By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org
A new book whose authors claim to have unearthed startling evidence about the 1981 murder of Adam Walsh is causing controversy even before it goes on sale.
A plaintiff in a public records lawsuit is using the book to challenge sworn testimony by Hollywood Police Chief Chad Wagner regarding his December 2008 decision to close the case and blame Adam’s murder on homicidal drifter Ottis Toole. Toole died in 1996.
The suit seeks the release of an investigative report about Toole that was submitted to police and prosecutors by the book’s co-author, former Miami Beach Police Detective Sgt. Joe Matthews, before Wagner’s 2008 announcement.
John Walsh, Adam’s father and the host of the popular America’s Most Wanted television show, has publicly credited Matthews with cracking the case. Chief Wagner and Broward prosecutors argue in court filings that Matthews’ report was no help to their investigation and is not a public record.
Matthews and Florida International University creative writing director Les Standiford have now written Bringing Adam Home: The Abduction that Changed America. It cites ghastly evidence Matthews found amid 98 old photo negatives dredged from the files of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Toole, a serial killer, was arrested in April 1983 in Jacksonville for arson. Months later, he made the first of several confessions – and recantations – to Adam’s murder.
The photos were taken by state agents shortly after Toole’s initial confession as they searched his 1971 Cadillac using Luminol, a spray-on chemical that detects traces of blood. The book says the agents never ordered prints from the negatives and the evidence was apparently never viewed by Hollywood detectives.
Decades later, Matthews, who’d learned of the negatives in an old report, ordered prints.
Luminol emits a blue glow as it reacts with iron found in hemoglobin. The book says several old photographs contain overlooked evidence in blue. Yet one chilling picture stood out: a “glowing blue image pressed into the carpet – the outline of Adam’s face, etched in his own blood.”
The image of Adam’s face that the book compares to the Shroud of Turin is not in the “uncorrected proof” obtained by Broward Bulldog. However, an eight-page photo insert is planned by Ecco Press for the 304-page hardcover edition that goes on sale March 1, according to HarperCollins Catalogs.
The book says that a month before Wagner’s close-out announcement the chief called a meeting at the Broward State Attorney’s Office to go over the report and the FDLE crime scene photos that Matthews first showed Wagner months before. Nine people were said to be present, including Wagner, Matthews, Chief Assistant Broward State Attorney Chuck Morton, John and Revé Walsh and Hollywood Police legal advisor Joel Cantor.
The meeting led to unanimous agreement that the investigation would be “exceptionally cleared,” the book says.
But Cantor said in an interview on Monday that he attended no such meeting and had seen no crime scene photos with Adam’s image.
“I’ve never heard that, but wow,” said Cantor, who represents Wagner in the public records case. “If that’s part of Joe’s story so be it.”
Standiford, Matthews’ co-author, said the ongoing litigation prohibited him from discussing details about the book, including the photo with Adam’s image.
“I certainly think it is dramatic,” he said. “But you don’t make a decision based on one photograph, you look at the tapestry. People are going to have to read the book for themselves and decide for themselves.”
Police and prosecutors justified the use of the administrative device of “exceptional clearance” to close the high-profile murder case by saying sufficient evidence existed to arrest Toole for Adam’s murder if he was alive. The evidence supporting Wagner’s decision, however, was not disclosed.
The public records suit that seeks the release of Matthews’ report was brought by retired Miami Herald press operator Willis Morgan. Morgan, who lives in Hallandale Beach, claims to have encountered another notorious serial killer at the Hollywood Mall on the day Adam was abducted, Jeffrey Dahmer. The defendants are Wagner, Broward State Attorney Michael Satz and Matthews.
The suit, filed June 1, argued the Matthews report is a public record because police and prosecutors received and reviewed it before closing the case. Wagner and Satz have countered that the public has no right to see the report because it was “worthless” to their investigation, according to court papers and Cantor. They also said that they had not kept a copy of the report. Matthews’ lawyer, Fort Lauderdale’s Tom Panza, said his client refused to produce a copy.
In a sworn statement, Wagner said he made the decision to close the case long before receiving the Matthews’ report. He said he passed it to Assistant Chief Mark Smith to read, and that Smith reported back that it was “nothing more than a regurgitation of the facts and investigative findings by members of the Hollywood Police Department.”
Broward Circuit Judge Mily Rodriguez-Powell agreed and dismissed the suit in August.
Morgan’s Miami lawyer, Thomas Julin, is now asking the Fourth District Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach to reverse the judge’s order. [Julin is pro bono counsel to Broward Bulldog.]
Julin argued in a Dec. 20 court filing that the book – in which he says Matthews claims credit for finding the “evidence that finally and conclusively” identified Toole as Adam’s killer, and “persuaded” Wagner to close the case – undercuts both Wagner and the judge’s ruling.
“It begs the question of who is telling the truth,” said Julin who has asked the appeal court judges to review portions of Bringing Adam Home that he has filed under seal.