Photo of Adam Walsh which was taken the same year of his abduction and murder
Adam Walsh was a 6-year-old boy from Hollywood, FL. On the afternoon of July 27, 1981 Adam joined his mother, Reve Walsh, on a trip to Hollywood Mall, which is right across the street from Hollywood Police Department. The main reason for the trip was so Reve could stop by Sears Department Store to purchase a few items, including lamps.
Adam was your typical, friendly boy so when he saw a couple of children playing video games in the arcade section of the store he asked his mother if he could stay behind and watch. Figuring she would be less than 75 ft away in the lamp section, she said yes and left her son who was happy and amused with the video games, behind.
That was the last time she would see her son alive.
“I said, ‘I’m going right over here to the lamp department,’ and he said, ‘Okay, Mommy, I know where that is,'” Reve told Nightline in a 2011 interview.
Police records in Adam’s case released in 1996 show that a 17-year-old ‘security guard’ asked four boys to leave the department store. Adam is believed to have been one of them. It is unknown why they were asked to leave.
Reve noticed fairly quickly (about 5-10 minutes) that the lamp she wanted wasn’t in stock and headed back to the arcade. Adam was nowhere in sight. She wasn’t initially concerned, figuring Adam ran off with some kids she went out to search for him, asking local shoppers if they’ve seen him. After searching for over an hour, Reve began to panick and called police.
By the end of that week this case was National news, thousands of fliers with the smiling, brown-haired boy were published and posted all over cities and towns and eventually made their way out-of-state. But by then, it was too late.
Two weeks (16 days) after Adam went missing his severed head was found in a drainage canal more than 120 miles away from home. The rest of his body has never been located.
From the beginning, the Walshes were disappointed with the Hollywood Police Department.
First, the Walshes say the cops didn’t take the missing persons case seriously enough. Then they say the police botched the murder investigation.
“It was one nighmare after another,” John Walsh said.
The prime suspect was Ottis Toole, an admitted serial killer who was in prison for many other crimes.
“You keep killing and killing and it gets easier and easier and it don’t really bother you,” Toole once told Texas law enforcement.
Toole made 24 documented confessions to killing Adam Walsh, including a 1984 videotaped interview with Texas Rangers. During the interview, he said, “I kind of feel bad about that Adam Walsh kid.”
“That is,” he said, “the youngest child I ever killed.”
Toole even had the gulls to write to the Walsh family, demanding $5,000 in exchange for telling them where the rest of their child’s remains were.
“I read that letter and went into the bathroom and threw up,” John Walsh would later tell Nightline in an interview. “I said, ‘This son of a bitch. We have to figure out a way for him to tell us what happened.”
In the decades that followed, Adam’s case remained open. Toole continued to recant his confessions about being the killer several times and for years he was never charged. Many people believed he was admitting guilt simply for the fame and to be remembered. They believed this because he never proved his guilt and wouldn’t tell police where the rest of Adam’s body was.
For years the case went unsolved and the Walsh family felt like they were the ones doing all the investigating. It became frustrating but they were not going to let their child’s name go down in vain.
The Walsh Family – John Walsh in the middle, Reve Walsh (right) and daughter on the left
At the time there were no missing faces on milk cartons, no Amber Alert system in place to alert the public if a child goes missing, no National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, nothing. To a family who’s missing a child each minute feels like eternity and the Walsh’s were determined to change this.
They didn’t want other families to go through the tragedy they went threw and for the families who have gone threw unsolved tragedies. They were determined to catch as many predators and criminals as they possibly could.
Prior to his son’s murder, John Walsh was a partner in a hotel management company in Hollywood, Florida. After his son’s kidnapping and murder, he became a strong human and victims rights advocate, criminal investigator and the creator and host of America’s Most Wanted which has helped save thousands of missing people and solve crimes. Walsh is also a part owner of Museum of Crime & Punishment in Washington D.C.
America’s Most Wanted (AMW) Logo
John Walsh (pictured) has been a strong human and victims right advocate for many years and continues to speak out and help other families of crimes
Reve Walsh rarely speaks out about her child’s murder. In 2011, she sat down with Nightline ABC to discuss a new book “Bringing Adam Home,” which tells the story of her son’s case and the tragedy they went threw.
“When all this was going on, I just thought to myself, I can’t wait till it’s 20 years or 25 years,” Reve said. “I don’t care about getting old, I just want this experience of my life to be that far away from me because I thought it would be different. It’s really not.” Reve told Nightline.
The Walsh family had dedicated their lives to helping other families find their missing relatives, children, etc. Over the years they’ve helped find thousands of missing people and criminals. They were not going to let their son’s horrific murder go in vain. But still, the frustrations grew each year Adam’s case continued to go unsolved.
“I cannot go to my grave not doing everything I can possibly do,” she said. “We are going to get a cold case detective, we are going to start from the beginning, and have this man work this case. I don’t care if you go to work just to pay the bill of this private investigator.’ And John said, ‘I know the guy.'”
That guy was Joe Mathews, a retired police detective who had briefly been involved in the Walsh case early on and was critical of how it was handled.
After combing through the case file, Mathews made a major discovery: a roll of film from the crime scene of Ottis Toole’s car — it was film that the original detectives never bothered to have developed. Pictures show bloody footprints on the driver’s side of Toole’s car. On the rear floorboard of the car — where Toole admitted to tossing Adam’s severed head — pictures show the bloody outline of a face.
“I have a blood transfer from Adam’s face onto the carpet — you can actually see his image. It’s as clear as the shroud of Turin, Veronica’s veil. It’s clear,” Mathews said.
He showed the picture to the Walshes.
“To me, it was the one thing that a mother knows, is that this is their child, that this picture is their child,” Reve Walsh said. “This is the piece of evidence that ties everything together for me and I can go to my grave knowing that not only that I did everything I could but that I found my answers in that photo.”
In December 2008, based on the evidence presented by Mathews — who is also one of the co-authors of “Bringing Adam Home,” — the new Hollywood Police Department Chief Chad Wagner officially closed the case, definitively naming Ottis Toole, who had since died in prison, as the man who killed Adam. Wagner apologized to the Walshes for mistakes that he said were made early in the investigation.
It’s been over 32 years since the kidnapping and murder of Adam John Walsh and his family never gave up on him and didn’t let his case go down in vain. America’s Most Wanted is still helping law enforcement solve thousands of crimes and they plan to continue for as long as they possibly can.
Click here to learn about the Adam Walsh Children’s Fund & The Adam Walsh Act