It’s all over the papers today: the long ago murder of 6 year old Adam Walsh–whose death inspired his father John Walsh to found “America’s Most Wanted”–has been solved. Case closed.
My blood pressure’s been rising all day as I see more and more mainstream media outlets have picked up–entirely without investigating–this transparently contrived story without the slightest bit of sketicism. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised any more, by this sort of thing, but I am.
The family and the Florida cops say they know the killer, who is conveniently dead. They say it was a fellow named Ottis Toole. He’s been named before, he’s even confessed before. The problem is he’s confessed to dozens of murders. He’s also recanted before. According to news reports there’s no new information to cause yesterday’s sudden press conference to announce the case had been closed. There’s only one word that hangs in the air: “closure”.
According to The New York Times the announcement will allow the Walsh family to “finally move on”. But, John Walsh added, “it’s not about closure, it’s about justice.”
I’m not so sure of that. I’ve met Ottis Toole, the loathsome fellow they say was the killer, when he was on death row in Florida’s aptly named Starke maximum security prison. I was in a holding cell with him and a tape recorder. And one thing I’ll never forget is the way he smelled. Not just physically, though that was bad enough; metaphysically too. He smelled of evil. I’ve never sensed, felt, the presence of evil so closely. But I don’t believe a word he says when he confessed to poor little Adam Walsh’s death. I think he only did it for self-aggrandisement, to make himself seem like an important killer. Since he thought he was going to Sparky anyway, he used the oportunity to torment the Walsh family with grisly details of their son’s death. He did it for attention, for publicity, because he had nothing to lose. He confessed because he was a vile creep who wanted to increase the pain for the Walsh family.
In fact when he first confessed to Adam’s murder he actually said he killed and atethe child.(I know: pause for nausea). And then when parts of the body were found, he had to recant that. The problem with accepting Ottis Toole’s word for this (we’re now told there was a “deathbed confession” but Toole’s been dead for nearly a decade and confessing for a decade before that–and then taking it back) or taking his word for anything, is that if the case is closed on the basis of his word alone, it will likely mean that the the real killer will forever go free.
Not that he’d ever likely be caught. But think of the horror of him lying on a bed in a cheap motel somewhere watching tv news clips about the case being closed–and grinning from ear to ear. Home free! on to the next child. The horror, the horror, as Conrad’s Mr. Kurtz said.
Now don’t get me wrong, I admire John Walsh for all he’s done, for all the cases he’s closed with forensic finality through his tv show. And I understand the desire for “closure” after 27 years. But this kind of closure is not justice, it’s therapy.
Let me briefly sketch out how I came face to face with the alleged murderer, Ottis Toole and why I don’t believe he can offer closure or justice. I was researching a story about the phony serial killer Henry Lee Lucas who once conned the legendary Texas rangers into believing his confessions to more than 300 serial killings. All lies except maybe 2 or 3, it was later demonstrated. His confessions–sadly taken at face value for all too long (some “serial killer” experts still cite Henry)–were the basis for the movie Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. (you can read my story “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer Hoax” in my collection The Secret Parts of Fortune).
In any case, at one point in his travels Ottis Toole’s was Henry’s “runnin’ buddy”–they bummed around the country selling their blood for food, committing a few petty crimes. Toole eventually went to prison on a fatal arson rap, but he thought he could “pull a Henry” by confessing to multiple killings, “taking cases” as they put it, to stave off the executioner so that far-off police departments with unsolved cases could up their “solved'” rate by assigning the kill to Henry or Ottis.
It all got more elaborate and baroque as Ottis began claiming he was doing his killings on behalf of a Satanist cult called “The Hands of Death”. He even “co wrote” a book that was used to substantiate the whole satanist, recovered memory witch-hunt. By the time I got to interview him in the steel-cage deathhouse in Starke, Florida, all the lies had become too much, even for Ottis.
He couldn’t keep up the pretense with a straight face.
“Did you ever go to a Satanist assassination training camp in the Everglades?”I asked Ottis.
“That whole fucking book is lies,” he said.
“So what is the truth?” I asked.
“There ain’t no murders,” he said, laughing.
“I dug up all the information playing them [the investigators]digging all the information out of them.”
It’s sad. If you ask me, even now, long after his death, Ottis is still playing us, playing the Walshes, playing the Florida cops who I can’t believe really think that after all his confessions and recantations, anything he says abou Adam Walsh has any evidentiary value.
As I said I admire john Walsh, but when he says “this is not closure it’s justice” I’m afraid that it’s not either.
Well I’ve met Ottis Toole–on Florida’s death Row