Posts Tagged ‘kidnapping’

The empty swing on the cover of Bringing Adam Home: The Abduction That Changed America provides an arresting image of a lost child, but what I’ll always remember is the photo of the grinning, freckled six-year-old in a red baseball cap.

 Still, Adam Walsh, who was abducted from a Hollywood, Fla. shopping mall on July 27, 1981, didn’t become the country’s most famous missing boy overnight.

Because this was before Amber Alerts and milk cartons, before America’s Most Wanted and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. It was just two distraught parents, John and Reve Walsh, looking for their son with the well-meaning help of family, friends and law enforcement departments at a loss without centralized communication.

Two weeks after Adam disappeared, fishermen found his decapitated head in a canal more than a 100 miles away. By then, the case had captured public attention. But the kidnapper/killer was never officially captured, and the rest of Adam’s remains have never been found.

A serial killer named Otis Toole eventually confessed to the murder,  but he confessed to a lot of murders, and he recanted more often than not. He died in a Florida jail in 1996 without detectives having verified his stories. It wasn’t until  December 2008 that the Hollywood police department announced that it had concluded that Toole was indeed the killer and it had made mistakes in the investigation.

In Bringing Adam Home, noted Florida writer Les Standiford and Joe Matthews, a retired Miami Beach detective and experienced polygrapher, detail those mistakes in devastating detail, such as lost bloodstained evidence crucial for DNA testing and valuable time wasted on less promising suspects. Matthews was hired by the Walshes to conduct an independent investigation to determine that Toole was the killer, and he spent frustrating years retracing leads, interviewing witnesses and verifying Toole’s whereabouts in order to do so.

Intertwined with this true-crime chronicle (Toole was one sorry career crook) is the important story of how Adam’s abduction turned his parents into powerful advocates for crime victims and how law enforcement across the country changed its response to missing children cases. Now, there are toll-free numbers, national databases, registries of pedophiles, fingerprinting programs, trained search-and-rescue teams.

Over the years, John Walsh kept Adam’s case in the spotlight, “not knowing {the truth} was torture.” The Hollywood police said it hoped that Toole’s positive identification brought some closure to the Walsh family. The book quotes John Walsh: “It’s not about closure; it’s about justice.”

Open Book: I reviewed a digital advance copy of Bringing Adam Home by Les Standiford with Joe Matthews (HarperCollins) through NetGalley so I didn’t see the eight pages of pictures. But I remember them.

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