SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — San Francisco police are renewing an investigation into a man briefly detained decades ago in connection with the high-profile disappearance of a 10-year-old boy in 1984.
San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr said at a news conference Wednesday that a man known as Wayne Jackson was questioned and his home searched in the days after Kevin Collins disappeared on his way home from school because he fit the description of a tall, blonde man with a large black dog who was seen talking to the boy shortly before he vanished.
Suhr said that police knew at that time that Jackson had earlier served six months in jail after pleading guilty in 1982 to committing a lewd act on a 7-year-old boy in the city's Fisherman's Wharf neighborhood.
Still, Suhr said Jackson was released after two witnesses failed to pick him out of a photo lineup and the search of his house yielded no incriminating evidence.
But Suhr said that police did not know at the time that Jackson was wanted in Canada on charges of kidnapping and sexually assaulting two 13-year-old boys. Suhr said that investigators only recently learned of the 1973 charges because Jackson used at least five aliases and was charged in Canada using another name.
Suhr said Jackson fled Canada before the case was resolved. Jackson died in 2008 of natural causes under a different name.
Suhr said that he and other investigators have been keeping Collins mother apprised of the latest developments.
Ann Collins didn't return several messages left on her answering machine in her apartment in Concord, a San Francisco suburb. The boy's father lives "out of the country" and couldn't be reached, Suhr said.
Suhr asked for the public's help at the news conference Wednesday. Investigators are seeking more information about Jackson.
The Collins disappearance was among the first missing children cases to receive national attention along with Adam Walsh and Etan Patz, a 6-year-old who disappeared in 1979 in Manhattan. A former bodega worker pleaded not guilty to Patz' murder in November after telling police he strangled the boy. Pedro Hernandez's lawyer argues the confession is false because his client suffers from mental illness.
Five years after Patz disappeared, hundreds of volunteers mobilized in San Francisco to hunt for Collins and post flyers with his photo around town. His image was one of the first to appear on a milk carton and his photo appeared on the cover of Newsweek.
"It was a landmark case," said Professor David Finklehor, director of the University of New Hampshire's Crimes against Children Research Center. "It became a template for families with missing children on how to mobilize the community to assist and go beyond what law enforcement typically did back then."
Finklehor said that Collins' father was also a "very articulate and skilled and sympathetic" spokesman for the search, which helped keep the case alive for weeks after the disappearance.
Police also recently discovered that Jackson had a roommate at the time of Collins disappearance. The former roommate, who Suhr declined to identify, now lives in Canada and has been contacted by investigators. Suhr declined to discuss details of the contact.
Police also obtained a warrant and searched Jackson's apartment again on Jan. 28. The apartment was near the bus stop in the city's Haight Ashbury neighborhood where Collins was last seen. Investigators dug a hole in the concrete floor of the building's garage after two "cadaver" dogs indicated a find. The remains found, however, appear to be dog bones, the San Francisco medical examiner said.
"Cases like Kevin Collins' helped ensure that missing children are never forgotten," said Bob Lowry of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. "These case are now worked aggressively, and the San Francisco Police obviously have never forgotten about this case."