America's Most Frustrating

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

Braun referred Smith to John King, another employee who had worked the catalog desk that day. Police reports from 1981 make no mention of King. But when questioned by Smith in 1995, King allowed how he also had seen Reve and a young child walking past his station just after he began work that day at noon. A little later he claimed he saw them both again at the video games display in the toy department, and overheard the child coax Reve into letting him stay there. Then Reve left the boy. King also said he recalled several other youngsters being near the video games.

Around the same time Smith spoke to King, he also reinterviewed Kathy Shaffer, who in July 1981 worked as a then-seventeen-year-old Sears plainclothes security guard. Shaffer had told detectives who had come to the store after Reve reported Adam missing that she broke up a fight between four boys in front of the video games. Two of the boys were black, two white. (Reve had reported to police that there were other children around the games when she left Adam, but that there wasn't any fighting among them.) Shaffer asked the black boys if their parents were in the store, and they said no. Then she asked the older white boy the same question, and he also said no. She presumed the younger white boy was with the older white boy and didn't speak to him. Then she threw all four boys out of the store.

In a very emotional interview, Shaffer told Smith she had been racked with guilt for years that she might have inadvertently removed Adam Walsh from Sears, leading to his death. She added that she was 85 percent sure the young white boy was Adam, because the dispute had occurred at about the time Reve said Adam was at the video games display.

And when Mundy called Shaffer a year later, in 1996, she cried and told him absolutely, the boy was Adam. She had known that since the day he was reported missing but was never able to say so.

This is what Mundy thinks might have happened that day at Sears: Reve drops off Adam at the video game display. Toole wanders around Sears and winds up in the same place. There are three other kids but only two joysticks to the game, and while Adam waits his turn to play, Toole whispers in his ear. When Mary H. walks past, she interrupts Toole talking to Adam -- that's when Toole gave her that frightening smile.

"Then something happened with those kids to cause Kathy Shaffer to show up," explains Mundy. "Ottis fades into the background -- the last thing you want when you're going to do something like this is attention."

Shaffer orders the black boys out one door, the white boys out another. Toole goes outside before -- or after -- Adam. Once outside the older boy takes off. From there, Mundy suggests, "Adam goes, 'What do I do now? Mom's in the store, but I'm not supposed to go in the store.' Then along comes shithead. Somehow he entices him into the car -- and that's the end of the story."

And now for the worst part. Those who speculated all along that Toole was their man had never felt rushed to close the case. Toole had been in custody serving a life sentence since 1983, and because no other child-murder case in the nation since that time had involved decapitation, there wasn't a desperate hunt for a still-at-large killer.

Toole turned 49 in 1996. But as the thirteen years since 1983 had progressed, he had turned sick with hepatitis. When Mark Smith interviewed him in 1995, the detective was forced to wear a surgical mask. Unbeknownst to Mundy, Toole was setting a new deadline for anyone trying to solve the case. Dead, Toole was safe from indictment and trial.

On September 15, 1996, ten days after Mundy took Mary H.'s statement and the day before he got what he believed was the statement that clinched the case from Bobby Lee Jones, Toole died of cirrhosis of the liver. When no one had claimed his body after four days, he was buried in the prison cemetery.

A year later Mundy is still crushed when he recalls the news. He pounds his desk. "Bastard! I wish he would have lived longer!"

A year later the state attorney's office is still chasing after some elusive leads, unable to close its file on the Walsh murder. Yet before anyone finally lays the case to rest, problems remain in Mundy's theory concerning Toole. Major questions remain unanswered.

"If Mary H. is a fraud or a liar, it would be one of the major disappointments of my career," sighs Mundy. The first and largest problem with Mary H. is why she didn't go to the police soon after Adam was reported missing, especially in light of the overwhelming publicity the case received. The answer isn't very good. Mary H. told Mundy that the day Adam disappeared, her husband was in Europe -- he was a traveling salesman at the time. Dependent on him she waited for him to return home, then asked what to do. He said that they should go to the Hollywood police. They got as far as the station house's lobby, where they either were treated rudely or were ignored. And so they left.

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