Police never searched an apartment in the Richmond area that belonged to Austin Lee Edwards, the Virginia cop who killed three relatives of a 15-year-old Riverside girl, who police say he had online” hyjacked”.
A judge on Wednesday approved Edwards’ eviction from that apartment. Now that the eviction is official, any evidence that might exist inside can be removed or destroyed, if it hasn’t already.
In addition to the 15-year-old Riverside he kidnapped, Edwards pursued at least one other child, a 13-year-old girl whom he asked for nude photos of, even after revealing her age. Experts say many predators have multiple victims and any evidence, especially technology or paper records, can help police learn about other children or abusers.
But the Riverside Police Department, which is leading the investigation into the murders, saw no need to search the apartment.
“We didn’t need that in connection with our investigation,” Ryan Railsback, a spokesman for the department, said in a statement. Officials had “already confiscated his belongings [Saltville] house that are relevant to our murder investigation,” Railsback added.
Riverside police only searched Edwards’ newly purchased Cape Cod-style white house in Saltville, Virginia, which he purchased shortly before the murders. The Smyth County Sheriff’s Department assisted in the search on November 26, the day after the murders.
Chesterfield County Police and the sheriff’s office also did not search Edwards’ apartment near Richmond, officials there said.
At some point, police will want to obtain a warrant and conduct a search to determine if there is any evidence to suggest that Edwards molested other victims, said William Pelfrey, a professor of criminal justice at the Virginia Wilder School of Government. Commonwealth University. “He’s dead. So there are no charges against him. But if there were other victims or guns, that seems like something the police would want to know,” he said.
Police may be reluctant to search Edwards’ apartment because an officer committing murder and sexually pursuing children is “not a good look” for law enforcement officers, Pelfrey said.
“There may be little interest on the part of the police in pursuing information about other victims,” he added. He noted that if Edwards’ landlord told authorities that the apartment was vacant, the police would not have to search the residence.
A visit to Edwards’ apartment on Wednesday indicated that at least some of his belongings may still be inside. The blinds of the two-story apartment were mostly closed and a reporter could only see part of the kitchen, which appeared to be empty. What appeared to be a February 2022 shirt tag from Flying Cross, a company that sells law enforcement uniforms, was visible through the sliding glass door at the back.
Also visible through the glass door was a blue-green ball that looked like a cat toy. Edwards had a cat for many years.
The blinds on Edwards’s second-floor window were broken, and two pieces of mail were tied with rubber bands to the knob of the front door. One was an envelope that appeared to be an eviction notice. The second was a message asking tenants to keep their porches clean. A worn pair of black Air Jordans lay on the floor outside the front door. The back patio was empty.
Asked in an email whether Edwards’ landlord told Riverside police if his apartment was vacant, Railsback replied: “If there is any relevance to our investigation, local authorities will be in touch with our detectives.”
Local authorities — the Chesterfield County Police Department — are not involved in the Edwards investigation, Elizabeth Caroon, a department spokesperson, said in an email.
Samantha Pallett, chief operating officer for Levco Management, declined to comment when a Times reporter asked by phone whether the company had been at Edwards’ apartment or if it had spoken to police in Riverside. “Per company policy, I cannot comment on the matter,” said Pallett, who hung up when the reporter asked her to elaborate on the policy.
Police should search Edwards’ apartment for evidence that could shed light on the murders or identify other victims who may need help, said Jane Manning, a former New York City sex crimes prosecutor and current director of the Women’s Office. Equal Justice Project, to The Times. Any electronic devices he used to communicate with other predators could prove extremely useful, she added.
Possession and use of child pornography and the abuse of real children may overlap, Manning said, adding that it’s common for predators to share child pornography. “Some predators use pornography to groom children,” she said. “Some predators use pornography to facilitate their own planning of the crimes they want to commit.”
“Edwards is not one to act on a sudden impulse that he soon regretted,” she added. “This is someone who visited and cared for a minor child. He has been guilty of this behavior several times. This suggests that he was deeply committed to abusing children. It is almost certain that there will be more victims.”
The police may have already missed their window to search the residence. Before the murders, Edwards was behind on rent and his landlord wanted to evict him.
Court records show Edwards owed $804 in November rent, $80.40 in late fees, $61 in court costs, $150 attorney fees and $90 in utility and waste damages, said Lynn Cosner, civil supervisor of the Chesterfield General District Court.
At Wednesday’s hearing, Judge Keith Hurley dismissed the case, citing Edwards’ death.
Speaking to an attorney representing the property management company, Hurley said, “You know who that is, right?” The lawyer said yes and both noted the presence of a reporter in the courtroom.
Both law enforcement agencies that employed Edwards have come under heavy scrutiny for hiring him. Edwards spent nine months last year with the Virginia State Police. Nine days before the Riverside murders, he joined the Washington County Sheriff’s Office as a deputy sheriff.
Last month, Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin asked the state’s inspector general to investigate Edwards’ hiring by the state police. Edwards told state police when he applied that he volunteered at a mental health facility in 2016. That revelation should have prompted further investigation, but it did not, Gary Settle, the superintendent of the state police, wrote in a Dec. 30 letter. . State police did not search databases for Edwards’ mental health history before hiring him as an officer, Settle wrote.
Two deputies from the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, the law enforcement agency that employed Edwards just before his death, recovered items from his home in a neighboring county the day before the official search. Authorities there have defended the search, saying they acted to protect the public.
There is no indication that the Washington County Sheriff’s Office is under investigation.
Logan reported from Brooklyn, New York, Lin from Los Angeles, and Griset and Nocera from Chesterfield, Virginia.