Lately, I've been reading a lot of books about child murders. This isn't because I necessarily enjoy reading about little kids being killed, but more because these are the books I found on my last non fiction shopping spree at Fort Belvoir's thrift shop.
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Anyway, I was pretty familiar with John Walsh, who has hosted TV's America's Most Wanted since 1988 and is frequently consulted in high profile child abduction cases. In 1997, Walsh published his story, Tears of Rage: From Grieving Father to Crusader for Justice The Untold Story of the Adam Walsh Case. Adam Walsh is John Walsh's firstborn. In 1981, six year old Adam Walsh was kidnapped and murdered while he and his mother were on a routine shopping trip at the local mall in Hollywood, Florida. John Walsh and his wife, Reve, spent days searching and agonizing for their son, only to have the police find the boy's head in a canal. Adam Walsh's murder seemed to awaken a sleeping giant when John Walsh went from developing hotels to focusing his life on catching criminals and changing federal laws to protect children.
I'll admit that I've never been a faithful viewer of America's Most Wanted, although I have seen snippets of the show over the years. John Walsh has a very distinctive, tough persona as he calls murderers, pedophiles, and perverts "scumbags" and calls on Americans to help the police put them away in prison, where they belong. I've seen and heard John Walsh on TV enough to have a sense of what he's like. In this book, John Walsh comes across every bit as colorful and tough as he does on TV.
Walsh is very matter of fact as he tells the story of how he and his wife met, fell in love, got married, and had their first child. He says he fell in love with Reve, mostly because she was "game". John Walsh repeatedly states that he's a man who enjoys action and being daring. His wife was willing to go along with that. It seems that John Walsh was on his way to having a great career in hotel and resort development in Florida and he was enjoying all the fringe benefits that come along with that life. When his son was kidnapped and murdered, Walsh found that he could no longer sustain his career. He was fixated on finding his son's killer and bringing him to justice. A new career was born and the old was was cast aside. And the new career was more exciting and dangerous than the old one was. Walsh conveys how much satisfaction he got from helping law enforcement catch criminals and how much danger he faced as the criminals made plans to take him out of commission.
I certainly understand John Walsh's outrage. He includes pictures of Adam in this book, along with a detailed account of Ottis Toole, the man he believes is responsible for killing his boy. Toole, who died years ago in prison before he was tried for Adam's murder, confessed to kidnapping and decapitating Adam. However, the man had an IQ of about 70 and was known to embellish and lie at times, just to get attention from law enforcement. In an interview with police investigators, Toole described how Adam was behaving after he was kidnapped. He acted like a smart kid. Toole realized he could identify him.
Not everyone was sympathetic to John Walsh's cause. The media didn't always help in this regard. A reporter printed a story that Walsh was involved with Florida's Mafia. This story was mainly based on the fact that Walsh's hotels had casinos in them. Walsh denies that he was involved with the Mafia and if what he writes about Toole is true, I'm inclined to believe him.
Walsh also writes about some interesting cold cases that have been solved courtesy of America's Most Wanted, all the while weaving in information about his family. John and Reve Walsh went on to have three more children after Adam's murder. Walsh includes a generous photo section, with shots of Adam, his lovely wife Reve, and a few pictures of his other children. At the book's end, Walsh includes an appendix, which has the text of the Crime Victim's Rights Constitutional Amendment as well as a sample letter to Congress in support of the amendment. Walsh also includes a list of organizations that help crime victims, particularly victims of domestic violence, rape, and child abuse.
I'm surprised by how much I enjoyed reading this book. I didn't expect it to be as engaging as it was. John Walsh has a very distinctive writing style which is much like his on screen persona. I felt like he was writing to me and I feel like I learned a lot, reading about his experiences. One thing that turned me off a little bit is a subtle underlying idea that came across in this book... that women and children are always more vulnerable than men are. Granted, it's often true that women and children are more vulnerable to crime... but it's not always true. Walsh pretty much only writes about "scumbag" men who have committed crimes. I don't recall reading about any women he had come across in his crime fighting career. Even though I am a woman, I know that not every woman is an angel who needs to be protected from men. In fact, I know firsthand that some men need to be protected from women, and needing that protection does not make them less than men. I don't like the idea that men are always the ones who abuse and abduct children, commit sexual abuse and rape, or are violent because I know it's not true. I would have liked it if John Walsh had made that point in his book. Sometimes he was a little too macho for my taste. And of course, given the subject matter of this book, readers should know Walsh writes about some uncomfortable topics. He never gets too gruesome, but what he does include may make people who are especially sensitive uncomfortable. And while swearing doesn't bother me personally, I will warn that there is some blue language in this book that may not appeal to all readers.
I found Tears of Rage: From Grieving Father to Crusader for Justice The Untold Story of the Adam Walsh Case to be a worthwhile read, if only to gain an understanding of how far this country has come in terms of protecting children. Adam Walsh was murdered 25 years ago this month. Thanks to his father and all of the wonderful work he's done to get the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children off the ground, Adam Walsh did not die in vain.
John Walsh's page on the America's Most Wanted Web site: http://www.amw.com/about_amw/john_walsh.cfm
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