on his right knee and has had a broken right wrist.
“This case haunts me,” he told WHO-TV’s Brilbeck when interviewed for the July cold case series. “It’s the case I’ll take to the grave.”
After nearly 30 years, the former detective still seems amazed they’d never had a solid lead in Eugene’s case. No bone. No fragment. No evidence.
Rowley said he takes the case personally and will leave Eugene’s poster up in his garage until Gene is found or the case is solved.
Due to current budget cuts, Des Moines police currently are not able to work on any cold cases. Investigators, however, would still like to hear from anyone with any information — regardless of how small or insignificant it might seem — and have said they will continue to follow up on any new leads.
Eugene Wade Martin was born August 17, 1970. He has a scar on his right knee and has had a broken right wrist.
If you have any information regarding the disappearance of Eugene Wade Martin, please contact the Des Moines Police Department at (515) 283-4864 or Iowa Cold Cases via our Contact form.
Sources and References:
Missing Newspaper Boy’s Father Dies, KCCI, Dec. 29, 2010
WHO-TV Channel 13 Des Moines: Aaron Brilbeck reports on the Eugene Martin case, July 8, 2010