For the next two weeks, nearly the entire Hollywood Police Department, much of the community, and the Walshes searched for Adam everywhere they could think of. The family printed his most recent photograph, of him wearing a T-ball team baseball cap and shirt and holding a bat. What made him even more endearing was his big smile, revealing the absence of both his top front teeth.
Exactly two weeks later and about a hundred miles north of Hollywood, a man fishing in a drainage canal saw, floating, a child's severed head. Police suspected it was Adam, and by the next morning, a medical examiner there announced the official identification.
In 1983, Ottis Toole, a drifter from upstate Jacksonville, Florida, confessed to the murder, and Hollywood Police announced it at a dramatic press conference. But then came the real work: for much of the next year police tried to link anything Toole said to actual case facts not already publicly known. They weren't able to. In 1984 police dropped Toole as an active suspect.
But in 2008, a new Hollywood Police chief held another dramatic press conference to announce, again, that Toole killed Adam. And again, the chief admitted there was no substantiation beyond his confession--no new evidence. But this time Toole was dead--he'd died in 1996, in a Florida prison for another crime, so he could no longer be prosecuted. Because of that, the chief announced that the case investigation was finally over.
But when Hollywood closed the case, its file became public record. In it, author and investigative journalist Arthur Jay Harris discovered, was much more evidence that Adam's kidnapper had been Jeffrey Dahmer, the infamous serial killer.
Dahmer had been captured in Milwaukee in 1991. Police there found in his apartment eleven severed heads--mostly of young men, though none close in age to Adam. He also admitted going to shopping malls to find victims, that he'd killed his first victim in 1978, and that he'd been in Miami when Adam was taken. However, Dahmer denied anything to do with that. A spokesman for Hollywood Police said they certainly wouldn't trust such a killer's mere denial, but after they were unable to independently prove that Dahmer had been in South Florida, they dropped it. Later, when an FBI agent confronted Dahmer in prison about Adam, he thought he'd tacitly admitted killing him. He got word to Adam's father, John Walsh, who by then was hosting a reality television crime show series called America's Most Wanted. Walsh got Hollywood to interview Dahmer, but when he directly denied it, Hollywood dropped it again.
Upon his arrest, Dahmer insisted he came clean about all his crimes, but evidence shows he did not.
It was not Hollywood Police but Harris who located the only document that proved Dahmer had indeed been in Miami that summer when Adam went missing. A Miami police report dated July 7, 1981, 20 days before Adam's kidnapping, read that "Mr. Jeffrey Dahmer" had found the body of a homeless man in the alley behind where he worked, in Sunny Isles, about 20 minutes by vehicle from Hollywood. Of course, no one in 1981 knew who Dahmer was.
That was suspicious, but when Milwaukee Police had asked Dahmer to tell of all his lifetime interactions with police, he'd left it out -- and this police report was written before computerization.
Nor did Dahmer speak of his repeated physical torture and rape of his roommate in the U.S. Army, Billy Capshaw, when they were stationed in Germany. Dahmer was thrown out of the Army for drunkenness in March 1981, four months before Adam disappeared, and instead of going home, came to Miami. Also, German police had suspected Dahmer of a series of mutilation murders there. Dahmer denied them also, but Capshaw had seen him return from weekend leaves with his clothes and torso soaked in dried blood. He also found (and threw out) a series of Dahmer's hunting knives, their blades covered with blood, and had seen M.P.s return Dahmer to their room after he'd been caught masturbating in a park in front of young children.
But the main evidence that Dahmer took Adam came from the Hollywood Police's own files. There, Harris found seven witnesses who had offered tips to police as well as to John Walsh's TV show that they had seen a man in or outside the Hollywood Sears with or close to Adam. Two told police that the man was Dahmer; the rest, when Harris showed them pictures of Toole, then Dahmer, said the man they'd seen wasn't Toole--it was Dahmer. But police weren't interested in re-interviewing their own witnesses.
The story's not over, by a lot. See also The Unsolved Murder of Adam Walsh, Book Two
In addition to The Unsolved Murder of Adam Walsh...
ARTHUR JAY HARRIS IS ALSO THE AUTHOR OF OTHER TRUE CRIME BOOKS:
FLOWERS FOR MRS. LUSKIN begins with a flower delivery to the best house in the best part of Hollywood, Florida. Inside, Marie Luskin was cautious; her husband Paul used to send her flowers but those days had ended more than a year before when she filed for divorce. She thought it was safe to open the door just enough to accept the pot of azaleas.
She was wrong. The delivery was a ruse; the man pointed a gun at her and demanded her money and jewelry. When he left, she fell to the floor, bloodied, thinking he'd hit her with the gun.
Over 40 years, Paul's family had built a business called Luskin's from one store in Baltimore into a chain of consumer electronics stores in Florida. Coming of age, Paul was taking it over, to run. He'd already made his first million, and he and Marie were living a life their friends admired. But between them all was not well. Then Paul's high school girlfriend moved to town with her husband, and sparks rekindled. When Marie discovered it she threw Paul out of the house. For a moment it looked like they would reunite. She asked Paul to move back in at the end of the day after Thanksgiving, the biggest sale day of the year. But that was a ruse, too. That day at the store, her attorneys served him the divorce.
Marie's attorneys were aggressive. Accusing Paul's parents of shielding his assets, they asked the judge for everything he--and his parents--had. A year later, it looked like Marie would get it all.
The divorce was overwhelming and compound stress. Three times Marie had him arrested for not paying his very high support payments exactly on time; the judge had frozen his assets, and his dad had asked him to leave his high-paying job because he couldn't concentrate both on it and the divorce. Marie's attorneys wanted Paul's mom to testify for days about the business's finances, but because she had a blood clot that stress could loosen and become lethal, Paul's family asked them to lay off her. They refused. Not long after came the flower delivery.
The Feds indicted Paul for attempted murder-for-hire. They told the jury:
A Luskin's employee called his brother in Baltimore who was a mob guy, who got someone to come to Hollywood to kill Marie. Although she thought the gunman hit her with the gun, he really shot her--his bullet grazed her head. Paul was convicted and sentenced to prison for 35 years.
In prison, Paul married his high school girlfriend. To me, they protested so insistently that there was no murder-for-hire that it seemed something was truly wrong. I eventually found there had been a murder plot--but the real question was, who had asked the Luskin's employee to call his brother in Baltimore?
Testimony said "Mr. Luskin" ordered the murder; the prosecutor naturally assumed that meant Paul. But there was a better case that "Mr. Luskin" was Paul's dad. As a result of his son's divorce he lost his whole business, owed Marie $11 million he didn't have and was facing jail for contempt of court for not paying her, and so had to leave the country.
At the story's turning point, "Mr. Luskin" had to choose between two untenable outcomes: the death of the elder Mrs. Luskin or the younger. But prosecutors also were forced to make a tragic choice. Without certainty of which "Mr. Luskin" it was, did they choose the wrong one?
UNTIL PROVEN INNOCENT begins with a night 911 call from a woman gasping her last breaths. When police arrived at the house they found her dead, stabbed, and her husband, infant, and father-in-law all shot point-blank. They would survive.
Minutes later, a man also called 911, a gunman had released him from a robbery at the same house. He said he knew of no violence before he left. Yet he was the only one who the gunman hadn't tried to kill. Police instantly suspected him.
That night and long after, police tried to shake the man, Chuck Panoyan, who insisted he didn't know who the gunman was.
Police guessed right. A tip led them to the gunman, and that led to a trip Panoyan took to see him. Both were arrested, and prosecutor Brian Cavanagh won a death penalty indictment against them both.
But in pretrial, Panoyan's attorneys unraveled Cavanagh's case against their client. No longer certain Panoyan was guilty, Cavanagh reached No Man's Land: his choice was to let the jury sort it out, or admit he was wrong about Panoyan for now three years.
Cavanagh's dad Tom was a retired NYPD lieutenant who'd had a double murder he couldn't solve, then at another precinct a suspect confessed. Tom recognized it had been coerced and quietly asked his detectives if they could prove it wrong. When they did, the case became famous for police integrity. A TV movie renamed Tom's character: Kojak.
Years later, son Brian was at a similar turning point. Like his dad, he would not leave it to a jury to unscramble. He moved to release Chuck Panoyan from jail. But Panoyan had to tell his story: he'd lied to police because the gunman had threatened to kill his family if he spoke up. Once before, the gunman had killed a small child and went to prison
Who was the only one could make Panoyan comfortable enough to talk? The old man, the real-life Kojak, Tom Cavanagh.