Untangling The Many Murders of Ed Edwards: Did the Same Man Kill JonBenét Ramsey, Laci Peterson and… the Black Dahlia?
The rotting lily didn’t really need any gilding when it comes to Edward Wayne Edwards‘ life story.
A career criminal, who in the 1970s wrote a memoir and gave public talks about prison reform and supposedly becoming a better person, Ed Edwards died in prison in 2011 while awaiting execution for the 1996 murder of his foster son, Dannie Boy Edwards. He was 77.
At the same time Edwards was serving two life sentences for four other murders—after DNA evidence linked him to a 1980 double homicide in which the female victim was raped and strangled and her boyfriend was stabbed to death, he confessed to fatally shooting another couple in 1977. He was already behind bars in Wisconsin when he confessed in 2010 to shooting Dannie to collect on his $ 250,000 life insurance policy.
Edwards had spent half of his life in and out of reformatories, jail and prison for bank robbery (which landed him on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted List in 1961), stealing cars and burglary. He was a drifter who was married four times and fathered at least six children. He had hidden in plain sight, even appearing on the popular game show To Tell the Truth in 1972. He reportedly sold the movie rights to his life story, but that movie was never made.
Or was it? Have Edwards’ crimes actually inspired countless books, movies and TV shows over the years?
Retired homicide detective John A. Cameron believes that Ed Edwards was actually a prolific serial killer, the missing link among a dozen of the most notorious murder cases of the 20th century and almost 100 deaths overall.
Not all of them unsolved.
“Laci Peterson, the Black Dahlia, JonBenét Ramsey, Jimmy Hoffa, the Zodiac killings.” So Cameron ticks off some of the victims he believes Edwards left in his wake in a teaser for Paramount’s six-part docu-series It Was Him: The Many Murders of Ed Edwards, premiering Monday.
Cameron first laid out his theory in his 2014 book It’s Me! Edward Wayne Edwards, the Serial Killer You Never Heard Of, in which he also links the Akron, Ohio, native to—among others—Chandra Levy, Martha Moxley, the West Memphis Three killings, Adam Walsh, the wife of Dr. Sam Sheppard (whose wrongful conviction inspired The Fugitive) and Teresa Halbach, a name that wouldn’t have rung as many bells if the man convicted of killing her, Steven Avery, hadn’t been the subject of Making a Murderer in 2015.
The victim profiles are all over the map—quite literally, in that the Black Dahlia, aspiring actress Elizabeth Short, was killed in Los Angeles in 1947, thousands of miles away from where the 13-year-old Edwards would presumably have been living, two years after being kicked out of a Catholic orphanage in Ohio. Halbach, the last victim on the list, died in Wisconsin in 2005, when Edwards was 72.
Cameron insists that Edwards himself laid out the framework for what became the ex-detective’s life’s work in his ’70s-era autobiography Metamorphosis of a Criminal. In the book Edwards encouraged readers, “Don’t be a crime victim. Be a crime stopper.” (He also wrote about meeting famed union leader Jimmy Hoffa, who disappeared without a trace in 1975, while they were both in prison in 1967.)
“This book was actually an answer to all the murders he had committed,” Cameron said, holding up a copy of the 46-year-old book on Megyn Kelly Today last week. “He placed all the names, the cities, the states that he would kill in, and that he had killed in, and then he would tie all of his murders after he published this book to the book.”
In 2015 Cameron was contacted by Wayne Wolfe, a Los Angeles-based filmmaker who was doing some genealogical research online and his father (also Wayne Wolfe) asked if Wayne would look up his own dad, Ed Edwards, whom he hadn’t seen since he was 3 years old.
“I remembered talking to my mom about him” in around 2004 or 2005, Wolfe, 33, told E! News in a recent interview. “She said he was a crazy guy that went to prison for murder…I couldn’t find anything when I looked it up. My dad never wanted to look into it.”
What Wolfe found out would change his life forever.
His grandmother Jeanette, whom Wolfe calls a “superhero,” was one of Ed Edwards’ legal wives but she had married him against her will after he threatened her family’s life. She divorced Edwards when he was in prison in Montana and proceeded to expel any trace of him from her life. Wolfe grew up knowing and loving “Grandpa Chuck,” his dad’s stepfather.
And then his world turned upside down. Or, in some ways, right-side up.
“Be careful of the truth that you ask to hear,” Wolfe said. He added later, “I found out my grandfather was a serial killer in October of 2015. With something like this, once you find that out, the momentum that is caused from it is 60 years of pressure that’s been building. It’s something that was a springboard that launched me to the moon. It’s been a weird roller-coaster.”
Doing his research he came across Cameron’s name on the Wikipedia page about Edwards, went to his website and called him up, leaving a message saying that he was pretty sure he was Ed Edwards’ grandson.
“It’s a very fantastic theory, to choose any word, it’s definitely a very vast one,” Wolfe acknowledged.
It all started for Cameron with a text that made its way to him in Montana in 2010 that described the M.O. behind the killings of two teenage couples in 1977 and 1980, which Edwards had just confessed to. (Edwards’ own daughter had called in a tip to Wisconsin police after seeing a 30th anniversary special on the still-unsolved 1980 killings of Timothy Hack and Kelly Drew, both 19.) A retired cold case detective, Cameron thought of an unsolved 1956 double homicide in Great Falls in which the victims were two teens parked on a lovers’ lane, in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Cameron pulled Edwards’ rap sheet and discovered he had been arrested and done prison time in Billings, Mt., in March 1956. His ensuing three years of research would take him all over the country as he amassed a list of almost 100 people killed over the course of seven decades.
Some of the connections he made fell more reasonably within the realm of possibility than others. The so-called Zodiac killings that plagued the San Francisco Bay Area between 1968 and ’69 were never officially solved, though countless names have been floated. Robert Graysmith, the San Francisco Chronicle cartoonist and puzzle enthusiast who worked to decode the cipher infamously used in four letters sent to the paper that were believed to be from the killer, advanced the theory that Arthur Leigh Allen (who died in 1992) was the murderer in his 1986 best-seller Zodiac. The anonymous self-proclaimed killer ultimately took credit for 34 murders.
The extra bizarre pieces of the puzzle started clicking into place for Cameron when he discovered that Edwards had been blogging on Zodiackiller.com starting in 2000, all the way until he was arrested in 2009 for the murders of Hack and Drew. He wrote about enlisting a colleague, a language expert and puzzle enthusiast named Neal Best, to help solve the cipher and “Edward Edwards” fit right into the Zodiac killer’s 60s-era puzzles.
He then determined that Edwards was behind the website blackdahliasolution.org, on which he found a photo that he identified as being of a 13-year-old Ed Edwards with Elizabeth Short, taken at a penny arcade. Also through coded entries, Edwards seemingly identifies himself as Short’s killer, according to Cameron, who noted that in the FAQ section, the site’s author wrote, “In January of 1947 I was thirteen years old.”
INTERNATIONAL NEWS PHOTO/Getty Images
After Short’s murder (about which many books have been written and which has remained so morbidly fascinating that it was a plot point in American Horror Story just a few years ago), a man claiming to be the killer contacted the city editor of the Los Angeles Examiner—a little more than 20 years before the Zodiac killer contacted the city editor of the San Francisco Chronicle.
The web woven by Cameron stretches far and wide.
“From the time he started killing in 1945 to the time he got caught in 2009, it was unbelievable how many he killed, just in the eight-month period he was with Wayne’s grandma [alone]” Cameron told Megyn Kelly on Today last week. “He killed eight, and two of them in my hometown on a lovers’ lane.”
Explaining the convoluted-sounding Zodiac connection, Cameron said, “There were two cryptograms sent in by the Zodiac killer, one in ’69 and one in ’70…and he basically said, ‘if you solve these puzzles then you’ll have my name.’ And in 2010, when we confronted Ed Edwards about being the Zodiac killer after we solved the 13-character cipher—Edward Edwards’ name is 13 characters. And what he had done was taken the letters in his name and reverse-imaged the letters as hieroglyphics, so you could never solve the Zodiac case without knowing the name ‘Edward Edwards.’
“Once we did we confronted him, he sent us a letter saying ‘it’s me, you don’t know the whole story, I have a lot to tell you.’ And that he framed people his whole life. That’s what he wanted me to know at the very beginning. That’s what he wanted me to know, that he intended to frame somebody.”
(There’s a reason a whole book and a 6-part series are needed to explain all this.)
As for framing people, Cameron’s theories purport to solve a host of officially unsolved cases, including those of JonBenét Ramsey; Adam Walsh (whose father John Walsh was inspired to create America’s Most Wanted after his 6-year-old son was murdered; serial killer Ottis Toole confessed while already locked up but then recanted); the murders of at least four children in Oakland in 1976; at least 28 murders, mostly of children, in Atlanta between 1979 and 1981; and the Colonial Parkway murders in the Virginia-D.C. area between 1986 and 1989.
There are also cases where initial convictions didn’t stick.
Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley, Jr. and Jason Baldwin—the West Memphis Three—were convicted of the murders of three young boys in Arkansas and spent more than 18 years in prison before being released in 2011 following the introduction of new evidence casting doubt on their guilt. They have not been officially exonerated, but accepted Alford pleads, which allowed them to insist on their innocence while acknowledging the state has a case against them. Michael Skakel, the Kennedy cousin convicted in 2002 of killing Martha Moxley in 1975, was granted a new trial but in 2016 the Connecticut Supreme Court voted to reinstate the conviction.
Dr. Sam Sheppard was convicted of his wife Marilyn Sheppard’s 1954 murder but was acquitted at a retrial. Ingmar Guandique was convicted of Chandra Levy’s murder in 2010, but was granted a retrial after questions arose about the validity of the jailhouse informant who claimed the suspect had confessed. Prosecutors eventually dropped the charges and Guandique was deported back to his native El Salvador.
But then there’s Scott Peterson, on death row after being convicted of first-degree murder in the 2002 deaths of wife Laci Peterson and their unborn son. And, of course, there’s Steven Avery, the Wisconsin man whose case become a national sensation when Making a Murderer seemingly dangled the idea that he had been framed by local law enforcement for the 2005 murder of Teresa Halbach. Avery had previously served 18 years for sexual assault before being exonerated with the help of DNA evidence, and he had filed a $ 36 million lawsuit against the former sheriff and D.A. of Manitowoc County.
Avery’s lawyer alleged in court documents that an ex-boyfriend of Halbach’s was responsible, USA Today reported last June.
“We know who killed Laci Peterson,” Megyn Kelly told Cameron bluntly on Today.
AP Photo/Justin Sullivan, file
“Laci was killed six years after JonBenet Ramsey,” Cameron explained. “Edwards ties a lot of his murders to ‘666,’ killing them on 12-26, or 9-6 or ’66. He tied a lot to this, to the occult. Scott and Laci Peterson—we all hated Scott Peterson. We all thought he was guilty because he was cheating on his wife, and that’s how Edwards would work. He would pick victims whose husbands or wives were cheating.”
Asked how Edwards was supposed to know that Scott Peterson was a cheater, which the world wasn’t apprised of until after Laci disappeared, Cameron says, “He was actually a doctor of psychiatry throughout his life, having offices where he would be under an assumed identity, rope his victims into the office, get personal information out of them, and then figure out—sometimes years in advance—how am I going to frame them?'”
Pressed by Kelly about just how far-fetched that sounds, Cameron admitted he’s gotten “the most stuff” about Laci Peterson.
As for one of the other especially suspect theories, the Black Dahlia, Cameron told Kelly it wasn’t even Edwards’ first murder, that he had first dismembered a 6-year-old girl (identified as Suzanne Degnan in Cameron’s book) in 1946.
“He spent his whole life killing women who looked like his mother [who had killed herself in front of him when he was about 5], and also killing children that were of his age when he was destroyed,” Cameron said.
AP Photo/Akron Beacon Journal, Phil Masturzo
Regardless of John Cameron’s certainty, it’s a lot to unpack.
“It comes down to the Zodiac,” Wayne Wolfe tells E! News. “Once you re-frame your perspective and look at some of these different murders…it changes how you view the evidence. Some of it eerily makes sense and that’s what we want to do [with this show], we wanted to prove his theories.”
He hopes that The Many Murders of Ed Edwards ultimately sends the message, “Never be afraid of trying to find out the truth, because as scary or as painful as it can be, the truth is still the truth. There are obviously going to be things in there that, [make you wonder] what is 100 percent accurate or 100 percent true?”
For his part, Wolfe also says that he by no means intended to or wanted to strip other families of their closure, or assurance that justice was done. He says he approached all of the cases, no matter how far in the past or how recent, the same, as cases where people’s lives were irreversibly affected.
“To make them question what they firmly believe, it’s not something I take lightly,” he says. “I certainly can understand the confusion and fear that comes with that, and I don’t want to unnecessarily hurt people. Who does?”
His quest was simply to find out the truth. About his family, about his grandfather, about himself.
“You question everything about your life,” Wolfe told us.
“The truth in your past can be something like a small heat lamp or it can be a sun,” he continued. “Be careful getting too close to it because you’re going to melt and burn away.”
At the end of the day, Wolfe says, “I know how fantastic some of these theories can sound and how out-of-the-Waterworld ridiculous this is to some people, but there’s always a truth hidden in something, and I can definitely say we found some.”
In 2011, Edwards died having readily confessed to the five murders he was locked up for, telling the Associated Press in a 2010 interview that, after killing Dannie Boy in 1996, he simply went on with his life.
“It didn’t work on my conscience. I spent the money. I was having a good time,” Edwards, by then and ailing from diabetes and other health issues, said. “You do it, forget it was done and go about your business until next time.”
“There is nothing else,” he added. “His is the last one.”
It Was Him: The Many Murders of Ed Edwards premieres tonight at 9 p.m. on Paramount Network.