John David Gosch was born November 12th, 1969, to his parents John and Noreen Gosch.
On Sunday, September 5th 1982, Johnny Gosch, aged 12, was working as a paperboy in the suburb of West Des Moines, Iowa. Although it was normal for Johnny to wake his father up to help with the route, that morning he decided to take the family’s miniature dachshund, Gretchen, with him. The last sighting of Gosch, which can be confirmed by multiple witnesses, was when Gosh was picking up his newspapers and the paper dropped.
John and Noreen began receiving calls from customers along Johnny’s route that they had not received their newspaper. John went out to perform a search at around 6am, and immediately found Johnny’s wagon of undelivered newspapers just two blocks away from their home. The Gosches then immediately contacted the West Des Moines police department and reported Johnny as missing. Noreen has always been open in her public statements, and in her book Why Johnny Can’t Come Home about the slow police response, and how she was unable to report Johnny missing for up to 72 hours due to a policy. Noreen also estimates that it took up to 45 minutes for an officer to get to her house to take a report.
Initially, the police suspected that Johnny had run away. But they later changed their statement and suggested that Johnny had been kidnapped, even though they could not establish a viable motive. The police turned up little evidence and arrested no suspects in the case.
A neighbour named Mike reported that he saw Johnny that morning talking to a stocky man in a blue two-toned Ford Fairmount with Nebraska plates. Mike was watching this interaction from his window, so he was unable to hear what was being discussed. As Gosch began to head home, Mike noticed that another man was following Johnny. Another neighbour, John Rossi, saw a man in a blue car talking to Johnny and thought that something was strange. Rossi managed to look at the number plate but is unable to remember what the number plate was. He said, “I keep hoping that I’ll wake up and be able to see that number plate as clear as day, but it still hasn’t happened.” Rossi has undergone some hypnosis and was able to give the police some of the numbers from the number plate.
A few months after his disappearance, Noreen believes her son was spotted in Oklahoma when a boy yelled for help before being dragged off by two men. This has never been conclusively proven to be Johnny.
The Gosches hired a number of private investigators, including Jim Rothstein, a retired New York City police detective and Ted Gunderson, a retired Chief of the Los Angles FBI Branch.
In 1984, Johnny’s picture was posted on milk cartons across the USA. He was the third child to have his face on milk cartons.
On August 12th, 1984, Eugene Martin, another Des Moines – area paperboy disappeared under similar circumstances. He vanished whilst delivering newspapers on the south side of Des Moines. Whilst the police were unable to connect this disappearance to Johnny’s, Noreen Gosch claims that a private investigator personally informed her a few months prior. He said that “the next kidnapping would take place the second weekend in August 1984, and it would be a paperboy from south side Des Moines.”
On March 29th, 1986, 13-year-old Marc James Warren Allen told his mum he was going to walk to a friend’s house down the street. He never arrived at that friend’s house, and he has not been seen since. He also vanished from the Des Moines area and is thought to have been connected to Johnny’s disappearance.
Noreen Gosch, Johnny’s mother, claims that around 2:30am one evening in March 1997, her son Johnny, who was then 27 years old, knocked at the door accompanied by an unknown man. Noreen says that she knows for sure it was her son because he opened his shirt to reveal the birthmark on his chest. Noreen said that; “We talked for about an hour or hour and a half. He was with another man but I had no idea who that man was. The other man did not speak. Johnny had to look at that man to get approval to speak.” Noreen also says that Johnny did not say where he was living or where he was going.
In a 2005 interview, Noreen added: “The night that he came here, he was wearing jeans and he 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.” Noreen had the FBI create an image after he had visited, and she said that it looked like Johnny.
Noreen self-published a book in 2000, called Why Johnny Can’t Come Home, which is about her understanding of what her son went through from the information provided to her by private investigators.
On September 1st 2006, Noreen reported that she had found three photographs that had been left outside her front door. One colour photo shows three boys bound and gagged, another photo Noreen claims to be 12 year old Johnny 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, with something possibly tied around his neck. Noreen claims that the last photo is of a man who “was one of the perpetrators that molested my son”. She then claimed that the first 2 photographers originated from a website that featured child pornography.
On September 13th, the Des Moines police received this anonymous letter:
Someone has played a reprehensible joke on a grieving mother. The photo in question is not of her son but of three boys in Tampa, Florida about 1979-1980, challenging each other to an escape contest. There was an investigation concerning this photo, 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.
The police did investigate this claim, and Nelson Zalva who worked for the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s office in the 1970s said that the details of the letter were true and that he also investigated the black-and-white photograph in 1978-1979 before Johnny went missing. “I interviewed the kids and they said there was no touching…I could never prove a crime” says Zalva.
When asked to prove that this was the same photograph, Zalva was unable to provide any proof. According to the documentary Who Took Johnny (2014), law enforcement could only identify 3 of the boys in the photographs and not the one who is thought to be Johnny. To this day, Noreen still believes that it is Johnny.
In 1989, a 21-year-old named Paul. A. Bonacci told his attorney, John DeCamp, that he had been abducted into a sex ring with Gosch and was forced to participate in his kidnapping. John DeCamp, his attorney, thought that Paul was telling the truth. Noreen Gosch, Johnny’s mother, also met with Paul and claims that he told her things “he would only have known from talking with Johnny.” This included a scar on Johnny’s tongue, a burn scar on his lower leg, and a stammer that Johnny had when he was upset. The police and FBI do not think that Bonacci is a credible witness, and they did not interview him regarding the case.
Noreen Gosch has always spoken about Johnny’s case. She established the Johnny Gosch Foundation in 1982, through which she visited schools and spoke at seminars about the habits of sexual predators, and how they operate. She also campaigned for the “Johnny Gosch Bill” which would mandate an immediate police response to missing children. This bill passed in Iowa in 1984, and similar or identical laws were passed in Missouri and seven other states later on. Noreen also received death threats for testifying in senate hearings about organised paedophilia, and she has also testified in front of the US Department of Justice.
The Johnny Gosch case does have a lot of unanswered questions and theories surrounding it. One theory is that although Noreen claims to have been visited by Johnny, many people don’t believe that it happened and that she made it up or that it was a very believable dream. Whilst it is possible that a grieving mother could have dreams about her missing son, would they be this real? Would she have told the FBI and police about it?
Another nagging question, in this case, is who sent the anonymous letter to the police? How did they know the photographs were fake? How did they even know about the photographs, to begin with? And, who was talking to Johnny in that blue car on the morning of his disappearance? Is he connected with his disappearance?
But most importantly: What happened to Johnny Gosch, and where is he?
True crime, missing, unsolved, children, USA, missing person, Iowa, missing child, unsolved, unsolved disapperance, disapperance, disappeared, cold case