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Prosecutor: Case of Missing Boy May Involve Criminal Activity

May 1, 1996

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) _ The story of the retarded boy who was saved by a couple of stray dogs when he was missing for three days in the woods turns out to be untrue, and a crime may have been committed, a prosecutor said today.

``The investigation into the disappearance of Josh Carlisle revealed the incident did not occur as initially reported,″ Barry County Prosecutor David Cole said.

He said that while he’s not ready to bring charges, ``We believe there was criminal activity involved.″

Josh’s mother, Johnny Coffey, said her 10-year-old son wandered away from their Cassville home March 6 when she was inside making soup for dinner.

The boy, who has Down’s syndrome, was found 70 hours later in a dry river bed by a Springfield man who had joined hundreds of other volunteers. Temperatures in those three days dipped below freezing with the wind chill.

Two stray dogs who were found with him and whose barks led the rescuer to the boy were credited with saving him by keeping him warm.

``I like the happy ending, but it’s not my job to necessarily like the happy ending,″ Cole said at a news conference. ``I think there still is a happy ending. The boy was found and he had the dogs.″

Cole said Josh’s parents have not cooperated with the investigation and cannot be eliminated as suspects. He would not elaborate, but said there were other suspects. One he did rule out: Oscar Nell, the man who found Josh.

Josh suffered severe frostbite on his toes, a sunburn and a rash, but no serious injuries. Cole said that the most glaring inconsistency. ``One would expect his injuries to be significantly greater than what he experienced.″

Within days of his rescue, Josh’s story attracted attention around the world. Donations of dog food and money poured into the Coffey home _ as well as lucrative offers of movie deals. The Coffeys sold the rights to their story to a Hollywood producer for an undisclosed sum.

Cole wouldn’t say what the charges might be brought or comment on possible motives, except to say authorities doubt anyone concocted the story just to get a movie deal. He didn’t know what the role of the dogs was.

He said the investigation has been hampered by Josh’s short attention span and his difficulty in communicating what happened to him. Until someone comes forward with more evidence, the case will remain an open file, he said.

The Coffeys’ telephone number, active at the start of the investigation, had been disconnected today. Family spokeswoman Janice Sanders said she had no comment.

In an earlier interview with The Associated Press, Mrs. Coffey denied any wrongdoing, attributing her son’s survival to a miracle.

``It’s unbelievable, the rumors,″ she said. ``I think the prosecuting attorney here in Barry County is just trying to get his name in the paper.″

Larry Garrison, of Silvercreek Entertainment in Los Angeles, said today he continued to believe the family’s story.

``I have been told by sophisticated people that (Cole’s) been politically motivated,″ Garrison said in a telephone interview. ``It is just hideous to take something as beautiful as this is and to turn it into something it is not.″

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