Wisconsin Trip 2018

So last weekend I went to the Fourth Annual Wisconsin Missing Persons Awareness Event. (I also went to the first and second ones, but missed last year’s.) Here are some articles about it:

I arranged for an Airbnb and said I would be at my hosts’ house by six on Friday. But I left a bit early, and I had forgotten also that I would gain an hour by traveling west. So I was in Illinois, contemplating what to do about this extra time, when I saw a sign for the Illinois Holocaust Museum and I stopped there.

I wound up dropping $70 on books at the gift shop — and they were worth every penny. I didn’t get to see the whole museum but it seemed really nice, and I enjoyed walking on this exhibit which was set in the floor:

nazifloor

So I got up into Wisconsin and in the last two hours or so of the drive I realized the car was making a funny noise. It was louder than normal. There didn’t seem to be any difference in the driving, but the engine was suddenly REALLY REALLY LOUD.

I arrived at my Airbnb and was let inside by a lovely married couple with two little kids. The wife escorted me to my room and the first question I asked was a recommendation for a mechanic. I didn’t want to risk a six-hour drive home on a faulty vehicle. The nice lady gave me a mechanic friend’s cell phone number.

The mechanic’s name was Matt. He agreed to collect my car from the Airbnb’s driveway and look at it in his shop while I was attending the next day’s event. I then messaged Marsha Loritz, the event organizer, to ask for a ride to the event, two miles from my Airbnb, the next morning. Marsha said she would ask a friend to pick me up.

The next morning the mechanic came and took my car away, and time passed and I waited patiently but Marsha’s friend never arrived to pick me up. Finally I got a ride with the nice Airbnb husband, a work-from-home dad who cheerfully put coats on his toddlers, bundled all of us into his car and trucked me over to the place. (I later gave this couple five stars and a glowing review on Airbnb.)

So I showed up slightly late and Marsha’s friend saw me and was like “OMG did I forget to pick you up?” and was upset with herself but I shrugged it off. I was there. It didn’t matter.

The first hour or so consisted of standing at my table and answering questions from passersby. I got a call from the Matt the mechanic. My car’s wheel bearing was broken. I COULD drive it home, but there was a slight chance that at highway speeds the wheel would come flying off and cause an accident that might kill someone, possibly me. Or he could fix the car right then and there.

Of course I wanted the car fixed, but there was a rub: Matt didn’t take credit cards and I didn’t have enough cash on me to pay for the repair. He recommended someone else, but that shop turned out to be closed on weekends, and I was looking at the very real prospect of getting stuck in Wisconsin with no wheels until Monday.

I was quietly wigging out about this when I was approached by SAR (search and rescue) dog handler Rachel, my friend and fellow event attendee. I told her my problem and she promptly offered to lend me all the cash I needed to pay for the repair! Rachel saved my butt!

Problem fixed. She took me to Matt’s place after the event (stopping at an ATM for cash on the way), and went inside with me to meet Matt to make sure he wouldn’t be a creep. I paid him and drove home.

Getting back to the event itself: it was quite awesome. Rachel took this photo of me there:

wisconsinmp2018

There were at least seven dogs present. Four of them were therapy dogs (from left: Louise, Gracie, Ava and Bernie.)

therapydogs

There were also at least three SAR dogs. Rachel brought her Dutch Shepherd Rieken, and there was also Calvin, who was delighted to meet everyone and hammed it up for ear rubs and “good boy”s:

calvin

And there was this SAR-puppy-in-training who was trying to be professional but kept jumping on people:

puppy

Amber Wilde‘s family was there. Bobby Joe Fritz‘s family was there. DonaMae Bourgeois Bayerl‘s family was there. Marsha Loritz and her sister lost their mother, Victoria Lynn Prokopovitz, I’m sure other families were there as well but I didn’t see everyone. It was pretty well attended, pretty crowded.

The keynote speaker was Patty Wetterling. Of course most of you know the story of her young son Jacob, who was found in 2016, nearly thirty years after he was abducted at gunpoint. I didn’t get really good photos of her, but there’s this article you can read about her speech which has pics.

Patty told the story of Jacob’s kidnapping and the subsequent 27-year investigation into what happened. I hadn’t been previously aware of the role played by Jared, who was also a victim of Danny Heinrich.

Heinrich, Jacob’s killer, specialized in what I’d refer to as “grab-and-gropes.” He would basically snatch a child — a boy of a certain age — and drag him into his car, sexually abuse him, then release him within minutes. Jared was snatched a few months before Jacob was taken.

As the years passed Jared became convinced that whoever had done this to him had also taken Jacob, and he thought the perpetrator must have committed many, many similar crimes that were not reported to the police. Because you know, it’s a young boy just getting into adolescence, they’re embarrassed and ashamed, don’t want to talk to cops or parents about what happened to them.

But they might talk to Jared, because he was also a victim. So he started reaching out saying basically “this happened to me, and if anything similar happened to you, please come to me and let’s talk because we need to identify this man.”

Patty talked about campfire gatherings of Heinrich’s victims, where they would tell their stories while staring into the fire, because something about the presence of the fire got people to open up. You weren’t looking into someone’s face and seeing all the shock and horror and whatever as you walked, you were just talking to a fire.

The cops worked very hard on the case, and the Wetterling family worked very hard, but without Jared I’m not sure this would have ever been solved.

Patty also talked about how in the immediate aftermath of the abduction, other people began to prey on the family. Specifically, she mentioned several men who came, supposedly to help support the family and support the search effort, but really to creep on the kids. Like, they’d offer to babysit all the kids while all the grownups in the town were out searching for Jacob, then they’re creep on them.

This was absolutely vile. I hadn’t even considered that someone would want to do that. Patty said she learned the hard way — and she advised other families of missing children, so they wouldn’t have to learn the hard way — to run background checks and ask for credentials for everyone who showed up offering to help.

She also made a lot of good points about education. How parents need to be educated about signs to look for, signs of predatory adults, signs that children are being abused. How children need to be educated to know when they’re being creeped on, or taken advantage of, and to know who to go to for help.

(It reminds me of an episode from my own childhood: when I was in second grade I was repeatedly touched inappropriately by an older boy on the school bus. On the ride home from school this boy — who, it must be said, was severely mentally handicapped, nonverbal, and probably didn’t have the capacity to realize what he was doing — would sit on top of me on the bus seat and touch me in a way he shouldn’t have.

This lasted for weeks and I kept coming home in tears over it. My mother asked why and all I could think of to say was “a boy is touching me and bothering me.” She did not understand what I was trying to tell her and thought it was a situation of teasing, and was like “so stand up to him and tell him to stop, then.”

This incident was referenced in the Longreads article about me. I remember the frustration I felt at the time, because I knew something was very wrong about this but I didn’t know what it was or how to explain it, and it didn’t occur to my mom to ask any questions like “Where exactly is he touching you?” And so nothing was done, and the situation continued until the boy got tired of this game and stopped of his own accord.

This could have all been avoided if even one of us had been properly educated, like Patty Wetterling was saying, on the signs to look out for and how to ask for help. Fortunately I wasn’t really traumatized by what happened, I think mainly because even at eight years old I realized this boy had something wrong with him and didn’t know what was he doing. It was just a very uncomfortable experience for me is all.)

So Patty Wetterling gave this awesome speech that had me tearing up, especially when she talked about the nice boy Jacob had been, and what the world lost when he died before he could become a man, and how people reached out to to help them in their grief and loss and show solidarity for them.

And Marsha gave a speech and read the names of missing people aloud, and their families got to come up and say “My name is so and so, and this person is my relative who disappeared from this town on this day.” It was very emotional.

Instead of a balloon release, Vincent, this year they did pinwheels instead. Each of us got a shiny foil pinwheel with the name of a missing person on it — I got Evon Young — and the suggestion that we could put it in our yard or our window or whatever in this person’s memory.

I handed out plenty of business cards. Then we all packed up and left, Rachel took me to my car, I paid the mechanic and I drove home, arriving shortly after midnight on Sunday.

I’ve been super tired since I got home but unable to sleep well. I honestly can’t remember the last time I felt well-rested. The medication I take messes up my sleep and I often wake up after only about four hours, unable to go back to sleep again even though I feel like hammered dog poo.

Ima start the engines again today though.

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Johnny Gosch missing 34 years

At the request of Brittany K., I am writing about John David Gosch on the 34th anniversary of his disappearance.

The facts are these: Johnny was a twelve-year-old paperboy in West Des Moines, Iowa and on the morning of his disappearance, he slipped out of the house before 6:00 a.m. to do this route alone — something he wasn’t allowed to do; he was supposed to bring his dad with him. A witness reported seeing Johnny talking to guy in a car.

After that, no one really knows. Johnny kind of walked into a void. He was missed at seven o’clock when customers began to complain that they hadn’t gotten their papers. Johnny’s wagon and newspapers turned up on the sidewalk just two blocks from his house.

The internet is rife with theories and speculation as to what happened — the more so because Johnny’s mother, Noreen Gosch, claims her son secretly visited her in 1997 and told her he had been abducted by a pedophile ring.

Eugene Wade Martin, a 13-year-old paperboy from Des Moines, also disappeared while on his route, less than two years after Johnny did, and there are a lot of theories that the two cases are connected somehow. And I should note that Marc James-Warren Allen disappeared from Des Moines, less than two years after Eugene Martin, but I don’t know much about his case. He wasn’t a paperboy.

With the latest news about Jacob Wetterling’s remains being found, some people have suggested Danny Heinrich (the prime suspect in Jacob’s case) should be looked at in the Des Moines disappearances as well. I have no idea whether the police have looked into this or not. But I do want to point out that Des Moines is a four-and-a-half-hour drive from St. Joseph, Minnesota, the town where Jacob was taken.

(If you guys are wondering why I haven’t resolved his case yet, it’s because according to my user stats, everyone is looking at right now. I’ll give it another day or so before I pull him.)

Jacob Wetterling’s body found

Well, it’s hit the news like lightning today: it’s not officially confirmed yet with DNA, but yeah, Jacob Erwin Wetterling is coming home at last. The prime suspect in his case has lead the cops to human remains in an unspecified location.

I never had much hope that Jacob was alive, especially after all the crap about Daniel Heinrich came out, but this announcement still makes me feel pretty sick. Thinking about what that poor little boy went through before his death. And his family, what they’ve been through in the nearly 30 years since.

You just know that Jacob’s brother and the other boy that was with them must have blamed themselves for years, and maybe still do. Even though there was nothing they could have done, even though this was a grown man with a gun and they were terrified children. People always blame themselves in situation like this. It’s easier to say “This has to be my fault somehow” than face up to the cold hard truth that the world is a cold, ruthless, capricious place and everything you know and love can be taken from you forever in a random instant.

Jacob’s mom, Patty, texted the media this simple statement: “All I can confirm is that Jacob has been found and our hearts are broken. I am not responding to any media yet as have no words.”

Per the same article as Patty’s statement, Daniel Heinrich’s brother has said he feels so sorry for the Wetterlings and is glad they found their son at last. The family members of such people are usually-forgotten-about secondary victims in cases like this. Plenty of perfectly decent people have relatives who are monsters — believe me, I know — and I always try to remember the families of those monsters in my thoughts.

And I remember Jacob. The little boy who loved sports and video games and making models from kits. R.I.P.

False leads

As I’ve stated so many times before, I view the Charley Project as a place to share the story of a person’s disappearance: before, during, and after. That includes talking about the false leads that inevitably crop up during an investigation.

The Beverly Potts casefile, for example, details a number of leads that went nowhere, including a woman who wrote a letter that said she’d caught her husband disposing of Beverly’s body and left it in her house. It turned out, as I recall, that her husband was horribly abusive and she thought he would kill her, so she left the letter as a kind of attempt to frame him for child-murder from beyond the grave, assuming he actually did kill her.

As many of you know, there have been exciting new developments in the Jacob Wetterling case, and I dutifully updated his casefile. The details of disappearance includes an aside that Jacob’s father is an adherent of the Baha’i religion, a faith which not many Americans are familiar with, and there were rumors among the locals that Jacob’s dad’s religion had something to do with his son’s abduction.

A person posted a message on the Charley Project’s Facebook account saying they’d never read about Baha’i in relation to Jacob anywhere, and suggesting it be removed.

Well, the thing was, I hadn’t read about it either. The information about Jacob’s father’s religion and the subsequent rumor mill had been added to the casefile by Jennifer Marra back when she was running the MPCCN. So I checked with Newslibrary, a major source of old news articles, and found a St. Paul Pioneer Press article that referenced it. So at least I could confirm the accuracy of the information. (Not that I ever doubted it in the first place; Jenni cared as much about accuracy as I do.)

My question to you guys, though, is: where do we draw the line? At what point does a false lead or ruled-out potential suspect or local rumor become irrelevant, and perhaps even detrimental to the story?

Honestly, although I haven’t removed the info, I’m not sure I would have put the Baha’i thing into Jacob’s casefile if I myself had written it from scratch. There’s been news lately about Roger Day, an interview with his sister who mentions a “pedophile” who lived nearby and whose home was searched. They found bones that turned out to be not human. Yesterday I updated his case with more info, but didn’t include the bit about the neighborhood pedophile since there seemed to be no evidence, beyond his sister’s speculation, that Roger had any particular interaction with the man.

Where do we draw the line?

Alas, no new leads in Jacob Wetterling case

This past summer there was a lot of activity in the Jacob Wetterling kidnapping case. He was eleven years old when he was abducted at gunpoint by a masked man in 1989, and there’s been no trace of him since. The cops were searching a local property pretty extensively, where a “person of interest” had lived. Everyone hoped for a break in the case.

But it was not to be. This article quotes the police basically saying their search found zilch, nothing, nada. As to whether the person of interest — an elementary school music teacher — is off the hook, no word. Of course he maintains his innocence.

Possible break in Jacob Wetterling case

Eleven-year-old Jacob Wetterling was abducted at gunpoint by a masked man near his St. Joseph, Minnesota home over twenty years ago. The case got a lot of press attention at the time and since, but to all appearances had been gathering dust over the last several years. Now, it looks like there’s a break.

The police are swarming around a farm near Jacob’s home, having obtained a search warrant in his case. Very little information is available, as the police are not disclosing anything, but they seem to be removing furniture and barrels from the property. This article says a reporter called the residence but the woman who answered refused to comment. There’s an aerial photo of the search site.

I am not going to rejoice yet; I have seen too many bursts of activity on cold cases lead to nothing. But this search cannot be anything other than good. It shows that the police are still working on Jacob’s case and that they had enough evidence to get a warrant against someone. Even if they don’t find Jacob or the person who took him, at least they might be able to rule out some suspects and/or theories.

So I send virtual hugs to the Wetterling family and wait.

Jacob Wetterling missing 20 years

Today is the twentieth anniversary of the abduction of eleven-year-old Jacob Wetterling. He was kidnapped at gunpoint by a strange man in front of his brother and a friend, and never seen again. The police don’t seem to have any idea what became of him or who took him, though he is one of the most famous missing children in the country.

Of course there’s a slew of anniversary articles:
Minneapolis Star-Tribune (this is a nice one, focusing on how the abduction affected Jacob’s best friend who saw the whole thing)
Minnesota Public Radio
St. Cloud Times
St. Cloud Times again
USA Today
ABC News
Fox 9 News

Jacob’s abduction reminds me of a lot of cases, namely Jaycee Dugard, Johnny Gosch and Eugene Martin, and the Groene family murders and the abductions of Dylan and Shasta Groene. (I wonder if anyone looked at Joseph Duncan as a suspect in Jacob’s kidnapping? Just a thought.) Whoever kidnapped Jacob was incredibly brazen and brutal. My guess is that the abductor had committed other crimes before — not kidnapping but perhaps assaults, burglaries, maybe some sex crimes. You just don’t wake up one morning and decide to stalk and abduct a child at gunpoint in full view of two witnesses.

Is Jacob still alive? Who knows?