Murder of Adam Walsh
Adam Walsh, son of America's Most Wanted host John Walsh c. 1981
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. Walsh's death earned national publicity. His story was made into the 1983 television film Adam, seen by 38 million people in its original airing. Walsh's 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 the boy's murder but was never tried for the 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
On July 27, 1981, Walsh's mother, Revé, let Adam watch several older boys play video games at a Sears store in Hollywood, Florida, while she walked a few aisles away to shop for a lamp. When Revé returned to the video game section about seven minutes later, Adam and the other boys were gone. As the result of a squabble between the older boys, a security guard had been called and had told them to leave the store. The security guard asked the older boys if their parents were in the store, and the boys said that they were not. It was later conjectured by Adam's parents that he was too shy to speak to the security officer, who presumed that he was in the company of the other boys, and put him out the same door. Adam was then left alone near an exit of Sears 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 was not recovered. The coroner ruled that the cause of Adam's death was asphyxiation and that the decapitation had occurred later, perhaps to render his remains unidentifiable or the cause of his death indeterminable.
John Walsh 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 store that afternoon, after being asked to leave by a store clerk. Toole lured Adam into his blue van 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 cry and scream as the drive wore on. Toole responded by knocking Adam out with blows to the head and chest (and likely strangled him), then pulled off onto a deserted service road in Indian River County to decapitate the boy. Toole later claimed to have disposed of Adam's body by incinerating it in an old refrigerator when he returned to Jacksonville. Since Toole was a cannibal, there were reports that he dismembered the young boy's body and consumed it, but those reports were later ruled out.
Toole repeatedly confessed and then retracted accounts of his involvement. Toole, allegedly a confidante of convicted serial killer Henry Lee Lucas, 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 Toole in the Hollywood area in the days leading up to Walsh's disappearance. Police investigated Toole for the Walsh murder but lost important evidence in the case, including the bloodstained carpet from Toole's Cadillac. In September 1996, Toole died in prison, aged 49, of cirrhosis of the liver while serving a life sentence for other crimes. Afterwards, Toole's niece told John Walsh that her uncle made a deathbed confession to the murder of Adam. Toole's confession, however, had been viewed as reliable, since he and Henry Lucas confessed to or implicated themselves in more than 200 different homicides, most of which they accurately described 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 Walsh'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 Ottis Toole by Hollywood Police Detective Mark Smith. Stone says his review found evidence to prove "beyond a reasonable doubt" that Toole murdered Adam Walsh. 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 the Walsh murder. Dahmer was living in Miami Beach at the time Adam was murdered, and two eyewitnesses placed Dahmer at the shopping mall on the day Adam was abducted. One of the witnesses claimed to have seen a strange man walking into the Sears 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 Dahmer worked had a blue van at the time. Dahmer 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 Walsh in the early 1990s, Dahmer 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 announced, with John Walsh 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 Walsh to become an advocate for victims rights. Adam Walsh's murder was among those that helped to spur the formation of the National Center for Missing and 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 Walsh'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 Walsh. 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, Mr. 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 Mr. Toole’s 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 carpeting from Mr. 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. "Adam didn't tell the security guard his mother was in the lamp department; he followed the older boy out the west exit of Sears into the parking lot. John and Revé believe Adam didn't tell the security guard about his mother, because he was a timid child and mindful of authority. Knowing their son, 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. Investigators believe Adam 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 Toole also claimed he committed hundreds of murders, and cops determined he was telling the truth 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: Ottis Toole."
- "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.