I grew up watching America’s Most Wanted. We often invited John Walsh into our home and hoped that none of these horrifying crimes every happened close to us. I had never known John’s drive was due to the personal loss of his own son until I stumbled onto this book when I worked at the bookstore. I immediately downloaded it when I noticed it was available as an audiobook through the library.
Adam Walsh was only 6 years old when he went missing from a Sears in 1981. Eventually, his head was found, and the Walsh’s had to give up hope of him returning home. His body was never found. There were a number of critical errors made by police, and it took 27 years before the truth finally came to light. It is a sad twist of irony that America’s Most Wanted helped catch hundreds of criminals, but couldn’t help solve the crime that mattered most to its host. Walsh, though, was able to help the United States transition into modern crime fighting, help develop a sex offender database, and I believe a missing children database to be used country-wide, and allowed police officers to track crimes outside of their area.
There was a potential suspect, who repeatedly admitted to kidnapping, sodomizing, killing, and decapitation Adam, and then would deny it completely. As a result, he was not fully investigated properly. Eventually, as science evolved and evidence was found, Ottis Toole was convicted of killing Adam Walsh, but unfortunately, it came after Toole’s death, though at least the Walsh’s got answers.
The writing of the book was aided by the detective who finally put the pieces together. While compelling, it does mean you need to keep some perspective as you read. The other detectives investigating are described through the eyes of Det. Sgt Joe Matthews, and therefore may not be 100% accurate, or they may be painted in a darker light than was actually true. Perhaps they were not as egotistical and inept as they were made to sound. Still, one does have to remember this was 35 years ago, and things were very different. The world knew of serial killers, but they were not so fearful of them, and they were not so sensationalized in the media and movies. Plus, this was a pretty high profile case, and I am sure the detectives were not equipped to handle such a difficult case. Not to mention that technology is so much more advanced today, they did not have the tools and techniques, or even the knowledge of crime scenes that we know and use today.
I cannot say that I enjoyed this book. I do not feel the subject of a kidnapped and mutilated body of a child to be something that one can call enjoyable. It is mind-blowing to hear about all of the mistakes made by detectives, but I do understand that it was a different time and we cannot measure them by today’s standards. I appreciate all of the hard work that went into this book, and I am happy at least that the Walsh’s can finally find some closure. Hopefully, one day, we will live in a world where such tragedies do not happen!