Maybe second only to the Lindbergh baby kidnapping in the early party of last century, the abduction and murder of Adam Walsh in South Florida in 1981 was the most infamous case of child kidnapping in US history. It was every parents' nightmare--one second their child is playing video games in a department store, the next, he's gone forever. It changed the way we look after our children, and how cops look for children when they are taken.
But exactly what happened is still something of a mystery. One of South Florida's most versatile writers, Les Standiford - no stranger to suspense and crime, though mostly in novels--teamed with Joe Mathews, a former Miami Beach police officer that worked on the Walsh case for more than two decades, to write the most comprehensive book on the case to date. Cultist asked Standiford some questions about Bringing Adam Home: The Abduction That Changed America ahead of his appearance at Books and Books this Sunday.
New Times: How did the Adam Walsh case change the way we views and deal with child abduction?
Les Standiford: Before Adam, it was a fact that the FBI would respond more quickly to a
report of a stolen horse than to a report of a kidnapped child.
Thankfully, that is no longer the case. The case of Adam Walsh is to
child abduction response as 9-11 is to transportation and border
After police closed their investigation, the Miami Herald published a story implicating Jeffrey
Dahmer in the abduction. What is your take on that investigation? Any
major holes you see?
The Adam Walsh case was so momentous to the country at large and went
unsolved for so long that it is no surprise that people began to develop
what might be termed extra-logical theories to "solve" the case, much
as we see in alternative versions of the Kennedy assassination and
"truther" accounts of 9-11. It is a diverting coincidence that Jeffrey
Dahmer did reside in Sunny Isles, FL at the same time that Adam Walsh
went missing, and authorities from Florida did question him following
his arrest on other charges back in the early '90's. But Dahmer denied
any involvement in the crime and police never found any evidence to the
The Adam Walsh story made real the worst nightmare of all parents. What
is the single greatest lesson that can be gleaned from it?
We learned that even our children are not safe from senseless
predation--and so, to modify an old maxim of a former Senator from
Arizona, we now accept that eternal vigilance is the price of
You co-wrote this book with Joe Matthews, how did the case define his
life? Did his eventual conclusion provide closure or can there
never really be closure in this type of case?
You'd have to ask Joe how he feels defined by his success in doing what
hundreds of cops before him--including the FBI and the Florida
Department of Law Enforcement--could not, but to me I'd say what he has
done marks him as a very remarkable and honorable individual indeed. I
would call him a hero. For parents who have lost a child in whatever
manner, I do not think there is ever such a thing as closure. But the
Walshes certainly feel great gratitude for what Joe Matthews did, and as
John Walsh has said, "At least now the not-knowing is over, and a
different phase of life can begin."
The Walshes are models of how to take the worst life can give you and
turn it into a positive. What is the single most impressive aspect of
When I grew up, parents who lost a child often turned inward and seemed
to live in a perpetual demi-world of grief. The Walshes transformed
their grief into efforts on behalf of missing and endangered children
that have literally transformed a nation's way of parenting and our
entire legal system's response to missing children. Their
accomplishments are really astonishing.
Same question for Matthews?
He did what he did because he believed it was the right thing to do. Two
and a half years of cold-case investigation essentially for no other
reason than that. So for all the sadness in this tale, there is in my
mind a powerfully redemptive conclusion.
Les Standiford and Joe Matthews will be at Books and Books (265 Aragon
Ave., Coral Gables) at 6 p.m. talking about the case and signing copies
of their book. The event is free. Call 305-442-4408 for more information