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CNN PEOPLE IN THE NEWS

Behind the Laci Peterson Murder; Profile of John Walsh

Aired July 26, 2003 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANNOUNCER: Next on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS what appeared to be a perfect marriage becomes the plot for a national murder mystery.
SCOTT PETERSON, CHARGED WITH WIFE'S MURDER: I had nothing to do with Laci's disappearance.

ANNOUNCER: A pregnant wife who was bright and vivacious.

ANNE-MARIE O'NEILL, SENIOR EDITOR, "PEOPLE" MAGAZINE: I guess you could call Laci an all-American girl.

ANNOUNCER: The seemingly ideal husband, accused of murdering her.

ABBA IMANI, OWNER, PACIFIC CAFE: People really liked him. He was a very likable guy.

ANNOUNCER: A storybook relationship that ended in a tabloid confession.

AMBER FREY, HAD AFFAIR WITH SCOTT PETERSON: We did have a romantic relationship.

ANNOUNCER: A murder case that's got the country talking.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Even though Scott has been convicted around every water cooler in America, the actual evidence against him is far from overwhelming.

ANNOUNCER: Beyond the hype and the headlines. The story behind the relationship of Scott and Laci Peterson.

Then...

JOHN WALSH, "AMERICA'S MOST WANTED": The crime of the century.

ANNOUNCER: He's the television force who's helped put many of America's most wanted behind bars.

WALSH: We're the fifth longest running show in the history of television.

ANNOUNCER: But before the bright lights and stardom, a phone call that no parent should have to get.

WALSH: I was so heartbroken. I wished I was in another place. ANNOUNCER: He turned his tragedy into a crusade for the rights of missing children. The story of the man who's made it his mission to stop crime of all sort. John Walsh.

Their stories and more now on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

PAULA ZAHN:, ANCHOR: Hi. Welcome to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. I'm Paula Zahn.

They seemed like the all-American couple, happily married, anxiously a waiting the birth of their first child. She was the girl next door and he was the adoring husband. At least that's how it seemed until Laci Peterson and her unborn son were murdered.

Now Laci's husband, Scott, is awaiting trial for the killings in a case that has fueled a media free for all.

Here's David Mattingly.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SHARON ROCHA, LACI PETERSON'S MOTHER: I love my daughter so much. I miss her every minute of every day.

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It is a story that has captivated the country. A murder mystery played out daily in the media.

TED ROWLANDS, REPORTER, KTVU: People wanted to know where she was, whether she was OK and whether that babe was OK.

MATTINGLY: Last year in the state of California alone, thousands of adult men and women were reported missing, but in the final days of 2002, one of those cases went from an ordinary disappearance to an extraordinary media phenomena that has mesmerized the country.

S. PETERSON: I nothing to do with Laci's disappearance.

TOOBIN: One of the great mysteries about the Peterson case is yet public has responded to it so passionately, because it doesn't have a celebrity involved. No one had heard of these people before, but there is something about it that has grabbed many thousands of people.

MATTINGLY: Twenty-seven-year-old Laci Peterson, gone without a trace on Christmas Eve. The media was flooded with images of a beautiful, beaming young woman and the tearful family members desperately seek her return.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Laci Denise, if you're hearing dad, we love you very much and we want you home.

MATTINGLY: it just didn't make sense. Laci had a handsome, loving husband, parents, siblings and in-laws who cherished her. Plus, the substitute teacher was eight months pregnant when she suddenly disappeared. Things had been good for Laci Peterson. She was starting a new chapter of her life in the place where her very first chapter began.

Modesto, California, a mid-sized city with a very small town feel, a place where happiness is spelled out in the welcome sign.

Laci Peterson was born in Modesto on May 4, 1975. Even as a young girl, Laci Denise Rocha had the same sunny disposition that was so familiar in her adulthood.

STACEY BOYERS, CHILDHOOD FRIEND: Laci is always smiling, no matter where we are or what we're doing. She's always bubbly and talkative and she's usually the center of attention.

MATTINGLY: Laci was into everything and she had no shortage of friends. As a student at Downey High, Laci wasn't your typical angst- ridden rebellious teen. Quite the opposite, in fact.

O'NEILL: I guess you could call Laci an all-American girl. You know, she was a cheerleader in high school. She was vivacious. She was outgoing and friendly. Her stepfather used to call her Jabber Jaws because she talked so much.

MATTINGLY: Pretty soon, cooking and gardening joined chatting on the list of favorite Laci pastimes and her green thumb planted her at San Luis Obispo at California Polytechnic State University with a major in horticultural sciences.

There she would meet the man who would become her husband. Scott Peterson was a handsome, athletic California boy from San Diego.

O'NEILL: People who knew Scott at high school have described him as -- as a kind of jock. Very confident. Slightly arrogant and yet still friendly and easy to talk to.

MATTINGLY: The consummate outdoorsman, Scott loved hunting, fishing and golf, but he also had an entrepreneurial spirit. As a student at Cal Poly, Scott made a good impression on his teachers in the agriculture and business department.

JAMES AHERN, PROFESSOR, CALIFORNIA POLYTECHNIC STATE UNIVERSITY: Very nice guy. A good guy. A capable student. Interested beyond just getting grades and interested in knowing people and a good interactor, charming person that could talk well and was interested in what other people had to say. A very likable guy.

MATTINGLY: Scott's agreeable personality worked for him outside the classroom, as well. He parlayed his charm into a part-time job at the Pacific Cafe.

IMANI: His mom and dad were a customer here. They ate here regularly. And then when Scott graduated from high school he came and ate with them a few times and then he asked for a job.

He was a very good worker. Very responsible, but most importantly, very polite person. People really liked him. He was a very likable guy.

MATTINGLY: One customer in particular took a liking to Scott, fellow Cal Poly student Laci Rocha. After talking to Scott a couple of times, Laci asked a friend who worked at the Pacific Cafe to give Scott her number. He called right away.

RENEE GARZA, CHILDHOOD FRIEND: They're like teenagers in love.

MATTINGLY: That's how most everyone described Laci and Scott. The relationship turned serious quickly and when Laci said she was bringing her mom to dinner meet Scott, he went out of his way to impress her.

IMANI: He asked me to make some special appetizer for them. And I did. Some scampi, if I remember right, and he had some flowers on the table.

MATTINGLY: The storybook courtship led to a storybook union.

O'NEILL: The wedding was really elaborate. Laci had a big part in planning the wedding. She made sure the flowers were just how she liked them. And there was a white dress. Him feeding her cake, the full routine.

He carried her up the stairs. For awhile there, his family thought he that might drop her, but he didn't.

So the wedding by all accounts was a big and happy affair.

IMANI: It was a gorgeous day out on the beach, outdoor wedding. Perfect. Everything was just right and a nice couple. They were, like, perfect for each other.

MATTINGLY: It was a picture of perfection that would suddenly be shattered.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: We now return to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Laci and Scott Peterson went from ocean front wedded bliss to a shack. The couple wanted to create a hangout spot where students from their alma mater Cal Poly could eat well for cheap. This was a dream they shared and they each took an active role.

BLAKE REED, FRIEND: Scott's an entrepreneur, and he pretty much just built the place up, you know, from the ground up.

CHRISTINE REED, FRIEND: Laci's involvement, too, in the restaurant was significant. She loved to cook. She would go on these trips to France and learn to cook for a week or two and then come back and they kind of both sat down and developed the concept and the menu and then went and then found a location.

MATTINGLY: The restaurant soon took off.

When they weren't working, Laci and Scott were out spending time with friends like Blake and Christine Reed. They say this picture taken at a dinner party perfectly summed up the dynamics of their relationship.

B. REED: All of the guys were sitting out in the back porch and we were all smoking cigars and drinking a scotch or whatever and just hanging out and it was all of the guys.

And so somebody wanted to take a picture of all of the guys sitting back there and they were just getting ready to snap the shot and Laci comes behind all of the guys and she wanted to get right in the middle and that's a really good way to describe Laci. She was really gregarious and she liked to be in the center of things and be -- you know, she was real comfortable being the center of attention.

C. REED: You know, I never saw Scott feel -- or I never saw the expressions or his behavior never said he was embarrassed by that or angry by that. I mean, he kind of just stood back and smiled and said, "That's my wife"

MATTINGLY: Though surrounded by friends and fulfilled by the success of their restaurant, Laci and Scott decided to move back to Modesto to be closer to Laci's family and to start a family of their own.

O'NEILL: Laci was really excited about getting pregnant. They'd been trying to get pregnant for some time and when she did get pregnant and she got the news she was pregnant she was on the phone at 7 a.m. the next morning, calling her relatives and telling them of the news.

SUSAN CAUDILLO, SCOTT PETERSON'S SISTER: She and Scott were just thrilled about the coming of their baby boy and everything in their life that they had planned for the past five years and their marriage was coming. This was a big event for them and everything was going wonderfully.

MATTINGLY: Which is why it was so stunning when Scott called family members on December 24, saying he had just come home from a fishing trip and couldn't find Laci anywhere.

JACKIE PETERSON, SCOTT PETERSON'S MOTHER: They were all ready for Christmas, their presents wrapped, their plans laid and they had a little free time. And it's just like Laci to let Scott go do something he wanted to do, and she wanted to do a little more shopping privately, so that was their agreement and it was only for a few hours. It should have been fine.

MATTINGLY: But it wasn't fine. Hours passed with no sign of Laci. The family sprang into action, pleading for help on the airwaves and putting Laci's picture on every tree, lamppost and window in sight. ROWLANDS: When Laci was missing, literally thousands of people who didn't know her came out to help search for this missing woman and they started to know her.

MATTINGLY: Laci's family, her parents, her brother and sister, as well as Scott's parents, became familiar faces.

ROCHA: I'd like to make a plea to the person or persons who have my daughter.

MATTINGLY: They appeared on television night and day. Noticeably absent, her husband Scott.

ROWLANDS: When someone's going through this you don't know how they're going to react, but normally you've got a father or a spouse or a family member of a missing person who wants media coverage, who wants the picture out there, the flyers, wants to do interviews. Wants to really do anything to get help to find this person.

And with Scott it was a little different story where he was real standoffish; didn't want us to take his picture, didn't want us to interview him.

MATTINGLY: Slowly, people began to question Scott's demeanor.

TOOBIN: For better or worse, the public seems to have kind of a script in mind for how bereaved relatives ought to behave and he didn't follow that script. He was not quite sad enough.

MATTINGLY: Modesto police also seemed to think something about Scott wasn't right. He wasn't named a suspect, but he wasn't ruled out either. Police repeatedly questioned him and searched the home he shared with Laci.

But the people who knew him best ignored all that whispering.

LEE PETERSON, SCOTT PETERSON'S FATHER: If you knew Scott as far as him being implicated it's just a non-issue.

O'NEILL: Laci's mother Sharon told us that she was calling Scott every day. They were speaking on the phone and she was telling him that they loved him and not to worry.

MATTINGLY: With Laci missing for one full week, the family in the town of Modesto came out on New Year's Eve for a candlelight vigil.

Scott Peterson raised eyebrows and got stares of disbelief as he laughed and joked with friends and even took a cell phone call while the rest of the family was in tears.

That, combined with frequent out of town, overnight trips and his steadfast refusal to speak publicly, turned Scott into a villain in the media.

But it only got worse. When PEOPLE IN THE NEWS continues, a potential motive for murder surfaces.

FREY: I met Scott Peterson November 20, 2002. I was introduced to him. I was told he was unmarried.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Welcome back to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Nearly one month after the disappearance of Laci Peterson, a shocking revelation.

KIM PETERSON, ROCHA FAMILY SPOKESPERSON: Approximately two weeks ago Ron Grantski, Laci's stepfather, asked Scott if he had a girlfriend. Scott told him no and Ron believed him.

Now, however, they believe that he has lied to them about this and possibly other things, as well.

MATTINGLY: At first, Scott continued to deny the affair, but a press conference with the other woman, Amber Frey, erased all doubts.

FREY: Scott told me he was not married. We did have a romantic relationship. When I discovered he was involved in the -- the Laci Peterson disappearance case, I immediately contacted the Modesto Police Department.

TOOBIN: The fact that Peterson was having an affair at the time his wife disappeared certainly raised suspicion on him and obviously gave him a motive for murder.

MATTINGLY: It was also the turning point in Scott's relationship with Laci's family.

TOOBIN: That was the moment when they went from being largely supportive of Scott to neutral to hostile.

MATTINGLY: Engulfed in a torrent of bad press, Scott Peterson agreed to what he had resisted for so long, on-camera interviews, but it had to be on his terms.

ROWLANDS: He called me on the phone the night before and said no lights, just one camera guy. I just want it to be a simple interview. He said I'd like to see the questions you want to ask me.

I've never had anybody ask me that before, so it was a definite situation where he was in control and he didn't want to say anything that quite frankly, would, I think, make him look bad.

MATTINGLY: And when it came time to speak he chose his words carefully.

S. PETERSON: I had nothing to do with Laci's disappearance. Even if you think I did, think about Laci.

MATTINGLY: He seemed the most emotional when speaking of the empty nursery for the baby they had decided to name Connor.

S. PETERSON: The nursery's ready for him. That door is closed. I can't look, you know? All of the little bitty clothes and all of those wonderful things we have.

MATTINGLY: But public reaction was mixed.

ROWLANDS: I think that people thought he was guilty, and I think seeing him in his sort of pat answers and his reluctancy to really open up didn't help him.

TOOBIN: And then he started doing things like trying to sell Laci's car. Actions that seemed inconsistent with a grieving relative and more consistent with a criminal suspect.

MATTINGLY: The downward spiral continued for Scott Peterson, but the darkest days were just ahead.

On April 13, just miles away from where Scott said he was fishing on Christmas Eve, the body of a fetus washed up on the shores of San Francisco Bay, followed by the partial remains of a woman.

The question on everyone's mind, could this be Laci Peterson and baby Connor?

Claiming Scott was a flight risk, the Modesto police didn't wait to find out. On April 18, he was arrested near a posh golf course in San Diego, just an hour away from the Mexican border.

Despite appearances, the Peterson family stayed strong and supportive.

L. PETERSON: They made a rush to judgment because of all of the media pressure, I believe, and politics. And he's in there, he should not be and we're going to find out who did it.

MATTINGLY: But the attorney general disagreed, calling the case a slam dunk. And the state of California said it would seek the death penalty against Scott Peterson.

After DNA results confirmed their worst fears, that the bodies that washed up were indeed Laci and her baby, Laci's family held one final heart-wrenching press conference.

ROCHA: I literally get sick to my stomach when I allow myself to think about what may have happened to them. No parent should have to think about the way their child is murdered.

RON GRANTSKI, LACI PETERSON'S STEPFATHER: I know all of you would like for us to say something about Scott, but we're not going to do that. We owe it to Laci to let the courts bring the facts out.

MATTINGLY: The family took the high road and refused to publicly discuss their feelings toward Scott.

TOOBIN: Anyone who has followed the case at all closely can see that the Rocha family, Laci's family, has gone pretty much over to outright hostility to Scott, even though they have never said the words publicly, "We think Scott did it."

MATTINGLY: Laci Peterson's family was done talking, but the rest of the country was not. Television was filled with talking heads, debating the case against Scott Peterson.

MARK GERAGOS, SCOTT PETERSON'S ATTORNEY: The most damning piece of circumstantial evidence comes out of his own mouth and his own hands when he hands the police that receipt from the very location where two miles away she's found. I mean, that is just a devastating thing.

MATTINGLY: In the early stages celebrity defense attorney Mark Geragos was among the crowd on TV saying the evidence against Scott was overwhelming. But after meeting the accused and his family, Geragos made a surprising about face.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Mark Geragos is the attorney, also?

GERAGOS: That's correct, your honor. I represent Mr. Peterson.

TOOBIN: It is almost a perfect symbol of this case as a media phenomenon that the defense found its lawyers on "LARRY KING LIVE".

MATTINGLY: Wasting no time, the new defense tried to provide alternative theories.

GERAGOS: We know that there are specific individuals who have information that relate to this -- to the kidnapping and the abduction and the murder. And we're asking that you come forward and we'll do everything possible to protect you.

TOOBIN: A cult murder. A random murder. A kidnapping. That gives the public something to think about except the obvious possibility, which is that her husband did it.

MATTINGLY: The defense had also worked hard to remind potential jurors that their client had a perfectly clean record.

ROWLANDS: He has a history of cheating which is coming out, but as far as could he be responsible for this? There was nothing in his past and especially in the beginning, people were ready to stand up for this guy and say yes, he's acting strange, but believe us, he's a great guy.

MATTINGLY: The prosecution has largely kept quiet, allowing the circumstantial evidence to speak for itself.

TOOBIN: The prosecution will undoubtedly focus on a basic appeal to common sense, which is who else could have done this? Who else had the motive? The opportunity?

MATTINGLY: But the prosecution still has to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

TOOBIN: This case is not a slam dunk, at least not in terms of the evidence that's public. There is no murder weapon. There is no eyewitness. There is no time of death established. Those are all things that the defense can explore.

MATTINGLY: In the meantime, two families are left to grieve the loss of Laci Peterson and her unborn son Connor. Forced to wonder how their loved ones came to their deaths in a watery grave, so close to home.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: The preliminary hearing that will decide whether the case goes to trial has been postponed until September.

ANNOUNCER: When PEOPLE IN THE NEWS returns, he lived through every parent's nightmare, only to fight for children's rights everywhere.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They wanted to pat him on the head and have him go away.

ANNOUNCER: Surviving through tragedy with John Walsh. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) * (NEWSBREAK)

PAULA ZAHN, ANCHOR: Welcome back to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

When a killer is on the loose, when a child goes missing, when the trail goes cold, John Walsh is there. Rallying the nation, flushing out the bad guys.

At least that's the John Walsh America sees in prime time. But every week day on daytime TV, another side of Walsh, that of talk show host. The "John Walsh Show" is as much about compassion as crime.

It is the latest vehicle for a man who has turned a lifetime of grief into his own personal crusade.

Here's Martin Savidge.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Now from our Washington crime center, John Walsh.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He's the driving force behind "America's Most Wanted."

JOHN WALSH, "AMERICA'S MOST WANTED" HOST: This week your tips have led to not one, but two captures.

SAVIDGE: John Walsh, the nation's go-to guy from fugitives to missing children.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's the hardest working guy I've ever met in show business.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think he's probably visited almost every single city in the United States, talking to people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a man who in 20 years hasn't mellowed.

SAVIDGE: John Walsh has become synonymous with crime busting, with catching the uncatchable, with giving a voice to the voiceless.

After 15 years on "America's Most Wanted" Walsh is a certified pop culture icon wrapped in a leather jacket.

SUSAN SCHINDEHETTE, CO-AUTHOR, "JOHN WALSH: TEARS OF RAGE": I think John Walsh is right up there in the pantheon of both American pop culture and American sociology, and I would dare say American history.

You can't get through an airport with this guy and it's not the big important businessmen who come up and want to talk to him. It's the people behind the food counters, it's the baggage handlers, it's the waitresses in the restaurants.

SAVIDGE: John Walsh has struck a cord in America in prime time on "America's Most Wanted."

WALSH: Good evening from Washington. I'm John Walsh.

SAVIDGE: His rapid-fire delivery, capable of mustering nationwide man hunts with just a few words.

But since September 2002 Walsh has been ministering as much as mobilizing and he's been doing so on daytime TV.

WALSH: Thanks a lot for watching. Please stay safe.

SAVIDGE: For "The John Walsh Show," America's best known crime fighter has traded his leather jacket and tough guy persona for a blazer, a smile and a studio audience.

WALSH: Thank you.

SAVIDGE: Talk show host, crusader, activist. John Walsh has been in the public eye for more than 20 years: 20 years he could never have imagined. Twenty years no father should have ever had to endure.

John Walsh was born the day after Christmas 1945 in Auburn, New York, the first of four children.

SCHINDEHETTE: John grew up as part of a big family in upstate New York. Irish Catholic. Very traditional values. He had a wonderful, wonderful father and I met his mother who's now passed away and she was a lovely, lovely woman. SAVIDGE: Walsh idolized his parents especially his father, who was known as Gentleman Jack or more often by his nickname, Adam.

WALSH: I had a great father. Went to Notre Dame. He was a World War II hero, B-24 bomber pilot.

SAVIDGE: The Walshes may have had adoring children, but they also had their hands full.

WALSH: I was lucky and blessed, but I was wild. I just loved to have fun. I loved dangerous sports. In those days, you know, people didn't get a gun and kill somebody, you fought, you know,. We fist fought and, you know, I have to say I liked bar fighting. I actually liked it.

SAVIDGE: If John Walsh sometimes fought for fun, he more often than not fought to protect. Somewhere early on Walsh had picked up the idea that it was his job, his duty to take care of things.

SCHINDEHETTE: John really felt this kind of overwhelming sense of responsibility, that he was tougher and stronger and smarter and would last longer than anybody who came up against him and that it was his job to take charge and take care of it.

SAVIDGE: Walsh was popular growing up, even more so when he entered college. He was single and loving it until a young woman named Reve Drew walked into his life.

WALSH: I met Reve when I was in college. She was a beautiful lady. Very, very attractive. And I remember one of my buddies, I think he was a football player, said, "You know, there's this beautiful gal that wants to meet you over here and I'm going to take you over and introduce you to her." And that was the beginning.

SAVIDGE: John Walsh and Reve Drew began dating. The couple eventually left upstate New York for Florida.

WALSH: I loved the water and I loved the ocean. I loved to dive. I loved to snorkel. I used to do a lot of spear fishing and I loved being a beach boy and a life guard.

SAVIDGE: Walsh may have been carefree, but he was also in control. He was ready to take on the world.

By 1971 the self-described hell raiser was married and working as a marketing executive in the hotel business. Walsh's work took him around the world, away from home, away from Reve.

WALSH: I always thought being a father would be a huge responsibility and I think Reve thought the same thing. It wasn't something to take lightly.

SAVIDGE: On November 14, 1974, after more than four years of marriage, Reve gave birth it a baby boy, a son the Walsh's named Adam after John's father. SCHINDEHETTE: Oh, he said we'd be thrilled if it were a little girl or a little boy. We really didn't care, and then he looks at me and says, "But it was a boy."

And after Adam was born, these two carefree people, I think, shifted their sights.

SAVIDGE: The Walshes doted on their new son. They took him to the Bahamas to share John's love of the ocean. They took him to Disneyworld. Adam was never alone.

WALSH: A lot of people used to say Adam is so gracious. He's so loving. He's so kind. He lights up a room when he comes in the room. He speaks, you know, way beyond his age. He's so gentle. He was a great artist. He's an old soul. And it kind of summed up Adam. He was that kind of a loving -- He was very different than me.

SCHINDEHETTE: Reve said to me, she said, I" remember -- it's as if we all just followed him around."

SAVIDGE: The Walshes hovered over Adam, partly out of instinct, but mostly out of love, out of joy.

When PEOPLE IN THE NEWS, John Walsh's joy turns to grief.

WALSH: We don't exist to bury our children. You're not supposed to bury your children. They're your legacy.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: We now return to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): From the moment he was born, Adam Walsh was the center of his parents' universe. John and Reve Walsh were a constant presence in their son's life.

WALSH: Reve was a full time, stay at home, 100 percent devoted mom, brought Adam to school, private school. Brought him every single day, picked him up every single day.

SAVIDGE: If the Walshes were sometimes overprotective, Adam didn't seem to notice.

In the summer of 1981, Adam was 6 and he was learning to play baseball. And when he wasn't running the bases, Adam was with Reve as she went about the daily routine in Hollywood, Florida.

On July 27, 1981, Reve and Adam Walsh were out running errands. It was an ordinary day. They stopped at the Hollywood mall (ph) and went into Sears to buy some lamps.

SCHINDEHETTE: She and Adam went into the store and in the center of the toy department was something that was brand new, brand new, they were called video games. No one had really seen much of them.

And as soon as they got to the video game, Adam said, "Mom, Mom, can I stay here and play with the games."

And she said, "OK, Adam, I'm going to be over in the lamp department. It's just around the corner."

MATTINGLY: Reve didn't specifically tell Adam to stay put. She'd never had to warn him before.

SCHINDEHETTE: Reve came around the corner and went back to where the video games were and she said to me, "It wasn't just that Adam wasn't there, she said it was so quiet all of a sudden. All of a sudden no one was there."

MATTINGLY: Suddenly, the little boy who never strayed had vanished.

Reve knew immediately that something was wrong, but she couldn't get anyone to listen. So she called the one person who had always taken charge.

WALSH: I first demanded to go back to the Hollywood Police Department. It took me about an hour to realize that these police, some of them well-intended, some of them with kids of their own, some of them, I don't know if they cared or not, but basically didn't have a clue what they were doing. Never had a missing child case there, let alone one that possible foul play was involved.

MATTINGLY: As the hours turned into days, still no sign of Adam. So John Walsh turned to his experience in marketing. He and Reve would go before the cameras, grief-stricken parents pleading for their son's return.

WALSH: With 1.8 million children missing it's damn time somebody did something about it besides me.

MATTINGLY: No matter how painful, no interview was denied.

WALSH: We started, you know, to try to use the media, use whatever. Use any resource I had to try to get that little boy back.

MATTINGLY: Even as John Walsh poured all of his energies into finding Adam, even as he and Reve made their private suffering public, Walsh couldn't ignore a growing sense of dread.

WALSH: There was a time when it dawned on me, he's been gone way too long and we haven't gotten one tip. We haven't gotten one clue. And each though I don't want to say this to Reve, in my heart of hearts I felt that something was terribly, terribly wrong and that it had gone way too long.

MATTINGLY: Two weeks after Adam vanished the remains of a small boy were found in a canal 150 miles north of Hollywood, Florida. John and Reve Walsh were in New York at the time. They'd just appeared on a national morning show. John was in the hotel by himself when the phone rang.

WALSH: The worst phone call in my life. The worst day of my life. He was my best friend.

And he said, those remains of -- our son was decapitated -- as Adam.

And that's all I remember.

I remember smashing things and wrecking things and throwing things around and -- I don't remember them breaking into the room, but I was told they did, security. And I guess they got a hotel doctor or a doctor from somewhere.

And I told them that what I had to do was call Reve. I had to find Reve, because I didn't want anybody else to tell her. I was -- I wanted to tell her myself.

I said, "You know, it's going to be the hardest thing I've ever done, but I have to do it myself." And it was the hardest thing.

MATTINGLY: John Walsh, the man who had always taken charge, the man who had always been in control, now found himself without bearing. Walsh's life, his son's life, his marriage, all out of his hands.

WALSH: I didn't want to be here. I didn't want to be in a place that allowed children to be killed in that heinous way. I didn't want to be on this planet.

I was hoping that I would get killed in an accident so it wouldn't look like suicide and break my mother's heart and my family's heart. I just hoped that I would break my neck or die and did everything.

MATTINGLY: But no matter how much Walsh wanted to join his son, something inside him wouldn't allow him to give up.

When our look at John Walsh continues, tears become rage.

WALSH: I had no idea that when I got to Washington, D.C., it would be so hard, that I would be vehemently opposed by the FBI and the Justice Department.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(NEWSBREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: We now return to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): The abduction and murder of his son Adam nearly consumed John Walsh. For a time he didn't want to go on.

WALSH: I don't know who would do this to a 6-year-old child. I can't conceive of it.

We don't exist to bury our children. You're not supposed to bury your children. They're your legacy. They're your immortality.

MATTINGLY: Desperate and grief, Walsh looked for answers, but all he found were more questions.

ERNIE ALLEN, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL CENTER FOR MISSING AND ENDANGERED CHILDREN: Twenty years ago, if your child was abducted, you were pretty much on your own.

Today, there's a national network for disseminating images and information. There are 50-state missing children clearing houses.

Twenty years ago there were none.

MATTINGLY: John and Reve started a local missing children's center out of their garage, and eight weeks after Adam's death they testified before Congress on behalf of the Missing Children's Act, which would require authorities to keep files on missing children and unidentified bodies.

John Walsh had come to Washington for help, for action. What he ran into was resistance.

SCHINDEHETTE: He was a nobody from Florida and it was a sad story and he'd lost his little boy and they wanted to pat him on the head and have him go away.

WALSH: We don't even know how many of our children are missing.

MATTINGLY: But John Walsh didn't go away, wouldn't give up.

WALSH: Any coroner would tell you most children are murdered in 24 hours.

MATTINGLY: And his persistence paid off.

RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The criminal justice goes far deep.

MATTINGLY: In 1982, Walsh was there when President Ronald Reagan signed the Missing Children's Act into law.

Two years later, Walsh's activism helped to establish the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

By this time Walsh was becoming a very familiar face, not only in Washington, but also around the country. Walsh continued to hone his on-camera kills through press conferences and talk show appearances. Appearances that impressed executives at a fledgling new network called Fox.

WALSH: I became a victim of crime when my young son Adam...

MATTINGLY: They had an idea for a new program that would profile wanted criminals and solicit tips from viewers.

WALSH: We'll brief you on how outlaws think and behave and where they may be hiding.

LANCE HEFLIN, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, "AMERICA'S MOST WANTED": They tested people like Treat Williams and Al Holbrook (ph) and other people.

And they looked around and said, "Now we want something different, somebody who has that certain kind of gravitas that we need."

And it just happened that John was leading his crusade for children's rights at the time.

WALSH: I asked Reve. I said, "You know, Reve they want me to do a pilot. I don't know what a pilot is."

And Reve said, "You know what? Do it. That's what we're about."

WALSH: Good evening from Washington, D.C. I'm John Walsh.

MATTINGLY: "America's Most Wanted" debuted in February of 1988.

WALSH: Our first case is from the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list.

MATTINGLY: The first person profiled was caught three days later.

ANNOUNCER: "America's Most Wanted" is where America fights.

MATTINGLY: And a once reluctant John Walsh has been the host the last 15 years.

WALSH: Good evening.

MATTINGLY: In that time, "America's Most Wanted" has led to the capture of more than 750 fugitives.

ANNOUNCER: "America's Most Wanted, Final Justice."

MATTINGLY: From Hollywood, Florida, to Washington, D.C.. From activist, to television crime fighter.

Along the way, John Walsh and his wife, Reve, have filled their lives with three more children, Megan, Callahan and Hayden.

John Walsh is thankful and proud, but he is not without his personal demons. In August, Reve filed for divorce.

Walsh says he and Reve are trying to work things out and he's hopeful they will. Walsh says he's doing the best he can, but he and his wife are still haunted by the death of their son.

Adam's disappearance and murder has remained a mystery. In 1997, however, John Walsh published "Tears of Rage." In it he and his co- author combed through Adam's 10,000-page police report. They also named a suspect.

WALSH: I believe that Otis Tool, infamous, horrible, cowardly low life serial killer who died on Death Row in Florida from AIDS and cirrhosis of the liver, killed Adam.

He confessed to Adam's murder on several occasions, in spite of the media saying he recanted his story. He didn't recant his confession. His lawyer did.

MATTINGLY: Over the last 20 years. John Walsh has been a tireless advocate, not only for children's rights, but also victims' rights. He has fought for new laws and has helped thousands, and he's done it all with one person in mind.

WALSH: I've often thought that I wanted to make sure Adam didn't die in vain, that this beautiful little life wasn't in vain and I -- I think I think he's up there saying, "Go get them, Dad. Hang in there."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: Nearly 2,000 children are reported missing every day in this country. Most are recovered quickly. But according to the Department of Justice, more than 58,000 children a year are abducted by a non-family member.

For information on how to protect your children, call 1-800-THE- LOST.

That's it for this edition of PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. Coming up last week, Hollywood's it couple of the moment, Ben and Jen.

I'm Paula Zahn. Thanks so much for joining us.

ANNOUNCER: For more on people and personalities shaping our world, pick up a copy of "People" magazine.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com


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