The Disappearance of

Ann Gotlib

Presented By

Bonnie M. Wells

Gotlib Case - June 1st, 1983:

Though Unsolved, Helped Transform

Such Investigations:

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sedelen@courier-journal.com

The Courier-Journal

By Chris Hall, Special To The Courier-Journal


An abandoned bicycle was all police found when 12-year-old Ann Gotlib went missing from the Bashford Manor Mall area of Jefferson County 20 years ago yesterday.

Since then, nothing and everything has changed.

"Twenty years ago, when we stood in front of reporters like this, making this plea, we could never have imagined, after all these years, doing it again," Ann's mother, Lyudmila Gotlib, said yesterday from atop the stairs in front of the Hall of Justice. "But here we are."

"We realize that after 20 years, generations change and it will be harder to find witnesses, but miracles happen and we are clinging to the hope that a miracle can happen for us."

Lyudmila Gotlib and her husband, Anatoly, appealed again yesterday for information that will answer the question that's stumped police and FBI officials despite thousands of leads and two decades of investigation.


What happened to Ann?

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Meanwhile, child-welfare advocates say Ann's case has helped increase national awareness of missing and abducted children and has revolutionized how missing-child cases are handled across the country.

The Gotlib case was "part of the reason that Congress realized that Americans needed help with missing children," said Charles Pickett, a senior case manager at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Congress created the center, which is in Alexandria, Va., in 1984 to help law-enforcement agencies work together to find missing children.

When Ann a girl with auburn hair and freckles disappeared, much of the country was beginning to talk more about missing children. At that time, an estimated 1.8million children vanished from their homes each year.

But Louisville had never dealt with a case like Ann's.

"What's important to understand is; that a little girl would disappear and never be seen again, and no one ever be charged, in a noncustodial abduction, is rather rare," said David Beyer, spokesman for the FBI office in Louisville.

Before Ann vanished, it was so rare that a local child-advocacy group formed in May 1983 found few people willing to join its volunteer ranks.

"This was an issue that was very hard to get people to talk about," said Lucy Lee, executive director of the Exploited Children's Help Organization. "It was just too frightening to think about something like that happening here."

The following month, it did.

On June 1 Ann disappeared in broad daylight from the busy shopping center on Bardstown Road, across the street from her home on Gerald Court.

Volunteers then came from everywhere, Lee said, to join existing ECHO members and police to search ditches, mail fliers to police departments across the country, canvass nearby neighborhoods and pray. ECHO members also arranged fund-raisers and coordinated news conferences for Ann's parents.

"They are quiet people and it was very difficult for them to face the media, but they knew they had to," Lee said. "We did what you do when you're helping any family in the midst of a tragedy."


The possibilities

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As time passed, various theories about Ann's disappearance surfaced.

Among them was the possibility that Ann, whose family immigrated from Russia in 1980, had become the victim of a Soviet government kidnapping designed to force the family's return. After some checking, FBI officials said they found no evidence to support this.

There was also speculation that Ann had left voluntarily because she was having trouble adjusting to American life and getting along with friends. Family and friends, however, said that the girl's anxiety was typical of adolescence. Police eventually agreed, saying that if she'd left voluntarily, she'd most likely have contacted a relative or taken money and some favorite possessions.

And then there were the wrong turns, strange coincidences and bad tips.

Three days after Ann's disappearance, a police bloodhound picked up Ann's scent around a ditch near the mall and led detectives to the window of an apartment in a complex across the street. It was the home of Ester Okmyansky, the grandmother of the last friend to see Ann before she disappeared. Okmyansky said later that Ann had never visited the apartment.

FBI officials said the dog erred when distracted by the smell of cooking food, even though the dog's handler thought it too coincidental that the scent led to a relative of a friend of Ann's. The Okmyanskys were eventually checked and cleared.

Three weeks after Ann's disappearance, police questioned a Nicholasville man suspected of molesting a 10-year-old girl at the Jewish Community Center jogging track and flashing two nearby 6-year-olds hours before Ann vanished.

That man, Ralph Barry Barbour, admitted the incidents involving those three children and acknowledged abusing half a dozen others in Kentucky and Indiana, but three witnesses said he was in a Lexington trophy shop at the time of Ann's disappearance.

In January 1984, a man accused of breaking into a house, then stabbing and attempting to rape a police officer's 13-year-old daughter, became a strong suspect.

Bank records showed that that man, Gregory Lewis Oakley Jr., had even visited a bank branch in the mall just hours before Ann vanished. But Oakley denied involvement and no physical evidence linking him to Ann was ever found.

In May 1984, Ann's photo was featured as part of a made-for-television movie about another missing child. Afterward, a Boston resident reported seeing a "dirty, freckle-faced girl" in the city's Charlestown section who ran away when called by the name Ann. About 200 detectives searched but found nothing.

In 1990, Texas death-row inmate Michael Lee Lockhart claimed that Ann was among 20 to 30 girls he had killed and that he had buried her body at Fort Knox while there on active duty seven years earlier. After three days of digging up a remote tank range, however, police also discounted that tip.

Three years later, Lockhart provided the Gotlibs with a map of the alleged point of burial, and the family asked for permission to dig at the Army post. Jefferson County police went to the post but could find no terrain that matched Lockhart's map.


The National Picture

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During the early 1980s, child experts around the country were beginning to look to Louisville for innovative ways to help keep children safe and prosecute adults who hurt them.

The creation of the Jefferson County Missing and Exploited Child Unit, which paired social workers and police officers to work on child-abuse and child-exploitation cases, had proved so successful that it became a national model.

And in 1981, Ernie Allen, once head of the Louisville-Jefferson County Crime Commission and the county's chief administrative officer, invited experts on teen runaways, child pornography, kidnapping and child prostitution and the parents of high-profile missing or abducted children to Louisville for a conference on those issues.

The conference, the first of its kind, helped organize a successful lobbying effort for legislation needed to create the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Since then, the center has helped law enforcement with more than 89,000 missing-child cases and the recovery of 73,351 children by serving as a liaison between the agencies, managing its own investigations of missing-child cases and working to keep the children in the public eye.

The center also trains officers and other police personnel around the country in ways to quickly find missing children.

John Rabun, head of the Jefferson County exploitation unit at the time of Ann's disappearance, was asked to oversee that effort through the unit's model program not long after center was created.

Even now, however, he can't help but note the irony of receiving national praise for investigative methods that didn't find Ann but that made all the difference in finding scores of other children.

For example, he said, Ann's case was one of the first in which detectives used billboards.

"Everyone told us it was stupid to do that, but luckily, the company was willing to do it for free. We got a slew of leads from those," he said of the big signs asking for information on Ann's case along highways from Indianapolis to Lexington. "You couldn't have lived within a hundred miles from Louisville and not known about Ann.

"It all should've worked, but it didn't," he said.

Ann's case was one of the first to enter the center's system. Of the more than 8,000 cases that the center's staff constantly update and investigate, it is now one of the oldest.

Charles Pickett, a senior case manager at the center, has handled Ann's case since the beginning. As part of his duties, Pickett stays in contact with local police and FBI agents working the case, updating the center's file. He also monitors crimes in other parts of the country, searching for similarities and possible leads on suspects and keeps the Gotlib family informed. Updated reports are filed on Ann's case at least every 90 days.

Pickett said that local investigators and agents have been as tenacious in investigating Ann's case over the years as any he's seen, and that some cases as old as Ann's are eventually solved.

"They are looking at everything they can look at in this case," Pickett said of police. "This 20th anniversary is no different than 16, 17, 18, or 19. We're still looking at people who could match this case."

To help with that effort, the center conducted an intensive two-day cold-case review in Alexandria last month for Louisville and FBI officials working Ann's case, plus a representative from the Jefferson County commonwealth's attorney's office. During the meeting, Pickett said they and some of the country's best criminal and cold-case experts reviewed every aspect of the case every suspect, every shred of evidence and every lead to come up with new clues.

Pickett said he doesn't expect police to ever stop looking for Ann.

"They still hold out hope that it's going to get resolved," he said. "They want to bring it to an end."


The Numbers

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Nearly 800,000 children more than 2,000 a day were reported missing in 1999, according to the National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway and Throwaway Children. Of those, only 115 cases involved children being abducted by a stranger or slight acquaintance, transported more than 50 miles from home, and permanently kept, ransomed or killed.

Earlier estimates of the numbers of missing children are considered sketchy, because study definitions varied so widely, but experts think the number of nonfamily abductions has decreased from the 200 to 300 reported in 1990.

Kentucky has had a sharp decrease in the number of missing children, from 8,093 in 1993 to 4,648 last year. On average, officials say, about 250 children remain missing at the end of each year, the majority of them runaways.

In Indiana, the overall number of missing youngsters is higher between 11,000 and 15,000 annually over the past eight years but a steady decrease has also left police there with fewer children to find.

Kentucky officials acknowledge that Ann's case raised awareness of the problem in the 1980s, but credit the state's decrease to public awareness of more recent disappearances, which included 1996 abductions of 9-year-old Amber Hagerman in Arlington, Texas, and 7-year-old Morgan Violi of Bowling Green. Both girls were found murdered.

They also cite the success of preventive efforts.In December, Kentucky kicked off its Amber Alert program. It will work through the state's existing emergency-alert system to issue alerts about abducted children on radio, television and highway message signs. Indiana began its Amber Alert program in October.

There are at least 41 programs across the country, and they have been credited with recovering at least 17 children since 1997.

"Fortunately, we haven't had to activate our system at all since our program began. We ran a test in December and found that the signal had reached the outermost areas of Kentucky within four minutes and was scrolling across televisions within 10 minutes," said Kentucky State Police Capt. Sonny Cease, head of the state Amber Alert program. "We're prepared to use it every day but hope we don't have to."


The Toll

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It's been four years since he retired from the FBI, and even longer since he worked on the investigation, but the burden of not having solved the Gotlib case still haunts Chris Hoehle, 60, who lives in La Grange.

"She's the first thing I think about when I wake up and the last thing I think about at night." Hoehle said. "Anatoly and Lyudmila, they're such wonderful people. I think of them every day."

Hoehle and his partner, Phil Austin, were part of an army of federal and local officials working the case over the years. And he said that although the officers he worked with were dedicated, it doesn't matter. They failed.


He Failed.

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"You can sweeten it up any way you want. We were responsible for finding this child," he said. "We failed individually and as a collective group."

During yesterday's news conference, Lyudmila and Anatoly Gotlib recognized the efforts of police and FBI agents.

The couple still hope someone will provide the information they need to let them lay the uncertainty to rest within their lifetimes, and they said they have looked for ways to live their lives without Ann.

"We have our friends, our family, our job," her mother said. "We try to live as normally as possible."


December 2008 Update:

Ann Gotlib's Fate Clearer After 25 Years, Police Say

By Jessie Halladay jhalladay@courier-journal.com December 5, 2008

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After 25 years of interviews, fruitless searches and tips, Louisville Metro Police say they think they know what happened to 12-year-old Ann Gotlib, who went missing on the first day of her summer break in 1983.

Citing new information gathered since summer's 25th anniversary of Ann's disappearance, police said yesterday they believe she was abducted and killed by Gregory Oakley, a convicted child abuser who died in 2002.

Oakley was an early suspect in the case but, despite years of police investigation, could never be definitively linked to Ann's disappearance.

Bobby Jones, the retired detective who arrested Oakley in another case involving a young girl in 1984, apologized yesterday to Ann's parents, Russian immigrants Anatoly and Lyudmilla Gotlib. He said he wished he'd pushed harder to link Oakley to the girl's case.

"I'd just like to apologize to them for not being more aggressive," Jones said during the police news conference. He added later that he didn't think the case was handled properly by the department, which was then the Jefferson County police. "I believe that we could have solved it back in 1984."

The Gotlib family issued a short statement through police yesterday, asking for privacy and time to understand the latest developments.

Ann disappeared on June 1, 1983. Her bicycle was found near the Bacon's department store at the old Bashford Manor Mall, not far from where she lived on Gerald Court.

Though her body has never been found, police said they now believe that Oakley abducted Ann and killed her with an overdose of the painkiller Talwin.

National Spotlight

In the days after Ann's disappearance, hundreds of volunteers scoured the area surrounding the mall and detectives tracked leads. Stories about what had happened swirled through the community, leading to outlandish reports that included Ann being kidnapped by the Soviet government.

Her disappearance was one of the first to put a national spotlight on missing children as law enforcement authorities checked sightings and reports from Oregon to Florida. Ann's face appeared on billboards, milk cartons and she was the topic of national television shows.

U.S. Senate Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a statement released yesterday that Ann's disappearance is one of the reasons Congress passed the Missing Children's Assistance Act, which helped establish the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, a national clearinghouse for information about such cases.

Over the years local detectives would look into the case again. At one point, they tracked a story that Ann had been buried at Fort Knox; it was later disproved.

Oakley surfaced repeatedly as a suspect, and a recent tip prompted another effort to find the answer.

Not long after a June memorial service marked the 25th anniversary of Ann's disappearance, a former girlfriend of Oakley's provided new information to police about his whereabouts on the day Ann disappeared, said police Maj. Dave Wood.

The girlfriend, whom police did not identify, said Oakley had come to her house about 11 p.m. that day, and asked her to wash some of his clothes. That helped police establish that Oakley had been in Louisville when Ann disappeared.

Though police had known since 1984 that Oakley had been at the Bashford Manor Mall to make a bank transaction on June 1, 1983, Oakley had said he left town after making the withdrawal.

Police say they also got additional information from a man who had served time with Oakley in a Kentucky prison in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

The inmate, whom police declined to identify, first told them in 1992 that Oakley had admitted killing Ann. But police were skeptical of the information because the inmate had lied about some other things involving Oakley during a polygraph test, according to Sgt. Denny Butler, a Louisville homicide detective currently working the case.

After re-examining the case this year, detectives decided to re-interview the inmate, who told police again that Oakley confessed to killing the girl. A polygraph test confirmed the former inmate's statement, police said.

Always A Suspect

Oakley first came to police attention in Louisville when he was arrested in January 1984 for an attack on a 13-year-old girl, during which the girl was stabbed. He was eventually convicted of attempted rape and burglary and sentenced to 50 years in prison.

Police questioned Oakley about Ann's disappearance at that time, including giving him a polygraph, which he failed. But police could never definitively connect Oakley to her disappearance, though he was always a suspect, Wood said.

"At the time, the investigators evidently didn't feel there was enough evidence," he said.

Oakley died in Alabama of lung cancer in October 2002, just three months after receiving a medical parole from the Kentucky prison system, police said.

Shortly before his death, Oakley responded to a Courier-Journal reporter's request for an interview in a letter, saying he had nothing to do with Ann's death. In the letter Oakley noted that he was dying and had no reason to lie.

Larry Carroll, a retired detective who worked cold cases for metro police, took a run at solving the Gotlib case in 2003 after Oakley's death.

He said he subpoenaed Oakley's prison records but never came up with more than "word around the prison yard" that Oakley had killed Ann.

Police are not officially closing the investigation into her case, hoping that people will continue to come forward with additional information.

Anyone with information should call the anonymous crime tip line at 574-LMPD.

Reporter Jessie Halladay can be reached at (502) 582-4081.


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Mrs. Bonnie M. Wells


Kentucky Woman

John Thrasher {2004}

Stephanie Davis {2005}

Misty Blu Gwinner{2005}


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