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The story is already part of contemporary lore, a wrenching lore to break our hearts: the disappearance of a six-year old boy named Adam on July 27, 1981; the discovery of his severed head 16 days later in a Florida drainage ditch; the inability of the legal system to pin the crime on anyone. Two TV movies have been produced on the ordeal of Adam's parents, John Walsh and his wife Reve. But only recently did Walsh--the no-nonsense host of the Fox TV show America's Most Wanted--decide to write down his own story. From its searing prologue through its frank re-creation of the lives undone by Adam's murder, Tears of Rage (Pocket Books; 318 pages; $24) astonishes the reader by turning a familiar tale into one full of fresh detail, undiminished pain and troubling revelation.

The book began as a record of Walsh's transformation from victim to crusader for a constitutional amendment on victim's rights. But as his co-author, PEOPLE senior writer Susan Schindehette, explored the documents on Adam's death, details emerged of a potential bungle by the Hollywood, Florida, police. To the surprise of Walsh, a loud champion of police work generally, the revelations were found in a 10,000-page case file that a judge had released to the media in 1996 against the wishes of the family. Walsh had feared it would hurt the investigation by publicizing information known only to the killer. The media found little worth writing about. But Walsh did.

He insists that the preponderance of evidence points to a drifter named Ottis Elwood Toole as his son's murderer. In one confession, Toole said he decapitated Adam with a machete and placed the head on the floor of his white Cadillac, which he then drove to a secluded spot off the Florida turnpike. He threw the head off a small bridge. Walsh asserts he even took police investigators to the location. Toole, however, stopped cooperating when, Walsh writes, the police became verbally abusive; he recanted. It might have been possible to run DNA tests to determine whether the blood in Toole's Cadillac was Adam's. But the carpet samples have disappeared. Police also mistakenly sold the car to a junkyard. And, while Toole was the prime suspect, Walsh says the police stubbornly focused attention on James Campbell, a family friend who had been involved in an affair with Reve. In 1988, Toole sent Walsh a letter from prison demanding $5,000 to talk about the location of Adam's body. Walsh immediately gave the letter to police. He has since discovered, he writes in Tears, that it was never forwarded to the district attorney.

Hollywood police chief Rick Stone, who says he has skimmed Walsh's book, maintains that his department never had the carpet samples to begin with because the car was impounded by another law-enforcement agency. Stone says there is no evidence to prove "beyond a reasonable doubt" that Toole murdered Adam. Both Toole and his close friend, convicted mass murderer Henry Lee Lucas, were notorious, he says, for confessing to crimes they didn't commit.

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