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'Unsolved' podcast focuses on the disappearance of Alexis Patterson

Alexis Patterson
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Alexis Patterson

When seven-year-old Alexis Patterson went missing in 2002, the community launched a frenzied search for the young, Black girl. Although her disappearance dominated local news, it failed to make national headlines, and after months and years of desperate searching, the case went cold. Now, more than two decades after her disappearance, there remains no clear answer on what happened to Alexis. A new podcast from USA TODAY and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel hopes to shed new light on this old case.

"The disappearance of Alexis is probably the highest profile unsolved case in the City of Milwaukee."

— Reporter Ashley Luthern

Alexis' disappearance is the focus of the fourth season of Unsolved, led by USA TODAY reporter Gina Barton. Each season, the podcast focuses on a different, unsolved case in Wisconsin.

Journal Sentinel reporter Ashely Luthern, who contributed to the podcast, says Alexis' story was complicated from the beginning. Alexis was last seen on her way to school, which was only a block away from her home. At the time, Milwaukee Public School's policy was to notify parents if a child missed school two days in a row — so it wasn't until Alexis didn't come home from school that her mother realized she was missing, Luthern explains. This, she says, really delayed the case.

Luthern says this podcast is also an effort to explore the cases of children, particularly children of color, who go missing.

"We really want to use this case to illustrate maybe some of the barriers that face families of color when their children go missing. ... Elizabeth Smart's case became a national storyline. And, so the only time Alexis was brought into that narrative was as a contrast as to 'Why is this girl getting all of this attention and Alexis is not,'" says Luthern.

Considering the circumstances of the case, Luthern suspects that Alexis' case will remain challenging to solve.


Joy is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
Rob is All Things Considered Host and Digital Producer.
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