In 1981 John Walsh’s six-year-old son, Adam, was abducted from a store in Florida and murdered. In the years since, Walsh cofounded the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and has helped catch almost 1,000 fugitives through his TV show, America’s Most Wanted.
His most recent venture, the National Museum of Crime and Punishment, opens May 9 at 575 Seventh Street in downtown DC.
What is your favorite part of the museum?
There will be a corner for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, where people can learn how to make their children safer. Parents will get permanent IDs for their children and learn how to collect their DNA.
I like the interactive stuff. We’ll have CSI labs, safecracking, high-speed-chase simulators. The FBI shootout simulator is fun: You use a fake gun to shoot targets. It gets your blood pumping.
What do you hope people will learn?
Everyone seems fascinated by crime and evil. But I think people will love the emphasis on heroic law-enforcement officers who have dedicated their lives to catching the bad guys. It’s a dangerous job; 170 cops were killed in the line of duty last year.
No matter how much Hollywood glamorizes crime, it’s not glamorous. We have interesting things on the punishment side: a lie-detector test, a booking room, a real cell. People will see a guillotine, a gas chamber, an electric chair. Hopefully it will be a deterrent for kids. We want them to say, “This is not where I want to end up.”
What would surprise people most about criminals?
How sociopathic many are, how little remorse they show. How smart some are and how dumb most of them are.
You can’t insulate yourself from crime. Bill Cosby once said, “Your son was taken out of a mall. My son was killed in Beverly Hills for a Mercedes-Benz.”
Has society become more violent?
Guns have become a huge part of our culture. But I think people are more involved than ever in helping law enforcement. I see it with the thousands of calls we get to the show’s hotline. Good people are the vast majority.
Why do you think America’s Most Wanted has been such a success?
It combines law enforcement’s need for the public’s help—they don’t have eyeballs all over the world—and the public’s desire to see these people off the streets and held accountable.
It’s more than a job; it’s a passion. Someone destroyed my life 26 years ago and murdered my beautiful son, and I do believe you fight back. But I believe you fight through the system. I don’t believe in vigilantism.