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Horrific Details About The 1981 Murder Of John Walsh’s Son Adam & The Questions That Still Linger

Photo: YouTube / Wikimedia Commons
John Walsh Son Adam Walsh

John Walsh, a violent crime victims’ advocate and host of the TV show "In Pursuit With John Walsh” has compared the FBI handling of Gabby Petito’s case to the investigation into his son Adam Walsh's abduction and murder in 1981.

"All these mistakes were made on my son Adam’s case, and similar mistakes were made in this case," said Walsh. "It's pretty damn sad."

What happened to Adam Walsh, John Walsh’s son?

Adam Walsh went missing on July 27, 1981 during a trip to a Hollywood, Florida mall with his mother, Reve Walsh. He was later found murdered. 

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Reve had briefly left her 6-year-old son to watch a group of older boys playing video games in the toy department of a Sears store while she ran errands in another section of the store. 

When she returned less than 10 minutes later, Adam was gone. 

Adam Walsh was likely abducted outside the mall.

Investigators later learned a teenage security guard had ordered the boys to leave the mall after some of the older boys were causing trouble. 

It is believed that Adam may have been too timid to speak up and explain that his mother was in the store so he left with the boys who then dispersed. 

He is presumed to have been abducted in the parking lot of the mall. 

Adam’s severed head was found on August 10, 1981.

After a massive search for the young boy, two fishermen discovered Adam’s severed head in a drainage canal in Vero Beach, Florida, some 100 miles from Hollywood. 

His body was never found.

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A coroner ruled that the cause of Adam's death was asphyxiation. The state of the remains suggested that Adam had died several days before his head was discovered. 

Ottis Ellwood Toole claimed to have killed Adam Walsh.

In October 1983, Toole confessed to abducting and killing Adam. At the time, he was an inmate in a Raiford, Florida, prison where he was serving time for two unrelated murders.

Toole also implicated his close friend, serial killer Henry Lee Lucas. 

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Toole claimed to have accompanied Lucas on hundreds of murders. Lucas, however, was in jail in Virginia when Adam was kidnapped so could not have been involved. 

Police concluded that Toole had abducted Adam from outside the mall and intended to take him back to his Jacksonville home. 

They believe hit Adam after the child began to panic, knocking him unconscious before strangling him with a seatbelt and decapitating him with a machete. 

Toole also claimed to have incinerated the body in an old refrigerator when he returned to Jacksonville.

Investigators lost crucial evidence in Adam Walsh’s murder.

Weeks after Toole’s confession, police announced that they had lost the bloodstained carpet from Toole’s car, the machete allegedly used and, later, the car. 

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They were also unable to locate Adam’s body making it impossible to prosecute Toole without any physical evidence.

For the rest of his life, Toole repeatedly confessed and retracted his involvement in Adam’s murder. 

His confessions were deemed unreliable as he and Lucas often made false confessions about murders. 

However, John Walsh has said he believes Toole was his son’s killer and several witnesses did place him in the Hollywood area that day. 

Jeffrey Dahmer has also been linked to Adam Walsh’s murder.

In 2007, speculation grew that Dahmer, who had died in a Wisconsin prison in 1994, may have murdered Adam.

Dahmer had been convicted of killing more than a dozen men and boys in 1991. His oldest known victim was 8 year older than Adam.

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Dahmer was living in Florida at the time of Adam’s murder and two witnesses claimed to have seen him in the mall that day. One allegedly saw a man who looked like Dahmer struggling with a young boy before putting him in a van.

However, Dahmer had been interviewed about Adam’s death in 1992 and reportedly denied any involvement.

"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 it to someone else?" he said. 

On December 16, 2008, the police in Hollywood, Florida, announced that the case against Toole was strong enough to close the investigation into Adam’s death.



John Walsh became an advocate for crime victims after Adam’s death.

Channelling his grief into his activism, Walsh has helped law enforcement track down hundreds of fugitives through “America’s Most Wanted.” 

He has also used the publicity of Adam’s case to find missing children and solve other disappearances and murders. 

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Alice Kelly is a senior news and entertainment editor for YourTango. Based out of Brooklyn, New York, her work covers all things social justice, pop culture, and human interest. Keep up with her Twitter for more.

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