Every year, thousands of people go missing. Most are found quickly, safe and alive, but some cases linger for years, even decades. This is the case of Alexis Patterson, who hasn’t been seen or heard from in almost twenty years.
Alexis Patterson was born on April 4, 1995 to Ayanna Patterson and Kenya Campbell. Neighbors said Alexis had a great smile and energy, was carefree and loved to play.
Alexis’s parents eventually split up, and her mom later married a man named LaRon Bourgeois. By 2002, 7-year-old Alexis lived in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with her mom, stepdad and at least one younger sibling (most sources weren’t clear on this). Her biological father was in jail and, by all available accounts, they weren’t in contact much, if at all.
On the morning of Friday, May 3, Alexis was a bit upset. It was her day to bring snacks for the kids in her class, but her mom wouldn’t let her bring cupcakes like she wanted because she hadn’t finished her homework the night before.
But the day had to continue. LaRon Bourgeois walked his stepdaughter the half block to Hi-Mount Community School, where she was a first grader. According to Bourgeois, the last time he saw Alexis was when she was crossing the street to get to the school. He saw her reach the playground, then left.
Students would later say they saw Alexis crying on the playground before and after school, but not inside the building. She was marked absent, which her mom and stepdad weren’t told about until after school was out. They initially thought she skipped school because she was still upset about arguing with her mother over the cupcakes.
Police and volunteers alike went into high gear looking for Alexis. Boats, motorcycles and horses searched bodies of water, neighborhoods, vacant houses and alleys in the area. Police looked through sex offender registries as well as probation and parole files to see if they could get any leads. They went door to door in Alexis’s neighborhood asking people if they’d seen her. 5,000 interviews were conducted and hundreds of leads from around the county were pursued. Investigators often worked on their days off to aid in the search, and the FBI eventually got involved, offering a $10,000 reward for information that would lead to Alexis’s whereabouts. As of January 2021, that reward is still active.
Later on in 2002, an anonymous person called a local TV station and claimed Alexis’s body was in the Milwaukee River. The area was searched by divers but nothing was found. In 2009, the case was assigned to the Milwaukee Police Department’s Cold Case Unit.
In 2016, a man in Ohio contacted police, saying he thought his ex-wife may be Alexis. After their divorce, he’d started looking into his ex’s past and found Alexis’s missing persons poster. He learned that Alexis had a scar under one eye and a bump on her pinky — just like his ex. The man got in touch with Alexis’s mom, Ayanna Patterson, who informed him of a birthmark Alexis had — in the same spot on her body as the man’s ex.
He gave police a sample of DNA from the son he shared with his ex, not realizing they’d already gotten a sample from the ex as well. The ex claimed she wasn’t Alexis and produced documents that showed she was 28, a different age than Alexis would have been at the time. DNA later confirmed she was not Alexis.
But Ayanna Patterson wasn’t convinced. Alexis and the Ohio woman had a lot of facial features in common — too many coincidences for Patterson to ignore. She also claimed the DNA police used in the test was 14-year-old DNA from Alexis’s toothbrush. (Police have never confirmed or denied this.) Patterson said she wanted a new DNA test to know for sure.
The woman’s ex-husband, who set the whole thing in motion, agreed. He believed the test was faulty as well and thought his ex didn’t want to admit she was Alexis out of fear of what her family might think. There have been no new updates in this lead, and police presumably believe the results of the initial DNA test.
So what happened to Alexis Patterson? Most speculation in this case centers on two theories.
The first is that Alexis was kidnapped. A few of her classmates said they’d seen a red truck parked near the school for several days earlier that week. It never came back after Alexis went missing. LaRon Bourgeois said there were a lot of kids on the playground at the time he dropped Alexis off and that he didn’t know how anyone could have taken her with so many witnesses.
But the next theory, the one that seems to be most talked about in this case, is that Bourgeois was involved. In the early days of the investigation, both he and Alexis’s mom were looked at with a critical eye by police and civilians alike. Various rumors swirled about Bourgeois — most of them concerning drugs and prostitution — but he denied all of them.
In addition to being the last person to see Alexis, Bourgeois had been in trouble with the law before. In 1994, he was involved in a bank robbery that resulted in a police officer being killed; however, he was granted immunity in exchange for his testimony. He has also denied being involved in Alexis’s disappearance, saying he loved her like his own child.
But some investigators don’t believe him. Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke is one of them; he doesn’t think Alexis ever even made it to school that day. Clarke also believes Alexis is no longer alive and that the case will only be solved if someone comes forward with previously withheld information. Retired detective Steve Spingola agrees, saying he doesn’t believe Bourgeois ever walked his stepdaughter to school that day.
Alexis’s biological father, Kenya Campbell, also believes Bourgeois was involved. In a 2009 interview, he said Alexis may have been kidnapped by someone who Bourgeois was in conflict with. However, he also said he thought his daughter was still alive.
Ayanna Patterson and LaRon Bourgeois divorced in 2005 after allegations from her that he was abusive. Patterson still believes her daughter is alive and continued to hold birthday parties for her for years. Regular vigils were being held for Alexis as recently as 2016.
In January 2021, LaRon Bourgeois and his new wife were found dead in their home of suspected drug overdoses. His death put Alexis’s case back in the news and police got several new tips. Hopefully one of those tips can one day help solve this case.
Alexis Patterson was seven years old when she was last seen in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on May 3, 2002. Alexis is a black female who was 3 feet 8 inches tall and 42 pounds at the time of her disappearance, with brown hair and eyes. She has a scar under her right eye and a bump on her left pinky. On the day she was last seen, her hair was in two French braids that were pulled back into a ponytail. She was carrying a pink Barbie backpack and wearing a red hooded jacket with gray stripes, a purple shirt, jeans, white sneakers and sunflower earrings. If she were alive today, she would be 27 years old.
If you have any information about the disappearance of Alexis Patterson, you can contact the Milwaukee Police Department at 1-414-935-7401 or the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800 THE LOST (843-5678). You can also send a tip to the FBI via their website.