The mystery of whatever became of Louie the Clown has finally been solved.
Nearly a decade after it went missing, the Joyland mascot was re-introduced Thursday at a media briefing in City Hall.
For more than half a century, Louie the Clown played the Wurlitzer organ at Wichita’s Joyland Amusement Park. In a police briefing Thursday, Detective Matt Lang said Louie disappeared from Joyland sometime in 2005 or 2006 and was officially reported stolen in 2010.
As Lang spoke, Louie sat in a chair near the podium in the Wichita Police Department’s briefing room.
“Obviously, you see someone sitting next to me who is known as an icon in the city of Wichita,” Lang said.
“There was a lot of social media interest that kind of led and kept this case alive. After some investigation, went to a residence and was able to obtain a permission from that individual and located Louie inside the residence. We then obtained a search warrant to recover Louie and here he sits today.”
On Tuesday afternoon, Wichita police searched a house north of Hydraulic and Kellogg connected with Damian Mayes and located the missing clown. Mayes was a former employee of the park who renovated and repaired the Wurlitzer organ.
A Harvey County jury convicted Mayes in 2010 of aggravated indecent liberties with a child and aggravated criminal sodomy. Mayes, 39, is serving his sentence at the Norton Correctional Facility and is not eligible for parole until 2028, according to Kansas Department of Corrections records.
Three groups worked together to bring Louie the Clown home – members of the Wichita Police Department, Margaret and Stan Nelson’s family who owned Joyland, at 2801 S. Hillside; and the Historic Preservation Alliance of Wichita and Sedgwick County.
“It is a great feeling we finally have found it (Louie),” said Margaret Nelson Spear. “… It is a big relief. We are pleased.”
Lang said he has an appointment Monday with Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett and “we are going to pursue charges on this case.”
Mayes may face felony theft charges, Lang said. Louie is valued at $10,000. Another suspect may also face charges.
"I have a pretty good passion for him, " Mayes said of the clown in 2008. "It's really pretty upsetting."
In the years since he disappeared, Louie the Clown obtained urban legend status.
“Like Lazarus rising from the dead, we have Louie the Clown recovered,” said Greg Kite, president of the Historic Preservation Alliance of Wichita and Sedgwick County. “We have been working on this for months, accumulating information, photographs and statements.”
Postings on Facebook helped authorities link Mayes’ residence with the clown, Kite said. The postings were made by a relative of Mayes.
“I can’t undervalue Facebook postings,” Kite said. “It is amazing what people will say – unknowingly or unwittingly.”
Kite referred to Louie as one of the most symbolic pieces from Joyland: beloved by some, creeped out by others.
“Louie at the organ is what all children remember,” Kite said. “He was intriguing – a little scary looking at his face …You always had opposing feelings of excitement and a little fear.
“He is one of the marquee pieces from Joyland and needs to be preserved for the community.”
Joyland began shortly after the end of World War II with brothers Harold and Herb Ottaway and their father, Lester Ottaway. In 1949 and 1950, the Ottaways bought the 40-acre tract where Joyland Park sits today. They also bought Louie about that same time.
From there, they began building it into a family attraction. Louie and the Wurlitzer were modified to play mechanized paper rolls of songs.
In the early 1970s, Stan and Margaret Nelson purchased Joyland from the Ottaways. They ran it until 2005, when two groups made unsuccessful attempts to operate and buy Joyland.
Kite, who said he put his law practice on hold for several months to help investigate Louie’s whereabouts, said Louie is one-of-a-kind for Wichita.
“We can talk about the fact that there are probably less than a dozen of these organ-playing clowns in existence,” Kite said. “But the thing is, it is priceless to Wichita because it is the only one here. It is Louie the clown, which is linked part and parcel to Joyland Park.”
Lang said that when Wichita police went to Mayes’ home earlier this week, Louie the Clown was found inside in plain view. Margaret and Stan’s son, Roger Nelson, confirmed for police the clown was Louie. Boxes that Louie sat on also were recovered.
“While we are glad to have him back, this is just one little win that we have with this disaster of Joyland being torn apart by vandals,” Roger Nelson said.
Other items from Joyland may also be recovered as police continue their investigation, Lang said.
Lang said he began the investigation about a month ago by answering a phone call at his desk.
“I answered the phone and talked with an individual who was very excited about having information in reference to Louie the Clown and it jogged my memory from childhood,” Lang said. “I like the strange and unusual cases and so instead of hanging up and ignoring him, I talked with him.
“The more I talked with him the more credible information he had. They had done their own private investigation and made my job easy.”
Lang said it was Facebook references to Joyland that helped detectives track down Louie.
“There is a group of people on there all the time talking about everything from … the Wacky Shack, the carousel, the go-carts, the roller coaster. Louie was always brought up in the conversations.
“There were many articles that said once Louie disappeared, he would never see the light of day again. … Well, here he is.”