When Jessica Fleming first met the goose who would change her life, she was 12 years old. She was residing with her parents and grandparents in the small Nebraskan city of Hastings at a former naval ammunitions depot, and she never quite knew what would be happening there when she got home from school. She says, "I got home after a hard day of junior high. "When I peered out the window, I saw my grandfather holding a leash. He was always up to something, so I went outside to see what he was doing.
Gene Fleming, Jessica's grandfather, was a devoted inventor. It was he who converted the ammunition depot into apartments, complete with a rec room and chicken hutches. He had made his fortune in manufacturing. A few days prior to that fateful day in 1988, he had been at his sister-in-law's farm when he saw something that tugged at his heartstrings and set his wheels in motion: a goose that was two years old and was struggling to follow his fellow geese across a gravel road because he had been born without feet.
Gene first tried making a fowl-sized skateboard, thinking the goose could push along with one stump while balancing on the other, but no luck. "Because I'm a Shriner," Gene later told People magazine, "my natural instinct was to help him." However, the goose waited patiently, and Gene soon came up with a fix: a pair of patent leather baby shoes in a size 0 that were filled with foam rubber. When Jessica arrived home from school, the goose was tugging at the leash as it ran merrily around the yard. They soon began referring to him as Andy.
Jessica wasn't particularly impressed at the time. "I was at the age of constantly being embarrassed by my family," she claims. She was unable to foresee Andy's meteoric rise and tragic decline; that the Footless Goose would first become a global sensation, then the victim of a brutal murder, and finally the focus of a dark cover-up. She had no way of knowing that, 25 years later, she would take up the mantle and work her way through a web of deceit and conspiracy to bring Andy's killer to justice.
Andy’s Rise to Fame
Jessica, who was twelve, might have been over Andy, but Gary Johansson, a friend of Gene's at the Hastings Tribune, recognized the goose's potential. A few lines later, Andy became famous in the style of the 1980s. "We had newspapers contacting us from all over the world and wanting to do stories," claims Jessica. He appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, where he was featured alongside Martin Short and Isabella Rossellini. People lavished on a photo spread, and Reader's Digest published a profile. Nike sent Andy a crate after learning that he preferred their line of infant shoes, making him almost certainly the first goose to receive a significant sponsorship deal.
Quickly, Andy's hometown became enamored as well. Gene gooseproofed the passenger seat of the star's bright orange Triumph TR7 and they set out on a speaking and honking tour, making stops at parades, county fairs, and libraries (they particularly enjoyed doing this at disability awareness events). Visitors flocked to the Fleming homestead, and Gene even organized an Andy Fan Club that distributed certificates that were officially signed by him and his wife, Nadine. Now, Hastings is recognized for its Kool-Aid, says Fleming. But it was Andy the Goose before they really spread the word about that cause. It made the town well-known.
Andy was a unique goose, and not just because of the shoes. He was very kind-hearted, according to Jessica. He seemed to her grandfather to be downright grateful—loyal to him despite the temptations of fame, and patient when he tried to trade in his Nikes for high-tops or to see if he could ride a bicycle. Andy would tuck into the crook of Gene's arm when being picked up, his shoes dangling from his caretaker's arm like a child's. Gene remarked to People, "He's a one-man goose.
A Brutal Crime
But it couldn't last forever. Gene and Nadine received the dreaded phone call that every goose owner fears on October 19, 1991. "Is Andy all right?", a worried voice on the other end demanded. A dead goose wearing distinctive sneakers was discovered by two Hastings locals who had been metal detecting in a nearby park. In a hurry, the Flemings went to the hutch. Fresh footprints that were much larger than size 0 were in the ground. No sign of Andy or his friend Paulie could be found.
The murder of Andy made national news. A tale about a town coming together to support a footless goose already has almost everything; add a murder mystery, and you have a truly American story. In just a few paragraphs, reporters went from graphic to sentimental without holding back. The report by People stated, "He was found in a heap, decapitated and skinned, near the town baseball diamond," before quoting a spina bifida first-grader who lives nearby, saying, "He was my favorite goose because he had no feet. How come they did it? Even the tabloids covered the case. SIKKO DOES A FOWL DEED!" shouted Weekly World News, along with articles on penile enhancement and a woman who thought her Dalmatian was Clark Gable in a Dalmatian form ("I can just tell it's Clark," she said).
But when it came right down to it, Andy was just a local goose. The residents of Hastings persisted in demanding answers long after the glitzy reporters left town and long after the flood of condolence cards trickled to stop. The Chamber of Commerce established a reward fund and raised approximately $10,000 (the previous high was $100). In June 1993, Chicago Tribune reporter Ron Grossman visited the community once more to see how things were going. Sheriff Gregg Magee was quoted by the man as saying, "Andy's case is still open," and assuring the audience that his office would follow up on every tip. Grossman recalled in an email that "they were still reeling from the shock of a murder."
Is there a new twist?
In the quiet backyard where they had their first playdate, Gene buried Andy. He soon began displaying symptoms of Alzheimer's, according to Jessica. Gene pushed for a bronze memorial, but it never came to pass. However, a nearby granite company did donate a carved headstone, which is still present at the old Fleming homestead. Gene later said, "In retrospect, I think it was Andy who had kept him here with us for a lot longer." In 2000, Gene passed away in a Grand Island, Nebraska, nursing home. He most certainly did not find closure, according to Jessica.
But a few years ago, Jessica Fleming—now Jessica Korgie—discovered that she was beginning to think more and more about Andy. She started looking through her grandmother's meticulously kept notebooks and fan mail, as well as the mountains of paperwork her grandparents had accumulated over the years. She made calls to important figures. Some people claimed that the [perpetrator] was found after so many years, she says, which raised some intriguing discrepancies regarding the case's designation as "unsolved."
This was confirmed by a recent phone call to the former president of the Chamber of Commerce, Don Reynolds: "About two years [after the murder], someone from the sheriff's department called and said, well, we found out who did it, but we can't tell you, and we don't want to have any news release about it," he said yesterday. "We were unsure of what to do. The department, he said, had told him that Andy's killer was "somebody that was not responsible"—suggesting that they may have been mentally ill or otherwise not in control of their actions. Ultimately, we donated the reward to our community foundation, which used it for kids' projects. (A request for comment from Sheriff Magee did not receive a response.)
Although we can't be certain, Andy the Goose most likely didn't want a disabled person to face unfair scrutiny or blame. I'm not interested in the name of the person any more, agrees Jessica, who is producing a documentary about Andy's life and death. "I wouldn't want the individual or their family to face punishment."
Simply put, "I just want to know why."