Jacksonville, FL

Jacksonville Stigmatized By the Criminal Life of Ottis Toole

Gayle Kurtzer-Meyers


Photo by Jorge2015 on Pixabay

Ottis Toole was born and raised in Jacksonville, Florida. He experienced sexual assault and incest from a young age. His mother was a religious fanatic and may have abused him. Toole also claimed that many of his relatives and older sister sexually abused him as a child.

A perfect town of swaying palm trees, historic buildings, and nearby sandy beaches gives Jacksonville a tremendous visual. An ideal city until Ottis Toole arrived and started his life of hardship that soon escalated into a life of crime. A series of criminal acts linked to him would be noted in the history of Jacksonville, Florida.


As described by Wikipedia, Jacksonville is the most populous city in Florida and is the largest city by area in the contiguous United States as of 2020. It is the seat of Duval County,[9] with which the city government consolidated in 1968. Jacksonville is centered on the banks of the St. Johns River in the First Coast region of northeast Florida, about 25 miles (40 km) south of the Georgia state line and 328 miles (528 km) north of Miami. The Jacksonville Beaches communities are along the adjacent Atlantic coast.


Photo by Wikipedia Commons Contributors

Toole’s early life

Ottis Toole was born and raised in Jacksonville, Florida. He experienced sexual assault and incest from a young age. His mother was a religious fanatic and may have abused him. Toole also claimed that many of his relatives and older sister sexually abused him as a child.

Toole’s grandmother referred to him as the “Devil’s Child.” She was a Satanist who introduced him to many Satanic rituals, such as grave-robbing and self-harm.

Toole was assumed to have a low I.Q, due to which people thought he had mild mental retardation. However, he may have had dyslexia, ADHD, and other learning disabilities. Given the extent of his crimes, his real I.Q. was probably higher.

As a youth living in Jacksonville, Toole quickly became a serial arsonist and found fire sexually arousing. Toole was ten years old when he realized he was gay. Toole also had a relationship with a boy in his neighborhood. He was 12 at the time. He did not graduate high school and chose to drop out in the 9th grade.

According to his documentary, Death Diploma, Toole started prostituting himself as a teenager. He also committed his first murder around the same time when he killed a salesman. The man had propositioned him to have sexual intercourse with him, but Toole ran him over with the salesman’s car.

Toole was 14 years old when the incident happened. He wasn’t arrested for the crime, though. Instead, the first time the police arrested him, he was 17.

“Your abuser’s trauma does not justify them abusing you.”-HealthyPlace.com-

Toole may have continued working as a prostitute and a panhandler as he grew older. He moved around and lived in Nebraska and Boulder, Colorado, from 1966 to 1973. In 1975, Toole came back to Jacksonville and got married to a woman a year later. The woman was 25 years older than him and left him within three days after realizing he was gay.

One of the most notorious serial killers in recent times, Ottis Toole (March 5, 1947 — September 15, 1996), is known for murdering at least six people. He was also a rapist and a cannibal. His victims’ total number may very well be in hundreds or thousands, and most of them are still unknown. He was arrested and eventually imprisoned, where he died at the age of 49.

Toole’s life is a grim reminder of how easily serial killers and rapists appear to live in our midst.


Photo by Jacksonville Police Department Public Domain

The murders of Patricia Webb and Ellen Holman

Crime followed Ottis Toole wherever he lived. In 1974, the police labeled him a prime suspect in the murder of Patricia Webb. Patricia was only 24 years old when she disappeared overnight. She had recently started working at the Adult Book and Cinema Store. At the time of the disappearance, someone had robbed the store with 51 adult magazines, a calculator, and some petty cash missing.

The burglar had also unlocked the shop door and cut the phone cord that led to the payphone. Oscar Fiene, a cattle farmer, discovered Patricia’s body two days later. It was riddled with bullets and covered with only a quilted jacket. The rest of her clothes were missing, and she had a piece of tape over her mouth. The murder remains unsolved to this day.

Barely a month after Patricia’s murder, Toole was considered a suspect in another murder case. This time, the police believed he was involved in murdering Ellen Holman. She was 31 years old.

Ellen’s killer abducted her from Pueblo, Colorado, and shot her three times. He then dumped her body close to the Oklahoma border. According to homicide investigators, Toole was probably the one to shoot and kill her. Unfortunately for Ellen and her family, the police could not convict Toole of the crime, and it remains unsolved.

The murder of Adam Walsh

Toole’s most notorious crime was the murder of 6-year-old Adam Walsh in 1981. He abducted Adam from a department store in Hollywood, Florida, on July 27. He was decapitated, and the police found his severed head two weeks after his abduction in a drainage canal near the Highway 60/Yeehaw Junction in Indian River County, Florida.

Toole confessed to the murder in October 1981. However, the police let him go after a few weeks as they did not consider him a suspect anymore. They attributed his release to a recanted confession and the loss of evidence. Toole confessed a second time to the murder, but once again, he retracted the confession.

According to the police, Toole had admitted to murdering hundreds of people. However, most of these admissions were lies. It appears Toole made most of these confessions to improve his living conditions in prison.

Over time, the lack of a conclusion to the investigation drew a great deal of criticism from the public. Because of what happened to Adam, John Walsh, the boy’s father, turned advocate for victims of violent crimes.

He hosted the television program America’s Most Wanted. Currently, he hosts In Pursuit with John Walsh. Walsh always believed Toole to be guilty of his son’s murder. Toole’s niece also told John Walsh that Toole had confessed to the crime on his deathbed.


Photo by kat Wilcox from Pexels

After nearly 27 years, Adam’s family finally found closure when the police closed Adam’s case in 2008. They declared Toole as the murderer but did not release any new physical evidence that solved the crime. They did not have any DNA evidence and stated that they had carried out an extensive review of the case and concluded that Toole was the culprit.

Before the case’s conclusion, President George W. Bush also signed The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act in 2006. The Act established a national sex offender registry and aimed to amend the child and sex-related federal laws. Additionally, the Act provided child protective grant programs. Under the Act, you can also conduct campaigns to punish sex offenders and other people who victimize children.

The murder of George Sonnenberg and imprisonment

On January 12, 1982, Ottis Toole locked George Sonnenberg in his home. He set the house on fire, with George perishing in the incident. After two years, Toole was found guilty of George’s murder. He was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death for the crime.

Toole was also found guilty of murdering Ada Johnson in 1983. Ada was 19 years old and a resident of Tallahassee, Florida. She died of a bullet wound to the head. Toole confessed that he picked her up at a nightclub. He then shot her on the road near Fort Walton Beach. Upon his admission, Toole received another death sentence. When he appealed the verdict, the court converted it to life in prison.

In 1991, Toole went on to plead guilty to four other murders. He received four additional life sentences. One of these was the murder of David Schallart. David was 18 years old when Toole killed him. He was hitchhiking when Toole picked him up near Pensacola, Florida. Someone found David’s bullet-riddled body near Chipley, Florida. Toole had shot him five times on the left side of his head.

Toole’s relationship with Henry Lee Lucas

Toole was also associated with another serial killer, Henry Lee Lucas. Toole met him in 1976 at a Jacksonville soup kitchen after his divorce, and they began a sexual relationship. They allegedly teamed up for over 108 murders and worked on behalf of a cult called The Hand of Death. There is no objective evidence that corroborates these facts. The relationship did not last long.

In 1983, the police arrested Toole for arson. They also arrested Lucas after two months for possessing a firearm. As the police kept Toole and Lucas in custody, they confessed to various crimes they had committed. They also helped the police solve murders where they were considered the primary suspects.

However, due to the lack of evidence, Toole and Lucas were not tried for their confessions.

Death of Ottis Toole

Ottis Toole died from liver cirrhosis on September 15, 1996. He was 49 years old at the time and still in prison. The prison authorities buried his body in the prison cemetery at Raiford, Florida.

Despite his eventual imprisonment, Toole ruined entire lives and families. It begs to question whether some of his victims could have lived if he had gotten convicted earlier. For instance, Toole first confessed to murdering Adam in 1981. However, he was released and went on to murder at least five more people until his eventual imprisonment.

Adam’s murder also sheds a harsh light on predators and sex offenders within our country. However, it is sad to note that the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act came into force 25 years after his death.

Unfortunately, predators such as Toole are not only from Jacksonville, Florida but from all over the world and continue to exist today. One can only hope that we have better systems to give their victims the justice they deserve.

“The dead cannot cry out for justice. It is a duty of the living to do so for them.”-Lois McMaster Bujold-

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I am a Licensed Community Association Manager for the State of Florida and a published author. My top articles are about Florida RE, property management, and the many beautiful venues and activities available in the Sunshine State. Thank you for reading my work and joining me on the journey.

Kissimmee, FL

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