Details of Disappearance Adam was last seen in Towanda, Kansas sometime during the late spring or summer of 1999. He lived in the Pine Ridge Mobile Home Park with his adoptive parents, Douglas Raymond "Doug" Herrman and Valerie Janelle Herrman. Photographs of them are posted with this case summary.
Adam had been taken from his biological parents and placed in the Herrmans' care when he was two years old, along with his two younger siblings, and the Herrmans later adopted him. He was homeschooled, but his younger siblings attended public school.
Doug and Valerie later stated Adam ran away from home during the first week of May 1999, after Valerie spanked him with a belt. They said they were afraid to report him missing because they thought they might get in trouble with the authorities for the spanking and would possibly have their other children taken away. (Adam had been placed in a children's home for two days in 1996 after Valerie spanked him with a belt and caused bruises.)
The Hermanns stated Adam ran away frequently and, after he disappeared in 1999, they assumed he was either homeless or with his biological parents. They continued to collect adoption subsidy payments for Adam, approximately $700 a month, until his eighteenth birthday. When they declared bankruptcy in 2002, they listed him as a dependent. They filed for divorce in 2003, and listed Adam on the divorce documents. (The divorce case was later dismissed.)
Adam's disappearance didn't come to police attention until late 2008, when his adoptive sister, Crystal Espinosa, contacted law enforcement with concerns about the child. She had tried to locate him through the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services (SRS) and discovered the SRS believed he'd lived with the Herrmans until he turned eighteen, something Espinosa knew was untrue.
Adam's adoptive older brother, Justin Herrman, says his mother physically abused Adam, but he says he never saw Doug hurt the child and that sometimes Doug tried to stop Valerie from abusing him. Justin said he once called the police after Valerie threw Adam against a wall and pulled his hair, but by the time authorities arrived his mother had persuaded him to say he'd made up the story.
Police have no record of this call, but other relatives corroborated Justin's abuse claims. An aunt says Adam was chained to a bathtub faucet the last time she saw him, and Valerie's mother says she abused Adam, locked him in the bathroom and forced him to sleep in the tub. Espinosa claims she saw her mother kick and hit Adam and step on him. Both of Adam's adopted siblings said he was locked in the bathroom and denied food; they occasionally sneaked in food for him.
Valerie denies having mistreated Adam, though she admits she occasionally spanked him and sometimes used a belt. She claimed psychiatrists believed Adam had an attachment disorder and either bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, and that the doctors advised her to lock Adam in the bathroom at night because he had threatened to kill his parents.
After Adam's disappearance, Doug and Valerie told their family he'd been given back to the care of the state. At one point they claimed he'd been placed in a state mental hospital.
Adam's biological sister, who was adopted by another family, last saw her brother in around 1994. A year or two later he sent a Christmas card, and this was the last contact she had with him. She says she spoke to Doug and Valerie several times after 1999 and they told her Adam was fine, but she never actually spoke to him. Eventually the Herrmans asked her not to call anymore.
In July 2010, Doug and Valerie were charged with felony theft. This was because they continued to accept public assistance payments for Adam after he was no longer in their care. In addition to the monthly adoption subsidy, they also claimed Adam as a dependent on their taxes. The total amount was $52,800.
In June 2011, they reached a plea agreement with prosecutors, admitting to wrongfully accepting $15,488 in subsidies for Adam between November 2003 and July 2005. Doug was sentenced to nine months in prison and Valerie to seven months. They were ordered to pay restitution and a $2,500 fine each, and be subject to probation after release.
In July 2016, seventeen years after Adam's disappearance, Doug died of natural causes in Grove, Oklahoma. He was 61. Adam is mentioned as a survivor in his obituary. Valerie has been released from prison and lived in Grove with her husband at the time of his death.
Investigators named Adam's adoptive parents as suspects in his case and stated it's possible murder charges could be brought, even if Adam's remains are never found, or that charges could be brought for the Herrmans' alleged abuse of Adam prior to his disappearance and the fact that they failed to report him missing.
Police searched both the Herrmans' later residence, and the mobile home where they lived in 1999. No human remains were found, but authorities said they'd discovered the answer to one of the questions they had. They declined to elaborate on what it was they uncovered.
Investigators have been unable to find any evidence that Adam is still alive. His case remains unsolved.
- Butler County Sheriff's Department
- Wichita Police Department
Updated 9 times since October 12, 2004. Last updated December 12, 2018; two pictures added, details of disappearance updated.