Casey Anthony and Ottis Toole: two rotten peas, different pods.

Dear Casey Anthony,
You and me are done with each other. As you may recall, I blame you for having to introduce my daughter to the concept of a mother killing her own child. Since the jury failed to convict you, my daughter thinks you’re not guilty, so now I have to introduce her to our flawed justice system and assure her that you are indeed responsible, in one way or another for the death of your daughter.

Here’s my final few words about you, written as a guest editorial for Folio Weekly. By the way, the most alarming aspect of your existence? The fact that there are so many others just like you. Oy. Vey.


In his excellent new book Bringing Adam Home, Florida writer Les Standiford chronicles the 27-year battle to solve the murder of Adam Walsh, the boy who was kidnapped from a South Florida shopping mall in 1981.

It was a crime that changed America, or at least changed the way parents viewed the presumptive safety of suburban, middle-class living. Six-year-old Adam was at a Sears in Hollywood, Florida with his mother and began playing a video game while his mother stepped 50 feet away to look at lamps. When she returned a few minutes later, he was gone.

Standiford’s book tells the story of how Hollywood police botched the investigation from Day 1. In hindsight, detectives should have been able to determine within months that the perpetrator was serial killer Ottis Toole, who confessed to the crime at least 25 times and left a trail of physical evidence that would have made any doubt unreasonable. The case, by the way, had strong connections to Jacksonville: Toole was from this area, and spent a good bit of time here after the crime, which led to evidence being collected here. The most gruesome? A luminal-enhanced photo of the floorboard of Toole’s car showing the imprint of a young boy’s bloodied face.

Similar technology was used in the recent Casey Anthony trial. Investigators found what they believe was a bodily fluid stain in the trunk of Anthony’s car – a stain in the shape of a small child curled into a fetal position.

It’s perhaps the major commonality in the two cases. For while Adam Walsh was kidnapped, raped and murdered by a complete stranger who happened to spot him outside a Sears store, little Caylee Anthony, according to police, died at the hands of her own mother. (She was recently acquitted of the crime, though found guilty of lying to investigators.)

But children are killed by their parents or caretakers every single day in this country. What made the case so sensational is that, initially, there was fear that she, too, had been abducted by a stranger.

Despite the fact that children living in America are among the safest in the world, intense media scrutiny and an obsession with the details of a child’s pain and suffering make us doubt the security of our relatively insular world.

The Walsh case, many believe, begat an era in which parents began to believe their children weren’t safe anywhere. Mothers stopped letting their kids walk to a neighbor’s home unattended; childhood traditions like riding bikes to local stores to buy candy became rare. The days of parents shooing their youngsters out of the house and telling them to be home for dinner slowly began to fade into history, along with see-saws, rope swings and candy cigarettes.

The 24-hour news cycle feeds the fear. By now, a handful of abhorrent, despicable crimes have led to media circuses that have made household names out of its unfortunate victims. Jaycee Dugard. Elizabeth Smart. And now, the horrific case of Leiby Kletzky, the 8-year-old Hasidic Jewish boy abducted, killed and dismembered on his way home from summer camp.

In all cases, the media’s obsession has led to a public obsession about the safety of a child, and terror that if it could happen to someone else’s child, it could happen to mine.

And of course it could happen to anyone’s child. But statistics show that’s unlikely, particularly for children of middle-class parents. Kids are far more likely to die in car crashes, childhood accidents, abuse, neglect or even cancer than due to kidnappings or abductions by strangers. Yet the outcry about motor vehicle safety remains muted. Parents who are terrified of allowing their children to play unattended in the backyard think nothing of leaving the bleach in an unlocked cabinet. (Guilty!) And child abuse victims seldom garner more attention than a single line of news.

As journalists, we’re torn when it comes to cases like that of Adam Walsh. Clearly it’s our responsibility to report the news. But it should also be our job to add context to the news, and to remind readers and viewers of the woes that truly threaten children: Sexual abuse. Malnutrition. Neglect. Illiteracy. Without that perspective, people entranced by the very rarity of stranger kidnapping cases end up using those instances to lock out the world around them. And that’s no good for anyone.

It’s difficult not to focus on the unspeakable details of child abductions. We hold our children closer in the wake of such horror. Clearly, such incidents should force us to scrutinize the steps we take to keep our children safe. And for the families involved, no amount of perspective can heal the wounds left by the loss – the stealing – of a child.

But perhaps we should use such occurrences to foster strength and independence in our children rather than fear and uncertainty. It’s true that this world is a dangerous place. It’s true that we need to prepare our kids for difficulties ahead. But let’s arm them for the battles they’re likely to face, and not the demons they probably won’t.

3 responses to Casey Anthony and Ottis Toole: two rotten peas, different pods.

    • Tricia says:

      Stay armed, Mike….before you know it, you’ll be chasing down the boys. ; }

  1. Katie Meyer says:

    This was great Tricia…I couldn’t agree more! The last line really summed it up. Good Job!

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