May 17, 2011

Book Review: BRINGING ADAM HOME: THE ABDUCTION THAT CHANGED AMERICA by Les Standiford and Det. Sgt. Joe Matthews

BOOK DESCRIPTION:  Before Adam Walsh there were no faces on milk cartons, no Amber Alerts, no National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, no federal databases of crimes against children, no pedophile registry. His 1981 abduction and murder—unsolved for over a quarter of a century—forever changed America.

One sunny July morning in 1981, Reve Walsh and her six-year-old son Adam stopped by the local Sears to pick up some new lamps. Enchanted by a video game at the store's entrance, Adam begged Reve to let him try it out while she shopped. When she returned a few minutes later, Adam was gone.

The shock of Adam's murder, and of the inability of the police and the FBI to find his killer, radically altered American innocence and our ideas about childhood. Gone forever were the days when parents would allow their kids out of the house with the casual instruction "Be home by dark!"

Reve and John Walsh—who would go on to create America's Most Wanted—became advocates for the transformation of law enforcement's response to and handling of such cases. Prompted by the Walshes' activism, Congress passed the Missing Children Act in 1982, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children was founded in 1984.

While our lives have been significantly altered by Adam Walsh's case, few of us know the whole story—how, after more than twenty-seven years of relentless investigation, decorated Miami Beach homicide detective Joe Matthews finally identified Adam's killer.

Bringing Adam Home is the definitive account of this horrifying crime—which, like the Lindbergh kidnapping fifty years earlier, captured public attention—and its aftermath, a true story of tragedy, love, faith, and dedication. It reveals the pain and tenacity of a family determined to find justice, the failed police work that allowed a killer to remain uncharged, and the determined efforts of one cop who accomplished what an entire legal system could not. As harrowing as In Cold Blood, yet ultimately uplifting, Bringing Adam Home is the riveting story of a triumph of justice and the enduring power of love.

I am one of the few people on the planet who don't think In Cold Blood is the definitive true crime classic - - in fact, I didn't finish it because it simply didn't live up to expectations for me.  So I cannot compare Bringing Adam Home directly to it although I will say that this recent book on the noteworthy and law changing Adam Walsh case left me disappointed. 

The writing itself was well done and I found no fault with author Les Standiford, who with more than twenty books under his belt is indeed a professional.  However, the book felt both anemic and strangely bloated.  While reading through the text I felt that much of the informaton was repeated ad nauseaum.  It is fact that suspect Ottis Toole gave more than eight confessions to this horrific crime to various detectives but I didn't feel it was necessary to recount each and every confession unless his recounting had significantly changed. 

I wish more emphasis had been placed on the Walshes themselves, and the wonderful work they did in the aftermath of this incredible tragedy, rather than so much of the spotlight being placed on Toole and his lover and fellow serial killer Henry Lee Lucas.  As a long time reader of true crime I know that the majority of books dealing with crime focus extensively on the perpetrators, out of necessity, and the victims themselves often lose their individual voices but I felt this book had a prime opportunity to really present this case from the victims' standpoints and it didn't quite do that in my opinion. 

In addition to disappointment, the book left me frustrated and angry on behalf of the Walshes.  In recounting the case it's glaringly obvious that the case should have been officially solved and closed back in 1983, two years after the murder, when Lead Detective Jack Hoffman was given the multiple confessions of Toole.  However, for reasons probably best known to him, he stubbornly refused to believe Toole guilty of the murder, much less arrest and charge him.  Granted, it was 1981 but the way the Hollywood Police Department handled the Walsh case is a textbook example of how not to handle missing and murdered children. 

Given its graphic subject matter and descriptions, Bringing Adam Home is not for the sensitive or squeamish reader.  There is violence aplenty and rude language so reader beware.   However, Bringing Adam Home is a fascinating study of law enforcement and detecting gone wrong and should be required reading for any person looking into the field of law enforcement.

Bringing Adam Home is available for purchase now at major booksellers, including Amazon. I am an Amazon affiliate. If you make a purchase through my link, I will receive a small commission.

For more information on authors Les Standiford and Joe Matthews, as well as information on the Adam Walsh case, please visit their website.  

FTC Disclosure: This book was borrowed from my local public library. I was neither compensated nor paid in any way for this review.

1 comment:

Judy B. said...

I lived in the area when this occurred. I remember how shocking it was to think that a child could be taken from a public place like a mall. It was not expected and it changed the way parents watched their children because child nabbing was not at all like it is today. We all were looking for that van that was initially reported to be suspect. I remembe3r that after the movie aired, my boss sent a check to the missing & exploited children organization as many others did. All those years ago and it is still as much of a tragedy today as it was then.