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Authors: Les Standiford

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It took Robert Hart, the same forensics specialist who had performed the earlier analysis on the machete, nearly three months to get back to Hughes, and when he did, on February 14, 1989, the news was once again inconclusive. “Although the class characteristics are consistent [with the marks on the skull],” Hart said, “insufficient similarities are present to determine if this bayonet was the weapon used to inflict the injuries.”

While it might have been disheartening news, it does not explain why Hoffman did not, at the very least, carry the bayonet to Jacksonville and simply ask Charles Hardaman if it was the same bayonet he had once given Ottis Toole to sharpen. Had Hardaman been able to identify the weapon, it would have corroborated yet another aspect of Toole’s story.

Hollywood, Florida—November 14, 1988

W
hile Broward County detectives pursued their leads, Adam Walsh’s fourteenth birthday came and went, marking the passage of more than seven years without significant progress in the case. On December 6, 1988, something of a milestone was reached when FBI deputy director Alan Burgess made it known that the case of Adam Walsh had finally been entered into the new nationwide database known as VICAP, the Violent Crime Apprehension Program.

The program had come into existence in 1985, and had developed in large part due to the work of former LAPD captain Pierce Brooks, who was involved in the investigation of the notorious “Onion Field” killing of a Los Angeles police officer in 1963, an incident later popularized in a Joseph Wambaugh best seller. Brooks was among the first to apply formal statistical analysis to determine patterns in violent crime and to theorize that psychologists might be able to provide useful profiles of the type of individual responsible for a violent crime or a series of such crimes. At the very least, if details of unsolved crimes were shared in a national computerized database available to police departments everywhere, the likelihood of apprehending “pattern” or “repeat” killers would surely be increased.

In 1983, John Walsh had been asked to testify before an Arlen Specter–chaired Senate Judiciary subcommittee looking into the efficacy of such an undertaking, and as he recalls, it was the sort of thing that people assumed was already in place. The truth was, however, that in the early 1980s the very concept of “national computer database” was something of an exercise in wishful thinking. At the time such notions as e-mail and the Internet were for most Americans only fantasy. A certain amount of information on unsolved crimes was shared between jurisdictions via teletype and snail-mail-carried bulletins, but the notion that anyone, anywhere, was paying much attention to what clattered off those machines or piled up in the mailroom, or was investing the time to catalog, file, and analyze the data on hundreds and thousands of violent crimes all across the country, was simply laughable.

But by this point, Walsh was well versed in the psychology of the Ted Bundys and the John Wayne Gacys of the world, and he had become increasingly convinced that it was such an individual who was responsible for Adam’s death. He was more than happy to appear on behalf of the initiative. There was also a great deal of support for such a database within the FBI itself, where behavioral sciences unit special agent Robert Ressler had advanced the practice of profiling repeat rapists and killers through the 1970s. Ressler, generally credited with coining the term
serial killer
, played a key role in the eventual formation of VICAP, advocating it as an invaluable tool to a local agency when and if a nomadic predator came calling.

In 1985, the program was approved by the Department of Justice, and FBI-VICAP become the national repository for violent crimes, collating data on homicides, sexual assaults, missing persons, and unidentified human remains. Comprehensive case information concerning crimes anywhere in the country would thenceforward be submitted to FBI-VICAP, maintained in a comprehensive database and automatically compared to all other cases to identify similarities. The program also provided for a staff of agents trained specifically to analyze data and provide profiles where evidence suggested repeat and nomadic offenders might be at work, especially those involving abduction; those apparently random, motiveless, or sexually oriented; or those known or thought to be part of a series.

If such a program had been in place in 1981, would the actions of Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole have landed them a place on VICAP’s most-wanted list or prevented Adam’s abduction and murder? John and Revé Walsh had no idea, but at least the fact that such a program was now in place and that the details of their son’s case were thus operative gave them some sense of a shred of order restored, some vague assurance that Adam had not died in vain.

So far as progress on the case went, however, there was none forthcoming, and Adam’s fifteenth birthday, in November 1989, passed uneventfully.

There was something of an ironic footnote deriving from the brief partnership of jailhouse lawyer Gerard Schaffer and Ottis Toole in 1990, however, when news came that a federal appeals court had dismissed Schaffer’s complaint that his public defender had deliberately botched his court case to make sure he would stay in jail. In his complaint, Schaffer pointed to the fact that immediately after his conviction on murder charges, his attorney had married Schaffer’s ex-wife, Theresa. Schaffer’s attorney happened to be a public defender by the name of Elton Schwartz, the same man who had represented Ottis Toole back in 1984. Schwartz, apparently passionate on behalf of the rights of accused serial killers, had taken on Schaffer’s case in the wake of his involvement with Toole.

And then, in early November 1990, twelve days before Adam’s sixteenth birthday, an event took place that would almost by accident draw Joe Matthews back into the orbit of this story and eventually change the course of the investigation. At first, the event might have seemed without any bearing on what had befallen the Walshes, but that is the thing about cause and effect in all effective narrative. What might seem an unimportant or “butterfly” moment at the outset is one thing; but once a profound conclusion is reached, it is a simple matter to trace backward through all the possible turning points where a different decision might have been made. In this way, the investigator comes to a simple realization: in the story at hand, things couldn’t have turned out any other way.

O
n November 2, 1990, Detective Sergeant Joe Matthews was called in from vacation by his superiors at Miami Beach PD to investigate a particularly heinous crime. The body of an unidentified three-year-old boy had been found discarded beneath a hedge that surrounded a home in one of the Beach’s most exclusive residential neighborhoods. The emaciated child, weighing 18 pounds, with weeks-old Pampers duct-taped to his body, had died from multiple fractures to the skull, leading the Dade County medical examiner to call it the worst case of child neglect, abuse, and torture that he had ever witnessed.

It was not by accident that Matthews had been summoned. In the more than nine years that had passed since he’d rejoined his colleagues at Beach PD, he had continued to rack up accolades for his work as a polygraph examiner, interrogations expert, and homicide investigator. In 1987, during a period of civil unrest and racial rioting in Miami, German national Dieter Reichmann stopped a Miami Beach policeman and pointed to the body of his girlfriend in the seat beside him. While driving the streets of downtown Miami, Reichmann claimed, an unidentified black male had approached his car, then shot and killed his German girlfriend as part of a botched robbery attempt.

Matthews was placed in charge of the charged investigation, while an outraged community demanded justice, if not ultimately a lynching. From the outset, however, Matthews spotted various minor inconsistencies in Reichmann’s story, and following forty to fifty hours of interviews and his usual persistent digging, Matthews discovered that Reichmann had taken out $2 million in German insurance policies on his girlfriend’s life. It was fuel for a reconsideration of everything, and eventually Matthews had assembled a substantial amount of circumstantial evidence implicating Reichmann as the killer.

However, Janet Reno, Dade County state attorney at the time, advised Matthews that she deemed his evidence insufficient for the issuance of a warrant. Though Reichmann was arrested and tried on a federal weapons charge, he was found not guilty. He was ordered to be released from custody and allowed to return to his native country. As Matthews was escorting Reichmann to the property room to reclaim his personal effects, including a number of items that Matthews considered potential evidence in his murder investigation, the grinning German turned to tap him on the cheek with his palm. “Ah, my friend Matthews,” Reichmann said in condescension, “you’ll have to try harder next time, eh?”

At which point Matthews responded by pulling a pair of handcuffs from his belt and snapping them onto Reichmann’s wrists. “Ah my friend Reichmann,” Matthews said. “You are under arrest for first-degree murder.”

Matthews’s actions astounded Reichmann, of course, and they infuriated Janet Reno as well, for she wanted no part of a case that she considered dicey. Fortunately for Matthews and for the legal system, however, several on Reno’s staff were convinced that Reichmann was guilty, and the case was prosecuted vigorously.

Ultimately, Reichmann was convicted of the murder and sentenced to death—even though the perpetrator had never confessed, the firearm used was never recovered, no witnesses ever appeared, and the exact location of the murder was never determined. The Florida Supreme Court reviewed Reichmann’s case twice, but upheld the conviction. No wonder, then, that with no apparent leads, his superiors wanted Matthews on the case of the three-year-old discarded under a hedge off North Bay Road like so much garbage.

But even Matthews was having difficulties with this new case. No one had seen anything, and without an identification of the victim, it was difficult even to know where to begin an investigation. During a canvasing of the neighborhood where the child was discovered, he found himself talking to a little girl who knew very little about the crime save that it had terrified her and that the little boy had been found wearing only a T-shirt with lollipops printed on it.

“Poor baby Lollipops,” the little girl told Matthews. “I hope you catch who did it.”

He hoped he’d catch who killed “Baby Lollipops” too, Matthews told the little girl, and even if he had little by way of leads, he now had a name that seemed to galvanize the interest of the public in the case. On Monday, November 26, 1990, almost two weeks after Adam’s sixteenth birthday, Joe Matthews called the producers of the television show
America’s Most Wanted
, asking how he might get details of the “Baby Lollipops” case aired, in order to help identify the child.

Matthews was well aware that John Walsh was the host of the program, the brainchild of media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Television Network. The show had begun its run in February 1988, the second piece of original programming produced by the network after
21 Jump Street
, which starred a then-unknown actor named Johnny Depp.
America’s Most Wanted
was devoted to the dramatization of various violent crimes around the country and the apprehension of the persons responsible.

It was the first in what would become a landslide of “reality” shows, and it was a smash hit from the beginning, despite the fact that Walsh was initially anything but a polished performer. But as a result of his obvious sincerity, his status as a victim of violent crime, and his well-known work as a champion of the victimized everywhere, he had grown into the role of citizen crime fighter. By the time that Joe Matthews made his phone call, Walsh had hit his stride. The show had resulted in thousands of tips and the capture of more than a hundred criminals who had evaded justice previously.

Still, as a staffer explained to Matthews, their show was focused on the capture of wanted fugitives, not on the identification of a victim. Rather than argue that the one generally was the first step leading to the other, Matthews talked the staffer into connecting him with John Walsh’s administrative assistant. He briefly explained the purpose of his call and made a simple request: just tell Mr. Walsh what he was asking, and that it was the same Detective Matthews who had conducted the polygraph examination for the Hollywood police when his son Adam was abducted.

The assistant did as Matthews asked, and the results were exactly what the detective hoped for. Three days later, Thursday, November 29, 1990, John Walsh and his film crew were on their way to Miami Beach, where they filmed an
AMW
segment devoted to the crime and seeking the public’s help in making the true identity of “Baby Lollipops” known.

After the filming, Matthews and Walsh spent some time together along Government Cut at the south end of Miami Beach, where the
AMW
motor home, Walsh’s traveling office, had been parked. The two sat in a pair of lawn chairs, watching the sun descend and the glittering ocean liners dock and sail, discussing the handling of Adam’s case over the past nine years.

It wasn’t that the rank-and-file detectives didn’t care or were totally incompetent, Matthews assured Walsh, it was just that from the beginning the department seemed overwhelmed by the task before it. Furthermore, there seemed to be no supervision emanating from Jack Hoffman, the lead detective on the case. As Matthews recalled the helter-skelter comings and goings of well-meaning detectives and the flutterings of their unfiled scraps of paper, Walsh nodded glumly. He’d been in the detective’s bullpen one day, too. He’d seen one guy writing down information on a matchbook cover.

BOOK: Bringing Adam Home
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