America's Most Frustrating

Fifteen years after America's Most Heinous Murder, new evidence emerges, pointing to a suspect police had once dismissed

Appearing on TV talk shows recently to promote his new book Tears of Rage: From Grieving Father to Crusader for Justice, the Untold Story of the Adam Walsh Case, Walsh railed against what he termed the irresponsibility of the press in general and Register reporter Grelan and his newspaper specifically, calling the paper a "tabloid."

But if not for Grelan and the controversy he engendered, Phil Mundy never would have wound up in the same room with Mary H., who in 1995 wrote a letter to America's Most Wanted, stating she had seen Toole talking to Adam in Sears. That letter, in turn, was forwarded to Detective Mark Smith of the Hollywood Police. Smith called Mary H. and spoke to her briefly, then put her letter on his things-to-do pile, never getting back to it.

John Walsh, currently on a national book tour in support of Tears of Rage, didn't respond to requests to his Pocket Books publicist for an interview. Then last week when Walsh was scheduled to speak at Liberties bookstore in Boca Raton -- his only scheduled South Florida promotional appearance -- he canceled on short notice.

In February 1996 Broward Circuit Judge Leroy H. Moe ordered Hollywood police to open the Adam Walsh file to the press and the public. Immediately after the decision, the state attorney's office assigned Mundy virtually full-time to the case. Mundy and Smith split up duties. One of Mundy's ideas was to track down the original witnesses and reinterview them -- not as easy as it sounded, considering the sixteen years that had lapsed since the murder. When Mundy read in Smith's report (only a paragraph) that Mary H. insisted she had seen a "trashy" man talking to Adam in Sears, he volunteered to follow up on the lead.

"That kind of perked me up a little bit," Mundy allows now. "But I didn't run out the door screaming or anything."

Talking to Phil Mundy, you're left with contradictory thoughts about his age. Chronologically he's 58, damn old for a homicide cop. But his blondish hair, which he wears combed back, is still wavy and thick. From behind his gold-framed eyeglasses, his blue eyes are sharp in color, like a younger man's. His build is solid, like maybe he once boxed, and it looks as if he can still stand his ground. Don't take it too far, though. Mundy's days of chasing after fleeing suspects on foot are over.

Five months after being "perked up a little bit," Mundy called and visited Mary H. Back when Adam was murdered, she had lived in Hollywood, not far from the Walshes. Since that time she had moved with her husband to a retirement community in Central Florida, where she had read a newspaper account that the Walsh case might be reopened. That surprised her, she told Mundy. She had thought the case was over when Hollywood Police called their 1983 press conference announcing that Toole would be charged with the murder.

She remembered being in Sears that day, a Monday, and also that it must have been about noon because she was beginning to think about lunch. She recalled passing down an aisle in the toy department, and that her pathway was blocked by some young boys playing computer games, as well as by what she termed a "trashy man" -- a balding, disheveled man dressed in old clothes with stains like paint on them. She also remembered that the man reeked of a terrible odor. One of the boys was Adam, she told Mundy. He was smaller than the boy next to him, and she noticed a gap in his teeth. The trashy man, she recalled, was talking to the boy, and he didn't appear to be the boy's father.

Mary H. claimed she got close enough to the man that he gave her a weird smile. Mundy had interviewed Toole himself in the mid-Eighties, back when Toole was volunteering to police that he had committed as many as 100 murders. (He was charged with some of the murders, but all charges were later dropped.)

"Having sat and chatted with Ottis Toole myself, trust me, the man made an impression on me," assures Mundy. "Not so much his physical stature -- sometimes doing prison interviews they do attack you, and I wasn't afraid Toole would do that -- but his mannerisms. As I was sitting across from her, I thought, my God, she's describing Ottis."

Mary H. dramatized the man's smile, which she still remembered: He opened his mouth, widened his eyes, and tilted his head high to the right, at almost a 45-degree angle. Then the rest of his face brightened. Mundy recognized the affectation; Toole had used it when he was letting on to Mundy that he might have been involved in some of the aforementioned child murders. Toole had also alluded to the fact that he was a pedophile. When the subject of necrophilia arose, Toole told Mundy, for maximum effect: "Nothin' says you can't fuck 'em when they're dead."

"If you hadn't met Ottis, you wouldn't pick up on stuff like that," Mundy contends. "You can't make that up -- you can't. You just don't forget that."

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