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Authors: Les Standiford

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BOOK: Bringing Adam Home
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When Hoffman asked Collins to describe the car that Toole was driving that day, he replied that it was either white or black, one of the two. In any case, Collins thought it looked like the Cadillac that was on the news just the other day. It was toward the end of this interview that Collins divulged the recent conversations he’d had with Toole in their cell about the fact that he was leaving jail to help the cops in Fort Lauderdale look for the body of a child he’d killed down there, and his fears as to what other inmates might do to a fellow convict known to have murdered children.

On the following morning, Thursday, November 3, Hoffman drove the forty miles to Raiford, where he interviewed a man named James Michael Poole, who’d shared a cell with Ottis Toole in the Butler Transient Unit back in July. Poole told Hoffman that Toole had made various strange statements about being in the “child repossession business.” Another time, he told Poole that he had “taken” his own son from Broward County and that somewhere on their way back to Jacksonville he had just dropped the boy off along the highway. Poole thought that odd because the boy was supposedly only seven or eight years old, but then again, people did strange things—especially the kind of people you meet in jail.

While at Raiford, Detective Hoffman also spoke with Boyd Earl Gilbert, another cellmate of Toole’s in the Butler Transient Unit. Gilbert told Hoffman that the two of them had met on August 31, some two months previously, and that at that time, Toole claimed that up until the time of his imprisonment, he had been earning a living burning down buildings for people who wanted to collect the insurance. Unfortunately, there’d been an old man sleeping in the last place he burned down, and the guy died.

During that same conversation, Gilbert said, Toole also told him that he had murdered a little kid down around West Palm Beach, the son of a policeman. Though it might seem a puzzling claim, it is quite possible that Toole had confused the adult-sized boat captain’s hat Adam was wearing when he was taken with the similarly styled patrolman’s dress cap worn by most South Florida cops at the time. In any case, if Gilbert was being truthful, it meant that Toole was talking openly about his involvement in the killing of Adam Walsh for more than a month before he’d made his first formal confession to Detective Kendrick of Brevard County on October 10.

As Hoffman was conducting these interviews at Raiford, Buddy Terry took the machete that Hoffman had picked up at Bennett Motors to the FDLE offices in Jacksonville to have it tested for blood. Technicians had already identified eight different areas of carpet and padding from the floorboards of Toole’s Cadillac to test for blood as well.

Terry was hopeful that something would come of the tests, of course, but his mind kept wandering to what awaited him at his next stop. A call had come into his office the previous evening from Ottis Toole, something Terry was hardly expecting, given the public pronouncements of his newly appointed attorney.

Toole had said that he needed to speak with Terry right away. He was upset with this lawyer from Miami who’d come up to talk with him. According to Toole’s message, the guy was actually trying to get him to say he wasn’t guilty of the murder of Adam Walsh.

Jacksonville, Florida—November 3, 1983

O
ttis Toole’s seventh recorded statement to police regarding the murder of Adam Walsh began shortly after noon on November 3 with a preamble from Detective Terry. “I came to the county jail to talk to you because you contacted Detective Ron Carool and told him that you wanted me to come over and talk to you,” Terry said. “Is that correct?”

It was indeed correct, Toole assured him. “The lawyer I had from Miami and the lawyer I got in Jacksonville told me that I don’t have to talk with you at all,” Toole said, “but I still want to talk to you. And the detective is trying to get me to say I ain’t guilty on the Adam Walsh case.”

Terry looked at Toole closely. “The detective, or the attorney?” he asked.

“I mean the attorney,” Toole answered. “I really know myself that I really did kill Adam Walsh but the lawyer I got from Miami, he’s trying to tell me I didn’t kill Adam Walsh.”

Though it was frustrating, Detective Terry told Toole that he was sorry, but they could go no further. They couldn’t talk about Adam Walsh anymore, not without Toole’s attorney present. Whether he liked it or not, Toole had a lawyer now. They could talk about other things, Terry said, but their private conversations about Adam Walsh were at an end.

That same afternoon, Detective Hoffman drove from Raiford another three and a half hours south to a State of Florida foster care facility in Lakeland, Florida, where he interviewed Frank Powell, Ottis Toole’s nephew and brother of Frieda “Becky” Powell. Young Frank told Hoffman that he had not seen Ottis Toole since they all were separated one night on their way up to Maryland back in July 1981.

He told Hoffman that he often rode around Jacksonville with his uncle and that he had been with him on several visits to Reaves Roofing and Southeast Color Coat, when Ottis used keys on his ring to unlock the gates so that he could fire up the tar kettles and such. And Frank also remembered that Ottis kept a leather-sheathed hunting knife under the front seat of his black-over-white Cadillac. He’d had the car in 1980 and ’81, Frank said, and had used it even after he’d had to give it back to Mrs. McNett.

All the information seemed to confirm that Toole in fact had access to a car that he could have used to drive to Miami, one with a resemblance to a car seen in the vicinity of the abduction of Adam Walsh. Also, it seemed that Toole probably had kept a sizable bladed weapon of some sort under the seat of that car. But aside from the reported sighting of Toole by a woman and her daughter in a Hollywood Kmart a day or two before Adam’s disappearance and Toole’s apparently wobbly confessions to the crime, Hoffman had still not come up with the solid evidence he was after. He thanked young Powell for his help and began the long drive back to Jacksonville.

Early on Friday morning, as Toole was being escorted by Detective Terry toward an interview room in the Duval County Jail, where yet another team of out-of-state homicide detectives were waiting to interview him regarding a set of unsolved cases, Toole glanced down the hallway to see Detectives Hoffman and Hickman conversing with each other, and he called out to them. He’d remembered this church where he used to work back in 1981. It was out off Lane Avenue, near I-10, Toole told them, near a Days Inn. Maybe they could track it down and find out exactly what days he was working, Toole told the detectives.

Detective Terry suspected that Toole’s attorney wouldn’t be happy with his client’s offer of such information, but since Toole had initiated the conversation, it did not violate counsel’s dictates that no interview be scheduled independently. Certainly, Terry made no move to intervene. Hoffman and Hickman made a note of Toole’s information and told him they’d look into it.

First, though, the two Hollywood detectives followed up with Betty Goodyear, to see if they could confirm the date when Toole had moved into one of her houses with his erstwhile wife Rita. As was the case with employment records, any piece of evidence that would place Toole in Jacksonville on July 27, 1981, would render all of his statements regarding Adam Walsh null and void.

But Goodyear insisted that if she did nothing else, she kept accurate records. She produced a pair of receipt books for the period in question, the first of which showed that she had rented a room to Ottis Toole on July 31, 1981. She also showed them another book with a copy of a receipt made out to V. Toole on August 7. Toole did have a brother named Vernon, but as to why his name was in her book, Goodyear did not know.

From there, Hoffman and Hickman traveled to University Hospital, where Ottis’s wife Rita was a patient. When they asked her about Betty Goodyear’s records, Rita cleared the mystery up quickly. She’d moved out of living with Ottis shortly after they’d reunited there at the end of July, and moved in with his brother Vernon for a week. Since he paid the rent, that’s why his name was on the receipt. As for her time together with Ottis during that period, it began the day she moved into the Goodyear Apartments on July 31. She’d been staying with a woman named Nancy Jackson for seven or eight months before that, and she hadn’t seen Ottis at all during that time.

The two detectives left University Hospital to follow up on Toole’s recollection that he had done some work for a church around the time of Adam Walsh’s murder. After some digging, they finally found a Church of God next to a Days Inn just south of I-10, about fifteen minutes west of downtown. The church’s pastor, Reverend Cecil Wiggins, didn’t recall anyone named Toole ever working for him, but, prodded by the detectives, he agreed to consult his records. Somewhat to his surprise, the good reverend discovered that the church had in fact paid Toole for lawn maintenance work on two separate occasions in 1981: $17.50 on August 27, and $22.75 on August 28.

Hoffman and Hickman could only stare at each other. After all their digging, they had been able to place Ottis Toole in Jacksonville on July 25, when he’d arrived from Virginia on a Greyhound bus. And they knew that he was back again on July 31, when he’d rented a room for himself and his wife from Betty Goodyear. But as to where he was during the time in between, and especially on the afternoon and evening of July 27, when Adam Walsh was kidnapped and murdered, they had only the sighting reported by Heidi and Arlene Mayer and the word of Toole to go on.

Given the amount of time that Hoffman had spent in Jacksonville talking to Toole’s family and associates, it might seem in hindsight that he was more intent on proving that Toole was in that city on July 27 and thus could not possibly have committed the murder of Adam Walsh than he was with trying to find evidence placing Toole in South Florida at the time. Perhaps Hoffman was simply following the line of least resistance in interviewing individuals who knew Toole and might exonerate him; but it is puzzling, at the very least, why Hoffman or his team did not expend a greater effort on trying to place Toole at the scene of the crime: broadcasting appeals to witnesses in local media, for instance, or canvasing the ranks of Sears shoppers.

Possibly it seemed easier to Hoffman to track down and talk to people who knew Toole than to search for needles in the haystacks of South Florida; possibly, given his relative inexperience with crimes of such magnitude, he was simply out of his depth as an investigator; or possibly he simply believed Toole was lying when he said that he had kidnapped and murdered Adam Walsh. Were this his reasoning, though, he had committed the cardinal sin of an investigator—allowing his subjective feelings to interfere with his work. And whatever his reasoning, it seems odd that Hoffman was spending most of his time and effort trying to prove that the person who had confessed to the crime did not do it instead of the other way around.

In any case, and out of leads in Jacksonville for the time being, Hoffman and Hickman returned to Hollywood to await the results of the various tests being performed by the FDLE labs. On the following Wednesday, November 9, Hollywood police chief Sam Martin called Hoffman in to share the report that the FDLE had finally sent him. The eight sections of carpet and padding from the front and rear floorboards of the Cadillac had been treated with luminol to indicate the presence of blood, the report noted, and areas of strongly persistent luminescence were observed on the portion of carpet taken from the driver’s-side floor, the carpet from the left rear floorboard, and on the padding beneath the carpet on the left rear floorboard. While it would have taken a considerable quantity of blood to soak through the carpet and into the padding itself, the report stated that—given the amount of time that had passed (and the limitations of DNA technology at the time)—there was an “insufficient” amount of blood present for further testing.

As to the machete that Hoffman had confiscated at Bennett Motors, chemical tests on the blade edge also demonstrated that traces of blood were present, but once again, the quantity found was insufficient to allow for further testing. While such results may seem maddeningly inconclusive to a present-day audience conditioned by the mind-boggling feats achieved by
CSI
investigators on contemporary television, those were the unequivocal findings of the most sophisticated crime technicians working in Florida law enforcement at the time.

Tests for blood on the canvas sheath of the machete were also inconclusive, the report added. And as for other debris found on the blade and sheath, that would be examined by FDLE’s microanalysis section in Tallahassee. Five rolls of film had been taken to document the various forensic procedures performed on the Cadillac, the report noted, though the disposition of that film was not made clear.

The thought of setting science aside for the moment and simply showing the machete to the several people who had reported seeing Ottis Toole in possession of such a weapon might have occurred to almost anyone at that point. After all, Hoffman had gone to the trouble of taking it to
one
of Toole’s employers for the purposes of identification. But if Chief Martin or Detective Hoffman or anyone else at HPD thought of such a low-tech undertaking, there is no indication of it.

Williamson County, Texas—November 12, 1983

I
n November 1983, two days before what would have been the celebration of Adam Walsh’s ninth birthday, Henry Lee Lucas wrote from his jail cell in Texas to his former lover and partner in crime, Ottis Toole. He wasn’t sure if word had reached Toole yet, but Lucas wanted him to know that he had confessed to the murder of Toole’s niece, Becky Powell. Lucas hadn’t written sooner regarding the matter, he explained, because he didn’t want to “hurt” Toole.

BOOK: Bringing Adam Home
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