This is going to be one of those reviews where the reviewer offers up personal anecdote you may or may not be interested in. To facilitate your buying experience, yes, Bringing Adam Home is the definitive book on Adam Walsh’s murder. You should read it and shelve it next to In Cold Blood (if you go for that sort of thing). It isn’t a perfect book. There’s a whiff of homophobia, a bit of repetition but it’s as close to perfect as a book about police corruption and child murder is likely to be. So go ahead and buy it. (Now, back to me.)
I lived in South Florida for decades. I did when Adam Walsh was kidnapped and I did when my friend’s young sister disappeared a few years later. The kindness the Walsh family showed hers from disappearance to tragic discovery has stayed with me always. I have no patience for those who blame them for their son’s murder. You cannot imagine now what South Florida was like then. Shopping malls had playgrounds for the children to stay unattended while the parents shopped. Children of all ages walked to and from school alone. My parents authorized an area of more than five miles for me to wander, increasing it yearly. This was normal. Those who blame Adam’s mother for stepping away inside a store have no idea what they’re talking about.
Unlike Adam, I was fortunate. I was not a trusting child and those who approached me, who promised me things, I ran from. I hid under cars, I cut through yards, the one thing I did not do was approach the police. Our neighborhood officer was a predator. I have met some truly wonderful police officers in my life, but in South Florida I met only two amid dozens of less pleasant encounters. In my experience the local officers were either criminal themselves or too apathetic to be bothered. I would like to tell you things have changed, but from dozens of stories I will share this one. In Sailboat Bend a group of men have been assaulting and robbing people walking home from their low income jobs. The police have been given solid leads, they have been offered eyewitness identification, once they were even begged to just walk outside. The criminals were behind the station. The detective for the case simply hung up the phone.
I can understand why those reading Bringing Adam Home might react with disbelief to the account of willful obstruction of justice leveled at the Hollywood PD. Even the Walsh family took decades to understand what many of us in South Florida already knew. When the press conference was held naming Adam’s killer, I viewed it with some doubt. So did (and does) the local media. It seemed like a way for the department to make the infamous case go away. If this was the killer, why wasn’t the case solved years ago? Bringing Adam Home answers that with certainty. There is absolutely no doubt who killed Adam. None. The Walsh case is closed, the killer is dead. If Adam had not died, many other children would not have been saved, many criminals would not have been apprehended. If Adam’s case had not been deliberately kept from prosecution, the same would be true. Even knowing that, the reader desperately wishes there could be a miracle ending. The body wasn’t Adam’s, his death wasn’t painful, his family wasn’t relentlessly tortured by the killer, by the police, by the public. Something, anything, to relieve the horror. There can’t be. All of it is true.
And yet Bringing Adam Home is not a cruel book. It is a relentless one due to the nature of the crime and the crimes that followed. Unlike many True Crime books it doesn’t sympathize with the killer or turn murder into a graphic pornography of horror. What happened to Adam is presented factually and concisely, the reader is haunted because there is no way to tell it gently. The focus is on the investigation and it’s procedural aspects. What went right (precious little) what went wrong, and who lost track of their own morality. In searching so doggedly for answers, the Walshes opened themselves up to one last victimization, one last horror inflicted by a man who had taunted them over the unspeakable end of their child. In doing so they once again used their pain to change their country.
Bringing Adam Home is about more than Adam Walsh. It is about how the worst of human nature can be seen not just in our killers, but in any one of us. Protect a friend here, doubt the truth there, offer a bone to a hungry public and soon you’ve created a wall only the most dogged and determined can break through. In the Walsh case, it took decades and immense resources. Even the killer himself offering proof of his guilt repeatedly couldn’t break the Blue Line. Reading this you realize how many other cases have fallen under the same spells. (Jon Benet Ramsey, Trenton Duckett – the list goes on.) The news cycle and the territory contests, the parent blaming and the street corner experts. The trust in authority and the distrust of the same. The things we just know, just decide, the obvious things.
We should all do better. At the very least, we should do as the Hollywood PD did, stand up and admit our flaws. Apologize for our errors and face those we failed. Remember that the truth is not something ephemeral or emotional, it is a thing we discover piece by painstaking piece, regardless of the picture we wanted it to form. Adam has stood for so much in America. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if he could stand for that?