A bestselling author and a veteran Miami police sergeant tell the whole story behind the 1981 kidnapping and murder of Adam Walsh.
After playing video games inside a department store in Florida, Revé Walsh’s six-year-old son Adam vanished. Before the grisly details emerged of his kidnapping and dismemberment, the boy’s disappearance garnered national media attention, thrusting the Florida police department—namely top-notch homicide detective Joe Matthews, a father of four—headfirst into the desperate search. Early on, Matthews notes that he became troubled by the disorganized, “chaotic” quality of the station handling the investigation, but his concerns went ignored. After suffering a nasty car accident, he was excused from the case altogether. When the boy’s remains were discovered in a drainage ditch, the case was further fumbled by shotgun accusations and an absence of any tangible leads, until convicted serial killer Ottis Toole admitted to the murder during an arson indictment. Standiford (Washington Burning: How a Frenchman’s Vision for Our Nation’s Capital Survived Congress, the Founding Fathers, and the Invading British Army, 2008, etc.) documents the numerous instances of investigatory malfeasance routinely plaguing the case, as accusations flew over botched testimonies, circumstantial evidence and Toole’s numerous recanted confessions. Further, during this time period, DNA forensic technology was rudimentary at best. As years passed, Adam’s father John became a staunch advocate for missing and exploited children. As the host of America’s Most Wanted, Walsh reunited with Matthews, who, with a renewed, heartfelt intent and an arsenal of forensic tools, reopened the Walsh case, formally indicted Toole with sufficient evidence and closed the case in 2008. Standiford’s by-the-numbers reporting is consistently engrossing and fortified with statistics, police transcripts and chillingly reenacted kidnapping attempts by Toole, whose dark-hearted verbatim dialogue, even after nearly 30 years, still has the gruesome power to keep readers on edge.
A riveting, sad coda to an American tragedy.