Serial Killer Decapitated the Son of TV's John Walsh in 1981, Florida Police Say

Associated Press
Wednesday, December 17, 2008

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. -- A serial killer who died more than a decade ago is the person who decapitated the 6-year-old son of "America's Most Wanted" host John Walsh in 1981, police in Florida said Tuesday.

The announcement brought to a close a case that vexed the Walsh family for more than two decades, launched the television show about the nation's most notorious criminals and inspired changes in how authorities search for missing children.

"Who could take a 6-year-old and murder and decapitate him? Who?" an emotional John Walsh said at Tuesday's news conference. "We needed to know. We needed to know. And today we know. The not knowing has been a torture, but that journey's over."

Police named Ottis Toole, saying he was long the prime suspect in the case and that they had conclusively linked him to the killing. They declined to be specific about their evidence and did not note any DNA proof of the crime but said an extensive review of the case file pointed only to Toole, as John Walsh long contended.

Hollywood Police Chief Chadwick E. Wagner launched a fresh review of the case after taking over the department last year.

Toole had twice confessed to killing the child but later recanted. He claimed responsibility for hundreds of murders, but police determined that most of the confessions were lies. Toole's niece told John Walsh that her uncle confessed on his deathbed in prison that he killed the boy.

Toole died in prison of cirrhosis in 1996 at age 49. He was serving five life sentences for murders unrelated to that of Adam Walsh.

Adam's killing, and his father's activism on his behalf, helped put faces on milk cartons, shopping bags and mailbox flyers, started fingerprinting programs and increased security at schools and stores. It spurred the creation of missing persons units at large police departments, as well as legislation to create a national database and toll-free line devoted to missing children.

Wagner acknowledged numerous missteps in the investigation and apologized to the Walshes.

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