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John was last seen while conducting his newspaper route in West Des Moines, Iowa on September 5, 1982. He was accompanied by his Dachshund, Gretchen. His father normally accompanied John on his route. The day before his disappearance, John asked to be allowed to do his route alone, but his parents wouldn't allow it. He apparently got up at 5:45 a.m. and left the house without waking his father as he was supposed to do. Witnesses told authorities that John was seen speaking to a male suspect on 42nd Street and Marcourt Lane while delivering his newspapers. The man was driving a blue two-tone Ford Fairmount, and John was apparently giving him directions.
At 7:00 a.m., customers on John's route called his home, saying their newspapers hadn't been delivered. His parents thought John might have overslept, but when they checked his room they realized he was gone. Gretchen returned to family's residence, but John had vanished. His wagon, with the papers still inside, was found two blocks from his home.
John's mother, Noreen Gosch, hired private investigators to look into her son's disappearance. She believes he was kidnapped and sold into a pedophile prostitution ring. She claimed she was visited by her son when she testified during a 1999 pedophile crime organization trial in Nebraska. Noreen said that he had visited her Iowa apartment in the middle of the night in March 1997 with an unidentified male, and stayed for over an hour. Noreen went on to say that her son told her he had been abducted by members of a pedophile crime ring. He said he had escaped from the group sometime earlier, was keeping a low profile to avoid repercussions from his former captors, and would probably not visit her again. Noreen maintained that she had no further contact with her son since that time, as she feared for his well-being. In 1999, a witness in an embezzlement trial claimed he had participated in John's abduction and that he himself was a victim of the same child sex ring that got John. When police investigated, however, they discovered the witness had been in Omaha, Nebraska on the date John disappeared.
In August 2006, Noreen told the press that she had found photographs left by the front door of her home. The images depicted three boys, one of them resembling John, and all of them were bound and gagged. In one of the pictures, the boy resembling John was wearing sweatpants similar to the pair John had worn when he was abducted. Other people connected the case reported receiving copies of the photos, either through the internet or through anonymous deliveries. Noreen stated she believed the photos were of her son and were authentic, but the police think otherwise. A Florida law enforcement officer stated he had investigated the very same photographs in the 1970s, before John disappeared, and had identified all the boys pictured, and they had willingly posed for the photos. Iowa police have yet to confirm the Florida investigator's account, but they stated they thought whoever gave the photographs to Noreen may have been playing a cruel prank.
by Hélèna Katz