THE UNSOLVED MURDER OF ADAM WALSH IS A TWO-BOOK SERIES
ALSO READ BOOK ONE: FINDING THE KILLER
Six-year-old Adam Walsh disappeared from the toy department of a Sears in Hollywood, Florida, in 1981. Two weeks later and 125 miles away, a child’s severed head was found and identified as Adam. His parents, Reve and John Walsh, deeply grieved and dedicated their lives going forward to helping find other parents’ children who had gone missing. In 2008, 27 years later, police announced at a live televised press conference that they’d finally solved the case, blaming the kidnapping and murder on a by-then dead man. Because of that there could never be a trial.
All of that is true. But virtually everything else that you think you know about this famous case is wrong.
In 1983, 25 years earlier, that suspect had volunteered a confession that he’d killed Adam Walsh. But the police then had deeply investigated his story and couldn’t verify anything he’d said, not even that he’d been within 400 miles of the area. In 2008, when a new Hollywood Police chief closed the case, he admitted they had no new evidence.
What the new chief didn’t mention was that by then he had six separate police witnesses who’d been at the shopping mall on that day in 1981, and had since spoken up. Most had seen Adam; all had seen a much more likely suspect -- Jeffrey Dahmer. A microfilmed Miami police report the author found and had previously shown to the Walsh detectives proved that Dahmer was then living just a few miles from the Sears. Dahmer’s boss told the author that the prompt for the report was that Dahmer had told him he’d just found the body of a homeless man behind the store. Yes, bad luck, Jeffrey Dahmer found a dead body. 1981 was 10 years before Milwaukee police found severed heads in Dahmer’s refrigerator and arrested him as a serial killer. He said he’d killed his first victim in 1978.
Even worse, it turned out that the identification of the child as Adam had been slapdash and suspect. The Walsh parents weren’t present for it; John Walsh wrote years later that he’d never viewed even photographs of the remains. A family friend had been present for the ID, and Walsh wrote that his first impression had been that it wasn’t Adam. Because the remains were only a severed head, there were no fingerprints, and forensic DNA was still years away. The pathologist making the identification did it strictly by teeth, but he admitted he wasn’t a dental expert. Dental X-rays, when available, are a standard for comparison, but he didn’t have them. He also had a forensic dentist available but never consulted him. A medical examiner in another regional office performed the autopsy, but he also never consulted a forensic dentist.
Worse again, that medical examiner never wrote and submitted an autopsy report, as state laws and guidelines require. That perhaps never happens. Had police ever charged any live defendant with murder in this case, prosecutors in court would have been handcuffed to prove that the dead child was Adam. The case likely then would have ended.
Why all the misdirection? Did Dahmer take Adam? Is Adam even dead, is that someone else’s child? Could Adam be… alive?
Fifteen years of continuing research. Author’s story appeared in 2007 on ABC Primetime, and in 2010 on a Sunday front page of The Miami Herald.“I never, and to my knowledge no one in the office, prepared a report on the head of Adam Walsh.”
-- 2010 email from Dr. Ronald K. Wright, in 1981 the Chief Broward County Medical Examiner, who performed the autopsy on the remains of the child previously identified as Adam Walsh, when asked if he had a personal copy of Adam Walsh’s autopsy report that neither the Medical Examiner’s Office nor the police had.
“There’s no way in hell.”
-- A Florida forensic dentist, viewing the teeth in both the last picture of Adam Walsh and the remains of the child identified as him, responding to the question of whether they could be the same child. Other forensic dentists shown the same material agreed.
About the author
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.
You could also see it as Don playing all sides. When the Feds needed faster boats to keep up with the Cigarettes that Don sold to dopers, they came to him. It was sort of the same with his wife and girlfriend (and girlfriend and girlfriend).
How long could anybody get away with that? Confidence men are known as con men; Don wasn't that, but he was a supreme self-confidence man, that is, he was his own victim.
Finally he was cornered. Don's protégé in racing and boatbuilding was also the largest pot smuggler in America. The Feds needed Aronow to testify against him. For leverage, they apparently threatened Don with a tax evasion case. The quintessential free-spirit boat racer could go to prison--or he could risk the wrath of a major criminal organization.
Aronow made his decision. Days later, he was killed.