The recent headlines in the Herald and Sun-Sentinel had a shocking quality: "Photo Said to Show Adam Walsh's Face 'Etched in His Own Blood.'"
We all know Adam Walsh's face. When Adam was abducted from a Hollywood mall in 1981, it shook South Florida. When police announced that they'd found only his head in a canal, it shook the nation. While his father, John Walsh, went on to become a TV crime fighter, Adam became a national symbol, America's lost child.
It's remains one of the most notorious unsolved crimes in our history. Hollywood police, who badly bungled the case from the beginning, have officially pinned the murder on serial killer Ottis Toole, but there remain huge holes in that theory. A competing case has been made that another notorious serial killer, Jeffrey Dahmer, committed the crime. Dahmer was in South Florida at the time, and two witnesses from the mall swear he was there the day Adam was abducted.
One of the greatest proponents of the Toole theory has been former Miami Beach Police Det. Joe Matthews. Walsh himself has credited Matthews as having solved the case, and the detective has a book about his investigation coming out next month that he coauthored with Florida International University creative writing professor Les Standiford titled Bringing Adam Home: The Abduction That Changed America.
Which brings us to the photo in which Adam's face is allegedly "etched in blood." It is reportedly the most startling piece of new evidence from the book, something Matthews and Standiford compare to the Shroud of Turin. The Broward Bulldog initially reported the story, which was republished in the Herald and Sentinel.
After arresting Toole in 1983, police searched his car with Luminol, a chemical agent that emits a blue glow when it reacts to metals, including iron in blood. Among the photos taken in the car was one from the floor that allegedly reveals proof that Toole is the killer: an outline of Adam's face in Luminol.
Inside, see that crime scene photo for the first time.
A familiar boy's face? Mouth twisted in an oval of pain? Battered lips?
Give it to Standiford, because that is some very creative writing. But is it really Adam, or is it the forensic equivalent of the Virgin Mary on a grilled cheese sandwich?
I spoke with South Florida crime journalist Arthur Jay Harris, the leading proponent of the theory that Dahmer killed Adam and the author of Jeffrey Dahmer's Dirty Secret. (I wrote an early story on the theory based on Harris' work and an interview with Morgan, which I found extremely compelling). Needless to say, he's not convinced. He compared it to a Rorschach test in which anyone can see what they want to see.
"I don't see Adam's picture in there," he said. "I also know that Luminol only suggests the presence of blood. It really reacts with metal in the blood. It could have been reacting to metal in the floor of Toole's car."
John Walsh apparently believes in the veracity of Matthews' claims about the crime scene photo, though he publicly stated that he hasn't seen the photograph. From a January 7 WSVN-Channel 7 report:
During the taping of the All Points Bulletin radio show with Broward Sheriff Al Lamberti Thursday, Walsh spoke about the upcoming release of a book that will contain evidence photographs that should once and for all settle the murder case...
"I'm not going to look at them," the elder Walsh noted. "I don't think any parent wants to do this. They're good evidence that Toole was the killer, and Joe has every right to write the book. He helped close that case."
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The difficult truth is that we'll likely never know for sure about that photograph, just as we may never know with any real certainty who killed Adam Walsh. Although the diligent work of Matthews and Standiford provides a valuable resource in trying to understand the crime, it isn't the end of the mystery. It's another beginning.
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