Missing Iowa Paper Boy Case Remains Unsolved 40 Years Later
Forty years ago, a Des Moines Register paper boy went missing without a trace on Sunday, September 5, between 6 and 7 am. His name was Johnny Gosch.
I recall it well because I, too, was a 12-year-old Des Moines Register paper boy at the time of Gosch's West Des Moines disappearance. Only I was delivering papers in Dubuque.
Eerily, as a newspaper carrier myself, the very Des Moines Register headlines and stories of the mysteriously missing paper boy became a daily dose of unease throughout the fall of '82 and beyond. Even at the time, I found it peculiar and recall that no concern or precautions were taken by the Des Moines Register on behalf of the young boys and girls delivering its paper across the state of Iowa.
In the early hours of each day, I navigated the neighborhood, looking over my shoulder and observing nearby cars or unusual activity with caution and hesitation.
The missing paper boy was unnerving at the time because there was no trace of Gosch. He simply disappeared and was seen last at the nearby paper dropoff spot without a clue or hint of motive or evidence.
The story goes that a man in a blue two-toned car approached Gosch seeking directions. Another neighbor heard a door slam and witnessed a silver Ford speeding off near where they later found Gosch's wagon full of undelivered papers.
John and Noreen Gosch we alerted by customer calls complaining about undelivered papers. Immediately after a neighborhood search, the parents contacted the West Des Moines Police, whom the Gosch family criticized for the slow response and a 72-hour wait time to classify someone as a missing person, even if they were just 12 years of age.
The police first followed the narrative that Gosch was a runaway but later changed their focus and acknowledged that Gosch was a kidnap victim. However, without an established motive and lacking evidence, no suspects were ever arrested in connection with the case.
Noreen Gosch has never given up the search for her son and was a longtime vocal advocate for missing children.
Despite the emotional trauma of their son's disappearance, Noreen established the Johnny Gosch Foundation in 1982, through which she visited schools and spoke at seminars about the operations of sexual predators. In addition, Gosch lobbied for "The Johnny Gosch Bill," which mandates an immediate police response to reports of missing children. The bill became law in Iowa in 1984, with similar laws later passed in eight other states.
In 1984, Gosch's photograph appeared alongside that of Juanita Lee Estevez on milk cartons across America; they were among the first children to have their missing status publicized on the milk carton.
Over the past four decades, several investigations and false leads have yielded minimal evidence or case leads. However, Noreen Gosch has written books and had many unusual encounters and tips that have led to some pretty dark scenarios of human trafficking and all the gruesome dangers. Unfortunately, the outcome for Johnny Gosch and other missing children across America remains pretty grim.
On August 12, 1984, another Des Moines Register paperboy disappeared under similar circumstances. Thirteen-year-old Eugene Martin vanished while delivering newspapers on the south side of Des Moines. Unfortunately, Des Moines Police have never been able to make a connection between the two cases, and both Johnny Gosch and Eugene Martin remain missing. Noreen Gosch still hopes that her son Johnny survived his abduction and may still be alive.