Authors: Les Standiford
Despite the fact that he had killed her, Lucas assured Toole that Becky had been his life: “I loved her more than anything else,” he said, and then, having dispensed with that matter, went on to ask Toole for help in piecing together the details of the many crimes they had committed together, “so we can get the [w]hole thing out in the open.” Lucas had not yet implicated Toole in anything, he said, but he had found considerable peace in coming clean, and he was writing now to find out if Toole as well might be willing to talk about their various misdeeds.
On Monday, November 14, Lucas followed up with a phone call, one that was being tape-recorded by the Texas Rangers, a fact that Lucas passed along to Toole at the beginning of their conversation. Certainly the warning did not deter Toole from being forthright.
“Remember that one time I said I wanted me some ribs?” Toole asked Lucas. “Did that make me a cannibal?”
“You wasn’t a cannibal,” Lucas assured him. “It’s the force of the devil, something forced on us that we can’t change. There’s no denying what we become,” he added. “We know what we are.”
Toole seemed quick to pick up on Lucas’s theme. “Remember how I liked to pour some blood out of them?”
Once again, Lucas—whose first murder victim was his own mother, in 1960—seemed compassionate and reasoned. “Ottis, you and I have something people look on as an animal. There’s no way of changing what we done, but we can stop it and not allow other people to become what we have. And the only way to do that is by honesty.”
Apparently Lucas had achieved some sense of salvation by baring his soul to investigators about his many misdeeds (quite a few of them fanciful, as it turned out), and it seemed as if his words had some effect on Toole. The following day, Tuesday, November 15, Toole was interviewed by Calcasieu Parish chief of detectives Donny Fittz about the murder of twenty-year-old Catherine Martin back in 1982, near Lake Charles, Louisiana. She’d been stabbed sixteen times with a screwdriver. Yeah, he had done it, Toole said. And his account of the crime reflected that he saw nothing unusual in his choice of weapons. If you had a hammer, you’d use a hammer. If there was a knife, use a knife. What was so different between a knife and a screwdriver anyway?
As he was winding up his interview with Toole, Fittz casually tossed out something he’d heard in the hallway.
“We understand you say you really didn’t kill Adam Walsh,” Fittz said to Toole, who seemed surprised by the statement.
“Oh no, I killed him too, there’s no doubt about that,” Toole replied. “It was like the kid, he wouldn’t shut up. I was driving him in the car. I slapped him. I hit him several times.”
Fittz gave an interview to reporters concerning his own investigation of the murder of Catherine Martin, but thought enough of what he’d heard from Toole about the Walsh case to pass that information along as well. Thus, in a story published on November 23 in the
Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel
, the public was assured once again by Toole that he was the man responsible.
Meanwhile, Detective Hoffman had returned to Jacksonville yet again, looking for something that would pin down Toole’s whereabouts between July 25 and July 31, 1981. On Thursday morning, November 17, Hoffman went to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office homicide unit to meet with Buddy Terry. Toole was in the unit as well on this day, being interviewed by detectives from agencies near Houston and others from Colorado.
The door to the interview room was open, and when Toole glanced up to see Hoffman walking by, he called out after the detective. “Hey, Jack,” he said, “I need to speak with you.”
Hoffman grudgingly stopped to acknowledge Toole. “So where’s Detective Hickman?” Toole wanted to know.
Hoffman glanced at his two colleagues. “He’s back in Hollywood,” Hoffman said to Toole. “This is Lieutenant Smith and Sergeant Standley,” he added. “And neither one of them believe a thing you’ve said about Adam Walsh.”
Toole had already complained to detectives Kendrick from Brevard County and Via from Louisiana that he didn’t like the way that Hoffman treated him. Hoffman had called him a “retard” and an “asshole” on several occasions the day they were out there by Florida’s Turnpike looking for the body, Toole said, and that “really pissed him off.”
“I know I’m an asshole,” Toole told Kendrick earlier. “And I am a retard.” But if the Hollywood cops thought they were so smart, then let them go find Adam’s body themselves, that’s what he’d decided.
Thus, it is not difficult to imagine what Toole thought of the three Hollywood cops glowering at him from the hallway. Hoffman would later note in his log that Toole seemed quite upset, in fact.
“You want me to go on national TV and state that I killed Adam Walsh?” Toole called angrily to Hoffman. But despite the fact that he had no other leads in the case of a lifetime, Hoffman apparently felt he’d already been sufficiently played the fool by Ottis Toole. He simply shrugged and led the other officers away down the hall.
That day, Hoffman looked at medical records supplied by jailors that indicated that since his arrival, Toole had been receiving 50 milligrams of Benadryl at bedtime, presumably to help him fall asleep, along with regular dosages of Meladril, an herbal supplement sometimes used in the treatment of herpes. Though medical records showed that he had been diagnosed as having suffered convulsions from grand mal epilepsy some fifteen years previously, Toole was taking no epilepsy medication at Duval County. Little of import there, it seemed.
On the following day, Hoffman interviewed Toole’s stepfather, Robert Harley, who told the detective that he had married Toole’s mother Sarah in 1957, when Toole was ten. He told Hoffman of the thefts that occurred from his home after Toole’s mother died and of his suspicions that Toole and Henry Lee Lucas were responsible for those, as well as for the fire that destroyed the house on June 23, 1981.
At the same time, other detectives from Hollywood were at the Lake Butler facility, interviewing James Redwine, Betty Goodyear’s troubled son, who had fallen in with Toole after his return to Jacksonville from a treatment center in Miami. Redwine, serving time for arsons he committed along with Toole, said that while Toole often acted meek and timid, he could fly into rages, especially if he had a weapon available.
Redwine described a few such incidents for the detectives and also confirmed that he had seen Toole in possession of a large knife with a brown wooden handle. However, Redwine said, he was not going to submit to a sworn statement about any of this. He did not want to get involved in the investigation, period.
On Saturday, Hoffman and his cohorts, Smith and Standley, were back in the homicide unit at the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office. Once again, Toole spotted him passing the open interview room and called out after him. Hoffman ignored Toole, but Buddy Terry caught up with him and explained that Toole was being insistent. “Just go see what he wants,” Terry urged.
Hoffman may not have cared what Ottis Toole wanted, but he was on Terry’s turf and needed some element of cooperation if he was going to accomplish anything in Jacksonville. Thus, he walked into the interview room and informed Toole brusquely that he, Toole, was being represented by public defender Elton Schwartz and that Schwartz did not want Toole talking to any investigators without his attorney present.
To Toole, none of it mattered. “I do not want to be represented by anyone,” he told Hoffman. “I want to speak to you about Adam Walsh, and I do not want to be represented by any attorney.”
Hoffman glanced about the room, where any number of fellow law officers stood watching, waiting for his call. Certainly, Toole seemed well aware of his rights, and this was anything but a coercive situation, as cops from several different jurisdictions could testify. He was stymied in his own investigation; what was the harm of hearing Toole out? Suppressing something of a sigh, Hoffman sat down and began to take the
statement offered by Ottis Toole concerning the murder of Adam Walsh.
Toole began by telling Hoffman that essentially everything he had confessed to concerning the murder was correct, from the time of his arrival in South Florida and the abduction of Adam Walsh from the Sears Mall in Hollywood until his arrival at mile marker 126 on Florida’s Turnpike and the subsequent decapitation. But the part about burying Adam’s body in that same location was not exactly right, Toole said.
“Everything I told you about the killing, about the chopping, all that’s true,” Toole told Hoffman. As to Adam’s torso, though, “I wrapped him in some blankets and put him in the trunk.”
Following his brief stop to dispose of the head in the canal, Toole said, he drove on to Jacksonville, arriving in the evening hours at 708 Day Avenue, where the remains of his mother’s gutted house still stood. At that time, Toole said, he took Adam’s body out of the trunk and carried it around to the backyard and placed it in a gutted-out refrigerator that he had used as a kind of incinerator in the past. He’d start a fire and toss in coils of coated wire to burn the insulation off and expose the copper, he explained, which he could then sell at junkyards around town.
In this instance, however, his aim was quite different. After he’d gotten Adam’s torso inside the refrigerator, Toole heaped on some pieces of wood and doused it all with gasoline. He lit the fire then, hoping to cremate the body, but to his disappointment, the fire went out fairly rapidly. Some of the skin on the body had turned black and crumbly, but it was not in any way completely burned. So he did what he had to do: he heaped on more wood, poured on more gasoline, and set the blaze going again.
After he was finally satisfied with the results, Ottis tried to push the gutted refrigerator on its side, so he could dump the remains onto a blanket he had spread out. But the refrigerator was heavy to begin with, and with all the debris and ash that now filled the insides, Toole couldn’t budge it. So he went back to the Cadillac, found a shovel, and used that to scoop out the remains onto the blanket.
He gathered up the blanket and its contents, wrestled the bundle to the Cadillac, and managed to heave it up and into the trunk. He was about to slam the lid down when something occurred to him: What if there were hot ashes still lurking in that mess somewhere? They could smolder for hours and eventually start a blaze in his trunk. Toole might not be smart, but he knew about fire.
He also knew that no one had bothered to turn off the water at the ruined house and so he went to fetch the hose that still dangled from a spigot outside. He opened the faucet and doused the trunk and its contents until he was sure that no embers could have survived.
By then it was late, and Toole, who’d had himself a full day, was tired. He slammed the lid of the trunk, climbed into the Cadillac, and slept there through the night. In the morning he rose to clean off his machete and his shovel, and then hid the tools under a still-standing portion of the ruined house.
After that, he drove the Cadillac to the city of Jacksonville’s northernmost dump, where he backed up to a muddy area and tossed the water-soaked bundle out. Satisfied that the wadded blanket looked no different from any other bundle of discarded goods in the vast wasteland, he was about to get back into the car when it struck him that the sodden carpeting of the trunk might now contain traces of blood, so he pulled that up from the floorboards of the trunk and tossed it out into the dump as well. That night, long after he knew all the employees would be gone, Toole returned the Cadillac to the yard of Reaves Roofing.
And whatever happened to that machete he had used? Hoffman wanted to know. Toole wasn’t sure what he had done with the blade, finally, he told Hoffman. It could have ended up over at Spencer’s Motors in Jacksonville, though. He’d left a lot of his stuff in paper bags over there at one time or another.
Hoffman’s notes do not indicate whether or not his heart quickened at this chance comment of Toole’s, but if it did not, one would surely wonder why. Finally, after all the fruitless searching, Ottis Toole had unknowingly suggested that Hoffman was in possession of a piece of evidence that would directly link the killer to the crime.
Asked to describe this machete further, Toole told Hoffman that it was in a green canvas holster that kept the blade covered, and that he had wrapped tape on the wooden handle, “to keep from getting blisters from chopping.” It seemed a perfect match to the machete that Hoffman had confiscated at Bennett Motors: the handle had been taped, the grips were wooden, the blade was housed in a green canvas sheath, and one of the substances on the blade looked very much like tar, indicating its use by someone involved in the roofing trade.
Hoffman next asked Toole where he had stayed between the time he took the Cadillac back to the roofing company on the evening of July 28 and the afternoon of July 31, when he moved into one of Betty Goodyear’s houses with Rita. Toole wasn’t too sure. He might have slept in a portion of his mother’s house that still had its roof, or he might have slept in one or another of the parks in the area.
Hoffman concluded the interview at 11:08 that morning, asking Toole to explain why he had lied before about burying Adam’s body down near mile marker 126 on Florida’s Turnpike. Toole didn’t say anything about the sandwich that Hoffman had slapped out of his hands the day he’d led detectives to the site where he’d decapitated Adam. Nor did he mention that it pissed him off mightily that Hoffman had called him an asshole and a retard on numerous occasions.
Yes, he had told Hoffman that he cut off Adam’s head and buried his body nearby on that day, he admitted, but there was a very simple explanation: “I was just fucking around with the police department,” he said.