LOUISVILLE, Ky. — It is a story that shook our community to the core. A young girl vanishes from a shopping mall in the summer of 1983. Her name was Ann Gotlib. She was 12-years-old.
Twenty-five years later, police said a man, who had died years earlier, was responsible for her disappearance.
Nearly four decades since she disappeared, the WHAS11 FOCUS team finally won our fight for access to the investigative files. Now, we are taking you all along with us as we retrace the investigation one document at a time.
Call to the community
"It gives us hope because the more people who are involved, the more people who will see ann's picture on the streets, the more is the possibility that someone will see her somewhere and the more is the possibility that she will come home," Gotlib's mom announced.
Days after Ann Gotlib first disappeared, her parents joined by Mitch McConnell called on the community to help look for her. Tips immediately started flowing in, and they didn't stop for the next decade.
Watch the video from the press conference below:
In the never-before-released files, we found handwritten notes describing possible sightings and notes from investigators depicting their follow-ups.
This tip was mailed to the Jefferson County Police Department from Simpsonville in 1989. Inside the envelope, a note directed to the lead detective reads, "Dear Sergeant Howard- Saw this picture in the July issue of the Mirabella magazine and wondered if it could be Ann Gotlib?"
They attached a clipping from the magazine.
Police followed up, as described in this report, but after a close analysis of the model's facial structure, it was ruled it couldn't be Gotlib. Police turned it over to the FBI's New York office anyways. According to the report, a special agent tracked down the model and confirmed she was not the missing girl.
Other model clippings accompanied with handwritten notes were sent to the police department for analysis but were always ruled out after further investigation.
One piece of evidence is well-known in the investigation and is often alluded to in reported sightings: Gotlib's bike.
In the late 80s, one woman called in her tip and a dispatcher took notes. The woman reported seeing a little girl with red hair like Ann's on a pink bike in Louisville's Shelby Park neighborhood.
We now know that Ann's baby blue bike was left abandoned at the Bashford Manor Mall all of those years ago.
Sightings of Ann as an adult
Computer-generated images were used to compare a young Ann Gotlib to the woman she would age into. As years passed, the sightings didn't slow but rather changed to reflect the situations of a young woman many hoped Ann grew up to be.
One person wrote police describing someone they believed to be a pregnant Ann Gotlib.
A woman who worked in Harrison County Hospital described a curly red-headed patient with freckles and a strange accent. She told the doctor she didn't know who her mother was, or where her father was and she had a necklace made of teeth draped around her neck.
The investigative record shows Jefferson County police sent an officer out from the criminal investigation division. He made note of the tooth necklace and left a note that further investigation may be needed.
Records custodians told us there are seven boxes of evidence. They are sorting through them, scanning them into digital files, and releasing them to us in batches.
We have a lot of evidence to work through in the most high-profile missing person's case in Louisville history. As we turn each page and examine each file, we are sharing it all with you in reports at 6 p.m. this week on WHAS11.
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