41 Years Later, Mom Still Searching for Missing Son

CNN takes a fresh look into Johnny Gosch's cold case
By Gina Carey,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 31, 2023 12:15 PM CST
41 Years Later, Mom Still Searching for Missing Son
Johnny Gosch's case has been cold for 41 years.   (Getty / ijoe84)

Johnny Gosch was 12 years old when he went missing one morning in 1982. Forty-one years later, his mother is still searching for him. CNN's Thomas Lake reexamines the notorious cold case that later changed how police investigate missing children. And while theories abound, many of the details of what happened the day Johnny vanished remain constant. The boy was preparing for his paper route when he was last seen in West Des Moines, Iowa. Paperboys and other witnesses reported a mysterious blue car, a man following Johnny, and a second speeding car on the scene. Police brushed off the Gosch's initial concern, believing him to be a runaway. But his parents organized quickly, and soon everyone was searching for Johnny. The case turned up little evidence despite media attention and a campaign that put Johnny's face on milk cartons (his was one of the first) to widen the search.

Two main theories emerged over time. The first: Johnny was kidnapped and murdered (though his remains were never found). The second also leads down a dark path, fueled by sighting claims over time. His mother, Noreen Gosch, followed these clues, hiring investigators and interviewing a key witness the police still have not followed up on. The witness alleges Johnny was targeted by child pornographers, and would become trapped in a human trafficking ring that blackmailed high-profile people. Noreen's dogged search stems from the hope that if she can prove their guilt, Johnny (who she believes is alive and claims to have had contact with) can emerge from the shadows. As Lake puts it, "Any conclusion you make about the fate of Johnny Gosch will require some combination of guesswork and faith." Read the full investigation. (Check out more Longform stories).

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