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Sad homage to a slain brother

Sherry Barlow will stand vigil as crews dig for the remains of her sibling, the victim in '68 of a serial killer.

October 10, 2008|Andrew Blankstein and Evelyn Larrubia | Times Staff Writers
  • Sherry Barlow, 50, and her daughter Rebekah Kelton, 19, flew from McAlester, Okla., to Southern California to visit the site where authorities are searching for the body of her brother, Roger Dale Madison, who was killed in 1968. Barlow says she is grateful for everything that's being done --  whether they find Roger's body or not.
Sherry Barlow, 50, and her daughter Rebekah Kelton, 19, flew from McAlester,… (Myung J. Chun /Los Angeles…)

She knows it won't be easy.

It will be noisy and dusty. It will bring back awful memories from decades ago. And it might ultimately prove fruitless.

But Sherry Barlow plans to spend this morning standing alongside the 23 Freeway in eastern Ventura County, hoping to provide her brother with a long-delayed memorial.

Authorities believe a serial killer fatally stabbed her 16-year-old brother, Roger Madison, in 1968 and buried him alongside the freeway. This week, armed with new clues, authorities began digging up sites along the freeway, prompting Barlow to fly in Thursday from Oklahoma to mount a vigil.

"Even if they don't find anything, I can stand there close to where he is and say goodbye," said Barlow, 53. "Because I never got a chance to say goodbye."

The last time anyone in his family saw Roger alive was in December 1968, when he left the family's Sylmar home after an argument with his father about smoking.

The family thought he had run away. Two years later, her mother sat down with Barlow and her younger sister Annie to tell them the bad news.

"She said she had something to tell us about Roger," Barlow said. "Me or my sister asked when he was coming home. She started crying and said he's not coming home."

Roger had been murdered, police told the family -- and not by a stranger but by a trusted friend and neighbor, Mack Ray Edwards. Married and the father of two children, Edwards lived five houses down from the Madisons and was a regular visitor.

"He was practically a part of the family," Barlow said.

Edwards, a heavy-equipment operator, got along well with her father because the two had worked in construction, Barlow said. He also displayed a soft side and the ability to relate to the children, especially the boys, she said.

Edwards' teenage son was a frequent companion of Roger and his older brother, Rick.

It was Edwards who taught Barlow's two older brothers to drive and once stayed at their home all night helping nurse Barlow's sick dachshund, Lady, back to health, she said.

Throughout it all, he never revealed a dark side.

After a botched kidnapping of three local girls in 1970, Edwards turned himself in to police and confessed to killing six children, including Roger, over 15 years. Edwards said he stabbed the boy in an orange grove in Sylmar and dumped his body somewhere near the 23 Freeway, which was under construction at the time.

He later told a Los Angeles County sheriff's jailer that the real number of his victims was closer to two dozen. Edwards hanged himself in his cell at San Quentin in 1971.

But before his death, he provided key details that led investigators to the site where he disposed of his first victim, 8-year-old Stella Darlene Nolan, who disappeared in 1953. Her remains were discovered in Downey, under 8 feet of earth, near a bridge abutment under the 5 Freeway.

Edwards also told detectives about killing Roger and using a bulldozer to dispose of his body in a "compaction hole," used during freeway construction to determine if the soil can support the structures being built above it. But Edwards did not give a precise location.

Without additional information, police didn't know where to look. Barlow, whose family left California more than 12 years ago, said she had thought about her brother a lot over the years but never believed authorities would find his body.

The monstrous nature of Roger's killer was something that Barlow struggled for years to come to grips with as she sought out details of his death. Barlow said she read and reread an article about her brother's killing and Edwards' other victims in True Crime magazine.

"I couldn't comprehend a person doing that," she said, "especially to Roger."

There was one other haunting detail Barlow's mother told her about the police investigation: Edwards had also planned to kill her oldest brother, Rick; his girlfriend; and another young couple. He was going to bury them somewhere in the foothills.

The second of five children -- two boys and three girls -- Roger was a soft-spoken, easy-going and kind boy, Barlow said.

He loved animals and music, especially rock 'n' roll. As a teenager, he was as comfortable playing sports with his friends as he was watching over and playing Barbies with his younger sisters on the front porch. In her mind, Barlow can still see Roger playing the guitar in his room.

Barlow, who was only 13 when Roger disappeared, said her parents rarely talked about his death because his murder was so devastating. She particularly sensed the heavy burden on her mother, who would sometimes cry when talking about her son.

Barlow and her siblings sought comfort from each other. When her parents died, she said, the family decided to keep their ashes in an urn in the hope that one day they could bury them together with Roger. But she thought that day would never come.

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