A TWO-BOOK SERIES
NEW! The latest on the Adam Walsh story, longform journalism on UPROXX:
"WHAT REALLY HAPPENED TO ADAM WALSH?"
The top of the story:
On July 27, 1981, six-year-old Adam Walsh vanished from a Hollywood, Florida shopping mall. His mother, Reve Walsh, left him unattended for several minutes, and when she returned, he was gone. Two weeks later,Adam's severed head was found in a canal, and to this day, the rest of his body has never been recovered. John Walsh, Adam's father, went on to champion unsolved crimes in his America's Most Wanted television program, using his son's loss as the impetus for his campaign. In 2008, Ottis Toole, a serial killer who died in 1996, was recognized as the man behind the grisly murder.
This is the story we know well, but, everything may not be what it seems. True-crime author Arthur Jay Harris has been following the Adam Walsh case almost since its inception, and he first challenged police's official statements when he posited that Jeffrey Dahmer, and not Toole, was the likely culprit for the crime. Harris' evidence included seven witnesses that saw Dahmer at the mall around the time of the disappearance, along with a police report that stated that the infamous killer was living and working a mere 20 minutes away from the Hollywood mall where Adam was abducted from.
Indeed, if you follow Harris' work with ABC and The Miami Herald, you too may come to the conclusion that police fingered the wrong man. But, that's not where Harris' story and investigation ends. As Harris posits in The Unsolved Murder of Adam Walsh, which has turned into a two-book series, Adam Walsh may not have been murdered after all.
What was your conclusion after years of research into the Adam Walsh murder?
After shaking out what police and the medical examiners, and yes, the Walsh family, and the news media have put out about this case, there is only one takeaway that remains true: Adam Walsh disappeared. Everything else you think you know about this case is either absolutely untrue or is so unlikely that it's essentially untrue.
In short, the evidence against Ottis Toole, who police blamed for Adam's murder, is between poor and none. Another police suspect, who they dismissed with little inquiry -- no less than Jeffrey Dahmer, who at the time was documented living no more than 20 minutes by vehicle from the mall, is a far more likely suspect. Dahmer: 11 severed heads. Adam: severed head. That and seven police witnesses who said they saw Dahmer at the mall at the time with or near Adam, plus Dahmer's access to the same type and color of van reported by mall witnesses as the getaway vehicle, and a comparison including Dahmer's mugshot to a police composite drawing from a stunningly similar attempted kidnapping of a child at a nearby location of the same chain store exactly two weeks earlier.
But I made most of that case years ago, and my evidence was widely reported. What's new in the case, and no less outrageous, is this: The dead child they said was Adam is overwhelmingly likely not him. And the only reason we could possibly know this is because when police closed the case investigation in 2008, 27 years after the murder, all the official agency case files finally became available, for the asking. Conclusive certainties in homicide cases are startlingly few and I don't leap to them. But this is certain: In the now nearly 35 years since the homicide, there never could have been a trial, and never will be a trial, against any defendant for the murder of Adam Walsh. That's not for lack of suspects; it's because the identification of the found child as Adam can never be proven in court...
ALSO READ BOOK TWO: FINDING THE VICTIM
OTHER TRUE CRIME BOOKS BY ARTHUR JAY HARRIS:
UNTIL PROVEN INNOCENT begins with a night 911 call from a woman gasping her last breaths. When police arrived at the house they found her dead, stabbed, and her husband, infant, and father-in-law all shot point-blank. They would survive.
Minutes later, a man also called 911, a gunman had released him from a robbery at the same house. He said he knew of no violence before he left. Yet he was the only one who the gunman hadn't tried to kill. Police instantly suspected him.
That night and long after, police tried to shake the man, Chuck Panoyan, who insisted he didn't know who the gunman was.
Police guessed right. A tip led them to the gunman, and that led to a trip Panoyan took to see him. Both were arrested, and prosecutor Brian Cavanagh won a death penalty indictment against them both.
But in pretrial, Panoyan's attorneys unraveled Cavanagh's case against their client. No longer certain Panoyan was guilty, Cavanagh reached No Man's Land: his choice was to let the jury sort it out, or admit he was wrong about Panoyan for now three years.
Cavanagh's dad Tom was a retired NYPD lieutenant who'd had a double murder he couldn't solve, then at another precinct a suspect confessed. Tom recognized it had been coerced and quietly asked his detectives if they could prove it wrong. When they did, the case became famous for police integrity. A TV movie renamed Tom's character: Kojak.
Years later, son Brian was at a similar turning point. Like his dad, he would not leave it to a jury to unscramble. He moved to release Chuck Panoyan from jail. But Panoyan had to tell his story: he'd lied to police because the gunman had threatened to kill his family if he spoke up. Once before, the gunman had killed a small child and went to prison.
Who was the only one could make Panoyan comfortable enough to talk? The old man, the real-life Kojak, Tom Cavanagh.
SPEED KILLS opens with the stunning daylight murder in 1980s Miami of boat builder, boat racer, and wealthy bon vivant Don Aronow. He invented, raced, built and sold Cigarette boats, the fastest thing on the water. Everyone who worshipped speed and could afford one, wanted one; his clients were royalty, U.S. presidents, CEOs, intelligence services, and--most of all, eventually--dope smugglers. Don took everyone's money and traveled between all those worlds.
You could also see it as Don playing all sides. When the Feds needed faster boats to keep up with the Cigarettes that Don sold to dopers, they came to him. It was sort of the same with his wife and girlfriend (and girlfriend and girlfriend).
How long could anybody get away with that? Confidence men are known as con men; Don wasn't that, but he was a supreme self-confidence man, that is, he was his own victim.
Finally he was cornered. Don's protégé in racing and boatbuilding was also the largest pot smuggler in America. The Feds needed Aronow to testify against him. For leverage, they apparently threatened Don with a tax evasion case. The quintessential free-spirit boat racer could go to prison--or he could risk the wrath of a major criminal organization.
Aronow made his decision. Days later, he was killed.
FLOWERS FOR MRS. LUSKIN begins with a flower delivery to the best house in the best part of Hollywood, Florida. Inside, Marie Luskin was cautious; her husband Paul used to send her flowers but those days had ended more than a year before when she filed for divorce. She thought it was safe to open the door just enough to accept the pot of azaleas.
She was wrong. The delivery was a ruse; the man pointed a gun at her and demanded her money and jewelry. When he left, she fell to the floor, bloodied, thinking he'd hit her with the gun.
Over 40 years, Paul's family had built a business called Luskin's from one store in Baltimore into a chain of consumer electronics stores in Florida. Coming of age, Paul was taking it over, to run. He'd already made his first million, and he and Marie were living a life their friends admired. But between them all was not well. Then Paul's high school girlfriend moved to town with her husband, and sparks rekindled. When Marie discovered it she threw Paul out of the house. For a moment it looked like they would reunite. She asked Paul to move back in at the end of the day after Thanksgiving, the biggest sale day of the year. But that was a ruse, too. That day at the store, her attorneys served him the divorce.
Marie's attorneys were aggressive. Accusing Paul's parents of shielding his assets, they asked the judge for everything he--and his parents--had. A year later, it looked like Marie would get it all.
The divorce was overwhelming and compound stress. Three times Marie had him arrested for not paying his very high support payments exactly on time; the judge had frozen his assets, and his dad had asked him to leave his high-paying job because he couldn't concentrate both on it and the divorce. Marie's attorneys wanted Paul's mom to testify for days about the business's finances, but because she had a blood clot that stress could loosen and become lethal, Paul's family asked them to lay off her. They refused. Not long after came the flower delivery.
The Feds indicted Paul for attempted murder-for-hire. They told the jury:
A Luskin's employee called his brother in Baltimore who was a mob guy, who got someone to come to Hollywood to kill Marie. Although she thought the gunman hit her with the gun, he really shot her--his bullet grazed her head. Paul was convicted and sentenced to prison for 35 years.
In prison, Paul married his high school girlfriend. To me, they protested so insistently that there was no murder-for-hire that it seemed something was truly wrong. I eventually found there had been a murder plot--but the real question was, who had asked the Luskin's employee to call his brother in Baltimore?
Testimony said "Mr. Luskin" ordered the murder; the prosecutor naturally assumed that meant Paul. But there was a better case that "Mr. Luskin" was Paul's dad. As a result of his son's divorce he lost his whole business, owed Marie $11 million he didn't have and was facing jail for contempt of court for not paying her, and so had to leave the country.
At the story's turning point, "Mr. Luskin" had to choose between two untenable outcomes: the death of the elder Mrs. Luskin or the younger. But prosecutors also were forced to make a tragic choice. Without certainty of which "Mr. Luskin" it was, did they choose the wrong one?
Arthur Jay Harris is the author of the investigative true crime books Speed Kills, Flowers for Mrs. Luskin, Until Proven Innocent, and the two-book series with a Single Edition, The Unsolved Murder of Adam Walsh, all stories that challenge the official findings by police and prosecutors. He lives in Florida.
For the Adam Walsh case, he has appeared on television many times: ABC Primetime; Anderson Cooper 360; Nancy Grace; Ashleigh Banfield; The Lineup; Inside Edition; Catherine Crier; Cold Blood, and on local TV in Miami and Milwaukee. He has also written stories on the case that have appeared in print in The Miami Herald, Broward-Palm Beach New Times, and Miami Daily Business Review.
In addition, Art has presented on television other crime stories he has investigated at length, including on the shows Snapped; City Confidential; Prison Diaries, Inside Edition, A Current Affair, and Hard Copy.
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