John Mercure's Blog: Alexis Patterson, 15 years later

John Mercure's blog
Posted at 1:57 PM, May 03, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-03 18:32:14-04

WTMJ Radio anchor John Mercure wrote this piece about his memories of when Alexis Patterson disappeared 15 years ago. Mercure was a reporter for TODAY'S TMJ4 at the time.

I remember May 6, 2002 like it was yesterday.

It was a Monday. I walked into the TODAY'S TMJ4 newsroom ready for a week of reporting.  As I settled into the daily editorial meeting, the conversation quickly turned to a young Milwaukee girl who had been reported missing three days earlier.

The reports were that seven-year-old Alexis Patterson was walked to school by her stepdad, Laron Bourgeois. The school said she never made it inside.  She had not been seen in the 72 hours since Bourgeois reported walking her to school.

As we were trying to decide as a newsroom how to move the story forward and what to do, word came down that new Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke had called a news conference.  I grabbed a photographer and bolted from the newsroom.

Standing in Washington Park, the Sheriff was clearly worried. It had been 72 hours since Alexis was seen, and time was ticking.

Sheriff's deputies and Milwaukee police officers were canvassing Milwaukee and working potential leads. Citizens were posting flyers and searching alleys and parks.  There was nothing.  Minutes turned into hours and hours turned into days. There was no sign of Alexis.

Many thought that she would eventually wander home. My bosses at the TV station believed it.  We all wanted to believe it.  The station posted a reporter and photographer outside the Patterson home around the clock. I spent days in the neighborhood. The other stations and the newspaper were also there.  No one wanted to miss the moment when Alexis safely arrived home. It was going to be a great reunion.

Days turned into weeks and it became clear that there would be no reunion.

Eventually the summer sun and driving rainstorms destroyed the Missing Girl posters.  The community stopped looking.  The leads dried up.  The TV station moved onto other stories.

Now 15 years later, the mystery lingers.  There have been no sign of Alexis, There have been false leads. The investigation has had starts and fits.  Investigators have retired.  Those who knew Alexis have passed away.

I recently interviewed Sheriff Clarke and Bourgeois.

Clarke now believes that Bourgeois was responsible.  

"Do you believe Laron was involved?"  I asked the sheriff in his downtown conference room.

"Sure. Can I prove it?  No." The Sheriff responded.

The sheriff believes that little Alexis was never taken to school.  

Alexis was three feet, eight inches tall and weighed 42 pounds with big brown eyes when she disappeared.

The sheriff hates that we use the term ,'disappeared' when discussing Alexis Patterson.  "What, was she a ghost, a spirit?. Little girls don't disappear." the sheriff told me recently.

After the sheriff's comments, I knew I needed to talk to Laron Bourgeois.  He is currently being held in a Milwaukee prison, the Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility.  He is behind bars on charges unrelated to Alexis Patterson.  He has never been charged with anything related to Alexis.

I wrote Bourgeois a letter and I reached out to the Department of Corrections.  He agreed to let me interview him.  On a blustery day a couple of weeks ago I headed to the prison.

I entered a non-descript conference room and waited for Bourgeois.  It was an odd set up.  There is a small circular table with a handcuff attachment on one side.  In one corner is a pile of audio video equipment; a TV, a DVD player, some sort of tape player, and lots of cords.  In another corner was a flip pad on an easel. There was an old school phone on the wall.   My interview space clearly doubled as a conference room for inmates meeting with their lawyers.

I heard Bourgeois coming before I saw him.  There was the unmistakable jangle of his leg irons and handcuffs as he approached the room I was sitting in,  Suddenly a steel door on the opposite side of the room opened and he entered with a prison guard.  

I had decided that I wanted to do the interview with Bourgeois unhandcuffed.  The guard undid the cuffs and slid out the door.  I was alone face to face with Bourgeois.  He's not a big man, standing five feet seven inches and weighing 160 pounds.  I was nervous, but didn't feel threatened.

Our interview lasted 35 minutes.  He cried when I asked him about the day Alexis disappeared.  He wiped away the tears and I told him about Sheriff Clarke's accusations.

He became angry.  "That man (the sheriff) don't know anything about me.  I don't respect him.  He don't know what he's talking about," Bourgeois told me with his voice raising.  "He needs to put himself in my shoes."

Bourgeois repeatedly denied knowing anything about his step-daughter's disappearance.

I left the prison not knowing what to believe.  The sheriff is adamant that Bourgeois was involved in Alexis' disappearance.  Bourgeois vehemently denies it.

Will we ever know what happened to the little girl?  There is no way to tell.

I remember May 6, 2017 like it was yesterday.