The first reports of Jeffrey Dahmer's cannibal crimes in Wisconsin made gruesome headlines around the world: severed heads and human hearts found in his refrigerator, skulls stacked in his closet, Polaroid photos of the dismemberment process.
"It was more like dismantling someone’s museum than an actual crime scene, the chief medical examiner on the case later said of the discovery.
That was late July of 1991. By then, Willis Morgan had been working in the pressroom office of the Miami Herald for 20 years. In his new book, he describes the chilling moment he first spotted Dahmer's mugshot in the paper. He recognized Dahmer immediately, he said.
"This is him! This is the guy I saw in the mall!" Morgan recalls saying out loud in the book, called Frustrated Witness.
Dahmer was found guilty of 16 murders committed in Wisconsin and Ohio. But for Morgan, that chilling moment in the Herald newsroom set off a decades-long effort to pin one more crime on Dahmer—a crime that happens to be one of the most high-profile murders of the last 50 years. His findings won't prove anything definitively, but the questions they raise are far more credible than your typical serial killer conspiracy theory.
Ten years earlier, in 1981, Morgan was in the same store as 6-year-old Adam Walsh when he disappeared from a Florida mall. Shortly after his disappearance, Walsh's decapitated head was found in a wooded area off a main highway. It ultimately became one of the most notorious unsolved murder cases in U.S. history, memorialized in pop culture by Adam's father John Walsh, who became the host of hit TV show America's Most Wanted; a career spurred by the tragedy. The rest of Adam's body was never recovered.
Reading about Dahmer's arrest in Wisconsin, Morgan was immediately convinced he could connect the killer to the Walsh case in Florida.
"The article said nothing about [Dahmer] being in South Florida, yet I knew he had been," he wrote. "The article said nothing about a connection with Adam Walsh, yet I knew he had one."
But after he and other witnesses came forward about seeing a suspicious man they later believed to be Dahmer at the scene, Morgan claims police dropped the ball in the case, neglecting to take their accounts seriously.
So he gave up. "In 1992 I gave up trying to convince people," he told Fusion. "I had called every newspaper, every TV station, anyone who would listen, and told them the story. And the one reporter who actually listened to me called me back and said 'The police department has eliminated Jeffrey Dahmer as a suspect.'"
"Are they gonna listen to me, or the police department? Obviously not me," he said.
The case was closed in 2008, when police pinned the murder on a dead man and nearly 8,000 files related to the case became public. "I knew what I had to do," Morgan said.
Frustrated Witness is the account of Morgan's renewed search for justice. The self-published book, unpolished as it is, nevertheless makes a sharp case for what, in his opinion, went wrong with the case. In his mind, Jeffrey Dahmer was the culprit all along.
At the time that Walsh went missing, Dahmer was living a short drive away in Miami Beach, where he worked at a sub shop for a few months before leaving to Ohio. Dahmer had access to a blue delivery van that was similar to the one that was seen leaving the mall after Walsh's kidnapping, according to Morgan's reporting.
Other people had a similar reaction to seeing Dahmer’s mugshot. A Tennessee man who happened to be in the Florida mall on the afternoon of Walsh’s kidnapping contacted the FBI after seeing the mugshot, claiming he saw “a man who looked just like Dahmer propositioning young males” on the scene, according to FBI files that Morgan has released on his website and which are quoted in the text. “His behavior was strange and [the witness] remembers him because of his actions. He also described him as a cold eyed, disturbed-type person,” the FBI file continues.
A week before the kidnapping, a man attempted to abduct a boy in another nearby mall. The attempted crime was almost identical to that of Walsh’s disappearance: an older man propositioning a young boy in a toy store at a Florida mall. Mother Ginger Keaton didn’t report the incident to police until after Walsh’s case happened, saying the man scared her, and she “just wanted to get out of there.”
The suspect composite a sketch artist took from that incident, using both the mother and son’s descriptions, is strikingly similar to a mug shot that was taken of Dahmer the following year in Wisconsin, when he was arrested on a charge of disorderly conduct.
Morgan is not totally alone in pushing this theory.
Previous reporters have contacted people who claim to have seen Dahmer at the exact time and place of Walsh’s abduction. In a 2010 article, the Palm Beach Post spoke to a mother who was there that morning. “Once I saw the picture of Dahmer, I said, ‘That’s him,’” she told the paper. In 2007, a Milwaukee television station ran a story titled “Did Dahmer have another victim?” The segment featured a 1992 letter from father John Walsh, admitting that he was interested in the angle.
“Many people have forgotten that Jeffrey Dahmer started out as a pedophile, kidnapper, and torturer of young boys…. He certainly fits the profile of someone who might be capable of murdering a beautiful 6-year-old boy,” John Walsh wrote.
Still, this 337-page book (plus an appendix) is likely the most comprehensive look the world will get of Dahmer’s supposed connections to the case, which brought about various pieces of national legislation on missing children and sexual predators in its wake.
For example, a transcript of an interview between Florida law enforcement and Dahmer is included, purporting to show a lack of vigor in the police's line of questioning. The investigator appears to lob softball questions at Dahmer, who seems more interested in the muffins that are being offered to him than the investigation. An excerpt of the interview coming to a close:
Dahmer: Ok, thanks for the muffins…
Detective: And I appreciate your candidness with us, and, uh… just to reiterate my main purpose of coming here for, you know, the investigation of Adam Walsh, and [for you to] go on the record of saying you had nothing to do with it.
Dahmer: Nothing to do with it.
Detective: That murder or kidnapping.
Dahmer: I heard it on the new but I had nothing to do with it, no.
Detective: And if you did have anything to do with it, you would… [Dahmer reaches for another muffin]. You want another one? You would admit to it.
Dahmer: Uh… right. Yeah. Uh, yea. I guess I will take one more
Detective: Susan will be happy that you liked her muffins… [INTERVIEW CONCLUDED]
The shallow case against Otis Toole, on whom the kidnapping and murder was pinned two years after he died, is given close attention.
Toole had been convicted of several arsons in the Jacksonville area, one of which resulted in the death of a 64-year-old. He was serving a death penalty for the homicide, which later got reduced to a life sentence. The morning after a TV movie about the Walsh case first broadcast in 1983, Toole contacted investigators, saying he wanted to talk about something.
He told Hollywood police that he and his friend Henry Lee Lucus had driven down to South Florida in a Cadillac, snatched Adam, and used a bayonet to cut off his head before dumping his body. When investigators brought him out of prison to help locate the body, he was unable to do so. He later changed his story twice more, saying he fed it to alligators and finally that he cremated it.
It later emerged that his friend Lucus was locked up in a Maryland jail at the time the crime was committed. Most documentary evidence pointed at Toole being in Jacksonville at the time, where he had arrived by bus from Virginia, two days before the abduction. In memos published in the book, detectives worried that Toole would confess to anything, so long as it got him out of jail, got him some good food and cigarettes. Finally, he told investigators in 1984 that he didn’t do it.
Police didn’t feel like they had enough evidence to indict him for the murder, and the case remained technically open until 2008, two years after Toole died in prison, when police officially pinned him for the crime. When news broke that the case was closed, some, including Morgan, questioned the department’s motives, since no new evidence was presented.
The title of the book, Frustrated Witness, stems from Morgan’s claims that he repeatedly approached Hollywood police about the alleged Dahmer connection, but that it was never given serious consideration. After investigators had stacked so much credibility and resources into Toole’s recanted confessions and other thoeries, he claims, they simply didn’t want to entertain another suspect.
An obvious air of bitterness surrounds the descriptions of the detectives who worked the case (“arrogant,” “buffoons”), and at times the first-person tangents are a bit too much (“This was as close a date as I was going to get with her. Then, I had to remind myself why I was there,” he says at one point about sharing his story with a TV anchor). Morgan might have worked for decades in the Miami Herald, but it is obvious that he didn’t have an editorial position at the paper.
Regardless, as a piece of reporting on the Walsh case, one of the nation’s most disturbing crimes, the book raises valid questions about how it was handled. Timelines are lined up in the appendix. Major claims are cited. Original files from the FBI, state attorney’s office, and police department are clipped in their entirety. Thousands of documents involved in the text’s research are available on the website, and the reader is directed to their exact locations. "It's an interactive book," said Morgan.
Watch: John Walsh's emotional reaction to the closing of the Adam Walsh murder case.
When the case was closed, John Walsh and his wife Reve issued a statement thanking all police departments involved, adding that “We can now move forward knowing positively who killed our beautiful young boy.”
Only two years earlier, though, Walsh issued a statement that was critical of those same departments, after some new Dahmer leads came to light, and he learned that police had not taken the leads as seriously as he would have liked.
“That’s a bitter pill for me to swallow. [As] someone who’s a big supporter of law enforcement, that the law enforcement agency investigating my son’s murder would… not interview the people that they had important information about the case, it’s a tough thing,” he commented, according to Morgan.
In 2015, Morgan says he has still yet to be properly interviewed by authorities. Now, he hopes the book will do the talking.
Daniel Rivero is a producer/reporter for Fusion who focuses on police and justice issues. He also skateboards, does a bunch of arts related things on his off time, and likes Cuban coffee.