Special Reports

Most missing kids reported quickly

The investigation into the 1999 disappearance of 11-year-old Adam Herrman had several law enforcement experts struggling Thursday to think of a more unusual case.

There have been cases where a person has been missing for years before a body is found and a criminal investigation is launched.

There have been plenty of cases where the parents of missing children have failed to file reports in a timely manner. But it's usually a delay of a few days or weeks.

But the case of Adam, who was reported missing by a relative only seven weeks ago, has drawn widespread attention and speculation from around the country.

"I'll be honest with you, I can't think of a single case like this," former Sedgwick County District Attorney and Sheriff Vern Miller said of the delay in filing Adam's missing person report. "I've known them to wait a week or two -- maybe three or four -- where they say they think he's gone off to his dad's. And usually that's what happens.... I don't remember a single case like this."

The Butler County Sheriff's Office began investigating Adam's disappearance after authorities received a tip from a relative of Adam's who said he disappeared from his parents' Towanda home in 1999.

The parents, Doug and Valerie Herrman, later told authorities that Adam ran away in 1999, and they said they failed to report it because they were afraid of losing their other children.

Investigators said the Herrmans told relatives that Adam, whom they had adopted when he was 2, had gone back into state custody.

Brian Withrow, an associate professor of criminal justice at Wichita State University, said the fascination with the case probably stems from the behavior of Adams' adoptive family.

"These people lied for 10 years; that's what makes this different," he said. "They just flat-out lied to everybody who cared to ask. They made up stories for 10 years.

"Normally, when you have a person that's missing -- particularly a child -- there's a report made. Somebody misses that person, and then you go looking for that person. Sometimes you find him and sometimes you don't. Sometimes it's months before you find him, and sometimes it's years."

Searching for clues

Butler County sheriff's investigators on Wednesday searched a mobile home in the 10300 block of North 109th Street West. It's the home where Adam and his parents lived in 1999, when it was in the Pine Ridge mobile home park in Towanda.

Sheriff Craig Murphy said Thursday that the search consisted mainly of taking pictures of the home and making diagrams of the floor plan.

He said detectives spent Thursday going over their findings and following leads.

On Saturday, Murphy said, investigators plan to use dogs to search the banks of the Whitewater River west of Towanda. The area is popular with anglers and children, Murphy said, and Adam may have gone there if he ran away from home in 1999.

Withrow said that if Adam's remains are ever found, there's a good chance they'll tell investigators a lot about how he died.

"There's all sorts of evidence that can come from a body," he said. "Whether it will tell you who did it, probably not."

Other local cases

Among missing children cases in Sedgwick County, none drew more attention than the July 30, 1990, disappearance of 9-year-old Nancy Shoemaker. She disappeared while walking to a convenience store in her south Wichita neighborhood to buy a bottle of pop for her sick brother.

A jogger searching for aluminum cans found Nancy's skull and a handful of bones in February 1991 in Sumner County. Dental records confirmed her identity, and two men were charged in her abduction and murder.

One of the area's oddest missing persons cases involved the 1979 disappearance of Don and Norma Earl of Haysville. Their bodies were found in a shallow Kingman County grave in November 1983. Two men were charged in their murders.

Although authorities appear to be at a dead end in the search for Adam, Withrow said there's a good chance that the case will be resolved soon.

"I think that somebody's going to step up with information that will lead authorities to a resolution," he said. "My gut feeling is that somebody's going to step up and say something."