TODAY   |  March 05, 2011

'America's Most Wanted' host: 'It's about justice'

John Walsh, host of "America's Most Wanted," and his wife, Reve, talk to TODAY's Lester Holt about how they finally got closure and got justice for the 1981 abduction and murder of their 6-year-old son, Adam Walsh.

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

LESTER HOLT, co-host: Now to a murder case that traumatized the country and turned devastated parents into crusaders for missing children . And now a new book reveals some surprising pieces of evidence that finally helped solve the murder of six-year-old Adam Walsh . Adam 's parents, John and Reve Walsh , will join us in a moment to discuss the details, but first, how this tragedy unfolded. It was a parent's unimaginable horror.

Mr. JOHN WALSH (Father of Adam Walsh): These people are keeping Reve and I going. Everyone knows Adam 's alive, and it's just a matter of finding him.

HOLT: Six-year-old Adam Walsh disappeared from a Sears department store in the summer of 1981 , and the case took a horrific turn. Two weeks after he was kidnapped, the little boy's head was discovered in a Florida canal .

Mr. WALSH: I don't know who would do this to a six-year-old child. I can't conceive of it.

HOLT: Ottis Toole , a serial killer, was the prime suspect . The convicted murderer even confessed to the gruesome crime, but he was never charged with the murder . Adam 's parents, John and Reve Walsh , went on to become advocates for children and violent crime victims. And John 's long-running TV series helped to solve many cases. But Adam 's case remained wide open . In 2006 the Walshes asked Joe Matthews , a retired homicide detective and family friend, to conduct an independent investigation. Evidence was pieced together, and police officially closed the case in 2008 . Ottis Toole , who had died in prison years earlier, was named Adam Walsh 's killer.

Unidentified Man: In three decades, Ottis Toole has been the suspect. From confessions to sightings, the witness interviews, it's all there.

HOLT: It was a moment John and Reve Walsh had long awaited. Ms. REVE ' [shown on screen] WALSH ( Mother of Adam Walsh ): There's no words that can tell you how I feel.

Mr. WALSH: It's about justice. And for all the other

victims who haven't gotten justice, I say one thing: Don't give up hope. Don't give up hope.

HOLT: John and Reve Walsh are with us, along with Matthews , who writes about

how he solved the case in the new book "Bringing Adam Home: The Abduction That Changed America." And good morning to all of you. Thanks much for being with us.

Ms. WALSH: Good morning.

HOLT: Twenty-seven years -- why so long to finally go back and take another look?

Mr. WALSH: Well, we never gave up looking, Lester . Many different police agencies outside of the Hollywood , Florida , police department were critical of the way the case was handled.

HOLT: Because there was a suspect, a guy named Ottis Toole .

Mr. WALSH: Right.

HOLT: Reve , did you think he was the guy?

Ms. WALSH: There were so many different random leads coming in back when this was going on, and that was just one of them.

HOLT: Because this was -- this was a guy who said, 'I did it.' He confessed...

Ms. WALSH: Yeah, yeah.

HOLT: ...and then he'd recant and then he'd confess again.

Ms. WALSH: Yeah, yeah. And I did feel heavy, you know, to that side that he could have been a likely suspect. But I never really had the closure that I needed. I just -- there was always -- I always had bits and pieces of the case. You know, the guys back in '81 wanted to protect, you know, me from hearing the bad things, and I said, no, I have to know. I really have to know. And I felt resentment that John was solving everyone else's case...

HOLT: Right.

Ms. WALSH: ...and I -- and I really, really got adamant about it.

HOLT: You wanted your own case.

Ms. WALSH: And...

HOLT: So Joe gets in the case, you pick up with what's left, and you find stuff that the original investigators didn't find, correct? Detective Sergeant JOE MATTHEWS (Author, "Bringing Adam Home: The Abduction That Changed America"): Yeah, they overlooked it and...

HOLT: Again, so Otis Toole .

Det. Sgt. MATTHEWS: Ottis Toole . Ottis Toole .

HOLT: Ottis Toole , sorry.

Det. Sgt. MATTHEWS: I reviewed 10,000 pages of reports, I interviewed hundreds of people. I found evidence that had never been identified before. Never been...

HOLT: Like what?

Det. Sgt. MATTHEWS: Well, the most compelling was -- there was crime scene photos that were taken by Florida Department of Law enforcement of the suspect vehicle. And the vehicle was long missing, the carpeting was long missing, but these photos had never been developed. And when I was -- asked for them they said they didn't exist. And I researched it myself. FDLE had them and they developed it, and that was the most compelling evidence.

HOLT: Ottis Toole died in, what, 1996 ?

Det. Sgt. MATTHEWS: '96.

HOLT: If this case went to trial with the evidence you've uncovered, do you think it would be a slam dunk conviction?:

Det. Sgt. MATTHEWS: I think he would be arrested, convicted and probably sentenced to death.

HOLT: All right. Well, John , let me turn to you. Knowing what you know now, you obviously feel this was the guy and that this would be a slam dunk case.

Mr. WALSH: Mm-hmm.

HOLT: Does it change anything emotionally for you?

Mr. WALSH: It does. It ends that terrible chapter of our life. I always say it's not about closure -- there's no such thing. We'll always be the parents of a hurt child.

HOLT: The word is overused, isn't it?

Mr. WALSH: It's about justice.

HOLT: Yeah.

Mr. WALSH: It's way overused. There is no closure. It still hurts and tears apart our heart.

HOLT: But this book does indict the Hollywood police in the way they handled the case, that they had a guy who had -- who was admitting it and the...

Mr. WALSH: The police back in those days...

HOLT: Yeah.

Mr. WALSH: ...the mistakes that were made. There was no DNA , and, yes, there -- we always thought some people are cover -- CYA -- cover your ass attitude. You know, we'll be criticized, but Chad Wagner was the chief who said -- he looked me right in the eye and he said, 'We owe it to you. You've changed the way police do business in this country. You've changed the way we look at missing and exploited children. Let's throw -- let's open the case. Let's throw out all the previous assumptions. Let's look at it with fresh eyes, and, yes, I'll work with Joe Matthews .' And he had the guts to man up and said -- and went to the state attorney's office and said, 'This case is closed. We would have indicted and convicted Adam Toole -- or Ottis Toole for Adam Walsh 's murder .' And I thought, this will give hope to victims all over the country and cops the impetus to -- if you made a mistake, man up, take a look at the cases, open them. If you hit a wall, if it's a cold case , don't be afraid to go back. Don't be afraid of the criticism. The victims wait -- and I always say, justice delayed is not justice denied .

HOLT: Fresh eyes. Fresh eyes. Joe and John and Reve , thanks so much, all of you, for being here.

Ms. WALSH: Thank you, Lester .

HOLT: We do appreciate...