No 'Closure' for Walshes in Son's Murder Case

John Walsh said having his son's killer named doesn't provide "closure."

ByABC News via logo
December 16, 2008, 10:36 AM

Dec. 17, 2008— -- For victims' advocate and "America's Most Wanted" host John Walsh, an official end to the 27-year saga to find his son's killer hasn't provided closure.

"This helped us close a chapter. No closure. I hate that word," he said on "Good Morning America" today, a day after Florida police announced that deceased serial killer Ottis Toole was responsible for the 1981 abduction and murder of Adam Walsh. "It's about justice. It's not about revenge or vigilantism or closure."

Toole was a drifter who died in prison 12 years ago. Florida police ended one of the country's most famous cold cases by saying that if the convicted murderer had been alive today he would be charged with Adam's murder.

Adam, John and Reve Walshes' 6-year-old son, went missing from a Hollywood, Fla., mall more than 27 years ago. His head was discovered two weeks later, though his body was never found.

Hollywood, Fla., police named Toole, a convicted killer long suspected of the Walsh murder, who died in prison in 1996, as the perpetrator.

"The 27 years were torture. I unequivocally knew Ottis Toole killed my son," Walsh said. "I can't even explain how frustrating the 27 years have been."

The Walshes turned their personal tragedy into fuel to aid other missing and abducted children. They helped law enforcement outlets across the nation and kept their son's memory in their minds even as they helped others discover other children's fate and pushed for legislative reforms.

"I really can't believe it because [it] has been such a really long, hard road," Reve Walsh said on "GMA" today. "This is something I really wanted to do in my life time. I've been working nonstop on it."

"We accomplished it," she said.

The Walshes' plight brought to light the problems and mistakes that occurred in their son's investigation.

Hollywood Police Chief Chadwick Wagner apologized to the Walshes for mistakes that he said were made early on in the investigation.

"It changed the attitude of law enforcement overall," Reve Walsh said. "It all just kind of came full circle in our lifetime."

The murder transformed John Walsh's life, turning him from a middle-class hotel marketing executive into one of country's best known advocates for missing children.

"The not knowing is almost as bad as the murder but today's a good day. Today's a wonderful day," Walsh said. "We can end the chapter of our lives. For all other victims who haven't gotten justice, I say one thing, don't give up hope. Don't give up hope."

After his son's death, Walsh, who will turn 63 later this month, became a tireless advocate for missing children. He started the Adam Walsh Child Resource Center and co-founded the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. His television show, "America's Most Wanted," debuted in 1988.

Since 1984, the center has assisted law enforcement with more than 148,160 missing child cases, resulting in the recovery of more than 132,300 children.

"America's Most Wanted" went on to become one of the country's longest-running television shows. It began profiling missing persons, especially children, in 1991. It was briefly canceled in 1996, but reappeared after a public outcry. The show says its reports have led to the capture of more than 1,000 fugitives.

"We were absolutely devastated, heartbroken," Walsh told Larry King on the 25th anniversary of his son's abduction. "We had nothing in common but the anger and the grief. And [Walsh's wife, Reve] said, 'You know, we're destroying ourselves. This is not something that Adam would want. We've forgotten who the real victim is.'"

The Walshes lobbied for the Missing Children Act, which was passed in 1982 and set up an FBI database of missing children. In 2006, President Bush signed the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, which, among other things, created more stringent requirements for sex offender registration.

On July 27, 1981, Reve Walsh went with her son to the Sears department store in the Hollywood mall. She left him in the toy department playing video games. When she returned a few minutes later, he was gone. They never saw each other again.

ABC News' Jason Ryan and Geoff Martz contributed to this report.