The Walsh case was hampered by various problems, including a missing autopsy report and a glitch in identifying the remains.
-- The Miami Herald, March 28, 2010
From The Unsolved Murder of Adam Walsh, Book One:
The Adam Walsh story you know: After 6-year-old Adam was found murdered, his father, John Walsh, channeled his unbearable grief into becoming an angry crime-fighting TV host.
Yet this is the story you don’t know: For decades, officials had never revealed the file proving the child was Adam. Astonishingly, it showed that the ID of the dead child had never been completed. Why? Was it because the evidence was either inconclusive—or showed that the child likely actually wasn’t Adam?
After Hollywood Police closed the case in 2008, not only was the police investigative file made a public record, so were the medical examiners' files in two districts. Harris asked to see all of them and realized this:
As shown by his smile in the "Missing" picture, Adam's top front baby teeth were both gone. But the found child had a buck tooth -- a left top front tooth that was in "almost all the way," in the words of a state forensic anthropologist who the police had later consulted.
When was the "Missing" picture taken? How long before Adam vanished? John Walsh wrote it was one week. Harris found it was actually about a month. He found Adam's last best friend, who said he saw him a week or two before he disappeared and remembered that he still didn't have any top front teeth. However, the police's last-seen-alive description reads that his top left front tooth was partially in.
So within the week or two before Adam disappeared, his new tooth had erupted. Two weeks after Adam was gone, the child's head was found. The Fort Lauderdale medical examiner told the newspapers then that the child (Adam, he said) had been dead for possibly all of the 14 days he had been missing. Teeth don't keep growing after death.
In just that week or two before he disappeared, could Adam's top left front tooth have gone from eruption to in "almost all the way"? That would be very unusual if not impossible. More likely, it would have taken months, maybe up to six, pediatric and forensic dentists and parents of young children told Harris.
If indeed Adam's top left front tooth doesn't match the same one in the found child, there also should be other indicators that they don't match. To compare discovered, abandoned bodies with missing people, forensic dentists use the missing person's dental charts and dental X-rays.
The upstate medical examiner who made the positive ID wrote that Adam's dental chart showed that he had a filling in a lower left molar that matched a filling in the found child. But that was only enough for a "presumptive ID," which is less than a positive ID. It was only one filling, and it was in a common place for children to have cavities. And the dental chart he used is missing from his file -- as well as the files of Hollywood Police, which originally handled it, and the Fort Lauderdale medical examiner, who the upstate M.E. said he gave a copy to.
Further, none of the files mention ever getting or using Adam's dental X-rays for a comparison. Those would have made for a definitive match -- or a negative match. Nor is there a mention anywhere of a forensic dental consultation, ordinarily done in such circumstances to make positive IDs. Adam's dentist says he no longer has the original records, so the examination that should have been done then can never be done in the future.
Even worse, there is no autopsy report. The medical examiner who performed the autopsy admitted in writing that neither he nor anyone else in his office ever wrote one. Detectives, prosecutors, and defense attorneys who work homicides told Harris they had never heard of that ever happening before.
This is what it all means:
As there never has been, there never can be a trial for the murder of Adam Walsh because prosecutors can never establish that the murder victim was Adam Walsh.
Instead, this case is about something different: crimes, injustices, and horrors against likely two young children, their families, and their communities:
A child close in age to Adam who has never been correctly identified, whose parents were never notified and whose murder was never investigated, and who was not buried under his (or her) correct identity;
And also the kidnapping of a young boy in a shopping mall in Hollywood, Florida.
Which leads to an incredible pair of questions:
What ever happened to Adam Walsh?
Could he still be alive?
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.