Take a Closer Look at Citizen Crime-Fighting

‘America's Most Wanted' Hosts Its 1,000th Episode and Opens Its Television Studio for Public Tours

Posted July 26, 2010 at 4:42pm

It’s a sad-to-riches story that traces John Walsh’s road from grief to a career of righteous revenge. Almost 30 years after his son, Adam, was kidnapped and killed, John Walsh hosted the 1,000th episode of “America’s Most Wanted,” one of the most interactive and arguably beneficial programs in the history of television.

Now the show’s studio, on the lower floor of the National Museum of Crime and Punishment, is open to the public, though its shooting schedule is confidential because of security concerns. After helping to apprehend more than 1,100 criminals over the course of 22 years, Walsh receives his share of death threats.

Visitors can walk through the main studio from which Walsh presents the show when he’s not shooting in areas closer to crime scenes, as well as view the “America’s Most Wanted” forensics and evidence lab and exhibits, such as one profiling the show’s 10 best catches. No. 1 in that category is John List, who killed his mother, wife and three children and managed to escape arrest until “America’s Most Wanted” featured his case nearly 18 years after the crime. The bust (fashioned from a 20-year-old photo that was then “aged”) that helped lead to his capture now sits in the show’s studio control room. It is legendary for its similarity to List’s real features, down to his style of glasses.

Another exhibit demonstrates a facial recognition system made by Cross Match Technologies, which locks in on and records the face of anyone who walks across the view of its camera and can identify people whose faces are logged in its database. A public relations representative for the museum said the technology is increasingly being used in places such as school buildings to ensure that people entering are the parents they say they are.

Such technology might have helped police track down Adam Walsh’s kidnapper, an effort that a museum tour guide said was severely hampered by initially nonchalant officers who lacked the organizational technology that is taken for granted today. The only national crime database in existence at the time, for example, tracked information on missing cars.

Since then, John Walsh’s lobbying has helped establish the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, as well as pass the Missing Children Act of 1982, the Missing Children’s Assistance Act of 1984 and the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006. Nationwide communication tools such as the Amber Alert have also become crucial in the recovery of missing children. The NCMEC has helped recover 78,000 children, according to the show’s website. The show also directly led to the recovery of Elizabeth Smart, one of the most well-known kidnapping victims in recent history.

One morning about two weeks after Adam Walsh’s disappearance, his father was preparing to go on the television show “Good Morning America” when the police called him to ask about getting the child’s dental records. They had found Adam’s head in a canal.

Understandably distraught, John Walsh decided to go on the show anyway. He brought with him pictures of other missing children, saying that if he couldn’t help Adam, he wanted to help find other, similar victims. Half of those children were eventually found.

The studio tours, appropriate for children ages 10 and older, are Saturdays at 12 p.m. and 3 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. The cost is $12 without a museum ticket and $10 with a museum ticket.