MORE

Dahmer Did It

We know the faces of Jeffrey Dahmer and Adam Walsh so well. But could they have crossed paths?
REUTERS/Allen Fredrickson

Jeffrey Dahmer killed Adam Walsh.

That's right. The most infamous cannibal in American history murdered one of the most publicized child abduction victims of the past half-century, the 6-year-old son of America's Most Wanted host John Walsh.

Sounds crazy, right?

Well, I think it's true. And I know it deserves a full investigation by law enforcement.

But the Hollywood Police Department, which has basically botched the investigation from the get-go, is giving the idea short shrift, and John Walsh himself has tossed the theory out the window before examining it in any detail.

The truth is that local true crime writer Arthur Jay Harris has compiled an undeniably strong case that Milwaukee's notorious drunken cannibal — who was living in South Florida at the time of Adam's murder — was the culprit. Harris has dug up compelling new details, including information that Dahmer likely had access at the time to the type of vehicle — a blue van — believed to have been used in the abduction.

A December article Harris wrote for the Daily Business Review on findings that he spent more than four years gathering has gotten national attention in the past couple of weeks. But his arguments were met more with skepticism than true interest and were swiftly bumped out of the news by the NASA love triangle and the death of Anna Nicole Smith.

Scuttling the theory, however, would be a travesty.

"Let's look at this new information in an unbiased way," urges former FBI agent Neil Purtell, who questioned Dahmer on numerous occasions and even asked him about Adam. "I don't think you can put it in a box and put the cover on it."

Incredulity, however, is natural in such a case. Saying Dahmer killed Walsh is sort of like declaring that Hitler kidnapped the Lindbergh baby. The first reaction is, "No way." But I've seen the evidence and am nearly convinced that it was Dahmer who took Adam from a mall and left only his decapitated head to be found in a canal.

Or, I should say, I've met the evidence. Last week, I went to see Harris at the Weston condo where he lives with his mother, Harriet. With the author was a man at the center of the Adam Walsh case, one Willis Morgan.

"It's been a frustrating 26 years, let me tell you," were the first words Morgan said to me. "Now Art knows what I've been through because he's getting a taste of it himself."

Then he told me his amazing story, beginning at the Radio Shack in the Hollywood Mall on July 27, 1981, the day Adam was abducted. It was a Monday, a day off from his job as training supervisor at the Miami Herald pressroom.

Morgan was standing in the store at a red-tag sale table when a dirty, disheveled man with blond hair appeared near the doorway. Morgan says the man stared dead at him for a while before he said in a very loud voice, "Hi there. Nice day, isn't it?"

Morgan ignored the deranged-looking man, hoping he'd go away. But he kept staring at him and seemed to be getting angrier by the second.

"It was a look of rage," he told me. "It was so hard, I felt like it was laser beams staring at the back of my skull. Think of the craziest person you've ever seen in your life, then multiply it by ten."

The man walked right up to Morgan and, within a few feet of his face, repeated, "Hi there. Nice day, isn't it?"

Now Morgan was scared. Then 34, he was a muscular man who, in fact, fit the image of a typical Dahmer target (though Morgan isn't gay). But he had little chance in a fight — Morgan had lost his right leg in a motorcycle accident and walked only with the help of a prosthesis. Plus, his tormentor was a couple of inches taller and obviously had the advantage of insanity on his side.

As the man hovered furiously within arm's length of Morgan, there were no other customers in the store, and the clerk was in the back. Morgan said these thoughts were racing through his mind:

"Does he have a knife? Is he going to grab my arm? Is he going to try to drag me out of the mall?"

Then the man suddenly bolted out of the store. Morgan said the great relief he felt was soon overtaken by concern.

"I just knew this guy was going to approach somebody," he says. "He was going to hurt someone."

As he slowly followed the man, he made a mental note of his face, his scraggly blond hair, his yellow T-shirt, his blue jeans, and his white athletic shoes. He followed him into the Sears store and saw the man turn toward the toy department.  

The department was in the back of the store, and Morgan realized that the man might walk back out of the store and see him — and the last thing he wanted was another frightening confrontation.

So he left the store.

Adam Walsh, who disappeared that same afternoon, was last seen in the Sears toy department, where his mother had let him play a videogame while she shopped.

The same day, unknown to Morgan, a TV producer named Bill Bowen saw a disheveled man with straggly blond hair throw a struggling young boy into a blue van in the mall's parking lot.

When Morgan heard about the kidnapping of Adam Walsh on the news later that night, he was certain the man he'd seen must have been responsible. After talking to neighbors and coworkers about it, he went to the police. He says an officer blew him off because he hadn't seen a vehicle tag number for the blue van they were looking for. He was told he would get a phone call. It never came.

Morgan says he followed the case during the next ten years, especially when serial killer Ottis Toole became a prime suspect. Toole is well-known for admitting to murders he never committed, and the wildly contradictory "confession" he gave police never matched up.

Yet John Walsh, after first being skeptical of Toole, came to believe he committed the crime.

Morgan says he knew they had the wrong guy because the distinctively hideous-looking Toole wasn't the guy who approached him at the mall.

Ten years after the abduction, almost to the day, Morgan was doing a "paper check" at the Herald when he saw a mug shot in the morning edition of a guy from Milwaukee who was caught with body parts in his bedroom and a severed head in his refrigerator.

It was the guy from the Radio Shack. It was Jeffrey Dahmer.

No doubt.

Morgan almost fell down. His coworkers had to keep him calm.

Bowen, another key witness from that day, saw a similar picture in a Birmingham newspaper about the same time. He says it was as if he were struck by a baseball bat. It was the same guy who threw the boy into the van. It was Jeffrey Dahmer.

No doubt.

Neither man knew about the other or had any way to know that Dahmer happened to be living in South Florida at the time, working at a sub and pizza shop a mere nine miles from the Hollywood Mall. That wasn't reported until a couple of days later.

They both contacted Hollywood police about Dahmer. Det. Jack Hoffman, who had been in charge of the case all along, took the information fairly seriously and went to interview Dahmer in prison about it.

He called Morgan upon his return.

"Dahmer looked me straight in the eye and told me he didn't do it. And you know what? I believe him. That kid doesn't fit his M.O.," Morgan remembers the since-retired detective telling him. He remembers feeling incredible disappointment.

"Someone forgot to tell Dahmer he had an M.O. to stick to," he says.

At the time, Morgan didn't know that Purtell, the FBI agent, had also spoken to Dahmer about the Walsh case on several occasions. Purtell says that Dahmer, in between denials, gave him what he considers near-confessions.

Once, for instance, the killer told him: "I didn't kill Adam. Whoever killed him couldn't live in a prison anywhere in America."

The implication: Dahmer wouldn't confess because he'd surely be killed vigilante-style in prison for the crime (which happened to be his fate anyway).

Then he told Purtell after another denial, "You know Florida is a death penalty state."

(Ironically, one of the bizarre bits of "evidence" offered by Hollywood police and others that Dahmer didn't kill Adam is that he often proclaimed he wanted to die and would have jumped at the chance to be electrocuted in Florida.)

Other than speak with Dahmer, Hollywood police did little investigation into the matter. They never so much as tracked down Dahmer's employers at Miami Sub on Collins Avenue. It was left for the writer Harris to do that more than a decade later.

Harris, who helped to debunk the Toole theory in the pages of this newspaper in 1997, began to investigate the Dahmer link in 2002. He tracked down former managers and employees of the sub shop who remembered Dahmer and told him that the pizza delivery operation included a blue van that could have easily been accessed by the serial killer.  

He gave his findings to the Hollywood Police Department in late 2002. After a delayed and scattershot probe of the findings, the department called the theory bunk. Harris continued on his book project and kept adding to his manuscript until he finally broke the story in the Daily Business Review.

John Walsh reacted to news of Harris' work by first complaining about the shoddy police investigation. Then, after apparently getting more information from the Hollywood police, he issued a statement saying that he didn't believe there was any "credible" evidence linking Dahmer to the murder of his son. His spokesman, Avery Mann, didn't respond to my phone messages for comment.

The official line of the Hollywood police in regard to Dahmer has basically been a version of, "Move on, there's nothing to see here."

It's a ridiculous stance but one that is predictable from a department that has notoriously lost evidence and bungled the case to the point that it seems more intent on covering its own hide than in finding the killer.

The cannibal caught in Wisconsin is undoubtedly a viable suspect. It's easy to surmise that when Dahmer — who was known to glare at his victims in an attempt to hypnotize them — failed to get Morgan, he took his frustration out on the weakest link he could find in the uncrowded mall, a 6-year-old boy whom he threw into a blue van.

Of course, there are some details that don't match. For instance, Bowen remembers Dahmer wearing a green Army jacket, not a yellow T-shirt. The killer could have put on the jacket before abducting Adam, or one of the men might have just flubbed a detail.

Yes, but what about Dahmer never killing kids? Well, during his career as a serial killer, which began well before 1981, he killed a 14-year-old boy and was convicted in sex crimes involving a 13-year-old and two 12-year-old boys. And if you want to talk about M.O., then what about the fact that Adam was decapitated and the body essentially disappeared? It fits Dahmer's style in chilling fashion.

At the very least, Arthur Jay Harris' case should be deeply investigated by trained investigators who share at least one very important qualification: That they have never, ever been employed by the Hollywood P.D.

"Let's look at the information that Harris has, unbiased," Purtell says. "Wouldn't it be nice if you could get some retired officers, detectives, who are well-respected to look into this and tell us what they find?"

Before that can happen, though, somebody is going to have to take the lid off that box.


Sponsor Content

Newsletters

All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >