Special Reports

Case of missing Kansas boy sent to prosecutor

For the most part during a news conference Monday, Butler County Sheriff Craig Murphy declined to reveal his thinking about the mysterious disappearance of 11-year-old Adam Herrman.

Murphy summoned reporters after promising to notify them when his detectives turned their investigative findings over to County Attorney Jan Satterfield. That happened Friday, when detectives delivered a nearly 3-foot-tall stack of papers, he announced.

Now, it's up to Satterfield to decide whether criminal charges will be brought against Adam's adoptive parents a decade after he disappeared.

Although Murphy didn't reveal much, he said this: "I feel there is enough to charge the parents -- with what, is not up to me, and I'm not going to speculate on it. But I see charges there."

Asked whether he expected murder charges, he wouldn't say.

Satterfield has told The Eagle that murder charges are possible.

Murphy's latest comments were the furthest he has gone in publicly pointing a finger at Adam's adoptive parents, Doug and Valerie Herrman of Derby.

"Our focus is on the Herrmans right now," he said. "And I will tell you that... our focus has not switched."

Asked whether he thinks Adam is dead, Murphy said, "From the bottom of my heart, guys, I can't make that call because I don't know," he said, stressing the words. "I wish I could make that call, but I can't."

Asked whether investigators have found any physical evidence of the boy, Murphy said, "We have not found any body parts of Adam Herrman."

He noted that, despite a nationwide alert, authorities have not heard from Adam, who would be 21 now.

Valerie Herrman has told The Eagle that Adam ran away from their Towanda mobile home in early May 1999 after she spanked him with a belt. She said the couple didn't report him missing because they feared it would lead to him and their other children being taken from their custody.

Several of Valerie Herrman's relatives have said they saw her abuse Adam over the years, but she denies it.

The relatives said she explained Adam's absence by saying he had gone back into state custody. He had been home-schooled, so he would not have been reported absent from school.

Authorities didn't discover his disappearance until late last year, after his adoptive sister came forward with concerns about him.

Warner Eisenbise, attorney for Valerie Herrman, declined to comment Monday.

Dan Monnat, attorney for Doug Herrman, said his client is "innocent of causing any harm to Adam Herrman. We understand the prosecutor is looking at charges, and we're confident she'll come to the same conclusion."

Satterfield could not be reached.

Detectives have given her page after page of interviews and details about searches.

"She has every piece of paper," Murphy said in an interview before the news conference.

"Now, she can do her own investigation of the investigation."

He said they expect Satterfield to pose new questions for them to answer, and they will keep investigating.

Butler County detectives and search teams have looked for human remains along the Whitewater River near Towanda and in the Towanda mobile home park where Adam disappeared.

They also checked for possible evidence in the manufactured home he lived in before it was moved to rural northwest Sedgwick County.

Murphy said it's possible that investigators could conduct more searches. One remaining option is ground-penetrating radar.

Tips still trickle in. The latest came Monday in an e-mail from out of state. Murphy called the e-mail "interesting" but declined to say why.

Sheriff's Detective Sgt. Kelly Herzet, lead investigator on the case, said he wants the public and potential tipsters "to know we're not done" taking tips or investigating the disappearance.

Anyone with information can call detectives at 316-322-8817 or toll free at 866-484-5924, he said. Information can be sent by e-mail to crimetips@bucoks.com.

"We're always looking for that little piece" of information that could be crucial to the case, Herzet said.