Bringing Adam Home Book Review

Categories: Book Review

Bringing Adam Home review examines the story of the decades-long investigation into the abduction and murder of 6-year-old Adam Walsh. The police investigation took 27 years to prove guilt of the serial killer, Ottis Toole, who made multiple confessions to the murder. The book is written by the experienced detective writer Les Standiford with the help of the retired detective Joe Matthews, who finally found evidence of Toole’s committing the murder 27 years afterwards. The case of Adam Walsh has influenced the American society in the way that legislatures were made protecting children, and practices were adopted helping find missing and potentially abducted children.

Key words: abduction, evidence, investigation, kidnapping, murder.

Bringing Adam Home is the story of the decades-long investigation into the abduction and murder of 6-year-old Adam Walsh who missed from a local Sears in Hollywood, Florida, on July 27, 1981. The police investigation took 27 years to prove guilt of the serial killer, Ottis Toole, who made multiple confessions to the murder – yet the Hollywood, FL, police department did not believe him and failed to use any of evidences that had been found.

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The abduction of Adam Walshblew people’s minds and undermined their sense of protection. The American society has never been the same ever since – parents did not let their kids play alone outside, nor did their ever say ‘Be home by dark’; a child could be left nowhere unsupervised. It was Adam’s family bad luck that at that time, there were no Amber Alerts and no national data base for crimes against children.

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Adam’s parents, John and Revé Walsh, bent backwards to change the situation. They became renowned crime fighters, propelled the passage of the 1982 Missing Children Act, and John Walsh became a host of the television program America’s Most Wanted (Standiford2011). Adam Walsh’s kidnapping was not only the most important casein American history of missing children that changed the corresponding legislature but also the most famous one. Many people still remember themselves being kids and watching it on the news (Martin, 2011). However, the details of the case are not as well-known as they should be; given the coverage in the media.The more emotional side of the story, through the eyes of the Walsh family, is rendered in Tears of Ragewritten by John Walsh (Scott, 2011). The puzzle of the botched investigation that ran over almost three decades was solved by the retired Miami detective Joe Matthews and written down by the acclaimed writer Les Standiford, the author of 9 fiction novels and 6 non-fiction books (Standiford, 2001).

The authors open their cards in the very beginning of the book and introduce the killer, Ottis Toole, right in the second chapter. Toole was a low IQ drifter who set fires and assaulted people to relieve his psychological pressure. From chapter 2 to 4, the authorsgive a detailed recount of the work of Hollywood detective Hoffman who could not organize his work so not to lose important clues and evidence and who was not very keen on the idea that Toole was the killer. According toMatthews, Hoffman is portrayed as a moody and self-contained investigator who “looked like a guy who disapproved of most things on general principle” (Standiford, 2001). Apart from disregarded leads and lost evidences, Hoffman also treated Adam’s parents carelessly not bothering to inform them that their friend Jimmy Campbell, who was prime suspect, had been cleared.

For many years John and RevéWalsh received no information from the police as for the investigation of their son’s murder. Matthews felt that it was extremely insensitive on the part of Hoffman. Together with undeveloped enough forensic methods, the case of Adam Walsh advanced by imperceptible pace. As Reve Walsh put it: “It was a sad thing for this country that the fight had to be led by two broken-down parents of a murdered child”(Standiford, 2001). The authors underscore that it could not be said that the Hollywood department was incompetent. Rather that the case was too difficult, and Detective Hoffman turned out to be too snobbish not only to ask for help but also to accept help from Joe Matthews when he offered it not once. Hoffman was “too unstructured and ill-equipped” for such mind-bogging case (Standiford, 2001).Det. Serg. Matthews was a lie detector expert and an experiences homicide detective and, being hired by the Hollywood, Fl, Police Department, he was very interested by the case and was ready to use his knowledge to solve the case.

Among other things, the difference in approaches of two detectives was that Hoffman was obsessed with finding physical evidences linking Toole to the Adam’s murder; while Matthews believed that circumstantial evidence could make do in some cases. That meticulous recount of all glaring mistakes of the Hollywood, Fl, police department and the detailed description of their daily working life had its aim in showing that detectives’ work is far from the glamorized TV series. Doing on a daily basis such boring chores as searching for a person who moved and did not leave the new address, or surveilling a suspect for many days, exhaust detectives, and the not very dedicated ones “let things slide” (Standiford, 2011).Standiford and Matthews seem to mention every lead that was not followed, and every report that was incomplete or even falsified.

Matthews blames the manner of interrogation when the suspect was let speak without asking necessary questions, and he found the witness who was consistently ignored by Hoffman. The most shocking omission, the reader may consider, was the neglect of the repeated confessions by Toole with a graphic description of the whole process of abduction, murdering, sodomizing, and decapitating of Adam Walsh and the subsequent dismembering and setting ablaze his body. Toole even gave a sensational interview to Jacksonville Times Union where he repeated his confession to the murder of Adam Walsh (Standiford, 2011). Chapters 5 to 6 focus on Matthews’s account of how he proceeded with the investigation. It became possible only after Hoffman was transferred to the Patrol Division in 1994 (Standiford, 2011). Matthews spent two years and nine months reviewing the case and adding new materials. In the end,Matthews had multiple eyewitness identification of Toole taking Adam from Sears, twenty-five independent confessions to the crime made by Ottis Toole, and most important of all – missed by previous investigators – luminal images of machete and luminal outline of a child’s face on the carpet of Toole’s Cadillac.

It finally proved Ottis Toole to be the man who committed the crime. The first part of the book does not make an easy reading. When Toole gives his numerous confessions to various detectives all the same details of the murder, rape, and dismembering are repeated ad nauseam, without adding anything new. Because of it, for those readers who like genuine crime stories, the book may seem quite slow. Standiford and Matthews were extremely repetitive in details of the crime itself, its prolonged investigation, the history behind the suspects, and descriptions of Toole’s perversions. However, the authors rather had in mind to show how the process of investigation can be dragged for years due to the inability of the police to find hard evidence for the already confessed crime. Standiford, who is an experienced detective writer with a number of narrative non-fiction stories under his belt, narrates dryly and matter-of-factly, which contributes to the authentic feel of the blood-chilling story.

Despite waving their incompetence, Matthews provides a scrupulous evidence of the Hollywood, Fla., police department’s negligence, thus making it difficult to believe that behind such an undisciplined behavior may be anything other than a conspiracy to cover up its incompetence. The authors’aim seems to lay in proving two points. Firstly, the case could have been solved within two years, when Ottis Toole was arrested for arson and confessed repeatedly to the murder of Adam Walsh saying that he was “very, very sorry that he did it” (Standiford, 2011). Secondly, the police department of Hollywood, FL, had a chance to solve the case quickly, had they let do it to Det. Serg. Matthews.

Bringing Adam Home is a gruesome story of justice finally served two decades too late. By that time, though, Ottis Toole had died in prison. And our society has changed. Now kids are warned about strangers. No one leaves their kids in the toy area and goes shopping anymore. Lawenforcement has transformed its practices to better protect children. Public places have adopted Code Adam, a powerful search tool for lost and potentially kidnapped children (Code Adam, n.d.). Code Adam is a predecessor to Amber Alert, a network of notifications to the public through urgent bulletins on television and radio.


  1. Code Adam.(n.d.). The National center for missing &exploited children. Retrieved from Martin, C. (2011, February 09). Book Review – Bringing Adam home by Les Standiford[Web log post].Retrieved from
  2. Scott, M. (2011, February 26). ‘Bringing Adam home’ offers strong proof in the 1981 murder of Adam Walsh. Retrieved from
  3. Standiford, L. (2001). Biography[Web log post].Retrieved from
  4. Standiford, L., & Matthews, J. (2011).Bringing Adam home: The abduction that changed America. New York, NY: Harper Collins. ISBN:9780061983900.

Cite this page

Bringing Adam Home Book Review. (2016, Mar 28). Retrieved from

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