Police misplaced crucial evidence that might have solved the grisly decapitation of six-year-old Adam Walsh, one of America's most famous unsolved murders, newspapers reported Saturday.
Police files show Ottis Toole, 48, a convicted serial killer serving five life sentences in Florida State Prison, is the prime suspect in the July 27, 1981, kidnapping and murder of Walsh, the newspapers said.They were publishing details of 10,000 pages of evidence in the Walsh case that were made public Friday after media groups successfully sued for their release.
The papers were made pubic despite bitter opposition from Adam's father John Walsh, host of the popular television show "America's Most Wanted."
A photograph of the freckle-faced boy, jauntily holding a baseball bat, became well-known to Americans after he disappeared from a shopping mall across the street from the Hollywood police station. His mother Reve said she left him in the toy department of a store while she shopped for a lamp.
Two weeks later, Adam's severed head was found in a canal 120 miles away. His body was never recovered and no one has ever been charged with his murder.
The Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, one of the newspapers that sued for the release of the files, said police lost bloody carpet scraps taken from the floor of Toole's Cadillac and trace amounts of dried blood found on a machete that Toole once told investigators he had used to cut off Adam's head.
The newspaper said the evidence was collected in 1983 while Toole, in jail awaiting trial on an arson murder, contacted police to tell them he wanted to talk about a child he killed in the Fort Lauderdale area.
At that time DNA technology did not exist to determine if the blood matched Adams. Such technology now exists, but the carpet was "misplaced" while in the custody of Jacksonville Sheriff's Office. Investigators also neglected to lift blood from the machete, the Sun-Sentinel reported.
"If we had that technology at the time, we wouldn't be here today," Hollywood police chief Richard Witt told the newspaper. "Toole would have been arrested and successfully prosecuted, or he would have been eliminated as a suspect."
The documents showed Toole twice confessed to the murder and twice recanted. They show he had some detailed knowledge of the crime and refer to a possible witness who said he saw Toole kidnap Adam.
Toole has not been ruled out as a suspect, according to the files.
More than a dozen news organizations paid $235 each for the microfilmed set of documents. The released sets contain many omissions, which police attorneys said was the result of the department's desire to protect confidential information.
Walsh, who began a nationwide crusade to find missing children after Adam's loss, said Friday that the publication of the documents could make it impossible for police to solve the case.