Murder of Adam Walsh
Walsh c. 1981
November 14, 1974|
Hollywood, Florida, U.S.
July 27, 1981 (aged 6)|
Rural St. Lucie County, Florida, U.S.
|Cause of death||Asphyxiation|
|Parent(s)||John Walsh and Revé Walsh (née Drew)|
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. His severed head was found two weeks later in a drainage canal alongside Florida's Turnpike in rural St. Lucie County, Florida. 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 was the host of the television program America's Most Wanted and currently, The Hunt with John Walsh.
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 in prison 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 closed as they were satisfied that Toole was the murderer.
Kidnapping and murder
On the afternoon of July 27, 1981, Adam's mother, Revé, took him shopping with her to the Hollywood Mall in Hollywood, Florida ( ). They went together to the Sears and entered via the north entrance. Revé intended to inquire about a lamp which was on sale, and left Adam at a kiosk with Atari 2600 video games on display where several other boys were taking turns playing them. Revé completed her business in the lamp department at approximately 12:15pm. She said that she returned to find that Adam 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 boys 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 as such, the security guard made him leave by the same door that they entered through (which was the Sears west entrance). His parents believe that after the other boys dispersed, he was left alone outside the store, at an exit unfamiliar to him. Meanwhile, unable to find Adam in the toy department, Revé had him paged over the public address system and continued to look for him throughout the store. She, by coincidence, ran into his grandmother, Jean, who helped her search for him. After more than 90 minutes of fruitless searching and public address pages which failed to turn him up, she called the Hollywood Police at 1:55pm.
Two weeks after his disappearance, Adam's severed head was found on the evening of August 10, 1981. It was discovered by two fishermen in a drainage canal alongside the Florida Turnpike near Vero Beach, Florida (27°33′35″N 80°39′47″W), almost 130 miles from Hollywood. The Florida Highway Patrol was informed of the discovery at 7:30pm on August 10. Indian River County and St. Lucie County divers searched the canal. On the morning of August 11, as Hollywood, Florida police rushed dental records to Vero Beach to compare them to the found remains, John and Revé appeared on the national news program Good Morning America. They said that they were still clinging to hope that he was alive; a $100,000 reward had been posted for his safe return. The recovered remains were positively identified as his shortly after, and the confirmation made national news headlines.
Using the recovered head, the coroner ruled that the cause of Adam's death was asphyxiation and that the decapitation had occurred after death, perhaps to render his remains unidentifiable. The state of the remains suggested that his death had occurred several days before the discovery of his head. The rest of his body has never been recovered.
John and Revé personally believed that the Hollywood police department botched the treatment of Adam's disappearance—first the missing persons investigation, then the investigation into his murder.
After some investigation, police eventually concluded that Adam was abducted by a drifter named Ottis Toole near the front exterior of Sears that afternoon, after being instructed to leave by a security guard. According to Toole, he lured him into his white 1971 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. He, 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." While he was so, Toole drove north on the Florida Turnpike to a deserted service road just north of the Radebaugh Road overpass in northwest St. Lucie County ( ). When Toole realized Adam was still breathing, he strangled him to death with a seat belt, dragged him out of the car, and decapitated him with a machete. Toole also claimed to have disposed of his body by incinerating it in an old refrigerator when he returned to Jacksonville. He claimed that he wanted to make him his adopted son, but given the close relationship he had with loving parents, this was not very feasible. DNA profiling 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 car. The police ultimately lost the bloodstained carpet from the car, the machete used to decapitate Adam, and eventually, the car itself. Toole, a confidant of convicted serial killer Henry Lee Lucas, repeatedly confessed and then retracted accounts of his involvement.
Toole was never charged in Adam's case, although he provided seemingly accurate descriptions as to how he committed the crime. Several witnesses also placed him in the Hollywood area in the days leading up to Adam's disappearance. 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 he made a deathbed confession to Adam's murder. His confession was viewed as unreliable, since he and Lucas confessed to or implicated themselves in more than 200 different homicides. It was later revealed that most of Lucas' confessions were false, having been coerced by the Texas Rangers.
In 1997, Hollywood Police Chief Rick Stone conducted an exhaustive review of Adam's 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 16 years old at the time of his 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 "beyond a reasonable doubt" that Toole murdered Adam. Both Toole 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, and two eyewitnesses placed him at the mall on the day Adam was abducted. One 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 stated that he had "seen no evidence" linking Adam's abduction and murder to Dahmer.
On December 16, 2008, Hollywood, Florida Police Chief Chad Wagner, a friend of John's, 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 Toole was the murderer.
The 1983 television film Adam was created based on Adam's story, and had 38 million viewers on its first airing. Each of its three broadcasts (1983, 1984, 1985) were followed by pictures and descriptions of missing children. A hotline was also active to take calls regarding them. The pictures and hotline was ultimately credited with finding some missing children. American rapper Bizzy Bone, who was abducted by his stepfather as a child, was reunited with his mother after a neighbor recognized a photo of him shown at the end of the 1983 broadcast.
Laws and organizations for missing children
In 1984, the U.S. Congress passed the Missing Children's Assistance Act, owing in part to the advocacy of the Walshes and other parents of missing children. It allowed the formation of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC).
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. 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.
The Adam Walsh Reauthorization Act of 2016, which provides budgetary allotments to continue programs passed in the 2006 Act, has as of August 2016 passed the U.S. Senate and awaits consideration by the House.
Societal and psychological effects
The publicity of Adam's case and the widely watched television movie Adam also created what was described as a mid-1980s panic over stranger abductions, one out of proportion to their numbers and one which has persisted for decades. Richard Moran, criminologist at Mount Holyoke College: "[The case] created a nation of petrified kids and paranoid parents. Kids used to be able to go out and organize a stickball game, and now all playdates and the social lives of children are arranged and controlled by the parents...the fear still lingers today." Early estimates by the NCMEC would state that as many as 20,000 children a year were abducted by strangers, and public service spots relayed the perceived danger. A 1985 Pulitzer Prize exposé discussed a "numbers gap" between the claimed number and other statistics, such as that the FBI investigated a total of 67 abductions by total strangers in 1984. By 1988, even as the NCMEC lowered annual estimates of stranger abductions by 80%, "early estimates had a life of their own". A 1990 study of child abductions found that 99% of them were family related. In the 10–15 years between 2000 and 2015, the number of missing children ultimately killed has been decreasing in its own right, attributed partly to new technologies like mobile phones that allow calls for help.
- "Original Adam Walsh police reports (Adam Walsh death Certificate), p 753) (1981)" (PDF). Hollywood Florida Police Department.
- Divoky, Diane (February 18, 1986), "Missing Tot Estimates Exaggerated", Lodi News-Sentinel, p. 2
- "Americas Most Wanted – About John Walsh". Americas Most Wanted. Archived from the original on December 19, 2008. Retrieved December 17, 2008.
- Almanzar, Yolanne (December 16, 2008). "Police Expected to Close Adam Walsh Case". New York Times. Retrieved December 16, 2008.
In October 1983, he 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. Investigators lifted bloodstained carpet from his car. 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 the car, the carpeting, and the car itself were found to be missing.
- "Original Adam Walsh police reports (1981)" (PDF). Hollywood Florida Police Department.
- "Police Files On Adam's Disappearance Give Suspects, Leads, But No Conclusion". Retrieved 2016-08-18.
- "Ottis Toole on America's Most Wanted". America's Most Wanted. Archived from the original on July 18, 2012. Retrieved December 16, 2008.
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. His parents 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: Drifestigators believed that he was grouped in with the older boys who left him alone outside the store. That was the last time he was seen". CNN. December 16, 2008. Retrieved December 16, 2008.
- "Florida Today from Cocoa, Florida · Page 4B". Newspapers.com. Retrieved 2016-08-17.
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- "John Walsh's Tears of Rage tells the story of the Adam Walsh case". The Washington Examiner.
- Soltis, Andy (December 17, 2008). "1981 Adam Slay Solved". New York Post. Retrieved December 17, 2008.
But he also claimed he committed hundreds of murders, and cops determined he was lying about them.
- "The Twilight of the Texas Rangers". Texas Monthly. 2016-06-16. Retrieved 2017-12-21.
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- "Did Dahmer Have One More Victim?". The Milwaukee Channel. February 1, 2007. Archived from the original on February 22, 2012. 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. Archived from the original on February 22, 2012. Retrieved December 17, 2008.
- 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 Walshes 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.
- "'Adam' Again Draws Callers", Milwaukee Journal, pp. Life/Style 2, 30 April 1985
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- "Girl Found In North Texas After Tip To National Center", The Victoria Advocate, p. 7F, 2 May 1985, retrieved 30 April 2014
- "Bizzy Bone ; Music Videos, News, Photos, Tour Dates, Ringtones, and Lyrics". MTV. Retrieved August 9, 2016.
- "Mission and History" Archived October 29, 2012, at the Wayback Machine.. 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 July 10, 2007.
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 December 17, 2008.
- "Adam Walsh Reauthorization Act of 2016 (2016 - S. 2613)". GovTrack.us. Retrieved 2017-12-21.
- Waxman, Olivia B. "The U.S. Is Still Dealing With the Murder of Adam Walsh". TIME.com. Retrieved 2016-08-19.
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- Walsh, John; Schindehette, Susan. Tears of Rage: From Grieving Father to Crusader for Justice. Pocket Books (2009). ISBN 1-4391-8996-X.