When this boy was abducted from a mall, the crime became an all-time mystery

Thirty-five years ago, the abduction of Adam Wash became one of South Florida’s most high-profile mysteries.

Who took the 6-year-old boy? What happened to him?

For years, the case remained open as Hollywood police looked for a killer. There were clues, some evidence, but no arrests.

Adam was in the toy department of a Sears store, his mother browsing nearby for lamps. Five minutes later, she couldn’t find a trace.

Adam was abducted, and his head was eventually found in Vero Beach.

The case changed the way parents kept track of their children. And it propelled his father to become an advocate for missing children and eventually host the nationally televised show “America’s Most Wanted.”

In 2008, Hollywood police closed the case, pinning the crime on a drifter who they had zeroed in on for years. Ottis Toole died in prison in 1996. He was not tried for Adam’s death.

without ever being tried.

Today, the Hollywood Mall and the Sears store are gone, replaced by a busy Target store.

The location? Across the street from police headquarters.

Here is a look back on the case, which began this month 35 years ago, July 27, 1981.


By David Smiley 12/27/2008

After 27 highly publicized years of false leads and recanted confessions, and with several key pieces of evidence still missing, Hollywood police say they have solved the 1981 case of a beheaded 6-year-old boy that shocked South Florida and the nation.

Hollywood Police Chief Chadwick E. Wagner said Tuesday that the abduction and murder of Adam Walsh had been solved. Speaking at Hollywood police headquarters, across the street from the abduction site, Wagner identified Adam's killer as the late Ottis Toole, a drifter and arsonist who had been a prime suspect since he first confessed to the crime in 1983.

The case has been closed despite inconsistencies in Toole's waffling descriptions of the crime, his recanting of his confessions and without new or old evidence linking him to the murder.

But it also comes with the support of the Broward state attorney's office and the Walsh family, who say they long believed Toole killed Adam.

"We needed to know, " John Walsh, Adam's father and the host of “America's Most Wanted,” told reporters Tuesday at police headquarters. "Not knowing has been torture."

That torture began July 27, 1981, after Adam and his mother, Revé Walsh, left their Hollywood home to run some errands.

They arrived about noon at the Sears in the old Hollywood Mall, where a Target store now stands. Revé Walsh said she left Adam at a video game while she walked to the lamp department. When she returned about five minutes later, she said, her son was gone.

She searched the aisles and had Adam paged. Then police were called. A teenage security guard later reported she had thrown Adam out of the store along with several other children who were bickering.

On Aug. 10, two fishermen found Adam's head in a canal near Vero Beach.

The murder became one of the nation's most famous child abduction cases. It launched John Walsh on a mission to raise awareness about missing children, and in 1988 he started “America's Most Wanted.”

The case sent police on an investigation that lasted 27 years, and included such suspects as pedophile serial-killer Jeffrey Dahmer.

Police had been unable to name a killer until this year, when Wagner, detectives and a private investigator reviewed the massive case file over several months and agreed that probable cause to charge Toole with a crime had existed for years -- even at the time of Toole's death in 1996.

Toole should have been charged long ago, Wagner said.

"The Hollywood Police Department ended up in a situation where for years we took a defensive posture on this case instead of focusing on Ottis Toole, " he said.


But critics at the news conference wasted no time in noting that police lacked new evidence and that Toole's accounts of the murder had changed over the years.

A notorious confessor to multiple murders, Toole first told police he killed Adam Walsh in October 1983, one day after a story about Adam aired on NBC.

Toole, who was serving time in the Duval County Jail in Jacksonville, told Hollywood detectives that he abducted Adam in a white 1971 Cadillac and that his partner, Henry Lee Lucas, used a bayonet to cut off the boy's head.

Witnesses have placed both Toole and his Cadillac at the mall that day, and police said he knew details that only the killer could have known. A few days after Toole confessed, police announced that the case was solved.

But they were unable to indict Toole after they realized Lucas was in a Maryland jail at the time of the abduction.

Other inconsistencies in Toole's story came to light. Toole could not describe Adam's hair color or clothes, and during his first confession he failed to identify the boy's photo on missing-person fliers. And although he claimed he buried the body near mile marker 126 of Florida's Turnpike, a search in that vicinity turned up nothing.

Then, authorities learned Toole may have been fed details about the case by a Jacksonville detective who was trying to cut a book deal with Toole.

Further complicating matters, Hollywood police lost key pieces of evidence that could have tied Toole to the killing.


When Toole first confessed, lab experts at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement tested the Cadillac and found blood on the front and rear floorboards. They removed seven squares of carpeting dotted with bloodstains.

However, DNA testing was not available at the time, and authorities could not scientifically link Toole to Adam's death.

By 1996, when a Hollywood detective wanted to use that technology, the car was missing -- and so was the carpet.

Toole's confessions also came with strings attached. A producer of “America's Most Wanted” said Toole once sent a letter to John Walsh offering to show where Adam's remains were -- for a fee. He also sent letters to several publications asking for money in exchange for interviews and details of the murder.

Toole died in 1996 in a North Florida prison. Soon after, Toole's niece called “America's Most Wanted” and said her uncle made a deathbed confession that he killed Adam, John Walsh said.

Police Chief Wagner on Tuesday defended his department's decision to close the case, saying circumstantial evidence overwhelmingly pointed to Toole. In a Dec. 9 letter to the department, Broward Chief Assistant State Attorney Charles Morton agreed.

Wagner said Tuesday there was no plan to seek a posthumous indictment.

And despite a lack of new evidence, John Walsh said Tuesday that he had long known Toole killed his son, and that Tuesday's announcement only confirmed that.

"We have believed for years that Ottis Toole killed Adam, " Walsh said. "I never had any doubt."


By Daniel de Vise, 7/27/2001

After two decades of investigation, the most famous child-abduction case in South Florida history remains unsolved.

The prospect that it will ever be solved has never looked so dim. The prime suspect is dead. The key evidence is lost. The 10,000-page police file raises more questions than it answers.

But father John Walsh thinks he knows the truth.

"I believe Ottis Toole killed Adam, " Walsh told The Herald in an interview Thursday. "I believe that Toole is in hell right now, and I believe that he died a horrible death in prison."

The July 27, 1981, abduction and murder of Adam Walsh fueled an epic manhunt. The case netted hundreds of leads and dozens of suspects but not one arrest. Over two decades of investigation, the recurring character is Toole, a dim-witted Jacksonville drifter who confessed to the murder, then recanted, then died.

Here is an account of the Adam Walsh case, based on fresh interviews with many of the principal characters, two decades of news reports and investigative documents:

Revé Walsh said she left her Hollywood home with Adam the morning of July 27 to run some errands. Mother and son arrived at Sears around noon.

She left Adam at a video game and walked to the lamp department. She said she was gone five to 10 minutes. When she returned, Adam was gone.

Revé searched the aisles for Adam. She had him paged. Someone called the police. Officers told Revé the boy had probably wandered off.

A teenage security guard would later report she had thrown Adam out of the store along with several other children who were bickering.


Police clear those closest to Adam, and case goes cold

The Walshes launched an unprecedented search.

Police first focused on those closest to Adam.

John and Revé Walsh passed lie-detector tests. John had an alibi: He was at work. Police cleared them.

Jim Campbell, a landscaper and family friend who had lived with the Walshes for two years, seemed a more likely culprit.

Campbell had a motive: He had just ended a secret affair with Revé. He had moved out two weeks before the boy disappeared. Police thought Campbell might have killed Adam to get even.

Campbell, contacted through his sister last week, didn't respond to an interview request.

On Aug. 10, two fishermen found Adam's head in a canal near Vero Beach.

The same day, Campbell passed a lie-detector test.

Investigators cleared Campbell. Although he had no solid alibi for the hour of Adam's abduction, he was in town a couple of hours later and for several days after. He probably wouldn't have had time to dispose of the boy's remains in Vero Beach.

"He had motive, but there was no other evidence, " said George Terwilliger, a longtime Walsh family friend and sometime family attorney.

John Walsh and others would criticize the Hollywood police for hammering on Campbell while neglecting other leads. Other complaints: Detectives didn't invite the FBI to help out. They allowed Campbell, a suspect, to volunteer to answer phones at police headquarters.

Richard Witt, former chief of the Hollywood police, acknowledged the problems in an interview last week.

"Within the first few months of this case, it is really screwed up to the point where obtaining a conviction has been compromised, " Witt said.

Witness reports from the mall produced one solid lead: Several people said a tall, muscular man had followed Adam out of the Sears store, pulled him into a blue van and sped off. Police searched hundreds of blue vans, to no avail.

The case went cold.


Drifter points to ex-cellmate, who says story was fabricated

It sparked back to life in November 1981, when a Broward County drifter told Hollywood police his former cellmate had confessed to the Adam Walsh murder.

John Terry said cellmate Edward James, arrested in an unrelated child abduction, bragged that he had abducted Adam and headed up the turnpike. The boy threatened to tell his parents and demanded money. James pulled over, cut off the boy's head with a knife and kicked it into a canal.

In an interview this week, James, now 70 and living in Avon Park, said he never met Terry. The story, he said, is pure bunk.

"They made a case out of something that wasn't even a case, " James said. "And I'm still paying for it."

A neighbor told police James was missing from his home at the time Walsh disappeared and for weeks afterward. When James resurfaced, the neighbor said, he had reupholstered the front seat of his Plymouth Fury.

But a former employer said James was at work the day Walsh disappeared. Forensic tests in the car turned up nothing. Years later, James passed a voice-stress analysis test.

The case languished for two more years.

Then, on Oct. 21, 1983, news media around the country announced that police had found the murderer.


Suspect gives details of killing, but lack of evidence blows case

On Oct. 10, a mass-murder suspect in Jacksonville told a detective he had killed a boy he found at a mall near Fort Lauderdale.

Hollywood police rushed to Duval County Jail to interview Ottis Elwood Toole.

Police said Toole told them he had killed Adam Walsh with help from his sometime partner, Henry Lee Lucas. The men abducted Adam in a white Cadillac, drove about an hour to an isolated dirt road and decapitated the boy, Toole said.

Police challenged Toole: Lucas was in jail at the time of the abduction. Toole revised his story: he had worked alone.

Toole led police to the Hollywood Mall, where he correctly identified the spot Adam had been ejected from the store; to a dirt access road near mile marker 126 on the turnpike, where he said he had buried the body; and to a canal near mile marker 130, where he correctly pointed out the place Adam's head had been discovered.

The medical examiner's report matched key elements of Toole's account: Adam had been face down when decapitated. His head was sheared off with three to five knife strokes.

"I think, and I've always thought this, that the evidence linking Ottis Toole to the murder of Adam Walsh is extremely compelling, " said Witt, the former Hollywood police chief.

Investigators lifted bloodstained carpet from Toole's car. But without the DNA testing available today, there was no telling if the blood was Adam's.

Toole later recanted and denied any role in the murder. He confessed again, then recanted again.

There was ample reason to doubt Toole had anything to do with Adam Walsh's murder.

Speculation suggested a Jacksonville detective had tainted Toole's confession to sweeten a potential book deal. But Hollywood investigators found no proof.

In his purported confession, Toole couldn't correctly describe Adam's hair or clothes. And police couldn't find Adam's body where Toole said he left it.

"He's as pure as the driven snow, " said Ron Hickman, one of the original detectives on the Walsh case, interviewed this week. "I spent 100 hours with that individual. I'll tell you right now: He didn't do it."

James Redwine, a Jacksonville man, contends Toole wasn't anywhere near Broward County on the day Adam disappeared. According to Redwine, Toole spent July 27, 1981, at his family's rooming house, where Toole lived.

"He was up here that day, " Redwine said in an interview last week. "Ain't no way he could have drove there or back . . . That's the truth. I ain't got a reason to lie."

Hollywood police say the Redwines cannot prove Toole was there.

New witnesses surfaced after Toole's picture appeared in the news media, claiming they had seen him and his white Cadillac at or near the scene of the crime. Police discarded their earlier "blue van" theory.

Heidi Mayer, a Hollywood girl, said the picture looked like the gap-toothed man who had approached her at a Kmart around the time of Adam's abduction, pushing a shopping cart and offering, "Let me take you for a ride in this basket."

"I do remember the space in his mouth, between his teeth, " mother Arlene Mayer said in an interview last week. "He was standing there, just watching us."

At least two witnesses claimed they had seen Adam Walsh in a white Cadillac.

One, a Hollywood man named William Mistler, said he had seen Toole at the mall with Adam. Under hypnosis, Mistler recalled details about the car, including a dent on the bumper that hadn't been reported in the news media.

But without physical evidence, Broward County prosecutors felt they had no case.

In May 1995, a series of articles in an Alabama newspaper posited a new theory: A family friend named Michael Monahan could have murdered Adam as a favor for buddy Jim Campbell, the spurned lover of Revé Walsh.

There was no evidence tying Monahan to the crime, just an odd coincidence: Three days after the Adam Walsh abduction, Monahan had slashed through a door with a machete in Oakland Park in a dispute over a skateboard.

Monahan, speaking publicly about the incident for the first time, said the allegations are nonsense.

"If you really do your homework, if you're serious about finding out the truth, you'll realize I have nothing to do with this case, " Monahan said.

Police, prompted by the news reports, tested the machete from the skateboard incident. Results were inconclusive.

They questioned Monahan, who was on probation after a federal conviction for the extortion of a stockbroker who was later found murdered.

Monahan passed a lie-detector test. His girlfriend, Chris Fehlhaber, provided an alibi: Monahan was with her at the time of the abduction.


Evidence vanishes, suspect dies - but was there final revelation?

Sgt. Mark Smith, a Hollywood police detective assigned to the case in 1994, remained focused on Ottis Toole. He wanted to order DNA testing on the bloodstained carpeting from Toole's car.

But the evidence had vanished, signed out of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement lab years earlier by someone with the initial J.G.

Smith found the detective, who said he didn't remember signing out the evidence.

Toole's car, too, was gone.

The evidence debacle became public with the release of the Adam Walsh case file in 1996.

"They had made incredible mistakes, " Walsh said this week. "It was beyond incompetence. It was almost malfeasance, because they were covering their asses. How do you lose an entire car?"

Smith and John Walsh held out one last hope: A deathbed confession from Toole, serving five life sentences at Union Correctional Institution in Raiford.

Smith asked to be alerted if Toole, suffering from cirrhosis and possibly AIDS, was near death.

But prison officials lost track of the request. Toole died on Sept. 15, 1996, before Smith could talk to him one last time.

A short while later, a niece of Ottis Toole contacted “America's Most Wanted,” the television program hosted by Walsh. She said Ottis had made a deathbed confession - to her.

"Uncle Ottis, are you the one that killed Adam Walsh?" she asked him, according to John Walsh.

"Yeah, " he replied. "I killed the little boy. And I always felt kinda bad about it, too."


By David Smiley and Arthur Jay Harris, March 28, 2010

Investigating one of the nation's most prominent unsolved murders, a Hollywood detective pitched softball questions and homemade muffins to a serial killer.

Did you kidnap freckled 6-year-old Adam Walsh from a Sears in 1981, he asked?

"Nothing to do with it, " Jeffrey Dahmer answered, taking another muffin.

The word of Dahmer, a sociopath who stashed severed heads in his refrigerator, was instrumental in Hollywood police deciding he was not Adam's killer despite contradictory statements from two witnesses.

In December 2008, Chief Chadwick Wagner called a press conference to say deceased drifter Ottis Toole -- long suspected but never prosecuted -- killed Adam. Adam's parents believed it and Broward prosecutors said Toole was the only valid suspect. Case closed.

But had authorities fully explored Dahmer's time in South Florida, they would have found more evidence implicating him than Toole, The Miami Herald found.

The evidence includes two additional witnesses who said they saw him at the mall with Adam that day, another who placed Dahmer at the scene of an eerily similar abduction attempt two weeks earlier, and people who said he had access to a van fitting an early description of the getaway vehicle.

The 29-year-old murder remains among the most vexing unsolved crimes in America, and no one can say with certainty that Dahmer -- or any of the other myriad suspects to drift through the case -- snatched the child.

Yet by focusing so heavily on Toole despite layers of contradictions in his long twisted tale, Hollywood police may well have missed leads pointing to Dahmer, according to fresh interviews and a review of thousands of documents.


"Once I saw that picture of Dahmer, I said, 'That's him, ' " Janice Santamassino remembered. "That's who I saw."

July 27, 1981 was the first day of Santamassino's vacation, and she drove her daughter and son to the Hollywood Mall on Hollywood Boulevard across from police headquarters. After nearly slamming into the back of a blue van parked illegally outside the west entrance of Sears, she parked, and went inside.

Santamassino wanted sandals for her daughter Lori, 4, but first the girl asked to play an arcade game. Lori approached a game next to a boy wearing an oversized hat, shorts and a striped shirt and played for 10 minutes, the mother said.

On their way out of the toy department, Santamassino looked down an aisle and saw a disheveled man. She said their eyes met. She grabbed her daughter's hand and walked away. "He just gave me a bad, uncomfortable feeling. It was spooky, " she said.

She later heard an intercom call for Adam Walsh. A distraught woman and man were at the customer service desk, but the boy at the video games was gone. So was the creepy guy in the toy aisle.

A massive search ensued. Hundreds of volunteers scoured Hollywood's streets, and helicopters and boats filled the skies and waterways. Posters of Adam, clad in a little league uniform and flashing a gap-toothed grin, were plastered everywhere.

Watching the news that afternoon, Santamassino realized she had seen Adam. She called police and then again the next day but said she never received a return call. Not in 1981 nor in 1996, when she called “America's Most Wanted” after the show, hosted by Adam's father John Walsh, ran a piece on Adam. The show forwarded the tip to Hollywood police.

Contacted by a writer in 2009 and shown a picture of Dahmer, she said he was the man she saw. UNRETURNED CALLS

Others say they contacted police in the days after Adam's abduction without reply.

They include Jennie Warren, interviewed by state attorney's investigator Phil Mundy in 1996 after a media lawsuit prompted the release of the case file. She was dismissed after she said she didn't see Toole, she said.

Warren told The Miami Herald she saw Adam with his mother Reve that day. She also noticed a man at the video games wearing beige khakis "like army fatigues." He stood next to Adam and stared at the screen.

Warren says she could have picked out the man in fatigues had the investigator placed his picture in the lineup with Toole. "I wish my mind could take a picture, because it would be him: Dahmer."

Interviewed recently, Mundy had little recollection of the Warren interview. He did recall broader discussions among authorities about the problems Dahmer witnesses would have posed should Toole be prosecuted.

In 1991, Dahmer emerged as one of the nation's most infamous killers after his arrest on charges involving decapitation, necrophilia and cannibalism. He had 11 severed heads in his Milwaukee apartment.

For some of those present in Sears the day of Adam's disappearance, the photo of Dahmer reignited a 10-year-old memory. They recognized him as the man they saw in the store that day Adam vanished.

Among them was then-Miami Herald pressman Willis Morgan. He had told police he was in the Radio Shack in the Hollywood Mall that day and felt threatened when a stranger aggressively approached him.

He followed the man into the Sears toy department before turning away.

That man was Dahmer, Morgan now told police.

Bill Bowen, an Alabama TV producer, reached the same conclusion independently. He had reported seeing a man lift a struggling, protesting child and sling him into the back of a blue van -- illegally parked outside Sears.

Now, after seeing the news coverage out of Wisconsin, he too was convinced Dahmer was the man he saw.

On a suggestion from FBI agent Neil Purtell, who interviewed Dahmer after his Wisconsin convictions and thought he had tacitly admitted killing Adam through his overly fervent denials, father John Walsh urged detectives to visit Dahmer.

Dahmer told Detective Jack Hoffman he came to Miami in March of 1981 after his early discharge from the Army due to alcoholism while in Germany. He said he had no vehicle, never went to Hollywood, and worked long hours at a Collins Avenue sub shop. He said he never killed children but didn't want to rot in prison and would admit to Adam's murder if it meant a death sentence.

"If Jeffrey Dahmer had committed the Adam Walsh homicide, he would have confessed to this crime, " Hoffman wrote.

Dahmer was killed in prison in 1994. THE BLUE VAN

Had Hoffman followed up on Dahmer's statements, he would have found that Dahmer lied about his hours and was often sent home due to drinking, according to his boss, Ken Haupert Sr. As an employee of Sunshine Subs, Dahmer had access to a blue delivery van, according to eight people.

For months after Adam's abduction, police stopped blue vans across the state based on the sketchy statements of 10-year-old Timothy Pottenburgh, who said he'd seen Adam pulled into a blue van outside Sears. Hoffman eventually threw out the blue van theory, citing time discrepancies in Pottenburgh's story.

But Santamassino said she saw a blue van parked illegally outside Sears' west entrance, as did Bowen. Another dismissed witness, Phillip Lohr, said he saw a blue van parked illegally outside the toy department around the time of Adam's abduction. Lohr remembered seeing a man carrying a struggling, freckled child out Sears' toy department exit, though he didn't call police until 1997. He said he was unsure of what he'd seen that day and later felt guilty about doing nothing.

Adam's body was never recovered. A severed head identified as Adam's was found Aug. 10, 1981 in a canal on the northbound side of the Florida Turnpike near mile marker 130.

Two Publix truck drivers called the next day, Aug. 11, to report seeing a blue van parked off the Turnpike near mile marker 131 just after midnight on Aug. 7.

Denis Bubb saw a man with a flashlight down near a canal and radioed Clifford Ramey, following behind. Ramey looked to see if the driver had mechanical problems and saw the man leaning through an open sliding side door and fumbling around with a bucket, he said. He didn't notice a flat tire and the hood wasn't up. Both say they talked to Hollywood police and were told the incident had nothing to do with the Adam Walsh murder.

Ramey's glance was brief, but he thought the van had no front passenger seat, he told The Herald. The shop's blue van, former store co-owner Darlene Hill told the Broward State Attorney's Office in 2007, had "a milk crate for a passenger seat."

Another Dahmer connection may be found in the report of a near-abduction in a North Palm Beach Sears exactly two weeks before Adam's disappearance. At the time, investigators believed it was strikingly similar to the Adam Walsh abduction and had two witnesses create a composite sketch.

Investigators dismissed the link after speaking with a Sears security guard who said he'd chased a shoplifting boy around that time and believed the sketch looked like himself.

Hoffman wrote that Jane and Matthew Houvouras, the witnesses, agreed that the security guard was the man they'd seen, as did Terry Keaton, the child who was nearly kidnapped, and his mother.

Reached in 2010, Jane Houvouras said she told Hoffman that neither she nor her son believed it was a security guard. He wasn't in uniform.

Keaton, 10 in 1981, and his mother, Ginger Pantel, also told The Herald the man in Sears was not a security guard. It was Dahmer, Keaton said. "In my heart, I truly believe that was the guy who tried to get me that day."

Hoffman did not respond to an interview request.

Charles Morton Jr., chief assistant state attorney in Broward County, noted in a letter to The Herald that the new witness accounts "add intrigue and mystery to Adam Walsh's tragic death" -- but are problematic.

"The delayed Dahmer identifications would raise serious legal and moral questions in a potential prosecution of Dahmer, " he wrote. SLIPSHOD RECORDS

But all four Dahmer witnesses say they contacted police in 1981, though police -- who admitted to shoddy record keeping in the initial weeks of the investigation -- have no record of their tips. Also, Warren wasn't shown Dahmer's picture in a lineup in 1996 and Santamassino was never contacted by authorities.

And though police and the Walsh family say authorities thoroughly investigated Dahmer even after that interview over muffins, documents suggest otherwise.

A report obtained by The Herald shows police did investigate Dahmer's time in South Florida -- for two weeks. The investigation began after a writer contacted them in 2002 with the names of people who remembered Dahmer and said he had access to a blue van.

Detective John Kerns spoke to Sunshine Subs' 1981 night manager Ken Haupert Jr. and Michel Pelletier, the owner of parent shop Mr. Pizza. Pelletier said he didn't remember Dahmer and only had trucks. Haupert Jr. remembered Dahmer but no blue van, he said.

After a few dead-end records checks, Kerns concluded that "this investigation has not established any link."

He didn't contact other potential witnesses. Darlene Hill says Pelletier did own a blue van, which she used herself to move furniture.

She said it belonged to Mr. Pizza. "You could walk in at any time and pick up the keys, " Hill said. "It was absolutely chaos and people would take the van. Sometimes, maybe they'd bring it back that day and maybe they wouldn't."

Sunshine Subs manager Haupert Sr., who gave Dahmer a job, also remembered a blue delivery van used for Mr. Pizza. And, he recalled the day Dahmer showed him the body of a dead man behind the store. Dahmer's name is on a police report of the incident 20 days before Adam disappeared. The medical examiner's office ruled the death was by natural causes.

"If the police called I would talk to them, " Haupert said.

Kerns, now retired, had "no comment."

The state attorney's office also conducted a brief investigation in 2007, interviewing Hill and Pelletier. Prosecutor Morton interviewed Morgan, but nothing came of it.

Then in 2008, Morton and the state attorney's office learned that Hollywood police wanted to close the case.

Their man: Ottis Toole. TOOLE'S SHIFTING STORIES

Toole, a pyromaniac, story-telling drifter, surfaced as a suspect Oct. 10, 1983, the same day a TV movie aired about Adam. Sitting in a Duval County jail cell he told a Brevard County detective he had gotten into mischief in Fort Lauderdale. The detective mentioned it to Jacksonville Detective J.W. Buddy Terry.

That was a day before investigators around the country flocked to Louisiana to learn if Toole and one-eyed lover Henry Lee Lucas had killed in their jurisdiction. Together the duo had admitted to hundreds of murders, though today nearly all the confessions are considered inconclusive or outright lies.

Less than two weeks later, Hollywood police called a Friday night press conference to announce Toole as Adam's killer. The Toole and Lucas murders "make Charles Manson look like Huckleberry Finn, " said Assistant Chief Leroy Hessler.

Police said Toole knew details only the killer could and led them to the site where Adam's head was found. They planned to charge Toole on Monday, Hessler said.

But when police met with Broward State Attorney Michael Satz, no charges followed. Toole's statements show why prosecutors would be uncomfortable. He said he did it and then said he didn't. Then he did. Then he didn't. Then he did.

He couldn't initially identify Adam, said he took the boy around Jan. 1 and said Lucas chopped off Adam's head. But Lucas was jailed in Maryland when Adam was kidnapped.

Also, detectives showed him pictures of Adam's severed head and the canal scene where it was found, including the Florida Turnpike mile marker -- before asking him to lead them to the crime scene.

After Toole's first recantation that night, Detective Terry spent 12 minutes alone with him and Toole again confessed. Toole later signed an informal story rights deal with Terry. Terry insisted it was a joke, but was demoted when his superiors found out.

Investigators never found Adam's body in the myriad places Toole said he disposed of the remains, and had trouble vouching for his whereabouts in late July 1981.

"My opinion, as is most everyone else from the city of Hollywood, is that he did not do this killing, " then-Lt. J.B. Smith concluded in 1984. "We can't confirm one thing he has said."

Today, Ron Hickman, one of two original lead case detectives, agrees. "Bogus, " he said. 'BOGUS' NO LONGER

But when Wagner closed the case in 2008, he told the media "investigators past and present" believed Toole was guilty and said police had a "vast" amount of circumstantial evidence to prosecute Toole before his death in 1996. He declined an interview.

Walsh, who did not respond to interview requests, has said in the past he's long believed in Toole's guilt.

Evidence against Toole includes the testimony of William Mistler, who told investigators beginning in 1991 that he was at the mall the day of Adam's abduction and saw Toole with Adam. He also saw Toole's black over white Cadillac and accurately described a dent on the car's back bumper.

However, state attorney cold case investigator Mundy told The Miami Herald that Mistler's story changed and he wasn't a valid witness.

Mundy, who believes Toole killed Adam, put more weight in the statements of a former cellmate, Bobby Lee Jones. Jones said Toole told him in 1982 at a construction site that he'd taken a child from Hollywood, and said Toole remembered landmarks from Hollywood.

A 12-year-old girl reported that Toole tried to push her in a shopping cart at a local K-Mart a few days before the abduction, but police believed Toole was on a Greyhound bus to Jacksonville that day.

After “America's Most Wanted” ran an episode on Adam's abduction in 1996 focusing on Toole, Mary Hagan reported seeing Toole inside Sears with Adam. Her 1996 description of Toole's mannerisms, including his cockheaded smile, and of Adam's beach sandals, led Mundy to believe there could be a prosecutable case.

Toole died in prison shortly after Mundy's interview with Hagan. On his deathbed, Toole confessed again but wouldn't say where he'd put Adam's body, Toole's niece told Mundy. But Toole denied killing Adam when Hollywood cold case Detective Mark Smith visited him shortly before his death, and Smith wrote that psychological counselors found Toole incoherent.

"We're not there yet, we're not at the point to say, 'He's the one who did it, ' " Smith told The Herald after Toole's death.

However, during the 2008 press conference, Smith said he agreed the evidence was sufficient to have arrested Toole.

Now retired, Smith did not return messages left at his home and workplace.

After Toole's death, no new evidence surfaced, Wagner said in 2008. 'INVESTIGATIVE ERRORS'

But when Wagner contacted prosecutor Morton earlier that year to discuss clearing the case, Morton -- despite noting problems due to "investigative errors" -- agreed in writing that there was probable cause to arrest him. But prosecution would be difficult, he wrote.

"Keep in mind that having legally sufficient 'probable cause' to believe that someone has committed a crime does not mean that an arrest should or must be made, " Morton wrote to The Herald last week.

Morton, who declined reporters' request to review the new evidence in person, added that "exceptionally clearing" a case without charges is a police decision. He was merely stating that the state attorney's office understood the decision, he wrote.

Morton also said new Dahmer witnesses do not change his opinion that Toole was the only suspect for which "probable cause" existed for an arrest.

But the case file released in 2008 shows that Smith and Mundy pursued Toole almost exclusively.

If a witness hadn't seen Toole, he or she was dismissed, like Vernon Jones, who told Mundy in 1996 that he had played Intellivision Baseball with Adam that July day in Sears.

Jones, then 9, remembered that Adam was batting with the bases loaded when a man behind them beckoned. Jones said he glanced back, taking his eyes off the game. Adam smacked a grand slam.

Miffed, Jones moved to another game. When he looked up, he said, he briefly saw Adam and the man leaving, possibly hand in hand.

In 1996, Mundy showed him a picture of Toole, but that wasn't the man. Mundy wrote that Jones couldn't say for sure what day he was there or if the boy really was Adam.

Jones, a karate master from Cutler Bay and former youth crime prevention speaker, told The Herald it was Adam. "I've never doubted it was him."

Shown a picture of Dahmer, Jones said it could be the man he saw. He wasn't positive.

Jones said the experience in Sears changed his life. He used the anecdote in numerous crime prevention speeches.

"At least 100 to 200 chiefs of police around the country have heard my story, but Hollywood never called me. What does that tell you?"