Yesterday's events resolved a horrific incident that was set in motion on July 27, 1981, when Adam's mother, Reve Walsh, took him on a shopping trip to Sears in Hollywood, Florida. In the store, Adam asked his mother if he could watch some children play video games while she finished her shopping. She agreed, and he stayed behind while she searched for a new lamp.
Reve was not gone long, but when she returned to the video game section, Adam was nowhere to be found. Frightened, she asked a store clerk to page her son over the intercom. Seconds turned into minutes, but there was no sign of Adam. He had disappeared.
The events leading to Adam's disappearance remain unclear. According to some reports, the group of children that Adam was with was thrown out of the store for arguing over a game and Adam was mistakenly asked to leave with them. Investigators believe that Adam went outside, where he was abducted near the store entrance.
The case continued without viable clues or evidence until August 10, 1981, when Adam's severed head was found in a drainage canal in Vero Beach, Florida. The location was roughly 120 miles from the site of Adam's abduction. To date, the rest of his remains have never been found.
Five days later, on August 15, 1981, Adam's parents had an empty-casket funeral for their son.
Rather than dwell on their sorrow, Reve and her husband, John Walsh, established the Adam Walsh Outreach Center for Missing Children on August 19, 1981. Two months later, the couple testified before Congress on behalf of the Missing Children Act and the Missing Children's Assistance Act. As a result of their efforts, both of these bills were passed.
The first break in Adam's case came in October 1983, when suspected serial killer, Ottis Toole, confessed to the brutal slaying. However, despite having provided investigators with an accurate description of the crime, police were unwilling to name him as the killer. Several key pieces of evidence, including blood-stained carpeting from Toole's car and the car itself were lost by police, leaving them with little evidence to tie him to the crime. Toole eventually recanted his confession.
Despite the reluctance by police to charge Toole in his son's death, John Walsh remained convinced that Toole was responsible. According to Walsh, there were other items found at Toole's home which suggested that he was involved with the crime, including a pair of green shorts and a sandal that were similar to what Adam was wearing the day he disappeared.
As the case continued, Walsh became a well-known advocate for missing children. In 1988, he was selected as the host of the FOX television show America's Most Wanted, a program that profiles fugitives who are wanted by law enforcement for a variety of crimes. To date, the program has assisted in the capture of over one thousand criminals.
In September 1996, Ottis Toole died of liver disease while serving a life sentence for a series of other crimes. Toole's niece contacted John Walsh and told him that her uncle had made a startling deathbed confession, detailing the events of Adam's murder. Nevertheless, authorities were skeptical about the confession. Toole and his alleged partner, convicted serial killer Henry Lee Lucas, had confessed to hundreds of homicides over the years, many of which had been proven false.
Adam's murder made headlines again in January 2007, when theories surfaced that convicted serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer could have been responsible for the child's death. Two witnesses had allegedly claimed to have seen a man matching Dahmer's description at the mall the day Adam was abducted. Investigators examined a possible link, but were unable to come up with one. John Walsh himself issued a statement following the publication of the theory, stating that there was no credible information to suggest that Dahmer had anything to do with his son's murder.
Over the years, the Walsh family lost much of their hope that Adam's murder would be solved. However, on December 16, 2008, Hollywood Police Chief Chadwick E. Wagner held a press conference about the case.
"I am here today to discuss and bring some closure to the Adam Walsh abduction and homicide investigation that began over 27 years ago," Wagner said. "Consistent with the opinions of investigators past and present, I agreed with the ultimate conclusion of this independent investigation, that Ottis Toole was the perpetrator of this crime. As we know, Ottis Toole is deceased and formal, legal action is not possible, nor is it something that the Walsh family is seeking. However, in the interest of justice, the Hollywood Police Department is announcing today that it is our determination and conclusion that Ottis Toole was the abductor and murderer of Adam Walsh. If Ottis Toole was alive today, he would be arrested for the abduction and murder of Adam Walsh on July 27, 1981."
John and Reve Walsh, with their daughter, Meghan, were present at the press conference. Following Wagner's announcement, John Walsh made his own statement to the media.
"For 27 years, we've been asking who can take a 6-year-old boy and murder and decapitate him. We needed to know. We needed to know," Walsh said. "The not knowing has been a torture, but that journey's over."
While his own personal journey for justice has ended, Walsh made it clear that his work as an advocate for missing children is far from over.
"We're still going to be the parents of a murdered child for the rest of our lives [but] we're still going to try to change laws and change the way police do business."