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Thursday, December 13, 2018

Bringing Adam Home: The Abduction that Changed America


Les Standiford's Bringing Adam Home: The Abduction that Changed America was one of the novels I chose to "check out" from Amazon, along with a bunch of children's books and a book on the history of Budweiser. (What can I say? I have eclectic taste.)

This book is incredibly in-depth, closely examining the Walsh case from start to finish. In the event you haven’t heard of it, Adam Walsh was a six-year-old boy in Florida who disappeared from a Sears store while his mother was just in the next department. This was the late ‘70’s/eary ‘80’s when everyone was a bit more trusting and severely less fearful than we are in 2018/19. He wanted to play with a video game console, and there was no reason for his mother to say no. His head was found a couple of weeks later several miles away, and his body was never found. It would take almost three decades to name his killer even though it only took months to identify him. 

Standiford’s book bookended a long, sordid tale of Otis Toole, the killer of Adam and many others, with the Walshes. That was, to me, the most interesting piece. I ended up skimming over a lot of the middle of the book because I found Toole to be egregiously disgusting and I didn’t care to hear the details of his crime. I was much more interested in the details of the day that Adam disappeared and the aftermath of that. The relationship between the Walshes and Matthews, the investigator that ultimately solved and closed the case for them, intrigued me more than the sordid and pained life of someone like Toole. 

Going even deeper than that, I was horrified by the police work done in the case. Toole confesses mere months after Adam’s killing, spontaneously even, and because it didn’t fit the narrative the investigators had about the crime, they ignored the confession or brushed it aside as false when challenged. It angered me to no end, as the Walshes could have had some sense of closure early on if the man had been identified and at a minimum had charges brought against him. These two people, Adam’s parents, had to spend almost 30 years wondering exactly what happened, as the police delay told them nothing. Even as John Walsh featured his son’s case on America’s Most Wanted and the tips came in, the police went to great effort to cover up their mistakes. If I had any faith left in criminal investigators, this shook that deeply. Unfortunately, it appears the doggedness based in their biases was much more common than we want to know. 

Ultimately, this was an interesting book about the Adam Walsh kidnapping and murder, and its detail and clarity was well worth the read for the true crime nut. It was one of the two cases that I really feel shaped our understanding of child abductions by strangers (the other being Etan Patz) and changed how Americans view the right to a carefree childhood. In fact, there is a direct connection to Small Animals, which I reviewed last fall. We were never the same, and we can never go back. 

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