Image: Johnny Gosch
The Des Moines Register file
Johnny Gosch, seen before his disappearance in September 1982, is believed to have been abducted.
updated 9/13/2006 5:22:00 PM ET 2006-09-13T21:22:00

The photos of bound and gagged boys that were sent to an Iowa woman whose son disappeared 24 years ago were investigated in the late 1970s and are not her missing son, a retired Florida sheriff’s investigator said Wednesday.

Nelson Zalva, who now works for the Hillsborough County, Fla., State Attorney’s Office, said he investigated the same photos while working for the county’s sheriff in 1978 or 1979.

“I remember this case,” he said. “I identified the kids portrayed in the photos. It was definitely investigated by me several years prior to the disappearance of Johnny Gosch.”

The photos were in an envelope left at the West Des Moines home of Johnny’s mother, Noreen Gosch, on Aug. 27.

One photo, in black and white, shows a boy bound and gagged on a bed. Another is a color photo of the same boy in a similar pose with two others boys.

Noreen Gosch turned the photos over to police, who have been investigating the authenticity of the photos and any connection her son.

One of first faces on milk cartons
Johnny was 12 when he disappeared from his neighborhood before daybreak on Sept. 5, 1982. His photo was became one of the first of a missing child to be put on a milk carton. Police have said they believe he was abducted but they have few clues.

Zalva said his investigation never resulted in an arrest because the children in the photos never admitted that the suspect touched them inappropriately. He said the boys in the photos had voluntarily posed for the photos, but he couldn’t recall why.

“Basically, what happened is someone, maybe it was one of the parents, found the photos and called the sheriff’s office and deputies went out there, impounded the photos and the case was assigned to me for investigation,” Zalva said. “I worked a long time on it, getting the kids identified.”

Lt. Jeff Miller, a West Des Moines Police spokesman, said the investigation is continuing into who left the photos at Noreen Gosch’s house.

“If they are not of Johnny Gosch, someone is playing a horrible prank,” he said.

Miller said Gosch has been informed of the Florida investigation.

A telephone message left Wednesday morning for Gosch was not immediately returned.

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