The Murder of Adam Walsh

Listen Now

This story takes place in Hollywood, FL & begins in 1981. Adam Walsh was born on November 14, 1974; he was the first child of John & Reve Walsh.

Monday, July 27, 1981 started like any typical weekday in the Walsh house. It was summer so Adam was home with his mom. He woke up at 8:30 that morning & his dad headed out to work at 9am. At 11am, Adam & Reve headed out to pay Adam’s tuition at St Mark’s Lutheran School. From there, they headed to the Hollywood Mall, arriving at 12:30pm. They parked on the north side of Sears & headed inside. Side note, the Hollywood Mall is across the street from police headquarters.

Adam was dressed in a striped Izod shirt, green shorts & his favorite captain’s hat. As Reve & Adam entered Sears, they headed in the direction of the lighting department; Reve had her sights set on a lamp that was on sale.  Reve & Adam walked past an Atari video game kiosk on their way & Adam asked his mom if he could watch boys play while she did  her shopping. She said, “I’m going to be right here in the lamp department.” Adam replied, “Okay, Mommy, I know where that is.” Reve had left Adam in the toy department on previous occasions; he was very familiar with the store as they shopped there often. Adam never left the area to look for his mom on previous occasions. 

Finding that the lamp she planned to buy was out of stock, Reve headed back toward Adam about 10 minutes later. When she arrived at the video game kiosk, she noticed that Adam & the rest of the boys were gone. Reve searched the entire department & adjacent departments before using a house phone to request Adam be paged to return to the toy department. Adam was first paged at 12:25pm & continued to be paged with no response until 1:30pm. Reve approached multiple Sears employees, asking if they had seen Adam while showing them a photo of her son. 

Shortly after, Reve bumped into her mother–in-law Jean Walsh, who was coincidentally also shopping at Sears that day. Initially, Reve thought that Adam might be with her, but after learning he wasn’t, she called the Hollywood Police Department at 1:55pm to report Adam missing. 

It came to light that there had been an incident at the Atari video game kiosk that day involving four children. A 17 year old security guard on duty recalled an altercation between four boys; one of the boys slapped another over the video game controller. The security guard approached the boys & asked all four to leave the store. When detectives spoke to the security guard & showed her a picture of Adam, she felt he was not one of the boys involved. In a follow-up interview, she felt that she was 85% sure Adam actually was part of the group.

Detectives asked that anyone with any information contact the Hollywood Police.  On Thursday, July, 30, three days later, a woman contacted the police & said her 10 year old son, Timothy had seen something suspicious on the day Adam went missing. Under hypnosis, Timothy recalled seeing a 6’ tall white male with dark brown, curly hair loitering in the toy department of Sears where the boy was shopping with his grandma. He saw the boy leave, followed by the man. The man ran to a shiny, navy blue Ford van with tinted windows, sport wheels, a black bumper & a chrome ladder at the back. When Timothy & his grandma went to their car, he saw two white men wearing stocking masks in the van which pulled near the boy. He said the sliding door opened & a hand motioned the boy (Adam) to the vehicle & pulled the boy into the van.

Another person came forward & said on July 27, that same day, between approximately 12:30 & 1, he was nearly involved in a traffic incident with a van identical to the one Timothy described. The van was being driven by a white man in his twenties with black hair & a thin mustache; he was speeding adjacent to the Hollywood Mall. This man & Timothy met with a police artist & two composite drawings were released to the media along with a description of the Ford van. 

Over the next few weeks, John & Reve made several televised & public appeals for Adam’s safe return, offering a $5k reward. The case was national news & thousands of fliers were published & posted with Adam’s picture. 

Sadly, on Monday, August 10, 1981 at approximately 6:45pm, two weeks after Adam went missing, a severed head was discovered by two fishermen, floating in a drainage canal in Vero Beach, FL, 120 miles from Hollywood off of mile marker 130 of the Florida Turnpike.

Extensive searches of the area found no other evidence which lead investigators to believe that this location was not where the murder took place.

The next day, on the morning of August 11, at Indian River County Hospital ,John Monahan, a close friend of the Walsh family, positively identified the severed head as that of Adam’s. Dental records were used to confirm this. That afternoon, Dr Ronald Wright of the Broward County Medical Examiner’s office, conducted an exam of the remains in Ft. Lauderdale. Because of the presence of liquified brain matter, it was concluded that the time of death was likely 10 or more days prior to the discovery of the remains on August 10 which was consistent with the timing of Adam’s abduction. Dr Wright’s exam also found 5 distinct blows from a sharp bladed instrument at least 5 ¼ inches long to the back of the neck & rear lower portion of the skull. 

On August 12, John & Reve offered a $100k reward for information leading to an arrest. 

On August 15th, an empty casket funeral was held for Adam.

On October 11, 1983 a 36 year old man named Ottis Toole from Jacksonville, FL was incarcerated at the Duval County, FL jail pending charges for an arson homicide. The previous day, a detective from the Brevard County Sheriff’s department called Hollywood detectives to inform them that Toole claimed he killed someone in Broward county & wanted to discuss it with police. 

Ottis was raised by an abusive & controlling single mother after his alcoholic father abandoned him & his four sisters. He said his mom dressed him in girl’s clothing & called him Susan & that he was molested by a family member & sexually abused by a neighbor. His grandmother worshiped Satan & called him “The Devil’s Child.” 

He ran away from home & slept in abandoned buildings. He was sexually aroused by starting fires & at a young age was considered developmentally disabled. He was unable to read, had an IQ of 75 & left school to start a life of crime. He made money working as a male prostitute.

He said his first murder was when he was 15 years old & killed a traveling salesman who wanted him to perform sexually for him; he said he ran him over with the man’s car. 

Toole told police that he & Henry Lee Lucas abducted a six to ten year old boy from Sears mall in the Ft Lauderdale area years prior & killed him. Hollywood detectives flew to Jacksonville to interview Toole. Lucas was a serial killer who was convicted of killing his mother in 1960 & two others in 1983. After his conviction, he confessed to killing around 600 people. He is considered the most prolific serial killer in history. He died of CHF in 2001 in prison.

On October 19, 1983 Toole issued a detailed statement contained some inconsistencies. He said the child was 7-10 years old, had blond curly hair, wore blue jeans, a blue shirt & sneakers. Adam, on the other hand,  was six years old, had sandy brown hair & was wearing green shorts, a red/white striped Izod pullover shirt & yellow rubber flip flops. Toole said he & Lucas pulled the child into the car, cut off the child’s head with a bayonet & performed sex acts with the severed head. However, it was later found that Lucas was in a Maryland state jail on July 27, 1981 after having been arrested on July 22 & released October 7th. 

The inconsistencies in Toole’s story caused detectives to question the legitimacy of his story which continued to change over the coming years. After Toole was told that it was impossible that Lucas took part in the abduction & murder, he changed his story & said he lied about Lucas’ involvement for revenge. 

Toole’s cellmates were questioned; one said Toole told him of his killings though none involved children. Another said the same, that none of Toole’s stories involved Adam Walsh. 

On October 21, 1983, detectives flew Toole to Hollywood in order for him to identify the location of the abduction & the area off the Turnpike he claimed to have disposed of Adam’s head. Detectives took him to Broward Mall & Toole did tell them that it wasn’t the correct mall. When they took him to the Hollywood Mall, he said it looked familiar though he couldn’t be sure it was the correct one. 

Later that day, after saying it was the correct mall, he led detectives to the turnpike entrance to mile marker 126 where he claimed to have dismembered Adam & buried his remains. An extensive search of the area found nothing but he said he couldn’t recall the exact area as he was extremely intoxicated during the abduction, murder & burial. 

On October 26th, Toole claimed he was uncertain that he murdered Adam, then stated he lied & created the whole story. Twelve minutes later, he changed his story & said he did abduct & murder Adam. He later said that he took Adam’s body to his mother’s backyard in Jacksonville, placed it in a gutted refrigerator, doused it in gasoline & burned it. He said he shoveled out the remains, wrapped them in a blanket & put them in a dump in Jacksonville.  He said he used a machete to sever Adam’s head.

When Toole’s car, a 1971 black & white Cadillac, was tested in 1983, it did tested positive for blood on the left front & rear floorboards; locations where Toole had made statements saying he placed the severed head of Adam Walsh though DNA testing wasn’t available/they couldn’t tell if it was from Adam. In 1995, when follow-up DNA testing was to be done, they could no longer locate the samples from the car. 

Toole took it upon himself to write to the Walsh family & demand $5k in exchange for telling them where the  rest of Adam’s body was. In a Nightline interview, John Walsh said that he read the letter & had to run to the bathroom to throw up after. He said, “this son of a bitch. We have to figure out a way for him to tell us what happened.”

The Walshes felt that the police didn’t take the missing persons case seriously enough & that they botched the murder investigation. There was a private investigator & retired police detective named Joe Mathews who was involved in Adam’s case from the beginning; he was hired by the Hollywood PD to be a polygrapher. He ended up being let go early on when he began questioning the methods of the police.  Many years later, Joe & John Walsh crossed paths; at the request of John & Reve & with the approval of the Hollywood PD, Joe did a case file analysis and cold case investigation of the kidnapping & murder of Adam Walsh; it took 2 years & 9 months. After 25 years, key evidence was discovered that had been overlooked. 

The evidence Joe found on Toole was strong & made him believe that Ottis Toole was solely responsible for the kidnapping & murder, Number one, Ottis often admitted to family, friends & the police that he was responsible for Adam’s murder. Despite the fact that he did recant his story, Joe feels that this can be very common after a confession. After he recanted, Toole said he didn’t mean to & gave details that only the murderer would know. Two, there was also a witness that saw Toole & his unique car at the scene of the crime the day it happened. There was a lot of blood evidence in Toole’s car that sadly, the police lost/was unable to undergo DNA testing. Strongest of all, after combing through the case file, Joe found that a roll of film from the crime scene of Ottis Toole’s car had never been developed. Before the photos had been developed, Toole admitted to putting Adam’s severed head on the back floorboard of his car while he drove it to where he ultimately discarded it off the Florida turnpike. He said, “you can actually see his image. It’s as clear as the shroud of Turin, Veronica’s veil. It’s clear.” 

He showed the picture to the Walshes & Reve felt that this was a picture of Adam. She said, “This is the piece of evidence that ties everything together for me & I can go to my grave knowing that not only did I do everything I could but that I found my answers in that photo.” 

Ottis Toole died in prison on September 15, 1996 of cirrhosis while serving five life sentences.

Side twist, on July 30, 1991, 10 years after Adam was abducted & murdered, Hollywood detectives discovered that Jeffery Dahmer was in the Hollywood area at the time of Adam’s murder. A man recalled seeing someone that looked like Jefferey Dahmer & saw a physical struggle with he & a boy. Dahmer denied any involvement, saying that if he had been, he would admit it because he would welcome the death penalty as an alternative to rotting in prison. 

On Tuesday, December 16, 2008, 27 years after Adam’s murder John & Reve joined police officers to make the announcement that the murder had been solved & the case was officially closed. The murderer was declared to be Ottis Toole, more than 12 years after he died in prison.

Others have argued that Toole may not have been the murder:

The FDLE has said “an insufficient amount of blood” was found in Toole’s car to test for DNA. So there’s no proof that the head that Matthews sees is Adam’s. That Luminol-outline could be someone else’s head, given that Toole confessed to more than 100 murders.

Additionally, FDLE separately tested hairs found in Toole’s car and compared them to hair samples taken from the found head declared to be Adam. They did not match.

Matthews also writes that Toole told police “crime scene details only the killer could have known.” But that wasn’t the opinion of the Hollywood detectives who actually interviewed him.

Transcripts of those interviews show that everything Toole “knew” came from what those detectives had told or showed him – in hopes it would prompt him to recall something new or true in the case.

The result? Toole never gave them anything valuable that could be confirmed.

At the time Adam went missing, there was no Amber Alert system in place, no missing children on milk cartons, no National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. Before Adam’s abduction & murder, John was a partner in a hotel management company in Hollywood, FL. Afterwards, he became heavily active in human & victims rights advocacy. Just 4 days after Adam’s funeral, on August 19, 1981, the Adam Walsh Outreach Center for Missing Children was established.  On October 6, John & Reve testified before Congress on behalf of the Missing Children Act which passed 1 year later, signed by President Reagan on October 12, 1982. The law mandates the creation of a national clearing house of computerized information to aid parents of missing children.  On July 27, 2006, 25 years after Adam went missing, President George W Bush signed the Adam Walsh Child Protection & Safety Act into law which created a national database of convicted child sex offenders, increased federal penalties for crimes agains children & provided funding & training for law enforcement to fight crimes involving the sexual exploitation of children via the internet. The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children has assisted law enforcement in the recovery of more than 348,000 missing children & helped with the training for more than 379,000 law enforcement, criminal/juvenile justice & healthcare professionals, according to their website.

Despite the fact that John Walsh had no acting experience, Fox network contacted him to host America’s Most Wanted; it consisted of 771 episodes that aired between 1988-2013. According to a report, it is responsible for the capture of nearly 1200 fugitives. Walsh said that despite his involvement in AMW, he was thankful to be in a position to help those who “have such little voice or recourse to do anything.” IMDB reports that John Walsh also appeared in & produced “In Pursuit with John Walsh”, “America’s Most Wanted: America Fights Back” and “The Hunt with John Walsh.” 

Following Adam’s death, John & Reve had 3 more children, Meghan, Callahan & Hayden. They currently live in Washington DC. In 2021, John & Reve celebrated 51 years of marriage.  According to John Walsh, more than 90% of marriages of parents of murdered children end up in divorce. Reve filed for divorce in 2002 though the couple sought therapy/focused on their relationship. Investigator, Joe Matthews ended up co-writing the book, Bringing Adam Home: The Abduction That Changed America.


  1. This Day in History: July 27, 1981 – Six-year-old Adam Walsh is abducted
  2. Grunge: The Untold Truth of John Walsh
  3. Missing & Unidentified People: Lets Find Them – The Kidnapping & Murder of Adam John Walsh
  4. ABC News: Adam Walsh Murder: John & Reve Walsh Re-live the Investigation
  5. Ottis Toole: The Serial Killer That Kidnapped, Tortured and Beheaded Adam Walsh
  6. UPI: Ottis Toole confesses again to killing Adam Walsh
  7. The Abduction & Murder of Adam Walsh – Compiled by Detective Mark Smith
  8. KIRO 7: Adam Walsh: Looking back 40 years after the child abduction that changed America
  9. WSFA 12 News: Adam Walsh case closed after 27 years
  10. Florida Bulldog: Hollywood police chief should explain why he thinks Ottis Toole murdered Adam Walsh
  11. America’s Most Haunted: Talking Adam Walsh Case with Legendary Criminal Investigator Joe Matthews on After Hours AM/The Criminal Code

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: