Murder of Adam Walsh
November 14, 1974|
Hollywood, Florida, United States
|Died||July 27, 1981
Hollywood, Florida, United States
Adam John Walsh (November 14, 1974 – July 27, 1981) was an American boy who was abducted from a Sears department store at the Hollywood Mall in Hollywood, Florida, on July 27, 1981, and later found murdered and decapitated. His death earned national publicity. His story was made into the 1983 television film Adam, seen by 38 million people in its original airing. His father, John Walsh, became an advocate for victims of violent crimes and the host of the television program America's Most Wanted.
Convicted serial killer Ottis Toole confessed to Adam's murder but was never convicted for this specific crime due to loss of evidence and a recanted confession. Toole died of liver failure on September 15, 1996. Although no new evidence has come forth, on December 16, 2008, police announced that the Walsh case was now closed as they were satisfied that Toole was the murderer.
Kidnapping and murder
Revé, Adam's mother, took him shopping with her in a Hollywood, Florida, Sears department store on July 27, 1981. She said that she stopped to check out lamps a few aisles away and left him at a kiosk with Atari 2600 video games on display. Shortly afterwards, she said that she returned to find that he and the other boys had disappeared. A store manager informed her that a scuffle had broken out over whose turn it was at the kiosk and a security guard demanded that they leave the store. The security guard asked the older ones if their parents were there, and they said that they were not. It was later conjectured by Adam's parents that he was too shy to speak to the security guard, who presumed that he was in the company of the other boys, and put him out the same door. Based upon Revé's claim that he was in the store with her, it was conjectured that he was then left alone near an exit that was unfamiliar to him.
Adam's severed head was found by two fishermen in a Vero Beach, Florida, canal on August 10, 1981. The rest of his body has never been recovered. The coroner ruled that the cause of his death was asphyxiation and that the decapitation had occurred later, perhaps to render his remains unidentifiable or the cause of his death indeterminable.
John himself was considered by authorities as a prime suspect as the police investigation started to become exhausted. After about a week, he was later absolved of any foul play following a highly emotional press statement that was televised nationally.
Police eventually concluded that Adam was abducted by a drifter named Ottis Toole near the front exterior of the Sears that afternoon, after being asked to leave by a store clerk. He lured Adam into his Cadillac with a damaged right bumper with promises of toys and candy, then proceeded to drive north on Interstate 95 toward his home in Jacksonville. Adam, at first docile and compliant, began to panic as they drove on. Toole punched him in the face, but as this just made the situation worse, he then "walloped him unconscious" and proceeded to choke him to death. He drove to a deserted service road and decapitated him with a machete. Toole later claimed to have disposed of Adam's body by incinerating it in an old refrigerator when he returned to Jacksonville. He drove around with Adam's severed head in his car for a few days until remembering it was in there, and then threw it into a canal. He claimed that he wanted to make Adam his adopted son, but given the close relationship he had with loving parents, this was not very feasible. The police investigation of his abduction was alleged to be unsatisfactory, and they lost the bloodstained carpet from Toole's Cadillac, the machete used to decapitate Adam, and eventually, the car itself. In any case, DNA testing was in a rudimentary state in the early 1980s and it was not possible then to determine the source of the blood found in the Cadillac.
Toole, allegedly a confidante of convicted serial killer Henry Lee Lucas, repeatedly confessed and then retracted accounts of his involvement. He was never charged in the Walsh case, even though he provided seemingly accurate descriptions as to how he committed the crime. Several witnesses also place him in the Hollywood area in the days leading up to Adam's disappearance. Police investigated him for Adam's murder but lost important evidence in the case, including the bloodstained carpet from his Cadillac. In September 1996, he died in prison, aged 49, of cirrhosis while serving a life sentence for other crimes. Afterwards, his niece told John that her uncle made a deathbed confession to the murder of Adam. His confession was viewed as reliable, since he and Lucas confessed to or implicated themselves in more than 200 different homicides, most of which they accurately described with details only the culprit would know.
In 1997, Hollywood Police Chief Rick Stone conducted an exhaustive review of the Adam Walsh case after the release of John's book. At the time, Stone was a 22-year veteran of the Dallas, Texas, and Wichita, Kansas, police departments and had been appointed Hollywood's chief of police in the previous year. Although the crime was decades old at the time of Chief Stone's review, he provided an analysis of the evidence, including reviewing taped interrogations of Toole by Hollywood Police Detective Mark Smith. Stone says his review found evidence to prove "beyond a reasonable doubt" that Toole murdered Adam. Both he and his close friend, convicted serial killer Henry Lee Lucas, were notorious, Stone noted, for confessing to crimes they committed and recanting.
In 2007, allegations earned widespread publicity that Jeffrey Dahmer, arrested in Wisconsin in 1991 after killing more than a dozen men and boys, was also named as a suspect in Adam's murder. He was living in Miami Beach at the time Adam was murdered, and two eyewitnesses placed him at the shopping mall on the day Adam was abducted. One of the witnesses claimed to have seen a strange man walking into the toy department where Adam was abducted. The other said that he saw a young, blond man with a protruding chin throw a struggling child into a blue van and speed off. Both witnesses recognized the man they had seen as Dahmer when pictures of him were released in the newspapers after his arrest. Reports showed that the delivery shop where he worked had a blue van at the time. He preyed on young men and boys (the youngest being eight years older than Adam), and his modus operandi included severing his victims' heads. When interviewed about Adam in the early 1990s, he repeatedly denied involvement in the crime, even stating; "I've told you everything—how I killed them, how I cooked them, who I ate. Why wouldn't I tell you if I did someone else?" After this rumor surfaced, John Walsh stated that he had "seen no evidence" linking his son's kidnapping and murder to Dahmer.
On December 16, 2008, the Hollywood, Florida, Police Chief Chad Wagner, a friend of John, announced, with him present, that the case was now closed. An external review of the case had been conducted and police announced that they were satisfied that Ottis Toole was the murderer.
Adam's kidnapping and murder prompted John to become an advocate for victims' rights. Adam's murder was among those that helped to spur the formation of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC). As a result of his advocacy, he was approached to host the television program America's Most Wanted.
The Code Adam program for helping lost children in department stores is named in Adam's memory. The U.S. Congress passed the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act on July 25, 2006, and President Bush signed it into law on July 27, 2006. The signing ceremony took place on the South Lawn of the White House, attended by John and Revé. The bill institutes a national database of convicted child molesters, and increases penalties for sexual and violent offenses against children. It also creates a RICO cause of action for child predators and those who conspire with them.
- Divoky, Diane (18 February 1986), "Missing Tot Estimates Exaggerated", Lodi News-Sentinel: 2
- "Americas Most Wanted - About John Walsh". Americas Most Wanted. Archived from the original on 2008-12-19. Retrieved 2008-12-17.
- Almanzar, Yolanne (December 16, 2008). "Police Expected to Close Adam Walsh Case". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-12-16.
In October 1983, Toole told the police that he had abducted Adam from the mall and drove for about an hour to an isolated dirt road where he decapitated him (his body was never found). Investigators lifted bloodstained carpet from his white Cadillac. But DNA testing then was not as advanced as it now, and investigators could not tell if the blood was Adam’s. When a detective assigned to the case in 1994 went to order DNA testing on the bloodstained carpet from Toole’s car, the carpeting and the car were found to be missing.
- "Ottis Toole on America's Most Wanted". America's Most Wanted. Retrieved 2008-12-16.
He didn't tell the security guard his mother was in the lamp department; he followed the older boys out the west exit into the parking lot. John and Revé believe he didn't tell the security guard about his mother, because he was a timid child and mindful of authority. Knowing him, they believe he may have been too scared to say anything.
- "Police: Drifter killed Adam Walsh in 1981". CNN. December 16, 2008. Retrieved 2008-12-16.
Police believe a 17-year-old security guard asked a handful of rowdy kids who were playing video games in the toy department to leave the store. Again, based upon Revé's claim that Adam was in the store with her, investigators believed that he was grouped in with those kids, who left him alone outside the store. That was the last time he was seen.
- "John Walsh's Tears of Rage tells the story of the Adam Walsh case". Washington Examiner.
- Soltis, Andy (December 17, 2008). "1981 Adam Slay Solved". New York Post. Retrieved 2008-12-17.
But he also claimed he committed hundreds of murders, and cops determined he was lying about them.
- Drummond, Tammerlin (October 27, 1997). "Books: An American Tragedy". Time.
- "Did Dahmer Have One More Victim?". The Milwaukee Channel. February 1, 2007. Retrieved February 5, 2007.
- "Did Dahmer Have One More Victim? Witnesses Say They Saw Dahmer In Mall Where Adam Walsh Disappeared". ABC News The Milwaukee Channel.com. February 1, 2007. Retrieved 2008-12-17.
- John Holland (December 17, 2008). "Adam Walsh case is closed after 27 years". Los Angeles Times.
Police simply took another look at 27 years of tips, psychic revelations, often-botched police work and a serial killer's chilling admissions and decided it was time. Time to ease the suffering of the Walsh family and time to point the finger at the man Hollywood Police Chief Chad Wagner said had been the prime suspect all along: Toole. The problem was that being a prime suspect and being proved in a court of law that one is guilty of murder are two different things.
- "Mission and History". The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. Retrieved November 4, 2012.
- "President Signs H.R. 4472, the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006". White House. 2006. Retrieved 2007-07-10.
Fourth, the bill I sign today will help prevent child abuse by creating a National Child Abuse Registry, and requiring investigators to do background checks on adoptive and foster parents before they approve to take custody of a child. By giving child protective service professionals in all 50 states access to this critical information, we will improve their ability to investigate child abuse cases and help ensure that the vulnerable children are not put into situations of abuse or neglect.
- "Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act" (Rich Text Format). Retrieved 2008-12-17.