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Episode Three: Confessions of a killer

Ottis Toole enters the picture

Ottis Toole was identified by Hollywood police as Adam Walsh's killer.

"Police are taking more than 200 calls an hour on the Walsh case. One detective describes the barrage of phone calls here as a 'madhouse,'' reports Local 10 News 10's Steve Bousquet from outside the Hollywood Police Department on Thursday, Aug. 13, 1981.

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Bousquet continues: "At a Hollywood funeral home, people stopped by all afternoon to express sympathy to Adam Walsh's family. Many of those who come here are strangers, people who never knew young Adam Walsh. And, here, too, there are police detectives present to look for anything that might further their investigation as they try to find Adam Walsh's killer."

Flags at Hollywood city buildings are lowered to half-mast in Adam Walsh's memory and will stay that way until after the boy's funeral at St. Maurice's Catholic Church on Saturday, Aug. 15, 1981.

"A visual reminder that, in its own way, an entire community shares the terrible anguish the Walsh family is suffering," Bousquet reports.

Tracking Down Leads

In the aftermath of finding Adam's severed head in a canal near Florida's Turnpike two weeks after his disappearance on July 27, 1981, police question suspects -- even going back to some of the initial people they've already interviewed.

One of them is James Campbell, the family friend who lived at the Walshes until a week before Adam's murder.

He is being eyed by the lead detective on the case, Jack Hoffman. On his first polygraph test on Aug. 7, Campbell admits to having a four-year affair with Revé Walsh. That gives cops an easy out, the perfect solution, an ending that would play out like a TV movie.

Miami Beach police Detective Joe Matthews was hired by the Hollywood Police Department early in the investigation to do polygraphs, and he's called back to perform the second lie-detector on Campbell.

Miami Beach police Detective Joe Matthews was hired by the Hollywood Police Department during the Adam Walsh investigation.

"Jimmy Campbell had nothing to do with anything, and he was an honorable guy and he had an alibi that was fail safe," Matthews said. "He rented these windsurfers and they did a commercial and they had him in a commercial going back and forth and back and forth the day Adam Walsh went missing. And yet they still kept him as a prime suspect, and by keeping him as a prime suspect, even after I eliminated him as a suspect and we made a deal. (Hoffman) said, 'You polygraph him a second time, to make sure you're right, and then if he is eliminated a second time, I'll drop it.' I rescheduled it and that was the day they found Adam's head. I totally eliminated him as a suspect, yet they ignored all other leads just to focus on him. That was the ruination of the case."

Matthews' summary statement from Aug. 10, 1981 says this: "Mr. Campbell showed no physiological reactions, which would be indicative of being deceptive on any of the relevant questions asked. Therefore, it is the opinion of this examiner, based on Mr. Campbell's exam that he responded truthfully."

Police continue to follow up on other tips.

They check out a woman's account of an attempted abduction at a Sears store in North Palm Beach. She told police she saw a man chasing a boy a month before Adam disappeared. After visiting the Sears store and talking to employees, detectives say it was possible she saw a security guard chasing a shoplifter.

While those detectives were in Palm Beach County, another investigation involved the questioning of a 10-year-old boy who was in the Hollywood Sears store the day Adam Walsh disappeared. With his mother's permission, the boy was placed under hypnosis for nearly an hour-and-a-half. The boy described a late-model navy blue Ford van with a black front bumper, a chrome ladder on the left rear, shiny mag wheels and a Florida license plate. The van sped away from outside of the Sears store, the boy recalls. 

Police were innundated with calls from tipsters wanting to help find Adam Walsh's killer, including one report of an attempted abduction of a 10-year-old boy at a Sears store in North Palm Beach.

Kerry Weston, who was working at Local 10's Broward bureau on the assignment desk at the time, said she remembers police stopping blue van after blue van. 

But police said that the boy and his grandmother, who were in the Sears together, tell them they saw the van about 1:30 p.m., and that's not consistent with the time Adam's mother says her son disappeared.

There are other tips and leads. A man is stopped by the Florida Highway Patrol for drunken driving and troopers find a machete in his car. Could he be responsible for decapitating the boy?  And then there's the strange call to Fort Pierce police in October from a guy who says that the person who killed Adam is being paid by the CIA to kill certain people.

Police chase down leads, but nothing police think is solid -- until… 

'I Have Something To Talk About'

Oct. 10, 1983. It's a little more than two years since Adam's abduction.

Five hours north of Hollywood, where Adam disappeared, a 36-year-old drifter with an IQ of 75 and no more than a seventh-grade education is in a Jacksonville jail awaiting charges for setting fire to a house and killing a man.

A detective is grilling Ottis Elwood Toole about a murder in Cocoa Beach. Toole says he doesn't know anything about that one but he has something else to talk about -- the abduction of a little boy from outside a Sears near Fort Lauderdale.

Hollywood police go to Jacksonville to interview Toole. Connie Hicks, reporting for Local 10 News, reveals details of Toole's confession.

"Ottis Toole told detectives he kidnapped a child, who said his name was Adam, from a Fort Lauderdale-area mall," Hicks reports. "(It was a) spur-of-the-moment decision to take the child and raise the child as his own son. ... Toole tells detectives the child became rowdy in his car as he was heading north to Jacksonville and he 'slapped the daylights out of him.' In an autopsy of the head, the medical examiner determined Adam had received blows to the face and had a fracture to the nose. In 1983, Toole said he grabbed Adam around the throat and started to choke him using both hands. He never regained consciousness. In 1981, the medical examiner believed Adam was dead before decapitation. Toole told detectives he used two hands to swing the machete approximately half a dozen times to decapitate the child. The medical examiner had ruled the killer had to 'use two hands on the machete for the necessary force.'"

Police confiscate a 1971 Cadillac that they track down on a used car lot in Jacksonville. It's a black-over-white four-door and matches the same description as the one Toole said he was driving when he killed the child. 

The car is registered to a woman named Faye McNett, who works at the same Jacksonville roofing company as Toole. She tells detectives she sold the car to the auto dealer after Toole failed to make promised payments to her. 

They are going to take the car as evidence, they tell the auto dealer. 

On A Saturday Morning

Arlene Mayer is drinking her coffee on a Saturday morning and reading the newspaper when her daughter Heidi Lynn passes by the kitchen table. It's Oct. 15, 1983, the day after the late-night press conference. Heidi Lynn, 14, sees a photograph of a disheveled man on the front page that police say have confessed to a little boy's murder.

"There's that man," she says to her mother.

Heidi Lynn Mayer is now Heidi Lynn Butler. She lives in Plantation, Florida, but said a trip to the Hollywood Kmart with her mother in 1981 is etched in her psyche forever.

"It was something that stayed in my memory," she recalled. "This is something that I've lived with my whole life, to know that this man tried to kidnap me three to four days prior to when he got Adam Walsh. You try not to think or feel guilty. I got away and this little boy did not. I think I got away because I was older and I knew to run, and that little boy did not."

She said the incident that happened to her at the Hollywood Kmart, just a few miles from the Sears store where Adam was abducted, affects her to this day.

Adam Walsh disappeared while the 6-year-old boy was with his mother at the Sears department store in the Hollywood Mall.

"I was never one to go at night by myself," she said. "Then when I had children … I hate to use the word helicopter mom, but I was very protective of my kids. They knew they were not allowed to leave me. I had that fear that because it happened to me, it could happen to them. It's taken a long time to finally have peace with it and put it away, but it's something that will never go away."

She and her mother reported it to the store's security guard, but they didn't report it to police because the man "only talked to her and didn't cause her any harm, so there was nothing that should be done," she said.

But, in 1983, when she told her mother that the man in the newspaper was the one who tried to take her, police came to their Hollywood home to interview the girl and her mother.

READ: Statement of Heidi Lynn Mayer

READ: Statement of Arlene Ann Mayer

A Chilling Confession

From October 1983 to January 1984, Toole makes at least seven more confessions to the crime, the most chilling caught on tape in an interview with a Texas Ranger. The ranger is prodding him about his prolific killing sprees with his lover and partner in crime, Henry Lee Lucas.

"Have you ever wished you hadn't killed someone?" the Texas Ranger asks Toole.

"Well, I kinda feel bad about that Adam Walsh kid," Toole replies. "That's the only person. That is the youngest child I killed. He was only 6 years old."

READ: Dr. Ronald Wright's medical findings compared to Ottis Toole's admissions

But as fast as he would confess, he would recant. And sometimes his stories didn't fit. His description of what Adam was wearing was off, too. He said the boy he took from the mall was wearing a blue shirt, jeans and sneakers, and had blonde, curly hair. 

Remember Revé's description of what Adam was wearing? A striped Izod shirt, green shorts and flip flops. Adam's hair was sandy brown.

Toole tells detectives during one confession that Lucas was with him, that Lucas was the one who found Adam running through the mall parking lot, and that it was Lucas who "chopped the kid's head off." 

"I wouldn't have killed the kid like that myself," Toole said. 

The trouble is, Lucas is locked up in a Maryland prison on the day Adam disappeared.

Ottis Toole told detectives that his lover and partner in crime, Henry Lee Lucas (left), found Adam Walsh running through the parking lot of the Hollywood Mall and "chopped the kid's head off."

But he does know some things that only the killer would know.

On Oct. 22, 1983, Toole is taken from the Duval County Jail with the purpose of him showing police where he dumped Adam's body.

As they drive him in a van past mile marker 126, more than an hour north of Hollywood, Toole points out the window and tells them to pull off. 

"This is where I stopped," Toole said. "This is where I killed that kid."

Patrolman Mark Smith became Hollywood police Detective Mark Smith and was reassigned to revisit the case in 1994. Smith said it makes sense as far as Toole being Adam's abductor and killer. 

READ: Detective Mark Smith's report on the abduction and murder of Adam Walsh

"The fact that his severed head was found 124 miles north on the Florida Turnpike, which would add credence to someone from Jacksonville being involved, kind of fit," Smith said. "It's not like it was found in the Everglades. It was someone that went north after abducting him. It fits Ottis Toole."

Smith responds, too, to the results of police taking Toole to point out where he may have dumped the body.

"They drove him, and all the reports I read indicated that he was accurate as far as where he pulled off and decapitated, and then he went farther north and discarded the severed head in the canal," Smith said. "All the reports indicated he was apparently and pretty much accurate about the description."

No Body, Little Evidence

An examination of the Cadillac's interior done by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement crime lab reports that hairs found in the Cadillac do not belong to Adam Walsh. 

The carpet of the car is kept as evidence and sent to either the Jacksonville or Hollywood Police Department, and eventually the car ends up again on a used car lot. Then sold for scrap. Though police lost track of the carpet samples and the Cadillac, they said lab tests conducted found traces of blood inside the car where Toole said he placed Adam's severed head. That was before DNA testing.

Traces of blood were found inside Ottis Toole's Cadillac, but it wound up on a used car lot and was later sold for scrap.

Detective Joe Matthews said losing that car and carpet was one of the biggest mistakes of the case.

"When he was arrested they recovered the car from a lot," Matthews said. "In the car they found a machete, and they had the car processed by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. And in reading everything, I knew FDLE processed the car. There was a description of the right rear bumper that was damaged. I remembered somewhere in all these thousands of pages I read, somebody saying how he bumped into Toole's car and damaged the right rear bumper. So I wanted to know, was that damage done after the abduction or before the abduction, because it was significant if it was before. And it wasn't like you punch in something like 'damage to car' and you'd find it. And I found it. Bobby Lee Jones was a cellmate and a co-worker of Ottis Toole at the roofing company and he backed up his pickup into Ottis' Cadillac when he had the Cadillac and he damaged the right rear bumper. There was a little line in a report and how it came up was someone was interviewing Jones and says, 'Do you know Ottis Toole?' 'Yeah,' he says. 'Well, what do you think of him?' 'I think he's crazy. One time, I bumped into his car and I was afraid he was going to kill me if he found out, so I never told him.' So I figured out that (damage) happened before the homicide."

Matthews said he thinks it is the Hollywood Police Department that lost the evidence. 

Jack Hoffman was the lead detective for the Hollywood Police Department during the Adam Walsh investigation.

"They process the vehicle completely and took samples of blood that was found in the car, samples of the carpeting," Matthews said. "They didn't want to keep all the samples and the carpeting, so they got a box and they shipped it, but they couldn't find the papers where they shipped it, too, but it was signed with a 'J.' It could have been 'J' for Jack Hoffman. He supposedly had a box under his desk for a long time, until one day somebody was cleaning up and said to him, 'Is this garbage?' And he says, 'Yeah, throw it away.' That's what they suspect. But, that's people's opinion. When I was looking at the photo albums of the crime scene, that's when I requested the photos from FDLE. That's another story that will blow your mind."

Dead Files

It's been a year since Ottis Toole confessed to the heinous crime, the kidnapping, beating and beheading of 6-year-old Adam Walsh.

But on Oct. 19, 1984, Hollywood police announce they are putting the case of into an inactive file.

"At this point, it's a dead end," a spokesperson for the Hollywood Police Department said. "There is no new information and the case is not moving forward." 

Toole is now the only suspect in the case. All they have are his confessions, and not enough evidence to convict him. 

Whether it gives the Walshes solace, no one is sure. But some may say Toole is getting his due anyway. 

Ottis Toole, left, is fingerprinted by a court bailiff after he was sentenced to death on a murder and arson conviction in a Duval County courtroom in Jacksonville, Florida, on May 18, 1984.

On May 11, 1984, a jury imposed the death sentence on Toole for an unrelated murder, and he is sent to Florida's death row.

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