John Walsh is known to audiences for his time hosting America’s Most Wanted, where he helped capture hundreds of fugitives across the United States. He began the show to help fight crime after the kidnapping and murder of his own son Adam Walsh in 1981. Seven years after Adam’s murder, he began hosting the true crime reality program in 1988, and he remained the host until the show ended in 2012. Now, the show is returning with John, 78, in February 2024.
Before America’s Most Wanted returns with John, find out more about the case with Adam Walsh and how it led to John wanting to help others with his show.
What Happened to Adam Walsh?
Adam Walsh went missing on July 27, 1981. He was 6 years old, and his mom Revé left him alone in the toy section of a Sears store in Hollywood, per CBS News. Adam’s disappearance sparked a massive manhunt, but after a couple of weeks, the boy’s severed head was found in a drainage ditch in Indian River County. Unfortunately, the rest of his body was never located.
The Case Was Closed in 2008
Throughout the investigation, a number of different killers were suspected of Adam’s murder, including Jeffrey Dahmer. The main suspect throughout the investigation was serial killer Ottis Toole, who was eventually convicted on six counts of murder. In September 1996, he died at 49 of cirrhosis. He had confessed to Adam’s murder, but like many of his other murders, he later recanted his claims. The case never officially closed until 2008. The Hollywood Police Department ruled that Toole was the murderer, and the case was closed.
After the case was closed, John said that the family finally had a sense of closure into Adam’s death. “Who could take a 6-year-old and murder and decapitate him? Who?” he said in a press conference, via NBC News. “We needed to know. We needed to know. And today we know. The not knowing has been a torture, but that journey’s over.”
What Happened in the Aftermath of the Case?
Following Adam’s murder, John and Revé became dedicated advocates, looking to help other missing or exploited kids. The couple became the founders of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. “We wanted to make sure of one thing, that Adam didn’t die in vain,” they said in a statement on the NCMEC website. The organization still shares Adam’s share each year on the anniversary of his kidnapping.
John and his wife were key figures in leading Congress to pass laws, changing the ways that crimes against children were investigated. In 2006, they helped pass the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, which established a database of child sex offenders, increased penalties for crimes against kids, and provided funding to fight child exploitation on the internet, according to CBS News.
Following Adam’s death, John and Revé had three more children: Meghan, Callahan, and Hayden.
How Did the Case Lead to ‘America’s Most Wanted’?
After Adam’s murder, NBC released a made-for-TV movie about the search for him, simply titled Adam, in 1983. While actors portrayed John and Revé, the real-life John made an appearance at the end to share photos of other missing children.
In 1988, John created the America’s Most Wanted show to help other parents who were dealing with other similar situations to what he went through, according to Crime Museum. “I was approached about the show, but I had conditions for taking part: I wanted to run the hotline and staff it with real people, not cops. I refused to show the faces of any child victims on TV. There would be no salaciousness, and I wanted to choose the cases and work directly with the Marshals and FBI. I would pass the tips to the cops,” John wrote in a 2021 Newsweek op-ed. John claimed that the show has played a part in over 1,000 arrests.