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November 10 , 2017

The Unsolved "Murder" of Adam Walsh - Book Two: Finding The Victim

The body identified as Adam Walsh is not him. Is Adam still alive?
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            The 1981 murder of 6-year-old Adam Walsh, son of John Walsh, is one of the most shocking crime stories of the era. But why has there never been a “Trial of the Century” for it? Not for lack of suspects…

            In fact, it’s never been clearly established that the child who was found and officially identified as Adam – was really him.

            After twenty years of following the case, including a deep investigation into the now-public record files of the police in Hollywood, Florida, and the Broward County Medical Examiner’s Office, investigative author Arthur Jay Harris now has the definitive proof:

            All of the essential evidence and documentation, regularly collected and kept in every other case involving a found and initially unidentified body, which would forensically prove an identification – is stunningly missing from the files of the Adam Walsh case.

            A report of an investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement confirms it: It’s not there.

            What is missing includes:

            There is no signed autopsy report, although an autopsy was performed; there are no photos of the autopsy; there is no forensic dental report, although the identification was made only by teeth; and there are no X-rays of the teeth of the found child, nor of Adam, from his dentist.

            As a prominent Miami forensic dentist told Harris, and other forensic dentists said as well, without a dental X-ray comparison he wouldn’t be able to testify in court affirming the ID. That is how you make dental IDs, he said.

            And without a clear identification of the victim as Adam Walsh, a murder case against any defendant would fail.

            Why is all this evidence missing? Why is this case different from all other similar cases? Does this explain why the murder case of Adam Walsh has never come to trial – and never will?

            Someone got away with the most heinous of murders – and you might think, did more, afterwards. But was the child in fact Adam Walsh?

            Adam was missing two weeks when a child’s brutally severed head was found in a remote roadside canal 125 miles away from the Hollywood shopping mall where Adam’s mother said she’d left him alone in the toy department for just five minutes. None of the rest of the body was ever found. That child was quickly identified as Adam. The Walsh parents were not present at the morgue.

            But as Harris shows with photo comparisons, including public record police photos, it is very unlikely that the found child is actually Adam.

            The child is much more likely some other child, never properly identified, its parents never told.

            In a close-up of his famous “Missing” photo, Adam clearly and endearingly has neither top front tooth. John Walsh, in his book Tears of Rage, wrote that the photo was taken about a week before he disappeared. Adam’s best friend said he last saw him a week or two before he disappeared and he still had neither top front tooth. Adam was gone two weeks when the child was found; the medical examiner who did the autopsy told the newspapers he thought the child may have been dead for all of that time.

            But a police photo of the found child clearly shows a buck tooth – a top left adult central incisor. It was in “almost all the way,” said a forensic anthropologist who for police took his own photos of the found child’s skull.

            Could a child have grown in a top front tooth in anywhere close to only that little amount of time? Pediatric dentists say no.

            There is much, much more to the likely misidentification – and the police’s closing of the case on a likely wrong suspect. Harris has already presented much of the earlier part of the story on ABC Primetime, in The Miami Herald, and elsewhere.

            Now, read the full story that’s been kept from public view until now, here.


            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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