Wis. cold-case suspect led life of crime
MADISON, Wis. — Edward Wayne Edwards’ days of hitchhiking across the country, stealing cars, robbing gas stations and forging checks were behind him when he was released early from the federal prison in Lewisburg, Pa., in 1967.
The self-described ladies man, who appeared on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list, had turned his life around on the inside and planned to spend his time saving others from following the criminal path, he wrote in the 1972 cautionary tale of his life, “Metamorphosis of a Criminal.”
Edwards gave a few speeches, but his new career fizzled and he slipped into obscurity — until last month, when prosecutors charged the 76-year-old in the 1980 slayings of a young couple who vanished from a wedding reception and whose scattered remains were found two months later.
“He was kind of a con person his whole life,” said Jefferson County sheriff’s detective Sgt. Larry Lee, the lead investigator in the slayings of Tim Hack and Kelly Drew. Edwards is a “relatively intelligent person (who) could get things and do things because of his intelligence and cunning,” Lee said.
Edwards was returned to Wisconsin on Wednesday from Kentucky, where he’d been living quietly for the last decade in a Louisville trailer park. He is charged with two counts of first-degree murder and made his first Wisconsin court appearance on Thursday.
Handcuffed to his wheelchair and breathing oxygen through a tube, Edwards didn’t say a word during the 15-minute hearing in which bond was set at $2 million and his preliminary hearing was scheduled for Aug. 27. He is being represented by a public defender. Friends and family of the victims sat in the first two rows of the courtroom and went directly to the district attorney’s office after the hearing without commenting.
Born in Akron, Ohio, in 1933, Edwards spent his early years in a Catholic orphanage. A chronic bed-wetter, Edwards wrote in his autobiography that he was beaten by nuns and other children. After getting caught stealing another boy’s birthday cake, a nun asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up.
“I looked her straight in the eyes and answered, ‘Sister, I’m gonna be a crook, and I’m gonna be a good one,’” Edwards wrote.
In his book, Edwards portrays himself as a cross between Don Juan and John Dillinger. He traveled the country in the 1950s, hitchhiking, stealing cars, forging checks and picking up women, whom he used for sex and money. He said he got one woman to travel with him by telling her he was a government agent hunting communists.
“I couldn’t control my impulse to check out my attractiveness to the opposite sex at every turn,” he wrote.
Edwards escaped from a jail in Akron in 1955 by pushing past a guard. Desperate for money as he fled across the country, he turned to holding up gas stations in Nevada, California and Oregon. He refused to wear a mask.
“I was Ed Edwards, master crook! And I wanted the world to know it,” he wrote.
The master was caught in Billings, Mont., sent to prison and paroled in 1959. Authorities took him back to Portland, Ore., to face robbery charges there. He was given probation, but detectives questioned him about the 1960 double slayings of two 19-year-old college students.
Convinced he was going to be convicted of a crime he didn’t commit, he persuaded a friend to pose as a bail bondsman and trick jail officials into letting him go.
Two others were eventually convicted in those slayings. Investigators reopened the case in 2002 when they learned another person might have been involved, but Multnomah County deputy district attorney Norman Frink said that probe went nowhere and Edwards was never a suspect.
Edwards landed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list in November 1961. After robbing an Akron bank, he fled to Atlanta, where FBI agents captured him in January 1962.
Edwards wrote that a guard at the federal prison in Leavenworth, Kan., got him to turn his life around. When he was paroled in 1967 after being transferred to Lewisburg, he decided to give speeches and write the autobiography in hopes of saving others from a life of crime.
But by 1980 he was working as a handyman at the Concord House, a reception hall in Sullivan, about 40 miles west of Milwaukee, according to a criminal complaint.
Hack and Drew vanished from a wedding reception at the hall that August. Their bodies were later discovered in the woods. Hack had been stabbed and Drew had been tied up and strangled. Investigators found semen on her pants, which they would later use to link Edwards to their killings.
Investigators questioned Edwards around the time of the killings, but he left Wisconsin the next month. He later surfaced in Pennsylvania, where he rented a house, sold the furniture and then burned down the place, said Richard McBane, a former Akron Beacon Journal reporter who helped Edwards write his book. Pennsylvania Department of Corrections records indicate he was sentenced in 1982 to 2 years and 3 months for arson in Butler County.
Edwards’ whereabouts in the 1990s remain largely a mystery. He moved into a trailer park on the edge of Louisville around 2000, police there said, and stayed out of trouble.
Messages left for Edwards’ wife, Kay, at his trailer haven’t been returned. No one answered the door when a reporter visited recently.
Wisconsin investigators submitted DNA evidence in the Hack-Drew killings to the state crime lab in 2007, and analysts developed a profile of the suspect. After a Madison television station profiled the case in March, investigators got what Lee characterized only as a “lead.”
They obtained DNA from Edwards in Louisville in June and arrested him in July after making a positive match.
Jefferson County District Attorney Susan V. Happ didn’t say during Thursday’s hearing what led investigators to Edwards, but in arguing for the $2 million bond she said, “It’s a strong case, especially given the DNA evidence.”
Drew’s mother, Norma Walker, said after the arrest she was shocked to hear of the break in the case after so many years. Instead of giving her closure, though, the 70-year-old said the arrest has ripped open old wounds.
“You hope this day would come, but now that it’s here, it’s really hard. Everything starts all over again. All the memories come back,” she said. “He robbed me of my daughter, robbed me of Christmases, birthdays, weddings, everything families do together.”
Hack’s father, David Hack, said all he wants to know now is why his son and his son’s girlfriend were chosen.
“I’m glad it’s over,” he said. “I don’t know how you can’t admit to it if the DNA matches.”
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