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Victim's Family Renews Hope

Investigation: Detectives may finally be close to solving the 1974 killing of an LAPD officer.

May 11, 2002|ANNA GORMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Above Jeri Edwards' couch hang three oil portraits of her son dressed in his LAPD uniform, the hat nearly hiding his thin face and proud smile.

Twenty-eight years ago today, Officer Michael Edwards' bullet-ridden body was discovered in an abandoned, burned-out apartment building in South-Central Los Angeles. Since then, Edwards, a Riverside resident, has visited her son's grave in Cypress several times a year to clean the headstone and leave fresh-cut flowers. Each time, she tries not to think about what happened. But she can't help wondering.

"I don't know," said Edwards, 76. "I wish I did know. I can't understand why anybody would want to hurt him."

Now, as she honors the anniversary of his 1974 death, she is filled with renewed hope that detectives may finally be on the verge of solving the case, one of only two unsolved killings of Los Angeles Police Department officers.

Detectives reopened their investigation three years ago and have again ruled out some of their initial suspects, including a fellow LAPD officer, street gang members and even the Symbionese Liberation Army. Though detectives still lack enough evidence to make an arrest, they say they now believe his slaying may have been for personal rather than professional reasons.

Edwards, 26, a father of two who was separated from his wife and seeing other women, may have been the victim of a jealous husband, they say. Although the initial investigators had received a tip along those lines within days, it was barely pursued at the time.

"We're famous for putting on blinders and thinking it's got to be something to do with your job," said LAPD Det. Dennis Kilcoyne, who is investigating the murder. "If it was Joe the plumber, that's the first thing we'd look at. We'd look at his personal life--what's he up to, who does he owe money to, who is he dating."

The Edwards murder has hovered over the LAPD like a dark shadow. The original detectives traveled to at least 10 states to follow leads, and the case has led to books and billboards, but no arrests.

"We tried just about everything we could do at that time," said Tom McGuine, one of the initial detectives on the case, who retired in 1983. "We had the people power, we had the time, we had everything going for us. But sometimes you get to a point where you just don't get the answer."

Born in 1948, Edwards was the middle child of a homemaker and a car salesman. As a teenager, he built skateboards and played the electric guitar. Three years after graduating from high school in Long Beach, he joined the LAPD in 1969 and became a patrol officer in the 77th Street Division.

Edwards' mother was proud, but apprehensive. "As a mother, you worry," she said. "But you try and go on with life."

When Edwards and his wife started having problems, he moved in with his parents and started dating an unmarried police dispatcher, his mother said. He also was friendly with another woman who worked near the division and was recently married, according to detectives.

On May 10, 1974, Edwards had just finished his last day on a stint with the LAPD's gang task force and headed to the bar at the Los Angeles Police Academy to meet some friends.

A guard saw him leave the academy about 10:30 p.m. in his Ford Pinto station wagon. A short time later, he was back at the 77th Street station. After leaving there, he was seen by witnesses at a nearby hospital, Kilcoyne said.

Police believe that shortly afterward, he was forced to go to the abandoned building at 122 W. 89th St., where he was shot six times with a 9-millimeter handgun. His body was found in the morning by two neighborhood teens on their way to the market. His shirt was pulled over his face and he was handcuffed. Both his car and service revolver were missing.

That night, Edwards' car was found in the 1000 block of West 186th Street, near what was then the Ascot Raceway, a frequent drop spot for stolen vehicles. Divorce papers from his wife were on the passenger seat, detectives say. Police believe that at least two people were involved in the murder.

Edwards' sister, Sue Davis, has her own theory about her brother's murder: "He must have trusted someone he shouldn't have. He couldn't get out of it."

"It's not going to bring him back, but it'd be nice to know," said Davis, 46, who regularly accompanies her mother to the grave site.

It had been years since the Edwards family had heard from LAPD detectives. They assumed that the department had given up hope of solving the case. Then, in the fall of 1999, LAPD Dets. Kilcoyne, Rosemary Sanchez and Paul Coulter knocked on the door.

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