*This post contains images that some readers may find distressing*
Missing children are always haunting cases, particularly when there is little to no information on them vanishing. Johnny Gosch was a 12-year-old boy from Iowa who left for his paper-round in the early hours of Sunday, September 5, 1982 and never returned home. His disappearance has been the subject of mystery and conspiracy for over thirty years, as his mother is adamant that Johnny arrived on her front door step 15 years later. In 1997, she got a knock on her door and found a scruffy looking man standing there. He started claiming he was Johnny, and Noreen Gosch “just knew” that he was her missing son. The miraculous experience was bittersweet though, as the man claimed that he had escaped but he “feared for his life” and had no other choice than to live in seclusion elsewhere. With that, Mrs. Gosch had lost her son for the second time. Of course, there are people who believe that she made the whole thing up for media attention, but could a grieving mother do such a thing?
On the morning of his disappearance, Johnny had decided to take the family Dachshund with him on his delivery round. He had begged his parents to for a job as a paperboy for weeks, as he wanted to save up some money for a dirt-bike. Reluctantly, they agreed, but he was never to go out on his own. This morning was different though, and Johnny was allowed to go it alone. He had his first taste of true independence that morning, as he pulled his little red cart along behind him on his daily mission to deliver news to the good people of his neighbourhood. At around 8:30am, angry residents phoned the Gosch household, complaining that Johnny had “missed” their address. Something was clearly wrong. Johnny’s father headed out to look for him, only to find his abandoned newspaper cart and the dog beside it. Johnny was gone. A neighbour, known only as Mike, was at his window smoking a cigarette when he said he saw him talking to a man in a Ford Fairmont. As Johnny left the conversation to head home, he noticed a different man follow him on foot. That was the last sighting of Johnny Gosch.
The most disturbing aspect of this case, is that the Gosch family supposedly received vulgar reminders of their missing son. In 2006, Mrs. Gosch claims she woke up one morning and received a chilling message. Carefully placed on her doorstep were photographs, some of which she posted on her website. One colour photo shows three boys bound and gagged. Another photograph depicted a similar situation, but this time the lone boy laying on a bed looked an awful lot like Johnny. Many people don’t believe Noreen, perhaps because it’s difficult to comprehend that something so vile could happen.
On September 13th, 2006, the Des Moines Police Department received an anonymous letter regarding one of the photos. It read:
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.”
Sure enough, the information was correct and detective Nelson Zalva confirmed that the details were accurate. He claims he interviewed the children in the photograph and they said they weren’t victims of some horrendous crime, they were just playing a game. However, when asked to prove this, the detective couldn’t.
Although the likelihood of Johnny Gosch featuring in these images has been highly disputed, they are definitely authentic which means that someone, somewhere, is holding little boys captive. Theories that Johnny was sold to a paedophile ring sound convincing, and the sad reality of this case is that these victims are real people; Although we still haven’t found Johnny, the victims in the Polaroids haven’t been found either. This theory gets even more credible two years later, when another paperboy in the Des Moines area goes missing. On August 12, 1984, Eugene Martin, disappeared under similar circumstances. Authorities were unable to prove a connection between the two cases. In another bizarre turn, Noreen Gosch claims that she was personally informed about Eugene Martin before he vanished. A private investigator who was searching for her son told her that a kidnapping “would probably take place the second weekend in August 1984 in the southside of Des Moines.”
During the case, police were criticised for stating that Johnny was a “runaway”. They even refused to enlist the help of neighbouring counties, who could aid in search parties or perhaps share crucial information. To this day, Noreen Gosch campaigns for justice for her son and is very vocal in challenging the inadequacy of the police department when it comes to missing children. Frustratingly, this cryptic case remains a mystery and Johnny continues to be missing.