“Who Took Johnny?” Barely Misses Mark

Who Took Johnny?
Directed by David Bellison, Michael Galinsky, and Suki Hawley
2014
1 hour 20 minutes
Available on Netflix

Happy Halloween!

For this first part of our Halloween Double Feature, let’s start with what does work with this documentary:

  1. It has compelling source material which the filmmakers respect. In 1982, Des Moines paperboy Johnny Gosch vanished mid-route. He has never been seen since. Police’s reluctance to treat the incident as a kidnapping, rather than as a run-away, drew criticism and led to an escalating conflict between Johnny’s parents and the West Des Moines Police Department. Several more paperboys were snatched from the same area. As if to confirm everyone’s worst fears, a convicted pedophile came forward to claim he, as a teenage victim of sexual abuse, helped kidnap the paperboys for a group of rich and powerful pedophiles. The story only gets stranger from there, folks.
  2. It includes an exemplary portrait of grace and courage. Johnny’s mother, Noreen Gosch, had already proved herself a survivor even before his birth: a few weeks after a tornado destroyed her home, her first husband died, leaving her to raise two small children. She remarried and had a third child, Johnny. After his kidnapping, she became an advocate for children’s safety; her activism led to the adoption of laws mandating that law enforcement respond immediately to the disappearance of children, as well as to the establishment of the  National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Before Johnny’s kidnapping, human trafficking and child sexual abuse were not topics in the American consciousness.

But, something just does not click with this noble-intentioned documentary. I offer the following as reasons why:

So much of the story is based on speculation and hearsay. Remember that convicted pedophile with the fantastic claims? Paul Bonacci does not come across as a reliable source–obviously traumatized by child abuse and having plenty of motives to produce an attention-grabbing story. This, of course, is not the filmmakers’ fault, but their attempt to let viewers draw their own conclusions comes across more as ambivalence than as objectivity.

in the end, though, Who Took Johnny? does a good job publicizing a case and an important issue, but by not trying to further untangle the complexity of the story, it fails to rise to the top of the genre.

Stars: 3/5: Not bad, but not superior.
‘Fraidy-cats  2/5. If I had children, undoubtedly I would be much more troubled.
Ick-factor 1/5: No blood, no guts, no decay, but you will have to consider pedophilia for an
hour.

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