Toole's 1983 mugshot
|Birth name:||Ottis Elwood Toole|
|Born:||March 5, 1947
Jacksonville, Florida, U.S.
|Died:||September 15, 1996 (aged 49)
|Cause of death:||liver failure|
|Number of victims:||at least three|
|Span of killings:||? – 1983|
|State(s):||Florida and Texas|
|Date apprehended:||April 1983|
Ottis Elwood Toole (March 5, 1947 – September 15, 1996), sometimes misspelled Otis, was an American serial killer and arsonist. A sometime 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 would be closing the case as a result.
Born in Jacksonville, Florida, he was abandoned by his father at age seven. Toole's mother was a religious fanatic, and Toole later claimed that she abused him and dressed him in girl's clothing. As a young child, Toole suffered incest at the hands of many close relatives, including his mother and older sister. 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".
He was often designated as suffering from mild mental retardation, with an I.Q. of 75. 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 would often sleep in abandoned houses. He was a serial arsonist from a young age and was sexually aroused by fire.
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 boy neighbor when he was 12. During adolescence, 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. 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. 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 would support himself by prostitution and begging. 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 had married a woman 25 years his senior. However she left him in just three days, after discovering her husband's homosexuality.
In 1976, Toole met Henry Lee Lucas at a Jacksonville soup kitchen, and they soon developed a sexual relationship. Toole would later claim to have accompanied Lucas in 108 murders, sometimes at the behest of a secret cult called "The Hands of Death". Lucas would later recant his confessions, saying he made such statements only to improve his living conditions in jail. Some authorities have argued there is significant doubt as to Lucas' guilt.
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. 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. On December 16, 2008, Hollywood, Florida police announced Toole as the murderer, and that the Adam Walsh case would be closed. The police did not reveal any new physical evidence and pointed out that they still had no DNA evidence.
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 next to serial killer Ted Bundy in Florida's Raiford Prison. 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 that he killed David Schallart, 19, 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 Feb. 6, 1980, about 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 town after picking her up at a Tallahassee, Florida, nightspot.
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. 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."
A character based on Toole was portrayed by Tom Towles in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.