CRIMEFIGHTER, POLO PLAYER
TV host Walsh assists in investigation of slain polo player. By Gwen Rizzo

John Walsh, host of television’s America’s Most Wanted program, has had a passion for fighting crime over the past 20 years. A few years ago polo became another passion for him. His two passions recently collided when a fellow player, someone Walsh had met and played with, was found slain in the Philippines. Walsh’s crime-fighting days began after a horrific family tragedy. In 1981, he was a partner in a successful hotel-management company, when his 6-year-old son, Adam, was abducted from a suburban shopping mall. Walsh and his wife, Revé, searched frantically for 16 days before their son’s remains were found more than 100 miles away from home.

The prime suspect in Adam’s murder, Otis Toole, was never charged in the case. He died in prison while serving life for other crimes. Toole never admitted guilt in the case, denying the Walshes an opportunity for closure. The tragedy began to consume Walsh, and after Adam’s murder he lost his company.

“I had three partners. We were building a $26 million hotel on Paradise Island when Adam was kidnapped,” Walsh said recently while filming a segment for his show at International Polo Club Palm Beach in Wellington, Florida. “I loved the hotel business and had worked very hard to build the company. I lost 30 pounds, I couldn’t work, I couldn’t focus on the project. It came in $2 million over budget. … I started going state to state … and we created the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The first branch was in West Palm Beach, Florida, called the Adam Walsh Center. … Our job was to try and change things. [Our style of living diminished] but it didn’t matter to me anymore. I didn’t care about building hotels; I didn’t care about what we had before. We didn’t have our son.”

Their grief also led them to push for a bill, which, according to Walsh, would have forced the FBI to put the names of missing children into their computers. Walsh says: “… [The bill] was vehemently opposed by the FBI back in 1981, and they refused to get in Adam’s case. … We took our anger and heartbreak to try to get that bill passed … and to make sure the terrible circumstances we had were not going to happen to another set of parents. It took almost two years before President Reagan signed [the bill] in the Rose Garden.”

In 1987, after several years of working to protect children, Fox television approached Walsh. They wanted him to host a show modeled after Crime Watch UK, which at the time had been on television for 20 years. It was done in partnership with Scotland Yard and the BBC and profiled fugitives. After several calls, Walsh finally decided to give it a try.

“When I saw the first guy they wanted to profile, an escaped child killer … I went to Washington and did the pilot. I didn’t know anything about television. I had seen what the NBC movie about us had done, how powerful it was and how it changed people’s attitudes. …We caught David James Roberts from the first show, and now the rest is history.”

The show, now in its 20th year, has helped capture more than 900 fugitives. “The thing we are the proudest of is we’ve gotten back 41 missing children, including Elizabeth Smart,” says Walsh. “It has been an incredible experience, and it has been a great bully platform for me. … I’ve testified before Congress 100 times. I’ve been honored by Reagan, Bush, Clinton and Bush Jr. Party lines mean nothing to me. … It gives me the ability, AMW, to continue my political agenda to change laws for victims, children, women. The Adam Walsh Child Protection Bill was about creating a 50-state registry, immediate notification if someone jumps their parole or probation, taking DNA of every convicted rapist and sex offender, solving thousands of old, unsolved cases, hiring 500 new marshals specifically to look for sex offenders.

We have 550,000 convicted sex offenders in America—100,000 have disappeared. Because of the bill passed in July, marshals have now started going after sex offenders.”

AN INTRODUCTION TO POLO

Today John and Revé have three children. Revé is a foxhunter who has ridden all her life. They have a daughter, Megan, and two sons, Hayden and Callaghan, who began playing polo at the Vero Beach Polo and Saddle Club several years ago. “[Revé] ganged up with the boys and said, ‘Look, you’re always looking for something fun, exciting and dangerous to play. Why don’t you go with the boys and try polo?’ So I went on a trip to Casa de Campo in the Dominican with my friends, the Colleys, who played polo in Mashomack [Polo Club in Millbrook, New York]. … After that, I talked to [club manager] Kris Bowman and said I wanted to mount a team in the Vero Beach family 2- goal league.”

Since then, Walsh has played all over. He travels to the Skaneateles Polo Club in New York in the summer and to the Vero Beach club in the winter. Last year he had teams in Vero’s 2-goal, 4-goal and 8-goal leagues.

Additionally, he has played in numerous charity events across the country, including in Wellington; Meadowbrook, Long Island, New York; Poolesville, Maryland; The Plains, Virginia; and Saratoga Springs, New York. Professional 2-goal player Max Secunda manages his Shamrock Ranch polo team and teaches polo to Walsh and his two sons.

Walsh admits he is hooked on polo. “Polo is so demanding physically and so exciting. So far, in the last two and a half years, I broke my nose once, my hand twice, I ripped my thumb off, [broke] seven ribs and I broke my back in January, which [kept me out] for five weeks. [Nine-goaler] Javier Astrada said, ‘You’re crazy.’ I said, ‘No, I’m dying to get on a horse,’ so I got back on in five weeks [to play in a benefit match I had committed to.]” “John is out there bareback riding,” Secunda says. “He rides all the time … and he likes to win! … He’s definitely not timid. Right from the get-go he has gone full speed. He isn’t scared at all.”

Walsh responds: “I started playing polo when I was 57 … I’m playing against the clock. I started playing for just some competitive fun, but we’ve entered tournaments and won. So, now it is more fun to keep that edge, to keep playing competitively, to push the envelope. … Sometimes we go to Argentina and play in 12- or 14-goal practices, and it is a lot of fun because it is challenging. Polo is something that allows you to push the envelope as far as you can handle it. Keep pushing it if you are serious and you want to learn how to ride better and hit the ball better. I am trying to speed up the curve. That is the way I am in business and in my pursuit of certain goals. I try to apply that to polo and say, ‘Look, if you are going to do it, do it seriously and competitively.’ There is nothing like winning—it is fun!”

Walsh used to come out to polo when the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children was first opened in West Palm Beach. Palm Beach Polo and Country Club would hold benefit polo matches for the center. “I always came to the polo matches … never thinking I had the time or inclination [to play]. … The polo world is really very welcoming, very hospitable. It is the antithesis of what everybody thinks about it. It isn’t the snotty, elitist world that people like to write about. It is competitive fun and great exercise.”

HOMICIDE MEETS POLO

Secunda had played in Hawaii prior to taking the job with Walsh. While there, Secunda became friends with some of the players there, including John Elwin. According to news reports, this past May, Elwin accompanied another player he knew as Hank Jacinto to the Philippines for some business, but though Jacinto came back, Elwin did not. According to Walsh, a friend of Elwin’s, Luis Soltren, who served as executor of his estate, was suspicious about Elwin’s disappearance, which led him to file a missing person’s report. He followed up with Hawaii’s attorney general and the Honolulu police, but thinking they were dragging their feet, he turned to Walsh.

Walsh had met Elwin last year when he came to Vero Beach and stayed at his ranch. “[He was] a lovely guy, 51 years old, who was semi-retired. [He had] sold a good painting business. [He was] not a big, deep pockets patron, [but] a club player with his own six horses. He kept [inviting] us to come play in Honolulu. … We brought him down to … get some mallets and we took him to the Tackeria [to] pick out a nice leather helmet, which are big clues in the case.” According to Walsh, Elwin talked about Jacinto and his plans to possibly go to the Philippines to play polo with him.

Secunda says: “John Elwin was a friend of mine. … I’d been working in Hawaii for a couple of years and John had mentioned Hank a couple of times and said [Hank] had introduced him to polo. [Jacinto] had invited him out to the polo club to stick and ball for the first time. … That was one of the reasons [Elwin later would] let Hank come back and play some of his horses.”

According to Walsh, a coroner in the Philippines recognized a photo of Elwin on a missing person’s poster as someone who had been found on the side of a road with gunshot wounds to the head and chest. He had been buried in an unmarked grave.

Walsh believes Jacinto “used the polo world, especially the membership at the [polo] club to give him a false facade that he was a wealthy Filipino. ... He’s a real con man. … He knew there were usually pretty substantial fish in the polo club world. … He used the polo club as a launching pad … as a stamp of authenticity for himself … and he used it to woo potential victims.”

In the meantime, Walsh says, Jacinto had returned to Hawaii and was “back at the Honolulu Polo Club, riding John Elwin’s horses, using his mallets and wearing his helmet.” Elwin had a 14-yearold daughter he loved very much, according to Walsh. “He had a huge, beautiful piece of property in Kauai, on the ocean, he was going to leave to this 14-year-old girl,” says Walsh. “He had a really nice girlfriend he lived with now and his life was good.

“… [Jacinto] was a coldblooded sociopath businessman that was smart enough to convince at least three serious businessmen to make a trip with him to the Philippines under the auspices of investing in property or playing polo and probably murdered all of them. But, in the interim, getting to know them so well … to find out what their assets were … look at their signature, copy their signature, get false documents and wind up with their property.”

“… Jacinto was arrested in Hawaii for credit-card fraud. He had the polo mallets and the helmet sent from Hawaii to the Philippines and paid for them with John Elwin’s credit card a month after John went missing. … He has a document that he had forged, I believe, with a notary stamp on it, giving John Elwin’s beautiful piece of property to Hank Jacinto. … Now, we get involved, a 30-year-old guy calls the Honolulu paper and AMW and says 15 years ago … ‘My father went to the Philippines with Hank Jacinto and never came back. A month later Hank Jacinto kicked me out of my house and said my father left him our $3 million house in Honolulu and this Hank Jacinto’s been living [there] for 15 years.’”

The man who went missing 15 years ago was polo player Arthur Young. Since then the family of a possible third victim, Douglas Ho, reportedly came forward to say Ho never returned from a trip to the Philippines with Jacinto last year. According to news reports Jacinto’s real name is Henry Calucag, and he may have as many as 18 aliases. So far he is being held on theft, identity theft and forgery charges and has not been charged in connection with the homicide. Former polo player and USPA Hawaiian Islands Circuit Gov. Bob Miller is helping defend Calucag and maintains that he is innocent.

America’s Most Wanted covered the story in an episode in November. Secunda organized some players to stage some polo at International Polo Club Palm Beach in Wellington, Florida, the footage of which was used as a backdrop for the segment. According to the America’s Most Wanted Web site, Calucag has previously served time in federal prison for buying an SUV and leasing computers using a false name and false credit card histories while on parole. Further, he was asked to leave one polo club after a pair of boots was stolen there. When police tried to arrest him after a polo match in September on the most recent charges, he initially tried to flee in a golf cart. Walsh believes there may be other victims.

For Walsh, polo is a great release from the pressures of fighting crime. “Polo is a great way to work off anger and frustration. It is a pretty good way to take your mind off what’s bugging you. … I have signs in my office that say ‘Saddle Up.’ Polo is my sport, but to saddle up is to get the public involved to get justice for people when they’ve hit a wall.”

 

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