Adam Walsh Killer Identified

The Adam Walsh murder has been solved after 27 years.

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 has 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.”

As bizarre as it is for the murder of one’s son to turn into a lucrative career, it has to be heartwrenching to go without closure for over a quarter century. Amazing that they’re just figuring this out now. Especially since they ultimately identified the longtime prime suspect:

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.

“Our agency has devoted an inordinate amount of time seeking leads to other potential perpetrators rather than emphasizing Ottis Toole as our primary suspect,” said Hollywood Police Chief Chadwick Wagner, who launched a fresh review of the case after taking over the department last year. “Ottis Toole has continued to be our only real suspect.”

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

Given three confessions more than a decade ago and apparently no new DNA evidence, one wonders what could possibly have put them over the top today.

Adam Walsh would be 33 were he alive today.  His dad’s show has helped put upwards of 1000 wanted criminals behind bars.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. James M. says:

    Even though the family “knew” this was the guy it is nice for the them to finally have official closure. May they now have some peace.

  2. tom p says:

    As bizarre as it is for the murder of one’s son to turn into a lucrative career, it has to be heartwrenching to go without closure for over a quarter century.

    As I am quite sure you know James, the family would easily give up all of it for one more day with their son.

    As one who was very tengentially connected with the search for Shawn Hornbeck (I helped search some caves after a psychic said that was where his body lay) I met his parents once, and they now have their son back, but as a father, I can not imagine the horrors they lived through. My parents dealt with the death of a child, and I had an Aunt and Uncle who dealt with the death of an only child… but the very idea of a missing child….I wish this on no one.

    God forbid that any parent should go through what the Walsh’s have. May they once again sleep at night, or at least find peace on the other side. (and the same sentiment goes out to the Benet/Ramsey’s) (and all the other not so famous families of missing children. It is a horror the rest of us can only imagine)

  3. odograph says:

    You could mention that the career has likely saved other children, and that might have helped the family with their burden.

  4. caj says:

    Glad this family have finally got closer of sorts,I doubt they will ever feel that really…such a long time to have to wait.
    John Walsh has done a wonderful job over the years
    trying to prevent this kind of thing happening again, so he deserves respect for that.
    Hope this family can find some peace now at least.

  5. anjin-san says:

    His dad’s show has helped put upwards of 1000 wanted criminals behind bars.

    This guy managed to create something positive out of a tragedy. The “bizarre” snark is undeserved…

  6. James Joyner says:

    The “bizarre” snark is undeserved…

    I’m not being snarky or insulting. It’s simply bizarre that an unquestioned tragedy, probably the worst thing that can happen to a person, made him rich and famous. Would he have traded every bit of that to have his kid still alive? Of course.