AS THE HOST OF AMERICA'S MOST WANTED, JOHN Walsh is the image of jut-jawed justice. Since the show began in 1988, he has been instrumental in the capture of 408 criminals, and yet it's his salt-and-pepper hair and craggy features that viewers would rather see on a poster. Toughened by the worst imaginable tragedy, it is a face that demands respect. "Here's a guy who came to be a star in an unorthodox way," says Most Wanted producer Lance Heflin. "With John, what you see is what you get."
He did not, at first, want to be seen. Approached by Fox six years after the 1981 kidnapping and murder of his 6-year-old son, Adam, the former Hollywood, Fla., hotel management consultant resisted the television overtures for months. "I finally did it because the first guy we were going to do was David James Roberts, who had raped 17 women and killed 4 people, 2 of them small children," Walsh, 50, says. "I said, 'Wouldn't it be something if we caught him?' And we did." Walsh's continuing passion for crime-fighting, says Heflin, "is a fire that burns through his eyes." Logging 14-hour days and traveling nearly a million miles annually, the 5'9", 160-lb. Walsh battles stress with a low-fat diet and constant workouts. The sober television suits encase a 40-inch chest and 30-inch waist. Because his rugged looks are all too familiar to vengeful criminals, Walsh, his wife of 25 years, Reve, and their three children—all born after Adam's death—have round-the-clock security guards and keep a low profile. "John is a beautiful person in a lot of ways," says Reve. "He's like a phoenix risen from the ashes."