Who Was the First Missing Kid on a Milk Carton

Back before the Amber Alert was invented, and long before social media, missing kids used to be featured on milk cartons. The practice started to phase out just a few years after it started. But up until the mid-90s you could still end up staring at a poor child’s face every morning as you poured your cereal. How did the practice begin and who was the first missing kid to be featured on a milk carton?

The First Missing Kids on a Milk Carton Were Two Paperboys from Des Moines, Iowa

A quick Google search will widely declare that the first lost soul to be made famous on America’s biggest food staple was a boy named Etan Patz. To some extent, that’s true. He wasn’t the first face to be printed on milk, but his case certainly inspired the practice on a national level.

Videos by Rare

Videos by Rare

But the answer is actually two boys, simultaneously. Their names were Johnny Gosch and Eugene Martin. Both were paperboys for Iowa’s Des Moines Register. And eerily, both boys went missing while on their newspaper delivery routes.

The Case of Johnny Gosch

Johnny Gosch was 12 years old when he disappeared in the early morning of September 5, 1982. Wakening before dawn, Johnny didn’t roust his dad to come along with him like he usually did. Instead, he took the family dog and his wagon. Multiple witnesses, including newspaper customers and fellow newspaper boys, stated that they saw Johnny talking to a man in a car. Another said they saw a man following Johnny on foot before hearing a door slam and seeing a Ford Fremont speed away.

When Johnny Gosch’s father, John, started hearing that his neighbors hadn’t received their papers, he started looking for his son. He found Johnny’s newspaper wagon just a couple of blocks from their house. When he and his wife called the cops, they said they couldn’t treat the case as a missing person incident until 72 hours had passed.

Johnny was never found, and his case still remains open today although it is cold. But his mom, Noreen, has insisted that he actually paid her a visit at one point. According to Noreen Gosch, Johnny was kidnapped by an organized pedophilia and kidnapping ring that stole young boys and turned them into sex slaves. She said that Johnny came by to tell her this himself but left again, saying his life was in danger.

Noreen has since started the Johnny Gosch Foundation. Its main page states that its purpose is to ensure election integrity, but if you read the blog, you’ll see the Gosch family ties that into much darker topics. And she still holds onto a piece of hope that someday she’ll see her boy again.

Eugene Martin’s Disappearance

About two years after Johnny Gosch’s disappearance, 13-year-old Eugene Martin went missing. Like Johnny, he was on a paper route for the Des Moines Register. Also, like Johnny, Eugene left his house before dawn. The day was August 12, 1984.

In fact, the rest of Eugene Martin’s case is so similar to Johnny Gosch’s that it sends chills down one’s spine. People started complaining that their papers were missing around 6 am. When the manager of the Des Moines Register left the building to personally deliver his customers’ missing newspapers, he spotted Eugene’s bag on the ground. Inside it were nearly a dozen folded newspapers.

The search for Eugene started at 8:45 am. Multiple witnesses said they saw him speaking to a man in a car. Their timelines were a bit different, but they ranged from between 5 and 6:05 am. The man was described as between the ages of 30 and 40, about 5’9” with a medium build, and with a freshly shaved face.

Eugene Martin was never found despite a nationwide bulletin describing the suspect. His mother Janice died of diabetes and his father Don died of cancer while suffering from Alzheimer’s in 2010. According to Eugene’s paternal aunt, Don held on despite his illness because he hoped to someday be reunited with his son.

And former police detective James Rowley, who worked on Eugene’s case, said he will forever be haunted by what happened. He told the Des Moines Register that he thought Eugene and Johnny’s cases were connected. He also openly pondered why such a villain would work with 2-year gaps.

The Des Moines Iowa Paperboy Abductions Inspired a Dairy Company to Make the First Missing Child Milk Cartons

As is pointed out by Iowa Cold Cases, there was in fact another boy of the same age who disappeared from the area about 2 years after Eugene. 13-year-old Marc Allen vanished on March 29, 1986. He’d left his house to go on a walk and meet friends and never came back. But unlike Johnny and Eugene, Marc was not a paperboy, and he was last seen in the evening.

But we’ve digressed. Within a month of Eugene Martin’s disappearance, the public was rightfully terrified. Why would two boys, about the same age, both go missing while on their Des Moines Register newspaper route?

In September of 1984, Anderson Erickson Dairy company, based in Des Moines, came up with a genius idea: Put the boys’ information on the side of their milk cartons. Eugene Martin and Johnny Gosch were together, side-by-side, on Anderson Erickson Dairy’s half gallon cartons. Underneath their photos were the pertinent details: How old they were, when they went missing, their features, etc.

The idea caught on. The vice president of Hawthorne Mellody Dairy in Wisconsin spotted one of the missing child cartons while in Iowa. He relayed the concept to the Chicago Police Department. Then a California assemblyman’s chief of staff read about Chicago’s plans to implement the program and California followed suit. By January of 1985, Chicago and California were manufacturing millions of the missing child cartons. News stations across the country were talking about it.

The National Missing Children Milk Carton Program Launched in 1985

Simultaneously that same January of 1985, the National Child Safety Council started organizing a “Missing Children Milk Carton Program.”

But then there is Etan Patz. The 6-year-old went missing in Manhattan, New York while walking himself two blocks away to his school bus stop on the morning of May 25, 1979. It was the first and last time his mother let him walk by himself. That was the last time he was ever seen.

Patz’s case shook the country as his face was on posters, TVs, and even in Times Square. Four years after he went missing, in 1983, President Reagan designated May 25 as National Missing Children’s Day. So, when the Missing Children Milk Carton Program took off, Etan Patz was of course included. By then, his face was so recognizable that he’s often referred to as the first missing child to ever be featured on a milk carton.

But the truth is, it was Eugene Martin and Johnny Gosch, the newspaper delivery boys from Iowa.

READ MORE: 12-Year-Old Girl Escapes Possible Abduction by Asking Stranger for ‘Secret Password’

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