The Adam Walsh case began on July 27, 1981, when he vanished from a Sears department store in Hollywood, FL. He and his mother were shopping that day, and she left him alone in the video game section while she looked at some lamps. When she came back to collect him, the boy was gone. The search for him led to nationwide coverage, but he was never seen alive again. Walsh's severed head was found in a drainage canal two weeks after he went missing.
The case went unsolved for over 30 years. Then, the question of who killed Adam Walsh was seemingly answered in 2008, when serial killer Ottis Toole was posthumously blamed for the murder. Toole had confessed to killing the six-year-old boy – and then retracted his confessions – several times over the years. He died in prison in 1996, succumbing to liver failure, so Toole was never formally indicted or brought to trial for the crime. Although Toole was in the vicinity when Walsh vanished, the details were sketchy, which led to many Adam Walsh theories.
Walsh's parents continued to seek justice for children like their son. Their advocacy helped establish the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act. Walsh's father, John, became famous as the host of television show America's Most Wanted. But the chilling thought remains: what if the police pinned the crime on the wrong man?
Willis Morgan, an author and a former newspaper reporter, claimed he was in the mall the day Walsh disappeared, and that he saw Jeffrey Dahmer there. He didn't realize who Dahmer was until 10 years later, when the man made national news for the horrific murders he committed. There was another witness as well: a woman whose child was almost abducted from the same mall the week before Walsh vanished. At the time of the incident, she didn't go to the police, but after seeing all of the Walsh coverage, she did.
The composite sketch that the woman and an artist produced looked a lot like Dahmer. Morgan and the woman told the police about the mystery man's resemblance to Dahmer, but they were ignored. Morgan detailed all of this information in his book, Frustrated Witness! The Story of the Adam Walsh Case and Police Misconduct, in which he speculates that Dahmer was Walsh's real killer.
John Cameron, a retired police detective who also worked on cold cases for the FBI, thinks serial killer Edward Wayne Edwards killed Walsh. Cameron also believes Edwards, who died in 2011 while in prison for five murders, is also responsible for the deaths of JonBenet Ramsey, Teresa Halbach, and the Zodiac victims, among others.
Edwards had a habit of moving around the country and assuming a new persona in each city that he stopped in. He was also very good at framing other people for his murders. According to Cameron, Edwards was someone who could blend in and make others trust him, which made him even more dangerous.
True crime writer Arthur Jay Harris believes that Walsh is still alive. He based his theory on the fact that only Walsh's head was found, not the rest of his body. Even though his dental impressions were matched up with those of the head, and Walsh's parents identified it as belonging to their son, this isn't enough for Harris. He pointed out the lack of an autopsy report, as well as identification documents, from the official medical examiner's case file. Basically, Harris thinks there isn't any solid proof that Walsh is dead.
Walsh's parents, John and Reve, apparently believed the police in Hollywood, FL, botched their son's case from the very beginning. When the child first disappeared, they waited for two hours for the police to show up and take note of what happened. That's two hours of searching lost, a point that becomes especially critical if the child and his abductor were still nearby.
Besides this example, neither parent elaborated on why they felt the case was botched. However, the formal apology they received from the police suggests the authorities also believe something went wrong with the investigation. If the police work was sloppy from the start, then that throws doubt on their determination that Toole committed the crime.