Unsolved 4: A missing girl, a search for truth

Alexis Patterson’s walk home from Hi-Mount Elementary School in Milwaukee was just 242 steps.

Alexis, 7 years old and in first grade, always got home from school around 2:50 p.m. When she hadn’t arrived by 2:55 on a Friday in May 2002, her mother, Ayanna Patterson, began to worry. At 3, Patterson ran to the school in a panic. 

“That’s when I found out that my baby never made it,” Patterson told USA TODAY. “She never made it to school.”

The story of Alexis’ disappearance started with a massive search for the little girl and sympathy for her family, but that quickly changed as her parents became suspects. Over the years, there have been conspiracy theories and false leads and cases of mistaken identity. Still, her mom has never given up hope that Alexis will come home again someday.  

In Season 4 of Unsolved, we work to get to the bottom of what really happened to Alexis, what efforts were made to find herand why so many missing Black kids in America are never found.

Despite Milwaukee’s history of segregation and distrust between Black residents and police, the whole city comes together to search for Alexis, who loved school and loved to sing.

Alexis’ stepfather, LaRon Bourgeois, has a troubled history with police. That is enough to raise their suspicions after she disappears.

Police come up with the theory that Alexis ran away after her mom tells them about an argument over cupcakes.

Some witnesses say they saw a red truck outside Alexis’ school around the time she vanished. Could it have belonged to a serial killer?

Fourteen years after Alexis disappeared, a man from Ohio comes forward to say he believes his estranged wife might be the missing girl.

Two reporters travel to Ohio to see if they can get to the bottom of the claims that a young woman there is Alexis.

After a three-year delay in reporting because of the coronavirus pandemic, we ask the experts to evaluate the DNA profiles of Alexis’ mother and the woman in Ohio to figure out, once and for all, whether the two are related.

After more than 20 years of turning us down, the Milwaukee Police finally release more than 10,000 pages of records on their investigation of Alexis’ case. Some of the contents are completely unexpected.

Read our investigation into disparities in missing children’s investigations

Find out more about Alexis Patterson

Watch: States of America speaks with Ayanna Patterson

Reporter, writer, producer: Gina Barton, USA TODAY

Reporter: Ashley Luthern, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Sound engineer: Bill Schulz, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Editors: Amy Pyle, USA TODAY; Greg Borowski, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Composer: Evan Johnson

Artist: Lou Saldivar, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Season one, released in 2015, explores the circumstances surrounding the death of 14-year-old John Zera, who disappeared from his high school in 1976. Through decades of dead ends, investigators hold on to hope of finding the killer.

Season one link: https://projects.jsonline.com/topics/unsolved-season-one/

Season two, released in 2017, examines the case of toddler Michelle Manders, who vanished from her bedroom in the middle of the night in 1981. Did she wander alone into the darkness? Or was she kidnapped?

Season two link: https://projects.jsonline.com/topics/unsolved/index.html

Season three, released in 2019, tells the story of Father Alfred Kunz, a Catholic priest whose throat was slit inside St. Michael School in 1998. Some believe his death was linked to his battles against evil. Others believe his all-too-human flaws were to blame.

Season three link: https://projects.jsonline.com/topics/unsolved/season-three/the-devil-you-know.html

Contact Gina Barton at (262) 757-8640 or gbarton@gannett.com. Follow her on Twitter @writerbarton



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