February 18, 1996
Web posted at: 11:50 p.m. EST
From Correspondent Susan Candiotti
MIAMI, Florida (CNN) -- The murder 15 years ago of 6-year-old Adam Walsh was in the headlines again this weekend, when more than a dozen news organizations began publishing details of the evidence compiled by police in the case.
The files were released late last week -- against the strident wishes of Walsh's family.
The boy's father, John Walsh -- now host of television's "America's Most Wanted" -- is livid over the court-release, afraid it will compromise a case against prime suspect Ottis Toole, now 48 and a convicted serial killer.
"We will never successfully be able to prosecute Ottis Toole, if that's the person who killed Adam," said Walsh, adding "I believe he killed Adam."
Ten thousand pages of leads, witnesses, and acknowledged mistakes in the still-unsolved 1981 murder show that police, too, had reason to believe Toole committed the grisly murder. Currently serving five consecutive life sentences on unrelated charges, Toole has twice confessed to killing Adam and twice recanted those confessions.
Adam disappeared from a shopping mall across from a Hollywood, Florida police station on July 27, 1981. Two weeks later, his severed head was found in a canal 120 miles away - - the boy's body was never recovered.
Toole, awaiting trial for an arson murder in 1983, told police he wanted to talk about the murder of a child in the Fort Lauderdale area.
But according to police, making a case against Toole may be extremely difficult. The newly released files reveal that key pieces of evidence -- including bloody carpet scraps from Toole's car and dried blood found on a machete -- have disappeared. Today, DNA testing could be conducted to see if such evidence matched the victim's DNA. At the time of the murder, such technology did not exist.
"Had we had that technology at the time, we probably wouldn't be here today," said Hollywood police chief Richard Witt.
But besides Toole, the files reveal that since last fall, police have another possible suspect they're still looking for, and a witness who possibly saw the abduction.
The day he disappeared, Adam and his mother, Reve Walsh, went shopping at the mall. After dropping off Adam in a Sears toy department, Mrs. Walsh went looking for a lamp. When she returned, Adam was gone.
The newly released files reveal that a 17-year-old security guard ordered four boys to leave the store -- Adam is believed to have been one of them.
The case led to a made-for-TV movie, and prompted new legislation to help find missing children.
And that's not all -- Adam's disappearance brought national attention to the problem of missing children, and created a network to help find them.
"Without him, I'm not sure I'd be sitting here today," said Nancy McBride of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Out of the tragedy of Adam Walsh's murder came new techniques to help with the cases of missing children -- computerization, age enhancement of photos, and distribution of millions of fliers.
While Adam Walsh's family opposed release of the files, fearing it would inhibit the investigation, some -- among them reporter Steve Bousquet, who covered the story 15 years ago -- aren't sure it will make a difference.
"I keep thinking that with every year and month that passes, I don't think they'll ever catch who did it," he says.
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