In 1982 a most heinous crime occurred in the peaceful suburb of West Des Moines, Iowa. Twelve year old Johnny Gosch was out for his weekend paper route when he disappeared off the face of the earth. The presumed kidnapping rocked Des Moines to its core. All these years later, no one knows what happened to Johnny. In honor of the anniversary of the crime someone thought that displaying the little red wagon Johnny used to deliver his papers at the Iowa State Fair was a bright idea. You know, in case it elicits new information about the case. In honor of one of the biggest unsolved mysteries of the 1980s and in honor of Johnny (we guess) we’ve got some little red wagon tattoos for you.
The manhunt for Johnny was an expansive effort. For weeks hundreds of volunteers scoured the area, but to no avail. Some witnesses claimed to have seen Johnny talking to a man in a van with Nebraska plates and others reported seeing another vehicle following Johnny, but no solid leads ever came to light.
This whole affair cast a dark shadow over my youth. Growing up just outside Des Moines, there was still a palpable paranoia about the possibility of being kidnapped. Rumors abounded that Johnny had been abducted by a ring of pedophiles and all the local parents were hyper-vigilant to make sure the same fate didn’t befall their precious children.
An interesting note of trivia – Johnny became the second missing child to be pictured on a milk carton. Many people I know have vivid memories of Johnny’s black and white photo staring at them at the breakfast table when they were younger.
The case took a super weird turn in 1997. Johnny’s mother claims that he showed up at her house with another man and the two chatted for an hour before he disappeared again. Law enforcement officials haven’t been able to confirm or refute these claims, but she believes it was him.
Stranger still is the conspiracy that has cropped up in the last decade that Johnny Gosch became Jeff Gannon, a one-time member of the White House press corps who was disgraced over false credentials. Though seen by most as an unfounded crackpot theory, the rumor persists. Weirder still is that some fringe commentators have even linked Johnny to Pizzagate.
With the release of the documentary Who Took Johnny (now streaming on Netflix), interest in the case has been renewed. Still, why anyone thought displaying Johnny’s red wagon at an event attended by well over a million people was a good idea, we’ll never know. But in honor of a specter that loomed over my younger years, check out these little red wagon tattoos.
If these little red wagon tattoos make you want to come forward with that information you have about the case that you planned on taking to your grave, please contact the West Des Moines police department.