August 10, 1981: The Remains of Missing Child Adam Walsh Found


On July 27, 1981, a Hollywood, Florida 6-year-old was abducted from a Sears department store while he was out shopping with his mother. His dismembered head was found 2 weeks later in a drainage canal along the highway in Indian River County, Florida.

His death garnered extreme media interest throughout the country, and was made into the 1983 film Adam which was watched by over 38 million people. His father, John Walsh, became a victims advocate and hosts the TV program America's Most Wanted.

Though serial killer Ottis Toole was confessed to the murder, he was never convicted due to a recanted confession and loss of evidence. Toole died in prison in 1996. No new evidence has come to light since, and police are satisfied believing Toole had committed the crime.


On July 27, 1981, Adam and his mother, Reve, went shopping in the Hollywood Mall in Florida, entering Sears together through the north entrance. While Reve went to go ask about a lamp sale, Adam was left at a kiosk playing video games with several other young boys.

After Reve finished up in the lamp department at 12:15 PM, she returned to find Adam, and all of the other boys, gone. A store manager said that they had gotten in a fight over who's turn it was to play, and they'd all been asked to leave the store. The boys were older than Adam, and the guard had asked if their parents were there, and they said no. Adam's parents believe that his shy nature prevented him from speaking up, and thus, he left through the same door the other boys left from.

When the other boys dispersed for more 80s mall debauchery, Adam was stuck by the west entrance, an area unfamiliar to him, knowing he still had to wait for his mom. Reve looked all over, but was unable to find her son. She paged him over the public-address system in the store and looked throughout, running into his paternal grandmother by coincidence, who helped looked. But after 30 minutes, Adam had not turned up, and so at 1:55 PM, she called the police.

His parents launched a massive search for their kidnapped son, hoping they would find him or the person who took him. However, on August 10, 1981, a severed head was found in a drainage canal alongside a Florida turnpike, almost 130 miles away from where he was abducted. On August 11, without this information, John and Reve Walsh appeared on national television, hoping their son was still alive and offering a $100,000 reward for his safe return.

However, soon after their television appeal, the recovered remains were identified as that of the 6-year-old kid. His cause of death was asphyxiation. The rest of his body has never been found.

Police believed that Adam had been taken by a drifter named Otis Toole near the door he was standing alone at after being asked to leave the store. In Toole's later recanted confession, he said he lured him to his Cadillac with the promise of candy, and then took off north. Adam was docile and compliant at the beginning, but began to panic as they continued to drive. Toole then punched him in the face, and continued beating him until he was unconscious.

He said that he realized the child was still alive, so he strangled him to death with a seatbelt, dragged him out of the car, and decapitated him with a machete. He claims to have disposed of his body by incinerating it, leaving his head along the turnpike. He claimed he wanted to adopt him as his son, but knew it wouldn't be possible because of his loving relationship with his parents.

Reve and John believe the police botched the missing persons investigation, as well as the murder investigation. Take, for example, the fact that the police lost the bloodstained carpet from Toole's car, the machete, and, oops, the entire car itself. Toole, however, repeatedly confessed, until he eventually recanted his confessions.

Though he was never officially charged, several witnesses had placed him in the Hollywood area leading up to the murder. He died in prison at age 49 of cirrhosis while serving life for other crimes.

In 1997, Rick Stone, the Hollywood Police Chief, re-reviewed Adam's case after John's book came out. He was a 22-year veteran of the Dallas, Texas and Wichita, Kansas police departments when it happened, and concluded beyond a reasonable doubt that Toole was responsible. Toole and his serial killer buddy, Henry Lee Lucas, were notorious for confessing to crimes they committed, and then recanting.

In 2007, Jeffery Dahmer became a name of note in the Adam Walsh case. He was a pedophile, for sure, and was living in Miami Beach at the time. Additionally, 2 eyewitnesses placed him at the mall that day. (What are the chances that 2 serial killers were at the same mall on the same day?) One witness said they saw him throw a struggling child into a blue van and speed off, a blue van that matched the delivery car he was using that the time. (Hey, people! If you ever see a struggling child being thrown into a van that speeds off, let's tell the police right away, okay?)

Dahmer, however, denies his involvement. "I've told you everything - how I killed them, how I cooked them, who I ate. Why wouldn't I tell you if I did someone else?" he said. John does not believe Dahmer was involved.

The case was officially closed on December 16, 2008. The police announced that they were satisfied with the conclusion that Otis Toole had abducted and murdered Adam Walsh.


The TV movie, Adam, premiered on October 10, 1983. At the end of each of the broadcasts, photos and descriptions of various missing children were aired with a hotline if anyone had any tips. The movie was credited with finding 13 of the 44 children shown. Namely, rapper Bizzy Bone, who was abducted by his stepfather as a child, reunited with his mother after a neighbor recognized his photo at the end of the film.

Various laws and organizations for missing kids were sparked as a result of Adam's abduction. In 1984, the Missing Children's Assistance Act was passed, which allowed the formation of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. The "Code Adam" program for lost children in department stores was also created.

President Bush signed the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act on July 27, 2006, and John and Reve both attended the signing. The bill created a national database of convicted child molesters, and increases penalties for sexual and violent offenses against children. The Adam Walsh Reauthorization Act of 2016 was created, as well, which focuses on budgetary allotments for the 2006 Act programs.

Adam's abduction sparked a large part of the mid-80s panic about stranger abductions, which was further heightened by the Adam film. His abduction is attributed, in part, to the paranoia about child abductions, and the end of the lax parenting of the 80s. Doors started to lock, children stopped going over to friend's houses on their own. Playdates were scheduled and kids being out of sight started to become a thing of the past. Though a 1990 study determined that 99% of abductions were family related, stranger danger became a widely known program for the safety of children against stranger abductions.

The Walsh family created the Adam Walsh Child Resource Center, a non-profit dedicated to legislative reform for missing children. They have organized political campaigns to help missing and exploited children. John Walsh continues to testify before congress and state legislature on crime, missing children, and victims' rights issues.

John launched America's Most Wanted in 1988, a well-known personality already because of his work for missing children. The show lead to the capture of more than 1,000 fugitives. John also hosted his own daytime talk show, The John Walsh Show, but he stopped after becoming overwhelmed with hosting both shows at once. John Walsh assisted in solving the kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart, and tried to help the family of Natalee Holloway. He has also featured the case of Morgan Nick on his show.

After the loss of their son, Reve and John had 3 more children. Meghan was born in 1982, the year after Adam's kidnapping and murder. Reve clarified to local newspapers that she was not a replacement for her son. In fact, she said, Meghan would make her miss Adam even more, as he always wanted a sister. They had Callahan in 1987 and Hayden in 1994.

Meghan is a singer, artist, and a fashion designer. She has a daughter. Hayden and Callahan are sometimes involved in their father's show. Callahan is filming In Pursuit with John Walsh now, which tells the stories of victims and families who are looking for justice for their slain loved ones.

John Walsh has been in the face of some controversy during his time in the spotlight, as well. In 2006, he "joked" to senators about placing exploding chips into the anuses of sex offenders that explode if they leave their designated radius to send a message. He also faced criticism when he advised women never to hire a male babysitter. He said it is all about "minimizing risk", not sexism.

In his book, he admitted to being in a relationship with Reve when she was only 16 when he was in his 20s, despite the age of consent being 17. His critics argue that, if it had been pursued, he would have been a sex offender under the law he promoted. Other critics accuse him of "predator panic" by giving unsourced information about "mutilated, decapitated, raped, strangled children".

His relationship with his young wife aside, everything else seems kind of understandable for a father who's son was abducted, decapitated, and left for dead by a serial killer. Even if this type of crime isn't the norm, I would imagine everywhere you look you'd see death and danger. Rage at sex offenders, caution around men, suspicion of strangers certainly seems normal given what he went through, but I understand that projecting all of it as fact to a national audience could lead to more issues than benefits. However, certainly much good has come from the organizations, legislation and creative works John Walsh has put out there since the murder of his kid.

Despite terrifying movies and documentaries and stories, being abducted by a serial killer at a department store, strangled and decapitated is very uncommon. And yet, it is how a shy, timid, innocent and terrified 6-year-old died. I can't even imagine any aspect of it. I obviously can't imagine how someone could see a child and think they should take them and kill them. I can't imagine standing at a door, alone, waiting for my mom and coming across a nice man offering me candy, only to be thrown into his car and driven away from my life. I can't imagine being the mother who took her son to the mall on a normal day and came home empty-handed, having to call her husband and family to tell them their little 6-year-old was gone. I can't imagine being anyone in the family, trying to move past the light of their life not being there anymore. And to know he went in such a horrific, painful way. Perhaps it is a little bit better than not knowing what happened. I don't know.

I hope Otis Toole did it, because I hope whoever did it is dead or locked up. I would hate for the person who committed such a heinous crime to still be out there.

Rest in peace, Adam Walsh.




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