The missing child case that revolutionized law enforcement

“Bringing Adam Home: The Abduction That Changed America,” by Les Standiford with Det. Sgt. Joe Matthews. Ecco. 304 pages. $24.95.

Les Standiford’s career has taken a fascinating turn. Once best-known for his popular genre novels, notably the John Deal mystery series, he has now become a first-rate fashioner of suspenseful and informative nonfiction narratives.  Some of these books, like “The Man Who Invented Christmas” (about Charles Dickens) and “Washington Burning” (about Pierre L’Enfant and the founding of Washington, DC), re-imagine important historical figures and their times. Others, like the already-classic “Last Train to Paradise” (about Henry Flagler’s railroad fantasy) and the present title, explore more recent, Florida-based historical materials, investing them with the urgency, cultural insight, and telling detail of the best fiction. 

“Bringing Adam Home” is less about the crime that took the life of TV host John Walsh’s son and Walsh’s achievements through the “America’s Most Wanted” series than it is about an endlessly bungled investigation. Though Mr. Standiford attends to how John Walsh and his wife Revé turned their grief into transforming the ways in which crimes against children are handled, his gripping, central story is about the combination of laziness, arrogance, and unprofessional police work that left a readily solvable crime unsolved for decades. It is also about serial killer Ottis Toole, who committed the crime, confessed to it over and over again, and yet escaped responsible detection until after his death.

Here’s where Joe Matthews comes in.

Early on, soon after Adam Walsh’s disappearance from a shopping mall Sears store, Joe Matthews was borrowed from the Miami Beach police to help the Hollywood, Florida police department with this case. He had the expertise and experience to make a difference.  However, Detective Hoffman, in charge of the case, seemed reluctant to make full use of Matthews’ talents and suggestions. Hoffman pursued the fruitless investigation of his favorite suspect and wouldn’t take seriously any ideas that pointed elsewhere. The case Hoffman attempted to make went nowhere. . . .

Les Standiford (photo by Marla Cohen)

To read the entire review as it appears in the April 27, 2011 issue of  Fort Myers Florida Weekly and April 28 issue of the Naples edition, click here:  Florida Weekly – Les Standiford.

pdf version: Standiford pdf-1 and Standiford pdf-2

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