Lack of evidence in Walsh killing leaves questions


POSTED: Sunday, December 21, 2008

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. » A quarter-century ago, Adam Walsh's accused killer accompanied police to a bus bench outside a Sears where he claimed to have snatched the 6-year-old boy. Then, Ottis Toole went with authorities to a turnpike where he said Adam cried for his mother. Later, they stopped at a bridge where Toole said he hacked off the boy's head.

But did he really do it?

The story was one of several accounts Toole gave over the years. And while Adam's father, “;America's Most Wanted”; host John Walsh, has long believed Toole abducted and decapitated his son on July 27, 1981, it wasn't until last week that Hollywood police said they agreed, and closed the case. But there was no new evidence, nothing new that came to light.

New Hollywood Police Chief Chadwick Wagner said after a re-examination of the evidence, he believes Toole could have been tried and convicted before he died in 1996 serving a life sentence for other killings. Detectives were too hesitant, he says, partly because they didn't want to admit mistakes they made investigating Toole.

But the case against Toole has holes. An Associated Press examination of documents released with last week's announcement leaves many questions about the kidnapping and killing - there is nothing standing alone that points to Toole. There are no DNA or blood tests, no slam-dunk eyewitness accounts.

“;If you're looking for that magic wand, that one piece of evidence, it's not there,”; Wagner admits.

Even basic details of what happened can't be determined because Toole never kept his confessions straight (when he wasn't recanting).

He said he picked up Adam outside Sears. Or was it by the mall merry-go-round? He said he threw the boy's body into the same Florida canal as his head, the only part of Adam ever found. He also said he buried the body off a highway and burned it in his mother's yard in Jacksonville. He took credit for many murders - including some committed by others.

He once accused his sometime traveling partner, another self-professed serial killer, Henry Lee Lucas, of being Adam's slayer - but Lucas was jailed then. In a 1996 AP prison interview, Lucas said Toole confessed to him.

Jailed for the 1982 murder of a Jacksonville man, Toole began confessing to Adam's slaying and others in 1983, sometimes to detectives from other jurisdictions checking to see if he could be linked to homicides of people they were investigating.

Kathleen Heide, a criminology professor at the University of South Florida in Tampa, said Toole's confessions may have been his way of attaining notoriety or “;immortality.”; But when he realized the disadvantage such a confession would have - say, retribution from fellow inmates - he recanted.

The two pieces of evidence that might have provided definitive answers with today's advanced DNA testing were lost by Hollywood police during their investigation - a bloodstained carpet taken from Toole's car and the car itself.

No one knows where they are.