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Authors: Les Standiford

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Matthews listened, then excused himself to make a phone call. When he reached Hollywood PD, he asked to speak with Gil Frazier. He couldn’t believe what Hoffman was trying to pull, Matthews thought. But Frazier would put a stop to it. The captain had been 100 percent in support of his request, Matthews was certain of it.

Abruptly the connection went through, and Matthews took a breath, about to launch into the summary of what he had learned. “Captain Frazier is on vacation,” an assistant’s voice said before he got a word out. “He’ll be gone for the next six weeks.” Matthews replaced the phone and leaned back in his chair, releasing a pent-up breath. Unless everything he knew about cops was wrong, Matthews told himself, Hoffman had simply waited for his boss to go on vacation, then purposefully ignored his order to have Matthews interview Toole. Apparently, Hoffman was bound and determined to make sure nothing ever moved forward on this investigation.

“Told you so,” Matthews’s fellow instructor reported when he returned from Starke the following afternoon. He explained to Matthews that Toole had informed them that he hadn’t been involved in the Walsh kidnapping back in July 1981. He’d returned to Jacksonville from Virginia and had not left. As to why he’d told some people otherwise back in 1983, Toole said it was “for his own personal gain.” He got taken out of jail for a while, ate real food, got to smoke cigarettes.

He’d also been approached by another inmate, a guy named Gerald Schaffer who wanted to write a book about the killings that Toole and Henry Lee Lucas had been involved in. Schaffer was working with some author, Toole said, and this guy would funnel monthly payments to them both if Toole would sign over the rights to his story. That sounded fine and dandy to Toole, but, he claimed, he had told Schaffer at the time that he didn’t kill Adam Walsh. Toole omitted any reference to the letters that Schaffer had helped him write in 1988, as well as any mention of such details as the bayonet that he and Schaffer had dangled before the Broward County investigators at the time.

Toole told Hoffman there wasn’t any reason for him to be withholding information at this time, not when he was already facing multiple life sentences. Hoffman, without bothering to bring up the fact that there might be several reasons for an incarcerated felon not to confess to the abuse and murder of a six-year-old child, took Toole’s word on the matter. “Based on the interview with Ottis Toole,” he wrote in summary, “it is this detective’s opinion that Ottis Toole was being truthful and sincere about his noninvolvement in the Adam Walsh homicide.”

And Haggerty, the retired agent who had witnessed this most recent exchange between Hoffman and Toole, agreed, or so he told Matthews that afternoon when he returned from Starke. “Ottis is telling the truth.”

“Oh yeah?” said Matthews, who could hold his tongue no longer. “Would that have been today he was telling the truth, or the twenty-one other times when he said he did it?”

For Matthews, it wasn’t an accusation, but an honest question. The two of them were in Tallahassee to instruct other detectives in proper investigative methods. Matthews believed that it was vital to understand the difference between listening passively to a statement and a proactive investigative interview, where the questioner, not the subject, controls the agenda. Left to his own devices, a suspect might change his story concerning a crime for any number of reasons.

Jack Hoffman had not found physical evidence that tied Toole to the crime, but there was a mountain of circumstantial evidence that did, and Hoffman had certainly not found any evidence that excluded him from the crime. In the end, it seemed to Matthew, he had simply “decided” that Toole was not involved.

Matthews, on the other hand, felt certain that if Toole were properly interviewed and his responses subjected to polygraph examination, the question of his involvement could be determined once and for all. Not to have done so in all this time seemed simply unfathomable.

Which begged the question as to why Hoffman seemed so dead set against allowing Matthews access to Toole. If Matthews discovered that Toole was in fact being deceptive when he spoke of matters related to the crime, it would only support what Hoffman had apparently chosen to believe long ago. But if Matthews found good reason to believe that Toole was being truthful when he spoke of killing Adam Walsh, it would mean the virtual ruin of a detective who had been unable to make any headway on the most celebrated crime his department had ever encountered. He had staked his career on his steadfast refusal to arrest the only viable suspect who had surfaced during his ten-plus years of investigation, and he still had his job. Why on earth take any chances? Meantime, Adam Walsh’s seventeenth birthday passed in November 1991 without further progress on the case.

As evidence that he was still on the job and willing to pursue any lead, Detective Hoffman at the request of John Walsh traveled to Madison, Wisconsin, in the late summer of 1992, where he interviewed Jeffrey Dahmer, who had been arrested for a series of gruesome murders the previous year. While most of the seventeen killings Dahmer was charged with took place between 1987 and 1991, he had taken his first victim in 1977. Some of his victims were as young as fourteen, and many had been spectacularly tortured, abused, and dismembered. Moreover, when he’d been discharged from the army for alcoholism in 1981, Dahmer had spent some time in Miami Beach. It seemed, at the very least, a lead worth pursuing.

Accordingly, Hoffman interviewed Dahmer in his Wisconsin prison on August 13, 1992. At that time, Dahmer assured Hoffman that he was not involved in the abduction and murder of Adam Walsh. No polygraph examination was administered to Dahmer regarding the case. Hoffman returned to South Florida, advised John Walsh as to what he had found, and recorded the information in the case file, where it would reside as the only record of note for the next two years.

Hollywood, Florida—August 15, 1994

A
dam Walsh’s eighteenth and nineteenth birthdays passed in 1992 and 1993, and nothing new had turned up to suggest who might have taken his life. Still, if the calendar pages seemed to be flipping with no apparent concern for the answer to that question, the steady beat of those tsunami-causing butterfly wings continued.

In 1994, there was something of a startling development within the Hollywood Police Department, where a new command staff was assigned to take over the Criminal Investigations Division. Major Brian Maher and Lieutenant Debbie Futch were placed in charge, and one of the first things they agreed upon was the transfer of Jack Hoffman out of their arena. Hoffman was sent summarily to the Patrol Division as a uniform cop.

As part of her own skills improvement program, Lieutenant Futch attended a homicide investigation seminar being conducted at Broward Community College by Harry O’Reilly, a retired NYPD homicide detective and a well-respected instructor in death investigation technique. Futch told O’Reilly of her own frustration with her department’s failure to progress with the Adam Walsh case, and O’Reilly had a quick suggestion: “Why don’t you call Joe Matthews over at Miami Beach PD?”

O’Reilly knew and respected Matthews and had heard him talk about the various miscues in the Walsh case on more than one occasion. He was sure that Matthews would welcome the opportunity to involve himself formally, and he assured Futch that there was no better investigator in South Florida to aid in the investigation.

Lieutenant Futch told her boss Maher about the conversation, and Maher thought it was an excellent way to restore credibility to the investigative division. They called Matthews and asked if he’d be willing to consult with their department if they reopened the investigation of the Adam Walsh case. It was a welcome overture to Matthews, who was grappling with grief over the recent death of his father Al, following a fall and a forty-day stay in an intensive care unit.

The opportunity to busy himself in pursuit of a case he’d always been passionate about promised a way to displace a portion of his misery, and he agreed without hesitation. Then–chief of Hollywood police Dick Witt made the request of Miami Beach Police that Matthews be formally assigned, and the deal was done.

Detective Mark Smith—who in 1981, as a rookie cop seated behind the wheel of a patrol car, had assured John Walsh that he and every one of his fellow officers were doing everything they could to find his son—had been assigned to oversee a new cold case squad at Hollywood PD, and among the first he was assigned to reopen was that of the murder of Adam Walsh.

As ordered, Smith met with Matthews to discuss a game plan for how the homicide would best be investigated. From the outset, however, Matthews had his concerns. Smith seemed much more protective of his department’s image than Maher and Futch had been, and while he made many of the case files available to Matthews, he held back certain reports and memos that he assured Matthews were inconsequential.

To Matthews, nothing was inconsequential, especially files that might shed light on mistakes and oversights made early on in the investigation, but there was little he could do about it. He set aside his doubts and discussed with Smith the interviews that should be conducted and the evidence that could be reexamined, especially in light of the newly advanced DNA testing now available.

Smith assured Matthews that he would pass along a summary of their recommendations to his superiors and that as soon as he got approval, they would move forward. To Matthews, it sounded good. Just possibly, a new era was about to dawn at Hollywood PD where the Adam Walsh case was concerned. Though he doubted that he and Smith would ever become bosom buddies, he judged that at least he would be working with a competent, hardworking cop. Quite understandably, he looked forward to the day when he could report to John and Revé Walsh that at last significant progress was being made in finding the killer of their son.

On Monday, August 15, 1994, Detective Smith composed a memo to deputy chief Mike Ignasiak outlining what he thought could be done to revive the Walsh case. In his memo, however, he noted that “due to the amount of time since the incident, it would be virtually impossible to set out and try to establish new suspects or motives,” an odd position for a cold case investigator to take, given that the aim of such undertakings is to consider the possibility of new suspects or motives.

Smith also suggested in his memo that one thing that they might do was to conduct a follow-up inspection of the area around mile marker 126 on Florida’s Turnpike to try and determine why that might have been selected as a place for the killer to dispose of Adam’s head, though he doesn’t make clear exactly what significance he attributed to that question. More important, Smith recommended to his superiors that “a re-interview” be scheduled with Ottis Toole, “to either eliminate him as a suspect or reaffirm his involvement.” This was necessary, Smith said, because it seemed that the “original investigators” believed that Toole was confessing for publicity reasons and had been furnished confidential case file information by “an overzealous Jacksonville detective.”

Despite Hoffman’s reluctance to pursue the matter, Smith said, “Toole has not been successfully eliminated as a suspect in the case,” and he recommended that Miami Beach detective sergeant Joe Matthews be involved in the interview of Toole. “Mr. Matthews has agreed to accompany this agency in an interview with Toole free of charge,” Smith explained, before adding something of a curious addendum. “Although he may have ulterior motives for his willingness to assist, I feel Matthews is a resource that could be beneficial to this investigation.”

As it turned out, Matthews would not view this memo until ten years after it was written, and when he did see it, he found it mystifying, to say the least. For one thing, the very notion of compensation for his involvement was ludicrous—he was in the paid employ of the Miami Beach Police Department, and he had been assigned to work with Hollywood PD at the latter’s own request. Furthermore, he was not “Mr.” Matthews, but “Detective Sergeant Matthews”—a small point, but police protocol is unwavering when it comes to distinguishing ordinary civilians from officers in formal correspondence of any kind.

Most troubling to Matthews was the offhand mention of “ulterior motives.” To Matthews, it smacked of Jack Hoffman’s accusation that Buddy Terry had signed a book contract with Ottis Toole, an unfounded charge that not only besmirched a good cop’s career but hobbled the Walsh investigation.

Of course, he could give credit to Hollywood PD for reopening the investigation, but he could only view Smith’s comments as symptomatic of an entire department’s unspoken wish that the case simply go away, once and for all.

I
n order to understand what makes Matthews tick, it may be worth a brief return to the detective’s early days as a beat cop on the Miami Beach force. Matthews had joined the force in 1967, shortly after his twenty-first birthday, following a chance encounter with a cop during a stint as a security guard at the Miami Beach Convention Center. Why be busting your ass for a buck and a quarter an hour? the cop asked. Matthews seemed like a smart kid. There was a shortage in the department. If he passed the test, the cop told him, he could be knocking down $500 a month.

It seemed like a fortune at the time, and Matthews decided to follow the advice. He took the entrance exam, placed second among applicants, and soon was enrolled in the Dade County Police Academy.

From the first, there were indications that Matthews was not going to be your ordinary cop. His outspoken nature and willingness to question his superiors earned him respect in some quarters, but not everyone appreciated his candor. One morning during training, he returned from class to his locker to find it yawning open, his holster dangling inside, his department-issued pistol missing. Though losing your weapon was just about the worst offense a cadet could commit, Matthews knew there was no avoiding the matter. He marched himself to the training sergeant’s office and made his report.

BOOK: Bringing Adam Home
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