Special Reports

Bathroom at center of search for Adam Herrman

In a recent search of the home where 11-year-old Adam Herrman lived when he disappeared in 1999, investigators spent three hours checking a bathroom for clues and used a chemical that can detect blood traces, the current homeowner said.

Butler County Sheriff Craig Murphy said Saturday he couldn't comment on whether investigators obtained evidence but confirmed that the search focused on the bathroom.

"We looked at every inch of that bathroom," Murphy said in Towanda, where search teams Saturday scoured the east bank of the Whitewater River but found no remains of the missing boy. His decade-old disappearance was discovered late last year after a tip to authorities.

Close relatives of Adam's adoptive parents, Doug and Valerie Herrman, have said they saw him being kept for long periods in the bathroom, when the manufactured home sat in a Towanda mobile home park, before being moved to Sedgwick County.

Valerie Herrman has said that she kept her adoptive son in a bathroom at night, with plenty of bedding, on the advice of a psychiatrist after he threatened the family.

A new search along the Whitewater River at Towanda on Saturday found "nothing of any interest," Murphy said. It was the second search that investigators have conducted along the river this month, looking for Adam's remains.

When he disappeared about 10 years ago, he and his adoptive family were living in a Towanda mobile home park east of the river. In the months after he disappeared, the family moved the manufactured home to a lot in rural northwes t Sedgwick County. Investigators searched the home at that site on Jan. 7. The Herrmans now live in Derby.

Dan McDaniel, the home's current owner, told The Eagle on Friday that investigators focused on a bathroom off the hallway.

McDaniel said he knows the investigators used luminol - a chemical used to detect tiny traces of blood - because they provided directions for cleaning up powdery residue left by the forensic tool.

Investigators worked in the bathroom for about three hours but apparently didn't dismantle or remove anything in the bathroom, he said.

They didn't say whether they detected any blood, he said.

The investigators apologized for the disruption, McDaniel said, but it didn't bother him. "That's a minimal disruption if it helps solve a case like this," he said.

McDaniel's wife, Sheri, said of Adam, who would be 21 now, "I just hope that maybe he's still alive."

Murphy has said that investigators have not ruled out that Adam is alive, but Murphy also has consistently said that investigators are looking for Adam's remains.

The McDaniels, in their 50s, have lived in the home since May 2003.

Although the couple know that the home is being investigated as part of a possible homicide, Dan McDaniel said it doesn't bother him.

"As far as living in the home, no, I'm not uncomfortable," he said. "The house hasn't done anything wrong."

'Not entertainment'

On Saturday, at the search staging area in Towanda, Murphy said he agreed with a recent comment The Eagle obtained from Butler County Attorney Jan Satterfield, the county's chief prosecutor. Satterfield said publicly for the first time that Doug and Valerie Herrman are suspects in their adoptive son's disappearance.

"Yes, they are very possible suspects," Murphy said Saturday.

Satterfield also told The Eagle that the investigation could result in first-degree felony murder charges, with the underlying crime being child abuse.

On Thursday, Satterfield said that investigators are "making progress" and are giving her regular briefings about the case.

Satterfield said she is reviewing state child welfare records and medical records on Adam. He was the Herrmans' foster child before his adoption by them was finalized in August 1993, when he was 6.

No charges have been filed against the Herrmans, and they and their attorneys have said they are innocent.

Referring to the Herrmans, Murphy said they have been the focus of the investigation because they had responsibility for Adam.

Noting that the case has drawn the attention of national talk shows, Murphy said, "It makes (for) interesting conversations." But he added, "They don't know what we know."

"This is not entertainment," Murphy said. "This is about Adam Herrman, a boy who went missing. What happened to him, and who's responsible?"

River search continues

For several hours Saturday, starting about 10 a.m., about 15 people searched woods along the Whitewater River on the southwest side of Towanda.

The searchers included Butler County sheriff's investigators, Wichita police with the Wichita-Sedgwick County Exploited and Missing Child Unit, and a Wichita State University forensic anthropology expert and four students. One of the students carried a small digging tool.

In a tree line, a search dog darted through waist-deep weeds with its head down.

Murphy said the search dogs are trained to detect blood, tissue and bones.

Shortly after the search began, Murphy said, "We don't know what we're going to find. We don't know what to expect."

He said the search location is not the result of a tip but is based on common sense - that it is in a secluded area along a body of water, where the boy's remains could be found.

"We feel it's our duty to at least look, even though it's 10 years later," he said.

Earlier this month, investigators searched along another section of the Whitewater. The search started around K-254 on the outskirts of Towanda and has moved south. So far, the search has covered about three miles.

In a couple weeks, investigators will conduct a third search south along the river, Murphy said.

Investigators began looking for Adam late last year after learning from a tip that he has been missing since 1999, when he lived at the Towanda mobile home park with his adoptive parents.

The Herrmans said in an Eagle interview that Adam ran away after Valerie Herrman spanked him with a belt. They said they searched for him but he didn't return. Valerie Herrman said they didn't report him missing because they feared the spanking would lead authorities to take Adam and his younger siblings from them.

For years, the Herrmans explained Adam's absence to relatives by saying he had been returned to the state's custody because he had behavior problems, the relatives said.

The relatives told The Eagle that Valerie Herrman had abused Adam for years - an allegation she denies.