Interview: John Walsh appalled by Sean Penn's Rolling Stone El Chapo story

Credit: Rodney Ho

Credit: Rodney Ho

By RODNEY HO/, originally filed Friday, January 15, 2016

Earlier this week, a poor publicist kept gently trying to get John Walsh of "America's Most Wanted" fame back to the TV studio to tape PSAs for Atlanta-based Justice Network about fugitives on the run. But my interview with him kept on going. And when the subject of drug kingpin El Chapo and actor Sean Penn came up, he raised his hand said, "Five more minutes!"

"What bull**** is this?" Walsh said. "I profiled El Chapo 11 times! I went to Tijuana. His local cartel cut off the head of a Catholic priest. He's put people in boiling vats of acid. One guy was found with handcuffs dug deep into his bones. This is a sociopathic midget. El Chapo is responsible for thousands and thousands of horrible deaths!"

He was just getting started. "Why glorify him? Make him infamous! I try to be fair and balanced. I cross the t's and dot the i's. Since when does a 40-50 year old magazine send an article for clearance with a f***king homicidal maniac? It's insane!"

"I'd love to tell [publisher] Jann Wenner what his magazine is now: a piece of s***! Screw journalistic principles. You're a media whore!"

Even Penn has had second thoughts about his article. In an interview with "60 Minutes" airing Sunday, he said the reason he did the interview was the invigorate the conversation about the war on drugs. But instead, it became about him.

"Let me be clear," he told the CBS newsmagazine. "My article failed."

Walsh said he knows Penn does good charitable work but he's also "a crazy whack job. Does he need the publicity this bad?"

He supports extraditing El Chapo to the United States. "I've gotten 40 guys out of Mexico facing the death penalty," he said. "El Chapo deserves the death penalty. He's a sociopath like Hitler."

Crime stories are hot. Walsh hasn't watched Netflix's "Making a Murderer" but he did catch HBO's "The Jinx" featuring Robert Durst.

"I knew Durst killed those people," Walsh said. "I owned a home on the lake where his first wife was killed. He was a sociopath dirtbag."

Walsh also raved about the Justice Network, which now reaches 52 percent of households after a year's existence. He said he's thrilled his PSAs have led to 46 captures of fugitives and 32 missing kids using local affiliates of CrimeStoppers. "That exceeded my conservative estimates by at least double," Walsh said.

And watching him read the various fugitive cases, it's incredible what a memory Walsh has. He recognizes many of the fugitives, especially those that have been on the lam for decades. He'd recall random nasty notes about each one, be it their crimes or their look. This is truly a man who has been on a mission since his son was killed in 1981. (It wasn't until 2008 that the murderer was identified.)

Although social media is now all the rage, he said traditional methods can still work to track down criminals. "Amber alerts, posters, pictures," he said.

He said bad guys are getting smarter to evade capture. "They know to keep moving," he said. He said the ability for cops at 17,000 police agencies to communicate and make it easier to track fugitives is ghastly inadequate. And he said cops are not paid or trained enough to do a better job.

He said he is looking forward to the third season of "The Hunt With John Walsh," which starts up soon on CNN. It's a more stylized version of "America's Most Wanted," which ran from 1988 until 2012. One case he plans to focus on is an 83-year-old friend who was killed during a home invasion in a remote 400-acre farm. A burglar, he said, entered the home and ultimately smashed her skull in. It's another case that he takes personally.

So far, of the fugitives profiled on "The Hunt" so far, half have been found in part because of the show, he said.

Walsh is a popular man. He said fans and friends ask him all the time to run for office or become Attorney General. At age 70, he said he's too old. But he knows what he'd push: better pay and training for cops, improve the public defender system, reduce punishment for drug use and distribution and focus on the sociopaths, the murders, the rapists, the molesters.