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Two years and still no trace of Johnny Gosch

By ALICE NOBLE

DES MOINES, Iowa -- Eugene Martin's father didn't want his son to take a job delivering papers. But the boy did -- and on Aug. 11, failed to return.

His disappearance was a near carbon copy of that of 12-year-old Johnny Gosch, who set out with his dog and his red wagon Sept. 5, 1982, to deliver the Sunday newspaper near his suburban West Des Moines neighborhood.

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The dog arrived home a short time later, the wagon was found nearby, but Johnny still is missing.

Don Martin says if his son, 13, returns home, 'He ain't never going back on that route.'

For Gosch's parents, John and Noreen Gosch, Eugene Martin's disappearance brought back nightmares of the Sunday they were awakened at 7:45 a.m. by a customer complaining he hadn't received his Des Moines Register.

John Gosch found his son's room empty, the dog in the yard and the wagon on a nearby sidewalk, filled with newspapers.

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Another carrier said he met Johnny as usual that morning on the corner where they picked up their papers. As they parted, the boy said he saw a motorist -- a man -- pull up in a car next to Gosch, apparently looking for directions.

The boy said he heard no commotion from the dog and continued on his way.

There have been hundreds of leads since and the emotions of John and Noreen Gosch rose and fell as, one by one, the leads fell flat.

The family received two calls about a month after the disappearance - one from a woman who said a religious cult was holding the boy, the other for a ransom. Police said they were both hoaxes.

A newspaper carrier disappeared a year later in Bellevue, Neb., and was found dead. Last December, in the same town, another teenager was found dead. Their killer confessed and police said he was not implicated in the Des Moines disappearances.

In January, a woman reported seeing two men chasing young Gosch down a street in an undisclosed city -- 10 months earlier.

'The boy ran up to the woman and said, 'Please, lady, help me. My name is John David Gosch,'' the investigators said. 'At that point, one of the men grabbed him, twisted his arm behind his back and dragged him away.'

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Police shrugged it off as a family situation.

On Feb. 22, Noreen Gosch said she received three short, late-night telephone calls from her son within a few minutes. She told authorities each call lasted about 40 seconds and the boy sounded 'mixed up, like he was on drugs.'

Authorities said the calls were too short to trace. Telephone company officials refused comment.

In March, a Texas lawman said investigators were checking out at least a dozen reported sightings of Gosch in the southwest.

The Des Moines Register's reward fund has grown to more than $100,000 for information about either case. Posters and photos have been plastered in shop windows and at bus stops in Des Moines and to every daily newspaper in the United States and Mexico.

Authorities initially considered Johnny Gosch a runaway and didn't react very fast. The Gosch family, upset at the pace of the investigation, persuaded the Legislature to require all reports of missing children to be filed immediately with the national crime computer.

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