People view the Johnny Gosch case in one of two ways: The case is unsolved, or the case is solved ? though no one has any idea if Johnny Gosch is still alive today and, if so, where he might be.
Noreen Gosch, Johnny?s mom, is convinced her son was kidnapped by pedophiles and sold into an organized pedophile ring. The circumstances surrounding that theory are?well, astounding, for lack of a better word. Terrifying, twisted, sick. And because it is so twisted, many people dismiss it as either fantasy, or a fictional tale dreamed up by a mom driven insane trying to look for her son.
A huge thanks to CAVDEF for providing such a massive trove of information on this case.
The Twisted Unsolved Tale of the Johnny Gosch Disappearance, Part 1
The Twisted Unsolved Tale of the Johnny Gosch Disappearance, Part 2
With the West Des Moines police unwilling to properly investigate the abduction of Johnny Gosch, the burden fell squarely on the shoulders of Noreen and John Sr.
Noreen informed the police of a couple of odd occurrences just before the abduction ? strange, early morning phone calls that started a month before Johnny disappeared and stopped immediately after the abduction, and a conversation Johnny had with a police officer under the high school stadium bleachers during one his brother?s football games.
Just days after Johnny?s disappearance, Noreen spotted a story that had been published around September 24, 1982 about two Des Moines girls who had been forced into prostitution in Omaha, Nebraska.
When Orval Cooney, the West Des Moines Police Department police chief, refused to investigate a link between the trafficked girls and Johnny?s abduction, Noreen called a press conference to alert people to the story. This resulted in the Gosch family receiving a death threat in which they were warned to ?stop making waves.?
With nowhere to turn, the Gosches made the decision to hire a private investigator about a month after Johnny went missing.
The Gosch family was so suspicious that Johnny had been abducted and forced into sex slavery that, that in December 1982, one of the first things private investigator Dennis Whelan did was attend a child auction in Houston, Texas, to look for Johnny.
He was not among the children up for auction that day.
It makes your skin crawl to think that there are people in this world who are sick enough to sell children for sex, doesn?t it?
Glimmers of Hope
A Confirmed Sighting
In March 1983, the Gosches saw a small glimmer of hope when Johnny was spotted in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Johnny, who was being chased by two men, ran up to a woman and pleaded with her:
Please, lady, help me! My name is John David Gosch.
In yet another crushing blow, the men dragged the boy away before the woman could respond or take action.
When the woman reported the encounter to police, they wrote it off as a ?family situation? ? some bratty kid who wasn?t really Johnny Gosch who was angry at his own family for some reason. But the meeting continued to gnaw at the woman, and after seeing Johnny in a TV drama about child abduction and murder victim Adam Walsh (son of America?s Most Wanted host John Walsh) in October 1983, she realized that Johnny was the boy who approached her for help.
The family?s private investigators, working in conjunction with the FBI, concluded that the young boy was, in fact, Johnny Gosch.
?I am alive.?
Source: True Crime ? A Deeper Look Into True Crime
In July 1985, the Gosches and the rest of the country were again confronted with evidence to suggest that Johnny hadn?t simply been abducted and murdered.
A woman in Sioux City, Iowa, received a dollar bill in change from a grocery store with the following message written on it in pen:
I am alive. Johnny Gosch
Three separate handwriting analysts confirmed that the signature belonged to Johnny.
There was no way of knowing when the message was scrawled on the currency, though, because, according to a Treasury Department currency specialist, the bill had been in circulation since July 25, 1974.
At a press conference announcing the discovery, John Sr. told the press:
Please, we beg of you, contact us privately and allow us to have our son back. Our son has endured enough pain and suffering. Please return him to us alive and unharmed. If his life has been taken ? we ask that we may have information so that we at least know what has happened to him.
The Gosch family was caught up in a whirlwind of emotion. At times, it seemed that hope was dangled in front of them like a carrot, but their son was always just beyond their grasp.
No Such Thing as a Coincidence?
In Part 2, we discussed the disappearance of two more Des Moines-area boys, Eugene Martin, and Marc Allen, in 1984 and 1986, respectively. Scary enough, right? But what if I told you that Eugene Martin?s abduction was foretold, possibly by the kidnapper himself?
In June 1984, a man who went by the name Sam Soda contacted Noreen to arrange a meeting. This was on the basis that he was a private investigator who wanted to donate his time and talents to the search for Johnny.
Now, Noreen was a smart cookie who realized she had to document everything, especially because the police were so unwilling to assist in the investigation ? you know, like a police department is supposed to. So, smartly, Noreen brought a tape recorder to the meeting at Soda?s office.
Soda informed Noreen that an ?informant? had told him that another boy would be abducted the second week of August, and he, too, would be a paper boy.
At first, Noreen was incredulous. Why on earth hadn?t Sam Soda told law enforcement what was supposedly about to happen in two months time? But she was also unwilling to dismiss any information, even if it seemed preposterous.
As usual, the police dismissed Noreen and declined to investigate. The media, too, blew her off, with the exception of Des Moines Register reporter Frank Santiago, who was willing to listen to the taped discussion.
Then, on Sunday, August 12, paper boy Eugene Martin was abducted while preparing to deliver his papers. Sam Soda had been right, but how could he have known?
Shortly after Eugene was kidnapped, Noreen and several other local residents received a modified version of the poster below. Below the sketch of the man linked to the blue Ford Fairmont (the car that was seen approaching Johnny before he was abducted) was another sketch of a man who was a dead ringer for Sam Soda, along with a newspaper photo of him. As you can see, the sender drew an arrow from the sketch of Soda to the sketch of the man in the Ford Fairmont.
The implication was clear: Sam Soda was the man in the Ford Fairmont.
Sam Soda?s Shady Persona
As you can imagine, the Gosches became highly suspicious of Sam Soda, not only because he accurately predicted a second abduction, but also because of his vast knowledge of pedophile rings in Omaha. Sam Soda was also responsible for outing a pedophile who worked at the The Des Moines Register.
That employee was 37-year-old Frank Sykora. Sykora worked in the circulation department and admitted to molesting as many as 14 paper boys. Sykora was administered a polygraph test, the results of which showed he had no involvement in the Johnny Gosch or the Eugene Martin disappearances.
Sykora was immediately fired from the paper following the allegations, and later turned himself in to authorities. He pled innocent to one charge of third-degree sexual abuse, and one count of lewd and lascivious acts with a child.
Soda did not believe Sykora?s claim that he had to involvement in the Gosch and Martin disappearances, telling the Des Moines Register:
This is a man who is in a position where he knows all the routes and all the carriers.
The same article identifies Soda as a spokesman for the anti-child pornography group Stolen Children Are Reported Every Day (SCARED).
Threats, Extortion, and Missed Opportunities
Source: The Des Moines Register
According to Noreen, the police began monitoring Sam Soda, and her family soon became the recipients of harassment and threats.
The Gosch family began to endure harassment, threats, and prank calls during this time. In one particularly disturbing event, a man called the Gosch home demanding $10,000 for Johnny?s safe return. The caller directed Noreen to a telephone booth several miles from the Gosch home, where he said she would find a note with instructions.
Noreen located the note exactly where the caller said it would be. It instructed her to drive by herself to a particular area of the city, where she was to deposit the money no later than 1 a.m.
But the police didn?t have enough time to set up a sting, and they missed the deadline, causing the man to call back and state:
You waited too long, lady. You won?t get your kid back now.
Another disturbing incident involved a phone call from an unknown male, who told Noreen and John Sr:
Why don?t you drop the case before you get hurt, Mrs. Gosch?
About 20 minutes after the call, a man appeared in the Gosches? backyard and started hurling rocks at the windows.
The police were called, but they were unable to locate and arrest the man.
Source: The Des Moines Register
Messing With Their Minds
In case you haven?t figured it out by now, Noreen Gosch is an absolute warrior when it comes to advocating for her son and finding the truth. She doesn?t back down from a fight, she doesn?t let fear envelop her, and she has no problem saying what?s on her mind.
Before a small sea of stunned, wide-eyed journalists gathered for a press conference, Noreen spoke of three men from Des Moines, as well as a pedophile contact in Houston. She claimed that the police knew the identities of the men and were ?doing everything within their legal boundaries? to nab them and bring them to justice. (Police were mum on this statement.)
Noreen knew her statements might cause the kidnappers to pack up and head for the hills, but said she felt that such a decision would all but prove their guilt to the police.
Although Noreen did not share Sam Soda?s name at the press conference, she did refer to him, telling reporters that, at one point, the man left town, at which point the threats and harassment immediately stopped.
The man later returned to Des Moines, however, but the police lacked the evidence to justify an arrest.
Johnny Reaches Out?
On Valentine?s Day 1988, the Gosch family received a typed letter purporting to be from Johnny.
The letter read, in part:
I?ll never be permitted to return home. They?ve cut my hair. They?ve dyed my hair. I look different. Please don?t ever forget me. Love, your son Johnny Gosch.
This letter would have been enough to stop the heart of any mother of a kidnapped child, and by Noreen?s own account, she ?fell apart somewhere between the mailbox and the front door and practically drug myself into the house because it was such a shock.?
But the letter was particularly heart-stopping because, although its authenticity could not be verified, it included information that only Johnny could know, and it was signed the way Johnny always signed letters: ?Your son, Johnny Gosch.?
Noreen told People in October 1988:
We used to make it a family joke, telling him he didn?t have to give us his first and last names and sign things ?Your son,? because we knew who he was.
When asked if the letter could have really been from Johnny, the FBI said it was keeping an open mind.
Nearly two years later, a man would emerge from the shadows claiming that he had helped kidnap Johnny, and that the abduction was linked to a massive pedophile ring based in Omaha, with tentacles that allegedly reached the highest levels of the U.S. government?