A Century of Murder, Mayhem, and Fraud in JacksonvilleNovember 10, 2014 8 comments Print Article
Do you really know your next door neighbor? Over the last century, Jacksonville has been the home of several interesting characters and residents who operated on the other side of the law. Here's a few from Jacksonville's notorious past.
1. Ottis Elwood Toole
Ottis Toole. Photograph courtesy of Crime Library at http://www.crimelibrary.com/blog/files/2013/05/ottis-toole.png
Ottis Elwood Toole was born in Jacksonville on March 5, 1947 to an abusive mother and an alcoholic father who abandoned him. As a child living in Springfield, he was a victim of sexual assault and incest. In addition, he claimed that his abuse started when he revealed to his family that he was gay.
By the time he was a young adult, he had become a male prostitute and a serial arsonist, sexually aroused by fire. Although he was first arrested at the age of 17 for loitering, Toole claimed that his first killing occurred three years earlier when he ran over a traveling salesman who propositioned him for sex.
Between 1966 and 1974 and being supported by panhandling and prostitution, Toole drifted around the country racking up murder accusations in the Southwest and South. A wanted man, he returned to Jacksonville in early 1975.
After meeting Henry Lee Lucas at a Jacksonville soup kitchen in 1976, the two lovers went on to commit several murders. In 1982, Jacksonville's streets would get a little safer when Toole was arrested and sentenced to 20 years for arson. While in custody, he admitted to barricading George Sonnenberg in a boarding house and lighting it on fire after an argument between the two, although according to Dr. Tim Gilmore of Jax Psycho Geo and author of Stalking Ottis Toole: A Southern Gothic, Toole also retracted his story. After being sentenced to life in prison, he admitted to committing several more murders. These included the strangulation of a 19-year old Tallahassee woman, four more murders in Jacksonville, and the confession of the 1981 murder of 6-year-old Adam Walsh.
Walsh had been abducted from a Sears department store in Hollywood, FL and his decapitated body was found two weeks later in a Vero Beach, FL canal. Adam's death promoted his father John Walsh to become an advocate for victims' right. Walsh would go on to become the host of the television program America's Most Wanted. In addition, President Bush signed the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act in 2006 and the Code Adam program for helping lost kids in stores is named in Adam's honor.
As for Jacksonville's Toole, he never stepped foot outside of a prison again. He also retracted, and confessed, and retracted to killing Adam Walsh. According to Dr. Tim Gilmore, "the Jacksonville detective credited with obtaining Toole's confession was removed from the case after it surfaced that he'd fed Toole information and offered him a book deal--especially ironic since Toole was illiterate and had an IQ of about 75."
On September 15, 1996, he died of cirrhosis at Florida State Prison in Raiford. Toole's associate, Henry Lee Lucas, died in prison of heart failure on March 13, 2001.