Directors: David Beilinson, Michael Galinsky and Suki Hawley
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Film Pulse Score: 7/10
It’s easy to take the justice system for granted especially when it comes to children. Thanks to the internet the world has grown much smaller. Amber alerts can reach out to thousands simultaneously; people can share information via social networks and can reach thousands more; news can be shared immediately as opposed to having to wait for the local news broadcast or newspaper. It was a mere three decades ago when none of this was in place and the system was an archaic, frustrating and ineffective mess. The compelling documentary Who Took Johnny looks at the kidnapping case that planted the seeds that ultimately grew into the system as we know it today.
On September 5, 1982, while out on his morning paper route, 12 year old Johnny Gosch disappeared from the streets of West Des Moines, Iowa. Imploring the aid of the local police department, the Gosch family is met with one unexpected roadblock after another. With precious time ticking away the fate of their son rests in the hands of a police department unwilling to go beyond their established policies and a police chief who clearly can’t piece together evidence that even a layman would consider significant. Over the next thirty years, Noreen Gosch has worked tirelessly to help those in similar circumstances and to implement change that would address the problems that they faced.
This is a fascinating and eye-opening documentary. As it unfolds you may be shocked and angered by what has transpired and than are enlightened by just what this one case helped bring into being. The Gosch case is significant in American history because this was the first time a missing child’s image was placed on a milk carton. It’s an interesting look at how different police policies were thirty years ago. A child cannot be declared missing for 72 hours until then the force will not actively investigate the report. In hindsight, it’s amazing they found anyone. We live in an age where police procedurals fill the air waves and now even a common person could almost pass as a detective. One senator noted that the FBI would track your stolen car across state lines but won’t do the same for your stolen child. Priorities!
The film opens as Noreen meets with a couple whose child has disappeared. It then chronologically follows the events of the Gorsch case from the disappearance through to where the case stands in the present. It’s well paced and engaging as new evidence is uncovered many years later. It’s not as exhaustive as The Paradise Lost Trilogy but still compelling nonetheless. It truly benefits from having people who covered or were involved with the case all those years ago look back to provide commentary on past. One reporter discussed how then reporters were more focused on the story and less interested in the incessant and endless rants of a “loony” mother. Looking back she now understands.
Who Took Johnny proves to be an educational look at how the justice system has changed, what caused that change and how that is impacting the world today. It shows how we as a society were living in our little bubble intentionally oblivious to the evils of the world and how the walls came crashing down when confronted with them. Unfortunately there’s no stopping this vicious cycle but at least we are now better equipped, more intuitive and more proactive and Who Took Johnny puts it all together and shows you how.