Inside The Many Murders of Serial Killer Ed Edwards
Serial killer Ed Edwards may have been the Zodiak Killer with a murder spree going back to the Black Dahlia case.
It Was Him: The Many Murders of Ed Edwards, which premiered Monday, April 16 on the Paramount Network, looks at a serial killer chameleon who hid in plain sight, giving motivational speeches about his crimes. Ed Edwards was one of America’s most prolific serial killers. He confessed to killing Billy Lavaco and Judy Straub in Ohio in 1977, the “Sweetheart Murders” of Tim Hack and Kelly Drew in Wisconsin in 1980, and the 1996 murder of “Danny Boy Edwards” Law Gloeckner in Ohio. Five murders are enough for any serial killer’s portfolio, but the book The Peyton-Allan Files by Phil Stanford theorizes Edwards was responsible for the 1969 murders of Beverly Allan and Larry Peyton in Portland, Oregon. “Sweetheart Murders” Detective Chad Garcia of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office believes Edwards could be responsible for at least five to 15 more murders.
Edwards is suspected in many more. Some of these are high profile cases like the Black Dahlia murder of 1947, JonBenet Ramsey, Laci Peterson, and the Zodiac killings. To hear Detecting John “Cold Case” Cameron tell it, Edwards may have killed Teresa Halbach, the woman whose death was investigated in the Netflix docu-series Making a Murderer. The six-part original documentary series reexamines the evidence with new eyes and interviews to tie the pieces together.
Born in Akron, Ohio, Edwards grew in orphanages after witnessing his mother commit suicide, unless she was the bad seed’s first casualty. Edwards spent most of his life in institutionalized settings, from abusive orphanages, to juvenile detention, to the regimented U.S. Marines, through dozens of prison yards, some of which he escaped from. Possibly the Zelig of serial killers, Edwards passed through prisons in such historic company as Charles Manson and Jimmy Hoffa.
Fame whore Edwards made the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list by 1961 after robbing gas stations without trying to hide his appearance. But he was able to take on the appearance of those around him, even impersonating police officers to get a good look at DNA evidence.
He was paroled from Leavenworth in 1967 after he was reformed by a benevolent guard. Edwards got married and became a motivational speaker on reform, appearing on the television shows To Tell the Truth and What’s My Line? in 1972, the same year he published his autobiography The Metamorphosis of a Criminal: The True Life Story of Ed Edwards. Edwards, the family man, was fingered as a killer by his own daughter. He was back in prison in Pennsylvania in 1982 for arson. Edwards died of natural causes in prison in 2011, four months before his scheduled execution.
Wayne Wolf Jr. discovered Edwards was his estranged grandfather only months ago. He and detective Cameron are on a cross country manhunt to find the clues to prove Edwards is responsible for the 20th Century’s most high profile crimes. It Was Him: The Many Murders of Ed Edwards is produced by Main Event Media producer Jimmy Fox. Fox also assembled the team he used for Is O.J. Innocent? The Missing Evidence, former Rhode Island Police Sergeant Derrick Levasseur and Forensic Psychologist Kris Mohandie, for his all-new Investigation Discovery six-part true crime series, Breaking Homicide, which investigates unsolved murders at the request of the victims’ loved ones. Breaking Homicide premiered on April 15.
Fox sat down with Den of Geek to talk about the elusive clues he and his team have to sift through for some of these unbelievable cases. He describes himself as an advocate for the ambitious Detective “Cold Case” Cameron, who also alleges Edwards may have killed Suzanne Degnan in January 1946, when he was 12, and had an alibi, vandalizing a church and burning a Bible. Elizabeth Short, the Black Dahlia victim, was killed Jan. 15, 1947, when Edwards was 13 years old. Fox was well-versed on the allegations.
Den of Geek: There’s a lot of mythology behind the Black Dahlia case, conspiracy theories and other things. Edwards himself would have been 13 at the time of the murder?
Jimmy Fox: If you go back to John Cameron’s theory on the Black Dahlia, yes he would have been 13, I believe. John would tell you that Ed committed a murder even before that and believes that Ed killed, I believe, a six-year-old girl and dismembered her even before the Black Dahlia. One person would say: Well how could a 13-year-old conduct this murder? John would tell you that he thinks Ed did one even earlier in his life. There’s a lot of doubt, a lot of theories surrounding how his mother died. His mother died of a self-inflicted shotgun, I believe, or rifle wound to the stomach. Ed was there and witnessed it and watched his mom die in front of him. Some people that studied Ed think that Ed’s first murder might have been his own mother and that he would pulled the trigger.
I don’t know what I believe on the Black Dahlia case. The show and the producers didn’t really come into this saying: We’re going to blindly support, blindly come out to prove all of John’s theories. Rather, it’s a documentary about there is this investigator with a theory. We are going to follow it in an objective manner and really we’re going to follow Ed’s grandson Wayne Wolfe’s journey trying to find out more answers about his family. When I first met Wayne, he had only just found out who his grandfather was.
What are crimes of recognition? Cameron was on a radio show and he was talking about crimes of recognition, that I believe he was talking about how Edwards didn’t hide himself, he wanted to get caught.
John’s theories that Ed committed crimes of recognition, that would be out there in the public light. You have to remember that everything really is derived from John’s theory that Ed is the Zodiac Killer. If you look at it through the standpoint that the Zodiac Killer was behind all of these most famous murders, then the crimes of recognition, the MO, all starts to stack up a little bit more and make sense why John would then connect them to the Steven Avery case or JonBenet or Laci Peterson.
You have to go back to: Was Ed the Zodiac? If you can believe that Ed was the Zodiac, then you can start to take the leap that maybe the Zodiac could have been behind all these other famous murders, crimes of recognition.
Edwards started as an arsonist before he moved on to killing, as far as his record goes, and he wrote about burning bodies. Tell me a little bit about how that figured into the other cases.
John would tell you Ed killed by rope, by fire, by knife. Ed had a background in arson at a young age. Ed committed crimes that put him in prison. He did auto thefts. He broke out of prison. There’s a lot of evidence to support that Ed was a FBI informant. And then if you also look into the arson case, that’s where connections were made with the Steven Avery and Teresa Halbach case, how her body was found. But again, I’m not John Cameron, I can’t speak to every one of John’s theories in detail.
Is it true Edwards was incarcerated at the same time as Manson and as Jimmy Hoffa?
That’s true. That is on the record, that’s not just John’s theory. With Hoffa, he was in prison at the time Jimmy Hoffa was. They were in the same prison. Ed wrote about exchanges they had had. The really intriguing thing about the whole Ed story and what got me really interested in the first place is that Ed Edwards spent time in prison. Somehow he would break out or he would commit these crimes and get off or would have his sentences reduced. There is a lot of evidence to support that he was an informant for the FBI. There were letters that we found later that Ed wrote to the FBI, where he said, as you know, “I have cooperated in the past.”
With Hoffa, the thought was always that the Hoffa murder was an inside job by the feds and the thought is: if Ed had a history of being an FBI informant, could the feds have used the familiar face in Ed, who had spent prison in time with Hoffa, as a way to get him into a certain location at a certain time when they could have taken Hoffa away. That is on the record, he really did serve time.
With Manson, I believe, if I’m not wrong, that the Manson connection is that they were in the same youth reformatory at the same time, with Charles Manson. It’s crazy and it’s why so early in this case. You make the comparison to like the Forrest Gump of serial killers that for some reason Ed found himself in these locations at the right moments. The same goes with the Atlanta Child Murders that Ed. We have a picture of Ed taking a photo with the chief of police in Atlanta around the same times of the Atlanta Child Murders.
His kids, who we talked to, have all these memories of children going missing and all these murders taking place in every town they ever grew up in and then for no reason they would just pick up and leave and move to another town. I have to say that beyond just John Cameron’s theories of all the famous murders: Hoffa, Laci Peterson, JonBenet, all of those cases we looked into, the Zodiac, there’s a lot of striking, crazy evidence out there that there are a tremendous amount of lesser known, non-famous cases that Ed Edwards very much could have been behind.
I think when you see some of the interviews we conducted with his own children that have these memories of kids that went missing in the neighborhoods and things of that nature, hopefully the goal coming out of this show is to shed a light on a lot of these other lesser-known cases that Ed very easily could have been behind.
He was arrested for impersonating an officer and he also is known for being able to assume identities. You said he was taking pictures with police and that he actually was able to get in and see DNA evidence and things of that nature. And also, he escaped from prison.
He escaped prison. Not only did he assume different identities, he was a con man. When they brought him in, ultimately, they found the types of equipment that one would need for counterfeiting or making fake IDs. He lived under many aliases. He had three different wives that he held as slaves. Ed knew that wives couldn’t testify against you so he constantly would marry up. But he would pass himself off under different professions no matter where he lived. The thing that really got me interested in this case when I first came into it is that Ed wrote this book Metamorphosis of a Criminal.
Ed wrote this book, and this was around the time that he appeared on To Tell The Truth. Ed had already been to prison, had already been convicted of these other crimes and if you look at this book, and this is one thing I’m just really interested that John did stumble on that I believe, is this book really does serve, and we have this book in our possession, this book really does serve as like a treasure map. It really does serve as, I think Ed admitting to, half-admitting to or giving you clues to all of these other crimes that he committed, and we touch on that in the series.
He changes names, of course. He might change locations, but the way he refers to people that gave him a hard time, like a kid that he met in the street and this kid ended up missing. He will stop short of admitting to going as far as murder, but he writes a lot of circumstances and places and times and people and he changes the names that I think has been pointing to a lot of the murders. Ed wanted the recognition, like any other serial killer. He was proud of what he did throughout his life of crime.
So he writes this book where he’s trying to convince the reader that he is a reformed criminal. He goes on this circuit where he would speak at churches talking about how he was a reformed criminal. He cut a motivational album that we actually used some of the recordings in our show.
I heard some of them on YouTube.
This is very creepy because it’s like the voice of Ed is narrating the show from beyond. I think this book: Metamorphosis of a Criminal, whether you believe in the Zodiac, whether you believe in these famous cases, I think there is a lot of real-life, lesser-known murders that he is pointing to in this book and I think if a lot of people take this book and dissect it, I think there’s a lot more cases out there that have yet to be solved.
You were talking about how his children noticed other children disappearing. I’ve written extensively on The Iceman. He was another person who was a serial killer or killer for hire who lived a family life. Tell me about Edwards the family man.
Yeah. His kids will tell you that Ed would make a point to be there for birthdays or things of that nature. He was their dad but he would say things like when they would watch the Zodiac movie on TV and he would be like, “That’s not how it happened.” He would have this strange reaction when famous murders were talked about in the news and his children specifically recall that. I will say, his children, of all the famous cases, of all the famous cases we talked about, his children don’t necessarily believe all of John Cameron’s theories, let me just make that very clear.
But the one that they did, that they did have their own crazy instinct for, was the Hoffa case. They can specifically remember Ed getting riled up or reacting in strange ways when Jimmy Hoffa would be brought up in the news or in the household for whatever reason. But he was a monster. He was not pretending to be the perfect husband in the household. You can watch the first episode of our show to see exactly how his kids described him, but probably he wanted to pass himself off as the consummate family man.
I’m the gangster geek at Den of Geek so I just have to ask about his involvement in the Hoffa case.
All I can say is that he was in prison at the time of Hoffa, that his children, of all the famous cases they think there is probably the most there to explore. Again, he acted in an irrational way whenever Hoffa was brought up, his children specifically remember it. John Cameron believes that Hoffa referred to Ed as a homosexual while they were in prison and that that would have been enough to embarrass Ed in prison for Ed to hold a grudge. If you tie that to the fact that you believe that Ed was a FBI informant, you can believe that Ed held a grudge against Hoffa and could have been utilized later by the feds to be involved in some way in that murder, even if it’s just to meet Hoffa at the diner where he was last seen.
John talks about how it would have been Hoffa’s crime family or syndicate that got Ed a job out of prison. Again, these are John’s theories and John’s the expert on this. I can’t recall every one of John’s pieces of evidence off the top of my head, but that is where the … If you’re going to look into it, those are the starting places to reference.
Do you think the feds were involved in Hoffa’s death?
I really can’t say. I don’t know. I can’t say there’s enough that I’ve seen that just points directly to the feds that they got Hoffa’s murder, no. I can’t say that.
Is Wayne Wolfe getting any closer to getting closure?
Yeah. I mean, look, it’s a really interesting story how the project came to be in the first place, which I think will give you some insight into Wayne. I read about this theory. I had seen a blurb. Somebody, I think, in my social media feed had posted about John Cameron’s book and how he has this over the top theory. I thought: Wow. I want to reach out to him because I would love to investigate that theory in a documentary series. I reached out to John and I called John half a dozen times and he finally got back to me. He said, “Jimmy, I’m really sorry I haven’t gotten back to you sooner. The reason I haven’t gotten back to you is because I have already given the rights away to my book.”
I was like: Well who did you give the rights to? He said, “Ed’s grandson.” I said: Ed’s grandson? The serial killer? You gave the rights to your book to the serial killer’s grandson? John kind of chuckled and said, “Yeah.” I’m like: Well who is he? He’s like, “He’s this guy, Wayne Wolfe.” I’m like: Well where does he live? He said, “Los Angeles.” I said: Well is he a producer? John said, “Well I don’t really exactly know, but he wants to do something with the rights to the book.” I said: Well I’m in Los Angeles. Can I meet him? He gave me Wayne’s info and I set up a time to meet Wayne.
We set up this meeting and in walks Wayne and Wayne looks like a more rock and roll 31-year-old version of Kevin Smith, just this lovely guy with his big smile and these friendly eyes. He comes in and he’s like, “I just learned who my grandfather was three months ago, so this is all new to me and this is all happening in real time.” His initial instinct was to do something scripted based on Ed’s life.
After hearing Wayne’s story, he starts Googling “Ed Edwards, Serial Killer.” This all came about because Wayne’s dad told him to do like an ancestry.com or some website background on his family. So he does this and as soon as the name pops up, Ed Edwards, well he starts doing a Google search on Ed Edwards and the first thing that pops up is: Ed Edwards, Serial Killer. That brought Wayne to John’s book. So imagine this: Imagine you never know who your grandfather is and you Google him and he’s a serial killer who died in prison guilty of five murders. You’ve got to now call your dad and tell him: Oh, this is your father that you never knew.
Wayne calls John, reaches out to John Cameron and I believe he left a voicemail. So then John Cameron calls him back and Wayne played the voicemail for me and I got chills. John Cameron left this voicemail on Wayne’s phone and we show it in the theories, where basically John says, “Hey Wayne, it’s John Cameron. Yes, I knew your grandmother, Jeanette, Ed’s wife. I met her years ago in my investigation and she made me promise never to reach out to you. So John Cameron has known who Wayne was for years and promised his grandmother that he would never reach to him. He said, “So now that you’ve reached out to me, I feel comfortable if we talk.” That’s where Wayne and John started this relationship.
When I met with Wayne and he told me this whole story I said: Don’t do a scripted show. This show is you and John together getting in a car going all over the country to try to discover more evidence to John’s theories and shed a light on the lesser-known cases. But you going on a journey that is really inspired by wanting answers on your lineage and your family history and for John it’s really more professional and for John to get validation on the theories that are in this book. That’s how it all came to be.
If the other children knew who their father was, the ones that talked to you, how come they cut off the Wolfe family from finding out?
Well they’re half brother and sister. Wayne’s dad is only half siblings with them. They have different moms. Because their father was a murder, was a killer, they knew that he died in prison. They just never felt the need to make contact with Ed’s other siblings, Ed’s other half siblings. They just didn’t want anything to do with the other siblings. Their dad wasn’t a good guy and no relationship with the other moms. They just never contacted other half siblings.
Did you ever see the Murder Porn sequence on South Park?
No. I wish I had. No.
Why is this so popular right now?
I can’t speak to why it’s popular, but I would say I think it always has been. I would not use the word “murder porn,” I think that’s really denigrating to the survivors and the families. I think we have always been captivated by conspiracy theories, crime theories. Sometimes these big crime theories are like magic where you watch a magic show and you want to believe that it’s true, but sometimes the simplest answers are the truth.
I think it’s the same way with these big crime theories. I think we want to believe them. I think sometimes we want to believe in the fantastical. But I would say it’s always been the case. I think what’s changed is that the genre of documentary television has changed. Before, movies would be dedicated to these theories, documentaries might be dedicated to theories, but the broader audience would never go see documentaries for the most part, it’s kind of a niche genre of storytelling.
But now with Netflix and other platforms the six-part, eight-part, ten-part serialized one-case documentary series is a relatively new form. I think it’s the genre of itself that is new but not .. The format, I should say, is new but not the genre. I think our public, getting back to the Black Dahlia, getting back to the frenzy around the Zodiac in a pre-social media era. I think we’ve always been fascinated by these, but I think now we just have the format and networks that are more dedicated to these types of stories.
I want to talk a little bit about Breaking Homicide. When the investigators are reopening a cold case, in your experience, where does most of the new evidence actually get uncovered? Is it through the interviews or is it the fresh eyes on the case files?
Yeah. It’s a good question. It’s kind of a combination of both. I think a lot of it is found in the interviews. We have a team behind the scenes that is comprised of producers, researchers, who for the most part worked on predominantly just crime shows. There are producers and researchers that go from show to show that know how to work with sheriff’s offices, law enforcement, victims’ families. They know how to gain people’s trust. They know how to file Freedom of Information Act to get their hands on pieces of information that others would not necessarily know how to do.
Remember, we start with a clean slate so we start behind the scenes with our investigators that are off-camera, that have their own background in law enforcement, but then we have our research team behind the scenes that have done this for a number of shows and we are really starting with a clean slate. We have to draw our own list up of who we think is worth interviewing and sometimes we will stumble upon a piece of information from a witness or a piece of information from a loved one or an associate that was never brought up in court proceedings for whatever reason, so would not have played a part in whether someone was convicted or not.
In our first episode of Breaking Homicide there is a big piece of information that is given to us that had never been given to the cops before, a first-hand witness report that was never given during the original trial or during the time of the murder when the investigation first started. I think a lot of new ground is covered in these conversations we have many years later. You have to remember that a lot of … Some staggering percentage of material witnesses never come forward at the time and that’s why 30 to 40 percent of murder cases go cold.
I know that people wrote in for the show to have these cold cases opened. When you’re choosing them, are you looking at it because of how hard they may be to solve or are you looking at them cinematically?
We have six episodes, right? We don’t want to take on any case where we don’t really feel we can move the ball forward or we can really, really bring new information forward in the case. We don’t want to take on a case where we don’t think we can actually deliver for the families and loved ones that have reached out to us and asked for help. When a case is submitted to us, we look into it, we do our diligence, we talk to a handful of people and we have to surmise: Do we think there’s potential here for us to break new ground. Those are the cases we choose. We want to pick the battles we think we have a chance of winning because we owe it to those families.
You’ve been working with this same team since the OJ documentary. Tell me a little bit about your team. Tell me about Sergeant Derrick Levasseur. He was a police sergeant on Rhode Island. What does he bring to it?
I was introduced to Derrick Levasseur and Kris Mohandie by the agent who represents them. Derrick won Big Brother a handful of seasons ago but was also a sergeant detective and undercover cop. I was sent a couple links on Kris Mohandie, Dr. Kris Mohandie, our forensic psychologist. He also sent me a link to familiarize myself with Derrick Levasseur because I was doing stuff or wanting to do more in the crime space.
Their agent sent me these separate links for them to familiarize me with them, and after looking at their links I was like: Huh. What if I paired these guys up together? Because together they kind of gave me the dynamic of the real-life true detective. Derrick is this brash, young, kick-ass undercover cop, sergeant detective who’s been in the middle of it on every level throughout his career. Has a passion for these cases, takes them on personally, wants to get answers for these families.
Then you have Dr. Kris Mohandie who has had a longer career as a forensic psychologist, is more cerebral. He’s worked for many, many years with the LAPD. He responded to OJ Simpson’s house after the famous freeway chase. They really bring two different personalities to the table, just like True Detective where those two guys come from two different schools, have two different temperaments.
I thought what if I pair these guys up? That’s what we did and the first thing we did together was put them on the OJ case and tackle Bill Dear’s theory that he wrote about in his book, very similar to John Cameron where he had a book with a very crazy, or on the surface very crazy theory. After the OJ series, Investigation Discovery was interested in finding an all new show where we could have Kris and Derrick together taking on less-famous cold cases.
What really happened after the OJ show aired was Derrick and Kris got letters, calls, DMs, from people all over the country that wanted their help, wanted them to do for their families and friends what they did for the OJ case, completely reopening the case and trying to shed new light on it. It really was a response to real-life ID viewers for Derrick and Kris to take cases on.
Can you tell me about some of the other cases you’ll be hitting on Breaking Homicide?
I’ll tell you, the first episode was Michelle Norris who was a seven-year-old girl who went missing 30 years ago in Central Falls, Rhode Island. It was our first episode because it’s a case that was near and dear to Derrick’s heart. Derrick grew up there, grew up in the literal neighborhood where Michelle went missing. It’s a case that Derrick has been familiar with his entire career. It was a passion case for Derrick, so you really learn a lot about Derrick in this episode and his hometown as well as the specific case. That was the first episode that aired Sunday.
Episode Two is a very compelling case, tragic case, about Faith Hedgepeth, who was a college student in Chapel Hill, North Carolina where there are a number of potential persons of interest involved in this case. It took our team on a lot of different turns, a lot of unsuspected turns. This is a case where we are, again, trying to bring closure to Faith’s family. That’s the second case. Future cases throughout the season take us all over the country, even as far as Hawaii in one case. To San Diego, Palmdale. We went all over the country in this first season.
Tell me a little bit about the Honolulu Stranger.
I don’t want to give away too much, but it’s obviously a very, very famous case locally in Hawaii that has its own lore. There have been theories for many, many, many years about who the Honolulu Strangler could have been. I really feel that we really moved that case along and I think we solved it. I think our guys solved it and it’s one of the best episodes of the season. Some new information was brought to light. It’s a very old case, it’s a case that’s kind of gone dormant and I think Kris and Derrick really stumbled upon some new information and I think we solved it.
I also wanted to ask you about Rebecca Zahau, whether or not … I know you can’t give it away, but she staged her own hanging. Tell me what you can about that before we see it.
Well I can say this is one of those cases where we are brought into it by loved ones of the victim who believe there was a murder. That was the premise of what our guys were brought in to investigate. She was found hanging at that residence but the people in her life have always suspected foul play. The guys went in and that’s the case that we take on. There’s a civil case right now that is playing out on behalf of her family. What I can say is, every case is different. Every case is a different scenario, a different outcome. That is a very different episode for us because there are a number of people that believe it was a suicide but a number of people believe that it was foul play and you have to watch the course of events and the investigation to find out Derrick and Kris land by the end of the episode.
And the thing to remember is: Derrick and Kris don’t always agree so there are episodes in the end where Derrick and Kris will be on opposite sides of how they think it went down in the end. I think that’s what’s so great about our show is that we’re not trying to just paint it into a clean, happy ending that is just written for television. It doesn’t always have to be the perfect ending where both of our guys are on the same page. We play it completely objective, completely real. Derrick and Kris come to their own conclusions. We don’t produce them to any one conclusion. What you see is what you get.
Okay. My last question is: Are killers born or made?
Wow. Personally I believe they’re made. I believe anybody can inherit someone’s DNA or genetic code. I think you can inherit someone’s idiosyncrasies and mannerisms, but at the end of the day I think nature can push you into a certain direction. Someone being robbed of love at a young age, someone being put into a bubble from a young age that is toxic, being raised in a disgusting environment, a hateful environment can be led to believe that this is the way one should lead their life or not lead their life.
I don’t think anybody is born, coming out of the womb hating or being evil. I think you can be triggered at a young age or in your adolescent years to be pushed in a certain direction. You think about if Ed had been brought up in a loving home and Ed had not been told at a young age that his mother abandoned him. He learned later in his adolescence who his mother was and by then I think he resented her. Who knows? Who knows if Ed had not been sent away to a reformatory and around other troubled boys. If Ed had been raised in a loving environment, who knows? I think your environment can take whatever DNA predilection you might have and push you in the right or wrong direction.
It Was Him: The Many Murders of Ed Edwards premiered Monday, April 16 at 10:00pm ET/PT on the Paramount Network.