The murder of six-year-old Adam Walsh, which raised awareness about missing children and led to TV shows like America’s Most Wanted, has been solved, the authorities said on Tuesday.
At a crowded news conference in the police station in Hollywood, Florida, police said they were convinced that Adam was killed by Ottis Toole, a drifter and convicted serial killer who confessed to the slaying and then recanted before dying in prison in 1996.
Adam was abducted from a mall across from the police headquarters here on July 27, 1981. His severed head was found two weeks later in Vero Beach, 190km north of the mall. The body was never found.
John Walsh, Adam’s father and host of America’s Most Wanted, was at the news conference with Adam’s mother, Reve, and their three children.
“Today is a reaffirmation of the fact that he didn’t die in vain,” an emotional John Walsh said. “For all the other victims who haven’t gotten justice, I say one thing: ‘Don’t give up hope.’”
Chief Chadwick Wagner of the Hollywood Police Department said he regretted that the case had not been closed earlier and attributed that failure, in part, to flaws in his department’s investigation.
Wagner said Tuesday’s announcement was not the result of any new discovery, but rather the accumulation of all the circumstantial evidence over the years.
Wagner said the investigation had always focused on Toole, adding that the case was strong enough for the police to have charged him before his death.
The photograph of the freckle-faced Adam, holding a baseball bat, became well known to Americans after his disappearance. The police investigated hundreds of leads — the serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer was a suspect at one point — but no arrests were made.
As hope for Adam’s return faded, the Walshes began an organization to aid and comfort other families of missing children.
The Walsh family also helped lobby Congress to pass the Missing Children’s Act in 1982, which created a national computer database of information on missing children at the FBI.
In October 1983, Toole told 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 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 Toole’s car, the carpeting and the car were missing.