I'm a relatively fearful person. Nothing like I used to be, but even as a child I was worried so much of the time. Every little thing that went bump in the night had me tachychardic, so sure was I that someone was coming to kill my whole family. Mostly me, but sometimes them. (Survivors were integral to the plan, since there had to be somebody left to mourn me in the appropriate manner and to feel sorry for not treating me better while they still had the chance!) I bring this up because today I saw the headline on CNN.com that police have named a suspect in the disappearance of Adam Walsh, who was abducted from a Florida store in 1981. It's probably hard to imagine in a day and age when missing children seem an inevitable horror and John Walsh is best known for his leather-clad posturing as host of America's Most Wanted, but the heartbreaking abduction of the six-year-old -- and the subsequent gruesome discovery of the young boy's decapitated head -- sent a shockwave through the nation. It was awareness of this case and his parents' crusade to further the plight of missing children that changed the face of law enforcement even as it marked the loss of a little more innocence.
The TV movie "Adam," which aired in 1983, heightened awareness even further. Adam Walsh was all missing children and his parents gave them all voice and visibility in a way that just hadn't existed before. I remember watching that movie as a 12-year-old and being so deeply affected, feeling tremendous sorry for this little boy and also an increasing awareness that this world was a potentially unsafe place. That everything you knew could be taken away -- or you from it -- and the people who loved you most would be powerless to stop it or even, worst of all, to find out what really happened.
Thus, I felt something pretty significant today when I read that they'd finally named a suspect in the case: Otis Toole,Â a drifter and known pedophile who was suspected of the crime for years and who died in prison 12 years ago. There's no new evidence in the case. Just, it appears, a new police chief's desire to mark the file as "closed."
When I read that today, the face of another missing child's popped immediately to mind, that of a 12-year-old girl named Ann Gotlib, who went missing from a mall in Louisville, Kentucky -- where I lived at the time -- just a few months before "Adam" aired. Her smiling, freckled face, framed by curling red hair was everywhere -- on TV, in the newspapers, on posters. The entire city was consumed with her whereabouts and as Gotlib was my age, I found it all terrifying.
Thus, today, when I read the update about Adam Walsh, I decided to Google Ann Gotlib, just to see if there was ever any closure to the case over the years. I was surprised to find a news article from a week or so ago, announcing that police in Louisville have named a suspect in that case also, one Gregory Lewis Oakley, Jr. Apparently, the recent 25th anniversary of Gotlib's disappearance brought some new information out of the woodworks and police now believe Oakley killed Ann with an injection of the painkiller Talwin. Oakley was charged with assaulting a 13-year-old female and sent to jail in 1984. He received medical release in June 2002 and died that October of cancer.
It seems so odd to me that, less than two weeks apart, police in different states name suspects -- both deceased -- for the two child abductions and murders that were seared so deeply in my memory 25 years ago. I'm not trying to assign to it some higher meaning -- although for the families, I certainly hope it carries some.Â I'm just saying it has me a little unsettled today. A little sad. A little jittery, unable to erase from my mind the faces of a six-year-old boy and a 12-year-old girl whose fate I feared, more than anything, I might face.