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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Herrman case to get less visible

BY TIM POTTER
The Wichita Eagle

As Butler County investigators conducted two searches Saturday for a boy who disappeared in 1999, Sheriff Craig Murphy said detectives are preparing to present their case to a prosecutor in the next few weeks.

Murphy said the investigation - marked by several visible searches that he announced in advance - now moves "behind closed doors." Detectives will be readying their findings for Butler County Attorney Jan Satterfield.

Neither of Saturday's searches uncovered remains of Adam Herrman, Murphy said. One of the searches Saturday came in response to a tip and took place along the Whitewater River near Santa Fe Lake and Parallel roads, about three miles northwest of Towanda.

The second search occurred later Saturday at a manufactured home in rural northwest Sedgwick County - the same home where investigators spent hours searching last month. Much of the previous search focused on a bathroom where relatives alleged that Adam was kept for long periods. The manufactured home had been moved to its current location from a Towanda mobile home park where authorities say Adam disappeared a decade ago, at age 11, while living with his adoptive parents.

Authorities have been treating his disappearance - discovered only late last year - as a possible homicide.

Murphy had previously announced the location for Saturday's first search - along the Whitewater - and held a briefing for reporters on nearby Parallel Road on Saturday morning. But he declined to say much about Saturday's second search - in northwest Sedgwick County - and did not announce it in advance.

An Eagle reporter arrived as the second search was ending at the Sedgwick County home shortly after noon. That search team included at least one search dog.

The earlier search Saturday, along a northern segment of the Whitewater, marks the last planned search near Towanda unless tips prompt more searches, Murphy said.

He said the number of tips about the case has dwindled, possibly because the case is drawing less interest.

Satterfield, Butler County's chief prosecutor, will decide what charges, if any, could be filed, Murphy said.

Satterfield has told The Eagle that Adam's adoptive parents, Valerie and Doug Herrman, who now live in Derby, are suspects in an investigation that could lead to murder charges, based on an underlying crime of child abuse. Neither of the Herrmans has been arrested.

Several of Valerie Herrman's close relatives have said they saw her abuse Adam. She left a message at The Eagle last week saying her relatives are lying. The Herrmans and their attorneys say they are innocent.

Some of the investigation has occurred in public: Murphy gave news media advance notice of several searches, four along the Whitewater near Towanda and one in the Towanda mobile home park. Near each search site, he gave briefings to reporters and let news crews take photographs of search teams at a distance.

Now, Murphy said, "we'll go behind closed doors" to complete the investigation. The work will involve continued brainstorming by detectives, follow-up interviews of tipsters and paperwork to help Satterfield review the investigation, he said.

Murphy, who has been an investigator for decades, said that the Herrman case is "unique to my career."

Much of the challenge to solving the mystery is that "we started 10 years behind," he said.

"It's not even a cold case. We've literally had to start a case with no information," he said.

One of the difficulties investigators have encountered is that many of the people who lived at the mobile home park when Adam disappeared have moved since then, and detectives haven't been able to interview some of them, Murphy said.

Valerie Herrman has told The Eagle that Adam, who was being home-schooled by her, ran away after she spanked him with a belt in early May 1999 and didn't return.

She said that she and her husband searched for Adam but didn't report him missing because they feared it would cause authorities to take Adam and two younger adopted siblings from their custody.

Relatives said Valerie Herrman had told them that Adam was no longer with her because he had been returned to the state's custody. Authorities discovered his disappearance late last year after his older, adoptive sister - who had been trying to locate him - voiced concerns about his welfare to authorities.

Reach Tim Potter at 316-268-6684 or tpotter@wichitaeagle.com.

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