What happened to John Walsh’s son?

IT has been 40 years since John Walsh’s son, Adam vanished from a Sears department store in Hollywood, Florida.

Within a span of five minutes at the store, the fate of Walsh was altered forever.


Adam Walsh was kidnapped outside a Sears in Hollywood, Florida

What happened to John Walsh’s son?

John and Revé Walsh lost their son, Adam Walsh on July 27, 1981.

Walsh and Revé went to Sears in the Hollywood Mall to check out a sale on lamps one afternoon.

At the store, Walsh was captivated by an Atari video game console that a group of older boys was playing with near the toy department and asked his mother if he could watch them play.

Revé made Walsh promise not to move from that spot while she walked a few aisles down to look for the lamp she wanted.

John and Revé Walsh lost their son, Adam Walsh on July 27, 1981


John and Revé Walsh lost their son, Adam Walsh on July 27, 1981Credit: AP

Walsh was left out of sight for five minutes and when Revé returned, he was gone.

John and Revé left no stone unturned and begged the public for their help in locating Walsh.

The couple and their friends offered a $100,000 reward for his safe return.

“We are willing to negotiate ransom on ANY terms. Strict confidentiality,” posters of the missing child read. “Do not fear revenge! We will not prosecute. We only want our son.”

Just two weeks later after his disappearance, on August 10, a pair of fishermen found the boy’s severed head in a drainage canal along the Florida Turnpike near Vero Beach.

A family friend identified Walsh’s remains from the gap where his two front baby teeth were missing, with dental records confirming the identification.

The rest of his body has never been found.

During the investigation, authorities discovered that a teenage security guard working at Sears had kicked the older children out of the store because they were fighting over the Atari console. 

The guard, who was 17 at the time, later said she was nearly certain Walsh was one of the children who was forced out of the store.

She told authorities that she assumed Walsh was with one of the older boys. 

Walsh did not speak up and to tell the guard that he was at the store with his mother.

Investigators believe he was abducted outside the store.

Who abducted Adam Walsh?

Theories for Walsh’s disappearance first pointed to notorious serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, after witnesses claimed to have spotted a van similar to his in the parking lot of the mall.

Dahmer denied being involved with the crime and was later ruled out by authorities.

However, in December of 2008, authorities announced that they believed to have found the culprit of Walsh’s disappearance and said they were closing the case.

The killer was identified as Ottis Elwood Toole, a drifter, and companion of serial killer Henry Lee Lucas.

He confessed to Walsh’s murder in October 1983 as he sat in jail in connection with two other homicides. 

How did Adam Walsh die?

According to Toole’s confession, he abducted Walsh outside the Sears store and drove off with him. 

He told police that he punched him multiple times in the face, knocking him unconscious after Walsh was crying out for his mom.

Dr. Ronald Wright, who conducted the autopsy on Walsh’s remains, uncovered that the boy was punched in the face near his eyes and had a fractured nose.

Toole alleged that he pulled off the Florida Turnpike in a rural area and used a machete to decapitate Walsh, then claiming that he buried his body. 

He said he drove around for a few days with Walsh’s head on the rear floorboard of his car before throwing it into a canal.

A machete was found in Toole’s white 1971 Cadillac after his arrest, according to police reports obtained in 2018 by Local 10 News.

However, authorities later found that Toole’s Cadillac, along with bloodstained carpet removed from the car, had been lost.

Toole passed away before authorities could proceed with the case.

Yet, then-Hollywood police Chief Chad Wagner announced they were certain that Toole was Walsh’s killer.

Revé said after the announcement that Wagner’s words “penetrated (her) soul.”

“The not knowing has been a torture. That journey’s over,” John Walsh said at the time. “A lot of horrible memories in this police department looking for that little boy. Now I think it’s only fitting that it ends here, in this police department.”

John and Revé founded the Adam Walsh Outreach Center for Missing Children in Florida just four days after their son’s funeral.

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