Innocence Abducted: Noreen Gosch Blinded by Ugly World of Child Sex Trade (Part 2 of a Series)
Police say it’s “likely” Johnny Gosch was abducted and “possible” his mom’s right and he fell into a vortex of child prostitution, snuff films and pornography.
Part 2 of a Series.
It isn’t a huge leap to believe that missing Iowa paperboy Johnny Gosch was kidnapped and forced into the sex trade, says an Iowa police detective overseeing the 30-year-old case, which remains open.
Johnny’s disappearance on Sept. 5, 1982, while delivering the Des Moines Sunday Register is classified as a missing persons case, and there’s “a strong likelihood” Johnny was abducted, said Detective Tom Boyd, a 25-year veteran of the West Des Moines Police Department.
Abductions like the one Gosch says took her son away occur infrequently among the scores of children reported missing in Iowa every year and the 2,185 kids nationwide who are reported missing each day. But when they do, ubiquitous media coverage can amplify the threat to children in the minds of the public, officials said.
“These are the kinds of cases that startle a community and, really, thank goodness they do,” said Gene Meyer, who was special agent in charge of the Gosch investigation 30 years ago for the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation. “I’ve often said that I’m glad that missing children are still front page news in Iowa.”
Nowhere is awareness keener than in Iowa this summer, which has seen weeks of coverage about the likely abduction of two cousins while on a bike ride in the northeast Iowa town of Evansdale in mid-July. And last month in Waukee, a stranger reportedly tried to lure a girl into a car as she walked to her school bus stop.
Tomorrow: A 30-year journey through a world that trades children profoundly changed Noreen Gosch, who discovered her true avocation – protecting children’s innocence – along the way.
Boyd won’t say for sure that Johnny was sold as a sex slave, as Noreen Gosch contends, but adds “that is always a possibility.” Noreen Gosch has harshly criticized the police department over the decades for failing to follow up leads.
“Being able to prove certain theories, that’s the difficult part,” Boyd said.
Investigators gathered file cabinets full of information regarding the Gosch case, said Meyer, at the time the special agent in charge of the agency’s probe into the paperboy’s disappearance.
“But what we know as fact as to how he disappeared, how he left that corner, is a very thin file folder,” Meyer said.
2.4 Million People Worldwide Victims of Human Trafficking
Johnny’s mother theorizes the northeast Iowa girls were stolen to supply the poke-your-eye-out-ugly world she looked at during her three-decade-long search for answers.
The sheer number of people forced into human trafficking networks is jarring.
This spring, the United Nations said 2.4 million people worldwide are victims of human trafficking at any one time, and 80 percent of them are exploited as sex slaves in what is a lucrative $32 billion network, The Huffington Post reported.
Gosch’s private investigator, Jim Rothstein, a retired New York City police detective and noted human trafficking expert, says Johnny’s fate is no mystery.
Rothstein asserts the boy was almost certainly stalked and kidnapped by a nationwide ring of pedophiles trafficking children. The theory is described by former Nebraska state legislator John DeCamp in his book, The Franklin Cover-Up: Child Abuse, Satanism and Murder in Nebraska.
In it, DeCamp, now a practicing attorney in Lincoln, NE, claims that what looked like a financial swindle when federal agents shut down Omaha’s Franklin Community Federal Credit Union actually financed an elaborate $40 million operation that, among other illegal activities, stole children to supply rich and powerful public figures.
Those are types of findings weighing down the Iowa DCI’s file cabinets, Meyer said.
Even Rothstein, who steadfastly maintains all the lurid detail is true, says “solving a case and being able to prosecute it are not the same.”
Network Time Was – And Still Is – Golden
If it’s the child you carried in your womb for nine months, how do you not collapse under the crushing burden of what your detective work revealed happens to kids forced into the sex trade?
The survivor in Gosch went on the talk-show circuit, where she hammered on what she thought police did wrong and what she thinks happened to her son, raising eyebrows with each media appearance.
A strikingly beautiful woman with electric eyes, Gosch often dashed away from her downtown Des Moines office for national TV interviews. She was so frequently jabbed in those days for always arriving so well-coiffed and stylishly tailored that it became a well-known but bad joke around town.
“I was known as ‘the Ice Woman,’” said Gosch, who has made more than 50 network television appearances and granted interviews about how the case was handled for more than two dozen prominent newspapers and magazines.
Wearing sack cloth and playing the tear-stained victim might have garnered her more sympathy, Gosch argued, but it wouldn’t get her any closer to finding Johnny. Five minutes of national air time before the age of the Internet was golden.
“She was articulate, she was attractive, and she was composed,” said Cathy Rossi, whose husband, John, was one of the last people to see Johnny Gosch the morning he disappeared.
Rossi said she doesn’t judge Gosch. Her son was also bundling newspapers on that street corner the morning Johnny vanished, and Rossi doesn’t know how she might have responded if her son had been taken.
“People immediately started criticizing her, asking how she could do that without falling apart,” Rossi said. “But people are different and they respond differently.”
Rossi said Gosch has “done a lot of good.”
That, the ability to carve something beautiful out of something so ugly, was her salvation. Her advocacy created a groundswell of support for changes in how missing children cases are investigated in Iowa and across the country, giving hope to other moms and dads, people like the parents of Elizabeth Collins and Lyric Cook-Morrissey whose children have vanished like a wisp of smoke.
Gosch was criticized, even vilified for it, and in the end, her son is still missing, and her heart is still breaking.
But it was worth it, she said. Johnny’s kidnapping “wasn’t for naught.”
About this series:
When Iowa’s Johnny Gosch vanished on Sept. 5, 1982, while delivering the Sunday newspaper in his quiet West Des Moines neighborhood, everything changed – for law enforcement, for the newspaper business and certainly for his mother, Noreen Gosch.
It changed everything.
That Norman Rockwellian image of a boy delivering the newspaper has been replaced with that of Johnny’s face on milk cartons, the low-technology equivalent of today’s Amber Alert system.
Though Johnny is still listed as missing on the registry of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Kids, the cold case is for all practical purposes closed.
In the days ahead, Iowa’s Patches in Ames, Ankeny, Cedar Falls, Iowa City, Johnston, Marion, Urbandale, Waukee and West Des Moines look at how his and other abductions changed laws and police protocol, and what Johnny’s mother learned -- and what we all should know -- from her journey to find her son.