We all now know the name Etan Patz, a New York City six year old who disappeared 33 years ago while walking to the school bus stop, but Etan was only one of a number of children whose disappearance has mesmerized the nation over the past two centuries.
Here are a few of the more sensational cases..
Adam Walsh: Disappeared July 27, 1981 – Adam was playing video games with a group of older boys at a Sears store in a Hollywood, Florida mall. His mother went to look for a lamp, when she returned Adam and the boys were gone. Apparently, a security guard had kicked them out. It was likely somewhere near the front exit that Adam was abducted. Two weeks later his head was found by a pair of fishermen in a canal in Vero Beach. A notorious serial killer named Ottis Toole, who claimed to have killed more than 200 people, confessed to the murder but was never tried due to lack of evidence. He later retracted his confession. At one point, the famous cannibalistic serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, living nearby in Miami Beach at the time, was considered a suspect. Adam’s father, John, a suspect himself for about a week, became an advocate for victims of violent crimes and later host of the popular TV show, America’s Most Wanted. In 1996, Toole died in prison of cirrhosis of the liver. His niece said that on his deathbed her uncle re-confessed to Adam’s murder. In December 2008, Hollywood Police Chief Chad Wagner declared the case officially closed.
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Johnny Gosch: Disappeared September 5, 1982 – Johnny left his home in the suburbs of Des Moines, Iowa just before dawn on Sunday to do his paper route. He never returned. By 6 a.m. his parents were receiving calls from customers complaining their papers hadn’t been delivered. One neighbor reported seeing him speaking to a stocky man in a blue Ford Fairlane with Nebraska plates. Johnny’s father searched the neighborhood and found his son’s wagon parked two blocks from the family home, still filled with papers. The police thought Johnny was kidnapped but were unable to establish a motive and no suspects were ever arrested. In 1984, Johnny’s photograph appeared on milk cartons across America. His mother, Noreen, said her son visited her in 1997 and that he was still alive, living under a false identity. In 2000, she came out with a book about his disappearance, Why Johnny Can’t Come Home. She presently runs the Johnny Gosch Foundation, which has the singular mission of finding Johnny.
“Johnny was taken by a highly organized, very corporate global pedophile/pornography ring,” reads the foundation’s website. “Like so many others, before and since, Johnny was subjected to severe trauma and torture of a satanic and sexual nature, in order to intentionally destroy the conscious personality…. brainwashing.” She goes on to say that Johnny and others like him live in secrecy in order to make sure their initial captors never find them again. “He is known as the ‘chameleon,’” writes Noreen. “Why? Because he can so completely change his appearance. He would like to be a part of his family once again but it isn’t safe.”
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Bobby Dunbar, Disappeared August 23, 1912 – The Dunbar family, from Opelousas, Louisiana, was on a fishing trip at nearby Swayze Lake when four year old Bobby disappeared. After a nationwide search investigators reported they had found the boy, living with a traveling organ tuner named William Walters, in Mississippi. Walters claimed the boy with him was actually named Bruce, the son of a North Carolina woman who had worked for his family and that she had willingly granted him custody. Nevertheless, by this point the entire country was aware of the case and pressure on the police to solve it was huge. The police asked the Dunbars to come to Mississippi to identify the boy. “Mother!” he cried, upon seeing Lessie Dunbar, according to one newspaper account. Other papers said the kid didn’t recognize the family at all. The next day Lessie bathed the child and reported she saw moles and scars she recognized and knew him to be her son.
Bobby Dunbar returned to Opelousas where there was a parade in his honor. Walters was convicted of kidnapping and sent to prison. Bobby had four children of his own and died in 1966. In 2004, a DNA test proved that Bobby was in fact not a Dunbar at all. What happened to the real Bobby Dunbar? The fake Bobby Dunbar’s granddaughter did her own thorough examination, reporting her findings on the radio program This American Life. Her conclusion: Bobby probably fell into Swayze Lake and got eaten by alligators.