Reviews, Views and Adventures in Content Creation

Saturday, October 25, 2014

"Who Took Johnny" Documentary Review/Commentary

A change of pace today...

Recently, I had the opportunity to see the documentary, "Who Took Johnny," the first feature-length film to look at the unsolved mystery of Johnny Gosch, the twelve year-old school boy that ventured out early one morning in 1982 for his regular paper route — and never returned.

If you were around then, you'll remember the story. Then, as now, there was no evidence pointed to what had happened. There were no witnesses. He was simply gone.

For the first several days, the local police in Des Moines, Iowa refused to classify the disappearance as an abduction, then a common practice in law enforcement. Johnny's case wasn't initially treated with the urgency that we would expect today.  Ironically, his case would help to change that assumption, and recognition
that action is critical during the initial hours and days of a disappearance.

Months and years- and then even decades dragged on without an answer. Johnny's mother, Noreen, became an activist in child exploitation, and was one of those responsible for the creation of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which fights against child abduction through awareness and prevention. Johnny's was the first face to appear in a wide-ranging campaign to place the images of missing kids on milk cartons.

Noreen also has claimed that a fearful Johnny Gosch visited her once as an adult, telling a story of being abducted and sold into a network of the the rich and powerful, forced into sex slavery for years. A few years ago, someone sent her 80's era photographs of bound boys, one of which she identified as Johnny. There have also been independent witnesses who claim to have been imprisoned in the same network.

Noreen's claims don't constitute hard evidence, however. Some have suggested that she has repeatedly been the victim of those who would exploit the fears of a desperate mother. While she claims the photographs are of her older son, her ex-husband denies the resemblance. 

As a documentary, "Who Took Johnny" is a frustrating journey. There is, of course, no conclusion. The case is still unsolved. A year later, another boy was taken under similar circumstances. His case, too, remains unsolved. There are no working theories.  The case of Johnny Gosch, despite it's notoriety, remains cold.

There can be no glimmer of hope. All prospects related to his fate are bleak—from murder shortly after his abduction to exploitation in a nefarious network, or even his survival as a deeply damaged adult. He would be over forty today.

Long term imprisonment or even brainwashing doesn't seem as outlandish as it may have when Johnny disappeared. We've seen women held in cage-like enclosures for a decade. Shawn Hornbeck was freed four years after being abducted and ultimately brainwashed into submission.

Anything is possible.

Perhaps what haunts me the most about Johnny's case—and the many others that still remain unsolved—is that, inevitably, the world moved on as they were held, tortured and exploited. It moves on today as unknown numbers of children and adults in this country are held against their will by both disturbed individuals and underground networks.

There are extensive efforts today to fight child exploitation. Law enforcement around the world has tracked down and arrested entire networks of the same description that Noreen has described. When Johnny disappeared, such investigations were rare or non-existent. Today, millions are aware of the concept of human trafficking.

Yet the central question, "Who Took Johnny?" remains unanswered. Whether his remains lay somewhere unclaimed since 1982, or he is alive today, mired in the wreckage of a world he didn't create, the documentary serves as a reminder that these highly publicized stories aren't simply sensational headlines and dated school photos.  Johnny was a living, breathing human being.

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