ⓘ John Walsh (television host)


ⓘ John Walsh (television host)

John Edward Walsh Jr. is an American television personality, criminal investigator, human rights and victim rights advocate, and the host/creator of Americas Most Wanted. Walsh is known for his anti-crime activism, with which he became involved following the murder of his son Adam in 1981; in 2008, the late serial killer Ottis Toole was officially named as the killer of Walshs son. Walsh was part-owner of the now-defunct Museum of Crime & Punishment in Washington, D.C. He also anchors an investigative documentary series, The Hunt with John Walsh, which debuted on CNN in 2014.


1. Early life

Walsh was born in Auburn, New York, one of four children born to John E. Walsh, Sr. and Jean Walsh. He graduated from Auburns Our Lady of Mount Carmel High School in 1963 and married Reve Drew in 1971. He attended the University at Buffalo, from which he graduated in 1973 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in history. After college, the Walshes settled in South Florida, where John Walsh became involved in building high-end luxury hotels.


2. Murder of Adam Walsh

In the summer of 1981, Walsh was an official with Paradise Island Hotel and Casino in The Bahamas, and worked in Hollywood, Florida. He and his wife, Reve, had a six-year-old son, Adam. On July 27, 1981, Adam was abducted from a Sears department store at the then-named Hollywood Mall, across from the Hollywood Police station. Reve had left Adam in the toy department at a model video game console at the Sears while she looked for a lamp. When she returned several minutes later, Adam was missing. Police records in Adams case, released in 1996, show that a 17-year-old security guard instructed four boys to leave the department store. Adam has been thought to be one of them. Sixteen days after the abduction, his severed head was found in a drainage canal 120 miles 190 km away from his home. The rest of his body was never found.

Many names had been mentioned in connection to the case since the murder, but detectives kept returning to that of serial killer Ottis Toole. John Walsh had long said he believed that Toole, a drifter, was responsible for the crime, saying investigators found a pair of green shorts and a sandal similar to what Adam was wearing at Tooles home in Jacksonville, Florida. In January 2007, deceased serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer fell under suspicion for the murder of Adam. This speculation was discounted by Walsh in an Americas Most Wanted statement on February 6, 2007.

Toole, the prime suspect in Adams abduction and murder, died in prison in 1996 while serving a life sentence for other crimes. The Hollywood Police Department officially identified him as Adams killer on December 16, 2008, and the case was considered closed. Over the years, Toole had twice confessed to the killing, but both times he later recanted his admissions. In addition to the Walsh murder, Toole had claimed responsibility for hundreds of other murders, but police determined that most of these confessions were lies.


2.1. Murder of Adam Walsh Aftermath

Following the crime, the Walsh family founded the Adam Walsh Child Resource Center, a non-profit organization dedicated to legislative reform. The centers, originally located in West Palm Beach, Florida; Columbia, South Carolina; Orange County, California; and Rochester, New York; merged with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children NCMEC, where John Walsh serves on the board of directors.

The Walsh family organized a political campaign to help missing and exploited children. Despite bureaucratic and legislative problems, Johns and Reves efforts eventually led to the creation of the Missing Children Act of 1982 and the Missing Childrens Assistance Act of 1984.

Today, Walsh continues to testify before Congress and state legislatures on crime, missing children and victims rights issues. His latest efforts include lobbying for a Constitutional amendment for victims rights.

The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act Pub.L. 109–248 was signed into law by U.S. President George W. Bush on July 27, 2006, following a two-year journey through the United States Congress. It was intensely lobbied for by Walsh and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Primarily, it focuses on a national sex offender registry, tough penalties for failing to register as a sex offender following release from prison, and civilian access to state websites that track sex offenders. Critics argue that the system amounts to making offenders wear a lifelong "Scarlet Letter," regardless of the circumstances of their cases.

By the late 1990s, many malls, department stores, supermarkets, and other such retailers have adopted what is known as a "Code Adam," a movement first started by Walmart stores in the southeastern United States. A "Code Adam" is announced when a child is missing in a store or if a child is found by a store employee or customer. If the child is lost or missing, all doors will be locked and a store employee is posted at every exit, while a description of the child is generally broadcast over the intercom system. "Code Adam" as a term has become synonymous with a missing child, and is a predecessor to an "Amber Alert", which serves as a system of broadcast-driven community notification.


3. Career in television

John and Reve Walsh were portrayed by actors Daniel J. Travanti and JoBeth Williams in Adam, a 1983 NBC television film dramatizing the days following Adams disappearance. The real Walshes appeared at the end of the broadcast to publicize photographs of other children who had vanished but were still missing. Later, a sequel called Adam: His Song Continues was produced and aired.

After securing a deal with Fox, Walsh launched Americas Most Wanted in 1988. By that time, Walsh was already well known because of the murder of his son and his subsequent actions to help missing and exploited children. Americas Most Wanted was the longest-running crime reality show in Foxs history and contributed to the capture of more than 1.000 fugitives. Fox canceled the series in June 2011, but aired four specials during the 2011-12 season. On December 2, 2011, the series returned as a regular weekly first-run series on Lifetime. The last episode aired on October 12, 2012; five months later, in March 2013, Lifetime officially canceled the series.

Walsh also hosted his own daytime talk show, The John Walsh Show, which aired in syndication mostly on NBC-owned and affiliated stations, as NBC produced the series from 2002 to 2004. However, since Americas Most Wanted was still on the air at the time, he found it difficult to host both shows at the same time, so he asked then-NBC Entertainment president Jeff Zucker to release him from his contract. Zucker granted his request and cancelled The John Walsh Show.

In 2003, John Walsh assisted in solving the Kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart on an episode of Americas Most Wanted, where Ed Smart showed the picture of Brian David Mitchells "Emmanuel" appearance. Mitchells stepchildren saw the episode, identified him, and called the show. This led to the rescue of Elizabeth Smart and the arrests of Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Ilene Barzee. After Elizabeth Smart was reunited with her family, Walsh later met Elizabeth after her family invited him to meet her and mentioned his hand in finding her.

In July 2005, Walsh attempted to assist the family of missing teen Natalee Holloway. Walsh was critical of the Aruban crime investigation and, along with television personality Dr. Phil McGraw, urged Americans to boycott Aruba. Walsh was a special guest on an episode of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition that aired on August 14, 2005. The episode visited the home of Colleen Nick, who is the parent of Morgan Nick, a six-year-old girl who has been missing since 1995. Walsh has featured the Morgan Nick case on Americas Most Wanted several times.

Walshs life story was featured on The E! True Hollywood Story and Biography.

Walsh was later the host of The Hunt with John Walsh, a successor to AMW, which debuted on July 13, 2014 on CNN. The Hunt was in turn succeeded by In Pursuit with John Walsh, which premiered in January 2019 on Investigation Discovery.

Walsh is also the spokesperson for the American digital multicast network Justice Network.


4. Family

After the murder of Adam, the Walshes had three more children: Meghan born 1982, Callahan born 1985, and Hayden born 1994.

Meghan was born a year after Adam was murdered. Reve Walsh told local newspapers at the time that "there is no substitute for Adam." She also said, "Meghan will make me miss Adam more. He always wanted a sister." Meghan is a singer, artist, and fashion designer, and resides in Vero Beach with her daughter Eva.

Hayden and Callahan sometimes accompany their father when filming TV shows, including Americas Most Wanted. Callahan is now filming with his father on In Pursuit With John Walsh. The show tells the stories of victims and their families looking for justice for their murdered loved ones. On the show of July 27, 2006 of Larry King Live, Larry King said that Hayden resembled Adam.


5. Tributes

On August 15, 2006, John Walshs hometown of Auburn, New York, named a street after him.

In October 2008, John Walsh was awarded the Operation Kids 2008 Lifetime Achievement Award for his dedication to protecting children and to raise funds for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which Walsh co-founded with his wife.


6. Controversy

John Walsh generated a great deal of controversy during a summer press tour in 2006 when he stated to the media he had jokingly told senators to implant "exploding" chips in the anuses of sex offenders. He stated, "I said implant it in their anus and if they go outside the radius, explode it, that would send a big message." Walsh stated this was a "joke", but that "nobody thought it was funny." Walsh later suggested implanting GPS chips in such criminals.

John Walsh also faced criticism when he advised women to never hire a male babysitter, which was seen as a blatantly sexist remark. "Its not a witch hunt," he said. "Its all about minimizing risks. What dog is more likely to bite and hurt you? A Doberman, not a poodle. Whos more likely to molest a child? A male."

In his book Tears of Rage, Walsh openly admits being in a relationship with 16-year-old Reve when Walsh was in his early 20s and aware of the age of consent being 17 in New York. Critics of the Adam Walsh Act have pointed out that, had he been convicted, Walsh himself would have been subject to sex offender registration under the law which he aggressively promoted.

Some critics accuse Walsh of creating predator panic by using his publicity. Walsh was heard by Congress on February 2, 1983, where he gave an unsourced claim of 50.000 abducted and 1.5 million missing children annually. He testified that the U.S. is "littered with mutilated, decapitated, raped, strangled children," when in fact, a 1999 Department of Justice study found only 115 incidences of stereotypical kidnappings perpetrated by strangers, about 50 of which resulted in death or the child not being found. Critics claim that the Adam Walsh Child Resource Center, which started without funding in 1981, generated 1.5 million dollars annually following his testimony before the Congress. In fiscal year ending 2015, Walshs private charity, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, received income from the following sources:

  • Contributions, Gifts & Grants $7.810.614
  • Federated Campaigns $157.239
  • Fundraising Events $2.257.837
  • Government Grants $31.886.730

for a total of $42.112.420. Compensation of the CEO, John Ryan, was $442.924 or 1.05% of expenses.