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Ottis Toole
Toole's 1983 mugshot
Background information
Birth name: Ottis Elwood Toole
Born: Template:Birthdate
Jacksonville, Florida, U.S.
Died: September 15, 1996(1996-09-15) (aged 49)
Cause of death: liver failure
Sentence: Death, commuted to life in prison
Number of victims: at least three
Span of killings: ?–1983
Country: United States
State(s): Florida and Texas
Date apprehended: April 1983

Ottis Elwood Toole (March 5, 1947 – September 15, 1996), sometimes misspelled as Otis, was an American serial killer and arsonist. He was an accomplice of convicted serial killer Henry Lee Lucas. Toole admitted to multiple counts of murder, rape, and cannibalism, and was the suspect in several unsolved murders. He recanted and restated a number of confessions. Toole was convicted of three counts of murder, and confessed to four more murder charges before dying in prison. On December 16, 2008, police announced that they had identified Toole as the likely murderer of Adam Walsh, and closed the case as a result.[1]

Early life

Toole was born and raised in Jacksonville, Florida. Toole's mother was a religious fanatic; Toole later claimed that she abused him, including dressing him in girl's clothing and calling him Becky.[2] As a young child, Toole was a victim of incest at the hands of many close relatives, including his older sister and next door neighbor. His maternal grandmother was a satanist, who exposed him to various Satanic practices and rituals in his youth, including self-mutilation and graverobbing, and dubbed him "Devil's Child".[2]

He was often designated as suffering from mild mental retardation, with an I.Q. of 75.[2][3] It is believed, however, that his IQ was probably higher and that he had received such low scores due to suffering from various learning disabilities (including dyslexia and ADHD) and being illiterate. He also suffered from epilepsy, which resulted in frequent grand mal seizures. Throughout his childhood, he ran away from home often and often slept in abandoned houses. He was a serial arsonist from a young age and was sexually aroused by fire.[2]

In the documentary Death Diploma, Toole claimed he was forced to have sex with a friend of his father's when he was five years old. He felt he knew he was homosexual when he was 10, and claimed to have had a homosexual relationship with a neighbor boy when he was 12. Toole dropped out of school in the ninth grade and began visiting gay bars. He also claimed to have been a male prostitute as a teenager, and was known to dress in drag.[2] Toole claimed to have committed his first murder at the age of 14, when after being propositioned for sex by a traveling salesman, Toole ran over the salesman with his own car.[2] Toole was first arrested at the age of 17 in August 1964 for loitering.

Much information of Toole between 1966–1973 is unclear, but it is believed that he began drifting around the Southwestern United States and that he supported himself by prostitution and panhandling. While living in Nebraska, Toole was one of the prime suspects in the 1974 murder of 24-year-old Patricia Webb. Shortly after, he left Nebraska and briefly settled in Boulder, Colorado. One month later, he became a prime suspect in the murder of 31-year-old Ellen Holman, who was murdered on October 14, 1974. With many accusations against him, Toole left Boulder and headed back to Jacksonville.

In early 1975, Toole had returned to Jacksonville after drifting and hitch-hiking through the American South. On January 14, 1976, he married a woman 25 years his senior. She left him in just three days, after discovering her husband's homosexuality.[2]

Murders and imprisonment

File:Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole.jpg

Photograph of Lucas and Toole together.

In 1976, Toole met Henry Lee Lucas at a Jacksonville soup kitchen,[2] and they soon developed a sexual relationship.[4] Toole later claimed to have accompanied Lucas in 108 murders, sometimes at the behest of a cult called "The Hands of Death". Lucas later recanted his confessions, saying he made such statements only to improve his living conditions in jail.

In April 1983, Toole was arrested on an arson charge in Jacksonville, Florida. On October 21, he confessed to the 1981 murder of 6-year-old Adam Walsh.[5] A few weeks after Toole made the confession, however, police investigating the case announced that they no longer considered him a suspect. John Walsh, Adam's father, continued to maintain that he believed Toole to be guilty.[6] On December 16, 2008, Hollywood, Florida police announced Toole as the murderer, and the Adam Walsh case was closed. The police did not reveal any new physical evidence and pointed out that they still had no DNA evidence.[1][7]

On January 12, 1982, Toole locked 64-year-old George Sonnenberg in his own home and set the house alight, killing him. In April 1984, Toole was convicted and sentenced to death in Jacksonville, Florida for Sonnenberg's murder. Later that year, Toole was found guilty of the February 1983 murder of 19-year-old Ada Johnson, a Tallahassee, Florida, resident, and received a second death sentence; on appeal, however, both sentences were commuted to life in prison.

Experts at his trial had testified that Toole suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. While serving his sentence, Toole briefly stayed in the cell adjacent to serial killer Ted Bundy in Florida's Raiford Prison.[5] After incarceration, Toole pleaded guilty to four more murders in 1991 and received four more life sentences.

In 1984, Toole confessed to two unsolved Northwest Florida slayings, including one of the I-10 murders. During an interview, he admitted to killing 19-year-old David Schallart, a hitchhiker he picked up east of Pensacola, Florida. Schallart's body, bearing five gunshot wounds in the left side of the head, was found on February 6, 1980, approximately 125 feet off I-10's eastbound lane, five miles east of Chipley, Florida. The second confession involved the death of Ada Johnson. Toole confessed that he shot her in the head on a road outside of Fort Walton Beach, Florida after picking her up at a Tallahassee nightclub.[8]

On September 15, 1996, at the age of 49, Ottis Toole died in his prison cell from liver failure.[9] He was buried in a prison cemetery, as no one claimed his body.

Posthumous identification for the murder of Adam Walsh

Twenty-seven years after the murder of Adam Walsh, authorities officially named Ottis Toole as the likely killer.[1][10]

Hollywood, Florida Police Chief Chadwick Wagner said Ottis Toole had been the prime suspect all along, but went on to admit that although Toole's case was weak, he could have been charged during the original investigation.[10] Wagner acknowledged that many mistakes were made by the department and apologized to the Walsh family. Public critics of the indictment argue that lack of new (public) evidence, and the inability of the defendant to defend himself of the allegations, leaves no definitive claim to his guilt. To this Wagner has stated, "If you're looking for that magic wand, that one piece of evidence, it's not there." However, by reexamining previously uncorrelated evidence, police and the Walsh family are satisfied with the new report and existing evidence that points only to Ottis Toole.

In response to the naming of his son's alleged murderer, John Walsh stated, "We can now move forward knowing positively who killed our beautiful little boy."[11]

The decision was finally reached once Toole's niece told John Walsh that her uncle confessed on his deathbed in prison that he had murdered and decapitated Adam Walsh.[12][13]

Film depiction

A character based on Toole was portrayed by Tom Towles in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Almanzar, Yolanne (December 16, 2008). "Police Expected to Close Adam Walsh Case". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-12-16. "In October 1983, Mr. Toole told the police that he had abducted Adam from the mall and drove for about an hour to an isolated dirt road where he decapitated him. Investigators lifted bloodstained carpet from Mr. Toole’s white Cadillac. But DNA testing then was not as advanced as it now, and investigators could not tell if the blood was Adam’s."
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 Ramsland, Katherine. "Henry Lee Lucas, prolific serial killer or prolific liar?". Crime Library. Retrieved 2008-12-17.
  3. J. Doug Gill. "The Walsh's most wanted no more; portrait of a child killer (part one)". Retrieved 2010-07-12.
  4. "The Twisted Life of Serial Killer Ottis Elwood Toole". Fox News. December 16, 2008.,2933,468144,00.html. Retrieved 2008-12-17. "Toole met Lucas in 1978, and the two "joined forces as a homosexual crime team, criss-crossing the country from 1978-1983," according to America's Most Wanted, started by Adam Walsh's father John Walsh."
  5. 5.0 5.1 Rule, Ann (2000-09-28). The Stranger Beside Me. W. W. Norton. ISBN 0393050297.
  6. Did Dahmer Kill "Most Wanted" Host's Son? CBS February 8, 2007.
  7. Police: '81 murder of Adam Walsh solved, December 16, 2008.
  8. "Toole admits to 2 Panhandle killings." Playground Daily News, Fort Walton Beach, Florida, November 11, 1984, p. 1A.
  9. Otis Toole.
  10. 10.0 10.1 John Holland (December 17, 2008). "Adam Walsh case is closed after 27 years". Los Angeles Times.,0,4962413.story. "Police simply took another look at 27 years of evidence, psychic revelations, often-botched police work and Toole's chilling admissions and Hollywood Police Chief Chad Wagner said Ottis Toole had been the prime suspect all along."
  11. "Adam Walsh Murder Case Closed". America's Most Wanted. 2008-12-17. Retrieved 2009-09-29.
  12. "Ottis Toole on America's Most Wanted". America's Most Wanted. Retrieved 2008-12-16.
  13. "John Walsh's Tears of Rage tells the story of the Adam Walsh case". Washington Examiner. Retrieved 2008-12-16.

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