On July 27, 1981, the mother of 6-year-old Adam Walsh left him in the toy section of the Sears department store in the Hollywood Mall while she went to look for a lamp. Weeks later, his severed head was found in a canal in Vero Beach.
In 1983, convicted serial killer Ottis Toole confessed to Walsh’s murder, but police botched the case, losing evidence, and Toole was unreliable because he had confessed to other murders he hadn’t committed. It was only in 2008 that police closed the case and named Toole — who had died in prison — as the murderer.
In the 1990s, when famed cannibalistic murderer Jeffrey Dahmer was found to have killed men and boys in Milwaukee, it was discovered that Dahmer had lived in Miami Beach for six months around the time of Walsh’s killing.
Willis Morgan, a former Miami Herald press-room supervisor, has spent years insisting he spotted Dahmer at Sears the same day Walsh was murdered. Now, with an obsession spanning 34 years, Morgan has gathered case files and reinterviewed witnesses. This month, he’s published his findings in a 337-page book, titled Frustrated Witness!: The Story of the Adam Walsh Case and Police Misconduct.
“I want the truth to be told,” Morgan says. “I’ll always be frustrated until someone admits that it wasn’t Ottis Toole.”
Morgan remembers standing behind a crazed young man with dirty-blond hair at Radio Shack. He followed him to Sears and saw him disappear into the toy section. That evening, the news announced Walsh’s abduction. “I knew that guy did it,” Morgan says. “I didn’t know who he was, but I knew that he did it.”
Morgan claims he went to Hollywood Police to give a description of the man, but since he didn’t have a receipt from Sears, they didn’t interview him. Then in 1991, Morgan saw Dahmer’s mug shot in the Herald’s press room.
“It’s not that I thought it may be him,” Morgan insists. “I know it without a doubt in the world that it was Dahmer.”
When interviewed, Dahmer consistently denied the allegations to police, even though he confessed to other murders.
Yet Morgan still claims, “There’s a Yankee Stadium full of witnesses that haven’t been interviewed.”
After police closed the case in 2008, Morgan retained an attorney to obtain once-sealed court files. Documents led Morgan to interview Ginger Keaton, who claims that two weeks before Walsh’s abduction, Dahmer attempted to abduct her then-10-year-old son from the toy section at Sears at Twin City Mall in North Palm Beach. Like Morgan, she recognized Dahmer after his mug shot was released. Morgan says this would prove Toole wasn’t the culprit because he was in Virginia at the time.
Mia Cockerham told Morgan that the day before Walsh’s abduction, a man fitting Dahmer’s description attempted to abduct her kid brother from Sears too. After seeing Dahmer’s mug shot, Mia told Morgan, “I’m absolutely positive that was that person.”
Morgan has sent books to Walsh’s mother, Reve, and his father, John, former host of America’s Most Wanted. He hasn’t heard back. The Walshes in 2008 accepted Toole as the murderer and in the 1990s said they’d seen no evidence that would conclude Dahmer was the killer.
But Morgan hopes that when people read his book, more than seven years in the making, they’ll start questioning too.
“Now I’m taking this to the highest court in the land: the court of public opinion,” he says.