AND TRUE CRIME AUTHOR
ARTHUR JAY HARRIS
The Unsolved Murder of Adam Walsh
Special Single Edition
A condensed version of the two-book series
This Special Single Edition of THE UNSOLVED MURDER OF ADAM WALSH is a condensed version of the two-book series:
BOOK ONE: Finding the Killer. Did Jeffrey Dahmer kidnap Adam Walsh?
BOOK TWO: Finding the Victim. The body identified as Adam Walsh is not him. Is Adam still alive?
What if almost everything most everyone
thinks about the Adam Walsh case
In Summer 1981, 6-year-old Adam Walsh was last seen by his mother in the toy department of their neighborhood Sears in Hollywood, Florida.
For two weeks police and the community searched desperately for him, then men fishing in a drainage canal 125 miles north saw something horrendous, floating:
A child's severed head.
Guessing that it was Adam, Hollywood Police got and brought his dental chart records to the medical examiner in that district, who identified the child as him.
The murder went unsolved for 27 years, then in 2008, at a live televised press conference, Hollywood Police announced they'd finally solved it:
Adam's killer was a drifter from Jacksonville, Ottis Elwood Toole, suspected 25 years before as Adam's kidnapper and killer but who had since died in prison on other charges.
Adam's parents, Reve and John Walsh, and their children since Adam, were present and tearfully approved of the department's decision.
There were only a couple of problems with that:
Although Toole had confessed to the murder, he'd also confessed to literally hundreds of other unsolved murders around the country.
Police had believed him until they realized that many of them were logistically impossible.
Was he a serial killer?
Or a serial confessor?
Like his other confessions, Toole's admission to killing Adam was remarkably vague, and relied on detectives prompting him with details and showing him crime scene photos to see if he could volunteer anything real that they hadn't told him.
Still, in an abundance of caution, Hollywood Police spent months trying to confirm anything he'd said.
They found nothing, not even that he'd ever been in South Florida.
When Hollywood Police closed the case on Toole, did they have any new evidence?
No, the chief admitted.
While Toole was alive, the department could have arrested him for the murder on the same evidence and brought him to trial, but hadn't.
So now, because he was dead, he couldn't be tried, and the case against him could never be proven in court.
But with Hollywood Police's case closure, all of law enforcement's Adam Walsh case files became public record.
In the police's file I found much stronger evidence that a different suspect had taken Adam.
Police had seven separate witnesses who had identified a man they saw at Sears that day either with or close by to Adam -- as Jeffrey Dahmer.
Dahmer, of course, had a history of severing victim's heads. But he had lived in Ohio and Milwaukee.
In fact, however, when Adam disappeared, Dahmer admitted he had been in Miami, although Hollywood Police never confirmed it.
He told Hollywood that he'd worked at a sub shop on the beach which was about 20 minutes, by vehicle, from the Hollywood Sears. However, he denied having anything to do with Adam's killing.
With some deep public records searching and not a little bit of luck, I found the man who had hired him.
He told me about a police report of when Dahmer had told him he'd found a dead body by the dumpster behind the store.
Wait, Dahmer found a dead body?
Dahmer had told Milwaukee Police that he'd admitted all his crimes and told of all his interactions with police, and they'd believed him.
But this Dahmer hadn't mentioned. Did he forget?
Who could ever forget finding a dead body?
Not Dahmer. In a recently-discovered letter he wrote from prison to a pen pal, Dahmer acknowledged finding the dead man.
In 1981, nobody knew who Dahmer was. Back then Miami police reports were still handwritten and not computerized and impossible to search without a police report number -- that I didn't have.
But I knew somewhere else to look -- the Dade County medical examiner's office.
They found it.
The incident date was 20 days before Adam disappeared. The police report's information began:
"According to Mr. Jeffrey Dahmer..."
That was the proof that Dahmer was here, which Hollywood Police hadn't looked far enough to find.
Dahmer didn't tell Hollywood Police, but the sub shop had also sold pizza, and delivered it to the nearby hotels on the beach.
The boss and others who worked there told me that the shop had a delivery van, and whoever could drive and was available would make deliveries.
No one kept track of the van, which was blue, and it would disappear for long stretches of time.
Hollywood's first important clue was that Adam's taker from Sears had left with him in a blue van.
But Hollywood Police also chose not to address even more serious problems with the case:
There are issues with the identification of the child who was found and said to be Adam.
Besides Ottis Toole's death, there is another reason why this case can never -- and could never have gone to trial, not even while Toole was alive:
The police and medical examiners' case files are inexplicably missing their most essential identification documents.
How often does that happen?
How about Never?
Hollywood Police had brought Adam's dental chart to the upstate medical examiner, who used it to make the ID.
That M.E. told me he kept a copy and sent another to the Fort Lauderdale M.E., who performed the autopsy.
They are now public records.
So why are they gone from the files of all three of those agencies?
One missing could be just a misplacement.
But all three?
But there are even more important documents, all of which are also public records, which are also gone or were never created.
Adam was a child, so he didn't carry ID. No other body parts besides a head were ever found, so there were no fingerprints to compare.
In 1981, there was no forensic DNA. Skin on the remains had already begun to decompose, complicating a visual ID.
Besides, the Walsh parents didn't go to the upstate M.E.'s examination.
When police had told John Walsh in the pre-dawn that a child's remains had been found which might be Adam, he and his wife were in New York, preparing to go on Good Morning America in a few hours to keep promoting the search.
The show's host, David Hartman, and producers told me they'd offered to send them home on the first flight so they could see for themselves if the child was Adam.
John said no.
Instead he got a family friend to go.
The Walshes stayed in New York and did the show.
On air, live, John said that police had just told him they thought the child most likely wasn't Adam.
But a Florida newspaper reporter who was with the Walshes, who overhead the call, contradicted him.
He wrote that police told John they thought it was Adam.
That morning, the medical examiner had reason to make a Presumptive ID that the remains were likely Adam -- while awaiting the results of a forensic dental examination and the autopsy.
But when that M.E. announced his conclusion, it was as a definite, Positive ID.
Later that day the autopsy was done, elsewhere -- proof of that is in the files, and it was reported by the press.
What's missing in the files, however, is an autopsy report.
That should never happen, either.
And since a forensic dentist was never called -- there's also no report of that.
In a homicide case, all of these documents would have been required to prove in court that the child who was found was, in fact, Adam Walsh.
Without them, prosecutors could not have won a case against any defendant -- Toole, Dahmer, or anyone else.
Does the absolutely unique absence of all these documents, and more, suggest hidden problems with the identification of the found child as Adam?
In his famous "Missing" picture, wearing his T-ball team shirt and cap and holding a baseball bat, Adam smiles, endearingly revealing that he was missing both his top front teeth.
But photographs and documents available in public records show that the found child identified as Adam has a top left front tooth grown in "almost all the way" -- in the words of a state forensic anthropologist who Hollywood Police had asked much later to review the remains.
Watch the YouTube on my Home page for the comparison pictures.
When was the "Missing" picture taken?
John Walsh wrote that it was a week before Adam vanished.
I found the studio photographer who took the picture and the man who ran the T-ball league, and they estimated it was taken about a month before.
I also found Adam's best friend and T-ball teammate, who no one else had found. He actually still had the trophy all the T-ball kids had gotten for playing that summer.
He said he last saw Adam a week or two before he disappeared, and he still had neither top front tooth.
It was something the friend couldn't help but tease Adam about.
After that but before Adam disappeared, one of his top front teeth did erupt.
When the found child's head was discovered, Adam had been gone two weeks.
The M.E. who did the autopsy told the newspapers that he (Adam, he said) had been dead probably for all that time.
In children, do teeth keep growing after death? Like fingernails?
No -- nor do fingernails keep growing.
So if Adam's best friend last saw him -- let's say it was the full two weeks before he disappeared -- and the child who was found had been dead for the two weeks since Adam disappeared -- and teeth don't keep growing after death --
Then there were two weeks at most for Adam's top front tooth to have erupted and grown in to "almost all the way."
I showed the comparison pictures to about a dozen forensic, pediatric, and general dentists, as well as to parents of children who had recently been six years old, as Adam had been, and whose baby top front teeth had fallen out and were replaced by adult teeth. I also read the dental literature.
How long does it take?
It varies -- but typically about 4-6 months.
Not two weeks or less.
One dentist I consulted was both a pediatric and a forensic dentist. When I asked him whether the found child could be Adam, he gave me the bluntest answer:
"There's no way in hell."
If that's not Adam, who is it?
And could Adam, incredibly, be alive?
That is another story...