On September 5, 1982, the day started just like any other for 12-year-old paperboy Johnny Gosch. He embarked on his morning routine to deliver newspapers in the quiet, suburban neighborhood of West Des Moines, Iowa. Often, he was joined by his father, but on this day, he ventured out alone, accompanied only by his family’s dachshund, Gretchen. Johnny’s paper route was a familiar one, where he diligently delivered the Sunday Des Moines Register to the residents along his path.
But on that fateful morning, Johnny Gosch mysteriously disappeared, and he hasn’t been seen since. His vanishing sent shockwaves through communities and ignited a nationwide moral panic among parents. This event marked the rise of the “stranger danger” era, where parents began to fear for the safety of their children, even in seemingly safe neighborhoods like West Des Moines.
The documentary “Who Took Johnny,” released in 2014, delves deep into this chilling and perplexing story. It primarily follows Johnny’s mother, Noreen, who moves the narrative from the initial days of Johnny’s disappearance to the present, reflecting on the twists and turns the case has taken. The film takes viewers on a dark and winding journey through a conspiracy-laden maze, where uncertainty and powerlessness lead individuals to seek explanations in the most bizarre and unbelievable places.
Despite the lack of concrete evidence, Noreen Gosch clings to the belief that her son is still alive. Over the years, the case has been filled with sensational claims, including confessions from convicted sex offender Paul Bonacci, who alleged that Johnny was part of a vast child-sex trafficking network. These claims, though incredible, added fuel to the conspiracy fire. The documentary highlights other significant figures in the case, such as Ted Gunderson, a former FBI special agent, who contributed to the conspiracy theories surrounding Johnny’s disappearance.
The documentary takes the viewer through a rollercoaster of conspiracy theories, each seemingly more bizarre than the last. Despite the lack of clear evidence, these theories continue to persist, driven by the human need to make sense of the senseless and to find answers in the face of powerlessness. Ultimately, the film leaves viewers with more questions than answers, emphasizing the psychological allure of conspiracy theories and the way they flourish in a vacuum of facts.