The Disappearance of Alexis Patterson

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EARLY LIFE:

Alexis Patterson was born on April 4, 1995 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The daughter of parents Ayanna Patterson and Kenya Campbell, she was known for being bubbly and having a bossy personality. A lover of roller-skating and the colour pink, she was often referred to by her nicknames, “Lexi” and “Pie”.

In 2002, Alexis was living in Milwaukee with her mother; her then stepfather, LaRon Bourgeois; and her six-month-old sister, Dysoni. The family, which she is said to have been very close to, lived in a house near 49th Street and Garfield Avenue. The residence was located just a half-block from Hi-Mount Boulevard School, where Alexis was in the first grade and said to have a perfect attendance record.

In January 2002, Alexis’ father, Kenya, was charged with misdemeanour battery and misdemeanour bail jumping, charges that would later be dismissed in May of that year. Just two months later, he was charged with repeatedly driving with a revoked license and was imprisoned. On May 1, 2002, the City of Milwaukee filed a civil suit against him, seeking $7,500 in damages for what they said was negligent operation of a motor vehicle. Judgement on behalf of the city was vacated nearly 10 years later, in August 2011.

Some sources say Kenya had posted a $100 bond in relation to the charge just two days before his daughter went missing. However, police have said he wasn’t released until May 6, 2002, three days after her disappearance.

LEAD UP TO DISAPPEARANCE:

Two weeks before Alexis went missing, parents at Hi-Mount Boulevard School had received letters warning them of man who had tried to abduct a little boy near the school. A week later, a teacher spotted Alexis talking to an unknown woman at the back of the school. Despite be lectured by her mother, she was seen speaking to the same woman two days later, which worried Ayanna.

On May 2, 2002, Alexis and her mother got into an argument because she’d failed to properly complete her homework, which was due the next day. As a result, she was told she wouldn’t be allowed to bring in cupcakes for her classmates, which upset her, as May 3 was her day to bring in a snack for her class.

At 8:00am the next day, LaRon walked Alexis to school, which was located at 4291 West Garfield Avenue. He watched her walk across the crosswalk, toward the school’s playground, before he returned to the house.

DISAPPEARANCE:

That day, Alexis did not attend any of her classes. Many students reported seeing her crying on the playground both before and after the school day had ended, but none recalled seeing her in the school itself. However, despite this, Alexis’ parents were not notified of her absence until after classes had been dismissed for the day.

As Alexis had no history of running away, Ayanna and LaRon initially believed she had refused to attend her classes because of the argument she and her mother had had the previous night. At 3:00pm, shortly after learning of her daughter’s absence, Ayanna contacted local police. It took them approximately an hour to respond.

Upon arriving at the Patterson home, police agreed with the potential scenario presented by Alexis’ parents. However, given she hadn’t yet returned home, they felt that something else may have caused her to disappear after she was seen on the playground.

SEARCH:

Immediately, the surrounding areas were searched, with the case initially being treated as a potential runaway. The grid-by-grid search centred around the northwest section of Milwaukee, with a specific focus on West Meinecke Avenue, West Vine Street, North 60th Street and North 16th Street. The area around Hi-Mount Boulevard School, as well as vacant residences, were also searched. While investigators canvassed Washington Park and set up a command post in the area, divers searched the depths of a nearby lagoon. This part of the investigation involved the use of boats, motorcycles, helicopters and horse back and saw hundreds of citizen volunteers lending their time to search alleyways and other nearby parks.

Upon speaking with some of Alexis’ classmates, it was learnt that a red truck had been spotted parked near the school for most of the week. Never appearing to drop off or pick anyone up, it vanished after the young girl went missing and has never been seen again. As a result, it’s never been identified and police have not been able to conclude if it’s connected to the case or not.

Kenya learnt of his daughter’s disappearance via local news coverage. On May 6, 2002, he was released from prison and questioned by police, who say he has been fully cooperative with the investigation. Ayanna and LaRon were also brought in for questioning, with LaRon of specific interest due to his criminal past. In 1994, he had been involved in a bank robbery that resulted in the fatal shooting of a police officer in Glendale, Wisconsin. For his testimony, he had been granted immunity in relation to this.

Both Ayanna and LaRon maintain their innocence.

In order to get Alexis’ image out to the public, hundreds of volunteers passed out thousands of flyers with her description. Investigators also went door-to-door in the days after she went missing, asking people if they’d seen her, and billboards were set up across Milwaukee, asking those with information to come forward.

On May 14, 2002, investigators announced that Alexis’ disappearance was the result of suspicious circumstances and had been reclassified as a criminal investigation. Months later, they would state they believed foul play to have been involved.

That same year, police subpoenaed four Milwaukee television stations, seeking tapes of past news coverage about the case. They wouldn’t state why these tapes were of interest, citing it was illegal to comment on sealed search warrants.

Around the time of Alexis’ disappearance, a man by the name of Brian T. Werner wrote and distributed racist flyers related to the case. He had placed them outside America’s Black Holocaust Museum and on shop doors and car windows, and they questioned why any white person should care about the Alexis having gone missing. Werner was arrested for posting the flyers, but was later released after it was determined his comments were protected by the First Amendment free speech clause. A second man, who has not been named, was also involved, but no charges were ever filed against him.

Along with making local news, Alexis’ disappearance made national headlines.

In August 2002, an anonymous caller contacted a local television station to say that the missing girl’s remains had been disposed of in the Milwaukee River, near Estabrook Park. Police divers searched the river, but nothing was found.

Hoping to drum up new leads, investigators looked through local sex offender registries, as well as probation and parole files, but were unable to come up with anything. Numerous officers also spent many of their days off searching for Alexis and were given hep by both the FBI and other state law enforcement agencies.

For months, volunteers would search the city daily for the missing girl. Utilizing K-9 units, they walked down paths and through buildings, searched Miller Park, and looked around local bodies of water.

In January 2003, sources familiar with the investigation shared that a John Doe investigation had been launched into her disappearance, but this has never been officially confirmed.

Approximately a year after Alexis vanished, LaRon was subjected to a polygraph, which he reportedly failed. The questions he was asked have never been publicly released. That same year, he was charged with an unrelated crime after he’d had a domestic dispute with Ayanna, who’d been trying to leave him. Described by Ayanna as abusive and threatening, he was ordered to stay away from her before the charges were dropped.

In 2004, Kenya was convicted of drug charges. Four years later, in June 2009,  he was also convicted of the manufacture and delivery of cocaine in Portage County, for which he was sentenced to four years in prison.

In 2005 (some sources say 2004), a prisoner told investigators that Alexis’ remains had been buried in the southern United States, near a metropolitan area. This tip led to the search of a vacant house in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, but nothing was found. This was one of many instances of search warrants being executed in the case and investigators travelling across, and out of, Wisconsin.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children released an age-progression photos of Alexis in 2009, which showed what she could have looked like at 14 years old. Another one would be released in 2013, showing what she’d look like at the age of 17.

In 2012, police announced that they’d re-interviewed 60 to 65 people connected to the case, as well as scoured more than 10,000 pages of notes and evidence. Some of those who had been re-interviewed shared that they may not have remembered correctly and that they may not have seen her that particular Friday morning.

Around this time, a relationship was re-established with the Patterson family. It was also announced by Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett that May 3 would be known as “Alexis Patterson: Forget Me Not Day”.

Hoping those already incarcerated might know something, Milwaukee police included her image in a pack of cold case playing cards that were then sent to jails and prisons across Wisconsin.

In December 2013, Kenya was charged with beating his 8-month-old daughter. He was charged with three counts of felony child abuse and one count of child neglect. According to Kenya, he had woken up his mother at around 5:00am on November 22, 2013 and told her that the baby had fallen off the couch. While she had gotten a split lip as a result of the fall, she was otherwise fine. He had then left for work, leaving his mother to care for the infant.

However, she’d had more than a split lip. Seeing how injured she really was, Kenya’s mother brought her to the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, where a CT scan and physical examination were conducted. Through these tests, it was determined she had suffered abusive head trauma, a broken jaw, a fractured rib, a lacerated liver and an adrenal haemorrhage, and bruises to her face, abdomen and chest. According to the doctor, the trauma was consistent with severe child abuse and the police were dispatched.

When questioned, Kenya’s mother initially said that the baby had been sleeping on her back in the living room, before falling off the couch after Kenya had already left for work at 5:00am. She had entered the living room after hearing crying, where she’d found the infant bleeding from her mouth and with her left eye deviated, as if she were having a seizure. This story was eventually changed to say that Kenya had woken her up to report the fall.

Kenya’s story changed and had several inconsistencies. He also told police he had returned home with his daughter around 3:00pm on November 21, 2013, with no signs of injury, after which he was her sole caretaker until 5:00pm. Upon him leaving for work the next morning, she had been asleep on the couch. His mother had tried to call him at 7:00am, but he didn’t answer. However, this call has never been proven, as Kenya had deleted the call history on his cellphone.

Kenya plead not guilty to all four charges against him.

In July 2016, investigators received information from a man named Joshua Miller of Bryan, Ohio, who believed his ex-wife to be Alexis. The pair had gotten married in 2009, before divorcing four years later. At the time Joshua’s theory came to light, the pair were in the midst of a custody battle over their son.

According to Joshua, there were aspects of his ex-wife’s past that didn’t add up, as she had no memory of her childhood prior to her being 10 years old. As he began to dig into her past, he came across Alexis’ missing persons flyer, where he discovered she and his ex-wife had a similar birthmark in the same place. Joshua’s suspicions were also shared by his fiancé and the pair were struck by his ex-wife’s resemblance to the age-progressed images of Alexis.

Hoping to confirm his suspicions, Joshua travelled to Milwaukee with his son to meet Ayanna. Whilst there, he gave a sample of his son’s DNA to Ayanna, as the police department in Bryan had already collected a saliva sample from his ex-wife. This sample, along with any files the Bryan Police Department had collected, were then mailed to the Milwaukee police.

Senator Lena Taylor caught wind of the theory during this time, as she’d been helping the Patterson family in their search for Alexis. She too was certain Joshua’s ex-wife was the missing girl after seeing the pair’s wedding photo. After Ayanna reached out to her, she got in contact with the local sheriff’s office, who sent officers to Ohio.

Police thoroughly examined this potential lead. When officials in Bryan met with Joshua’s ex-wife, she was able to provide them with numerous documents to prove who she said she was, including a birth certificate that showed she was born in Belize, her green card and her passport. She was also able to provide the pair’s divorce documents. This raised doubts in the theory, which were only further raised upon learning that the ex-wife was seven years older than Alexis would have been at the time and had already had two children. If she were indeed the missing girl, it would have meant she’d have given birth and married Joshua at an unusually young age, as she would have been 14 years old at the time.

When the DNA results came back from the Wisconsin Regional Crime Lab, it was determined the two samples didn’t match, meaning Joshua’s ex-wife was not Alexis. Ayanna questioned the results upon learning about them, saying that the sample they’d used from Alexis could have been corrupted or have come from another source. She demanded investigators perform a new test with her own DNA, but her request was denied. This led her to hire a private investigator.

Despite the DNA results, Ayanna is of the believe that this woman is her missing daughter. She says that the two have the same mole above their left eye, toward her nose, which is a common trait amongst those in the immediate family. She also has the same birthmark Joshua noted, as well as a bump on her pinky finger and a scar under her right eye, both of which Alexis had as well.

Joshua spent a total of four years working to expose the case, sharing he too doesn’t trust the DNA results and wishes to get his ex-wife away from an unnamed man. He still feels she is indeed Alexis, but says she won’t admit it because she’s afraid of the people she knows to be her current family. He also claims that the FBI and Interpol are investigating something bigger in relation to Alexis’ case, but this has not been confirmed by either organization.

Joshua’s ex-wife has said she felt agitated and angry over the attention she received as a result of the DNA tests, as some who had read about the case online had gathered outside her home, but also shares that she feels sorry for the family. She has fully cooperated with the investigation. Ayanna has said she feels sadness for the woman over the intense media scrutiny she received.

In May 2017, a “Hear Their Voice” celebration was held at the Wisconsin Black Historical Society on West Center Street in honour of Alexis and other missing children from around the world. That same year, LaRon was arrested on charges unrelated to the case and was being held at the Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility.

The Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office is currently offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to Alexis’ return. The reward was funded by drug forfeiture money.

As of 2009, the case has been assigned to the Milwaukee Police Department’s cold case unit. There are currently no suspects, but it’s said that investigators have not ruled anyone out. Over 5,000 interviews have been conducted and the effort between the Milwaukee Police Department and the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office was one of the largest joint efforts in both organizations’ histories. However, despite the intensive investigation, very little progress has been made in relation to the case and there has been no physical evidence uncovered to contradict what those interviewed have told police.

Ayanna has shared that she feels the local authorities could have done a better job handling her daughter’s disappearance.

Over the years, there’s been hope that Alexis will return home alive. Following the May 2013 rescue of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight in Cleveland, Ohio and the January 2019 rescue of Jayme Closs in Douglas County, Wisconsin, the NCMEC said that the Patterson family shouldn’t give up hope of her being found.

THEORIES:

1) The primary theory in the case is that Alexis’ stepfather, LaRon Bourgeois, was somehow involved in her disappearance. Former sheriff of the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office, David Clarke, believes LaRon was involved, but says the authorities haven’t been able to prove it with the evidence they’ve uncovered. He feels that Alexis was never dropped off at school the morning she disappeared.

A subsection of this theory is that Alexis’ disappearance may be related to prostitution. There have been claims circulated that LaRon worked as a pimp and managed prostitutes on the north side of Milwaukee. However, nothing related to this has been publicly proven.

LaRon has repeatedly denied any involvement in his stepdaughter’s disappearance and says Sheriff Clarke has no proof he was involved.

2) There’s a conspiracy theory that states the town of Bryan, Ohio is made up of missing children who don’t know who they really are. It also shares that Ayanna and Joshua know that his ex-wife is really Alexis, but both have been instructed to keep quiet. Those who believe in this theory say that “Big Brother” is behind many of the child disappearances that have occurred in the United States.

3) A final proposed theory is that there could possibly be a drug connection to Alexis’ disappearance. However, very little has been elaborated about in regards to this.

AFTERMATH:

Ayanna believes Alexis is still alive and continues to celebrate her daughter’s birthday each year. Kenya has shared that he mourns the loss of his daughter.

Ayanna and LaRon separated shortly after Alexis went missing, with both having since moved away from the Milwaukee area. The plot of land where the pair lived is now a vacant lot.

Alexis’ younger sister, Eri-Onna, was born after she went missing. Despite having never met her older sister, Ayanna has ensured Eri-Onna and the rest of the family keep Alexis in their thoughts by taking them to places where she used to play. Their home is also filled in reminders of the missing girl, including photos, her homework assignments and a watercolour self-portrait.

As a result of Alexis’ disappearance, Ayanna has been a lot more protective of her children. She rarely lets them out of her sight, choosing to drive them to and from school, instead of having them take the school bus.

Ayanna has shared that the media attention became overwhelming during the early parts of the investigation and that sometimes the public were cruel toward her and her family. Despite this, she kept doing interviews, speaking with politicians and raising awareness about her daughter’s disappearance. She has also went to the state capitol in Madison, Wisconsin and to Washington, DC in support of Alexis.

Each year, a wreath is laid at Hi-Mount Boulevard School in Alexis’ honour. Public officials walk the route she would often take to school before saying a prayer in her remembrance.

Alexis’ case has been featured on In Pursuit With John Walsh, The View, Find Our Missing, Maury Povich, Crime Watch Daily, Ricki Lake and America’s Most Wanted.

CASE CONTACT INFORMATION:

Alexis Patterson went missing from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on May 3, 2002. She was 7 years old, and was last seen wearing a light purple blouse or a blue shirt with horizontal stripes; a hooded red pullover nylon jacket with a grey stripe that ran down each sleeve; light blue jeans; blue and white hightop Nike sneakers; and cluster-type diamond sunflower-shaped earrings with yellow gold posts. She was also carrying a pink Barbie backpack. At the time of her disappearance, she stood at 3’8″ and weighed approximately 42 pounds. She has brown eyes and shoulder-length black hair that was styled in two French braids, which were pulled back into a ponytail. She has a bump on her left pinky finger, a scar under her right eye and a mole above her left eye. Her ears are pierced.

Currently, her case is classified as endangered missing and police believe she disappeared under suspicious circumstances. If alive, she would be 24 years old.

If you have any information regarding the case, you can contact the Milwaukee Police Department at either 414-935-7401, 414-935-7302 or 414-935-7360. Tips can also be called into the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office at 414-278-4788, 414-223-5261 or 414-278-4921, the Milwaukee Field Office of the FBI at 414-276-4684 or the Milwaukee Police Department Cold Case Hotline at 414-935-1212.

Image Credit: Journal Sentinel

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