Ottis Elwood Toole was a self-confessed serial killer and cannibal who admitted to many murders and was the suspect in many more unsolved murders, some of which he supposedly committed with his friend Henry Lee Lucas. Toole was convicted of murder twice and confessed to four more murders, for which he was convicted by a court of law.
Toole twice confessed to the killing of six-year-old Adam Walsh, the son of John Walsh, the creator and host of the television program America’s Most Wanted. Although never proven, Walsh believed that Toole was the murderer of his son. On December 16, 2008, the Hollywood Police Department officially ended its investigation into the Adam Walsh slaying by declaring Ottis Toole likely was the killer.
Ottis Toole was born on March 5, 1947 in Jacksonville, Florida into a broken home. His father ran away when he was a child; his mother was a religious fanatic, and his grandmother was a satanist. While his sister dressed the young boy in girl’s clothes to play with him, Toole’s satanic granny allegedly involved him in various occult practices, including robbing graves for body parts to be used in her fiendish rituals.
Grandma dubbed young Ottis “the devil’s child,” an epithet he would live up to while still in his teens. Understandably, the young Toole repeatedly ran away from home.
Toole claimed to have begun his career as an amateur arsonist, beginning with the burning of abandoned homes, while still a youngster. He allegedly claimed his first murder victim at the age of 14, when he killed a traveling salesman who propositioned him for sex by running over him with his own car after they had trysted in the woods. The murder has never been verified.
In 1964, the 17-year-old Toole was arrested for the first time, on a charge of loitering. At various times in his life, Toole had his I.Q. measured at between 54 and 77, the high end of which is considered border-line retarded. However, his low I.Q. score might be the result of his being virtually illiterate and dyslexic.
No charmer, Toole did manage to get himself married for a short-time in 1967, but his wife left him in a huff after realizing he was homosexual. A drifter, Toole would support himself as a male prostitute, often dressing up in women’s clothes to entice johns.
Fatefully, Toole met the one-eyed bisexual Henry Lee Lucas in a Florida soup kitchen in late 1976, when he was 29 years old and Lucas was 40. The two hit it off, becoming lovers and boon traveling companions; whether they actually were serial killers together is still clouded in mystery, though it likely is true.
Two For The Road
In 1978, Ottis Toole and Henry Lee Lucas moved in with Toole’s mother and sister in Jacksonville. Lucas fell in love with Toole’s 10-year old female cousin, Frieda “Becky” Powell, whom he eventually adopted and lived with as husband and wife. But that lay in the future. Toole and Lucas went to work for a local roofing company, but they often missed work as they frequently went back on the road, two men born to ramble, spreading their version of hell along the highways and by-ways of America.
After Lucas had been arrested, he implicated Toole, who was serving time on a Florida arson charge, in mass murder. Toole then offered confessions of his own. By October 1983, police were sure that Toole and Lucas had committed at least 69 killings, which they announced at a press conference. The number was increased to 81 at a January 1984 press conference, and by March 1985, 90 murders had been attributed to Lucas in 20 states, and he and Toole were credited with a further 108 killings. Police would eventually claim over 200 murders were solved due to Lucas’ confessions, as Lucas was taken to various states and had his memory prodded about unsolved killings.
Toole, now on Florida’s Death Row for murder, corroborated much of Lucas’ confession, including his claims to have committed hundreds of murders, singly and as a duo.
Adam Walsh Slaying
In 1983, Ottis Toole claimed to have committed the 1981 abduction and murder of six-year-old Adam Walsh. Since he knew the store from whence the child was kidnapped, a fact that had been withheld from the public, and had claimed to have injured Adam in a way consistent with the physical evidence, Adam’s father, John Walsh, believes to this day that Toole was the culprit.
The negligence of the Hollywood, Florida Police Department, which impounded Toole’s car but lost the blood-stained carpeting that could have provided a forensic link to the murder, stymied any attempt to positively attributed the heinous murder to Toole. Cruelly, the cold-hearted Toole offered to take John Walsh to the body of his dead son for a fee, but was turned down.
Ottis Toole later recanted this confession, as he did a subsequent confession. However, Henry Lee Lucas insisted that Toole had killed the boy.
John Walsh became a crusader for victim’s rights and the host of the TV program America’s Most Wanted after the tragic loss of his son.
The Devil’s Child
In April 1984, Ottis Toole was convicted of murder for a 1982 arson incident in his hometown of Jacksonville, Florida that resulted in the death of an elderly man. He was sentenced to death, and received a second conviction and death sentence later that year for the 1983 murder of a 19-year-old girl from Tallahassee, Florida. Both death sentences were reduced to life in prison on appeal.
In 1991, Toole pleaded guilty to four more murders and received four more life sentences.
Many officials who doubt the veracity of Henry Lee Lucas’ confessions believed that Ottis Toole was a genuine serial killer, and a cannibal. In November 1983, police taped a jail-house telephone call between the two while Lucas was in the midst of his confession spree. Neither had seen or spoken to the other for more than half a year, making it impossible for them to fabricate a joint story congruent with their confessions for the purpose of fooling the authorities.
Ottis Elwood Toole died of cirrhosis of the liver, in prison, in September 15, 1996.