The case of Elizabeth Short ( the “Black Dahlia” ) murdered in January 1947 turns out to be a key piece in a complex puzzle of evidence connecting serial killer Edward Wayne Edwards to seven wrongful convictions. This article gives an overview of ten related cases, and explains significant new evidence discovered since John Cameron’s book on Edwards was published in 2014.
The Ten Cases
1. Josephine Ross, Frances Brown and Suzanne Degnan
( William Heirens convicted )
On June 5, 1945, 43-year-old Josephine Ross was found dead in her apartment at 4108 North Kenmore Avenue, Chicago. She had been repeatedly stabbed, and her head was wrapped in a dress. She was presumed to have surprised an intruder, who then killed her. Dark hairs were found clutched in Ross’ hand, indicating that she had struggled with the intruder before she was killed. No valuables were taken from the apartment.
On December 10, 1945, Frances Brown, a divorced woman, was discovered with a knife lodged in her neck and bullet wound to the head in her apartment at 3941 North Pine Grove Avenue, Chicago, after a cleaning woman heard a radio playing loudly and noted Brown’s partly open door. Brown had been savagely stabbed, and authorities thought that a burglar had been discovered or interrupted. No valuables were taken, but a message in lipstick on the wall of Brown’s apartment was left:
On January 7, 1946, six-year-old Suzanne Degnan was discovered missing from her first-floor bedroom in Edgewater, Chicago. Police found a ladder outside the girl’s window, and a ransom note:
“GeI $20,000 Reddy & wAITe foR WoRd. do NoT NoTify FBI oR Police. Bills IN 5’s & 10’s. BuRN This FoR heR SAfTY.”
A man repeatedly called the Degnan residence demanding the ransom, but hung up before any meaningful conversation could take place.
William Heirens confessed to these three murders, and pleaded guilty, but there are numerous indications that the confessions were false.
2. Elizabeth Short
On the morning of January 15, 1947, Elizabeth Short’s naked body was found severed into two pieces, after being last seen alive on January 9, 1947.
On March 14, an apparent suicide note scrawled in pencil on a bit of foolscap was found tucked in a shoe in a pile of men’s clothing by the ocean’s edge at the foot of Breeze Ave. Venice. The note read: “To whom it may concern: I have waited for the police to capture me for the Black Dahlia killing, but have not. I am too much of a coward to turn myself in, so this is the best way out for me. I couldn’t help myself for that, or this. Sorry, Mary.” The pile of clothing was first seen by a beach caretaker, who reported the discovery to John Dillon, lifeguard captain. Dillon immediately notified Capt. L. E. Christensen of West Los Angeles Police Station. The clothes included a coat and trousers of blue herringbone tweed, a brown and white Y shirt, white jockey shorts, tan socks and tan moccasin leisure shoes, size about eight. The clothes gave no clue about the identity of their owner.
Crime authors such as Steve Hodel (son of George Hill Hodel) and William Rasmussen have suggested a link between the Short murder and the 1946 murder and dismemberment of six-year-old Suzanne Degnan in Chicago, Illinois. Captain Donahoe of the LAPD stated publicly that he believed the Black Dahlia and the Chicago Lipstick Murders were “likely connected”. Among the evidence cited is the fact that Short’s body was found on Norton Avenue, three blocks west of Degnan Boulevard, Degnan being the last name of the girl from Chicago. There were also striking similarities between the handwriting on the Degnan ransom note and that of the “Black Dahlia Avenger”. Both texts used a combination of capitals and small letters (the Degnan note read in part “BuRN This FoR heR SAfTY” [sic]), and both notes contain a similar misshapen letter P and have one word that matches exactly.
3. Marilyn Reese Sheppard ( Husband Sam Sheppard wrongly convicted )
Samuel Holmes “Sam” Sheppard (December 29, 1923 – April 6, 1970) was an American osteopathic physician and, toward the end of his life, a professional wrestler. He was convicted of the brutal murder of his pregnant wife, Marilyn Reese Sheppard on July 4, 1954, at their Bay Village, Ohio, home. He spent almost a decade in prison, mostly at the Ohio Penitentiary, before a retrial was ordered, where he was acquitted in 1966.
On June 6, 1966, the U.S. Supreme Court, by an 8-to-1 vote, struck down the murder conviction. The decision noted, among other factors, that a “carnival atmosphere” had permeated the trial, and that the trial judge Edward J. Blythin, was clearly biased against Sheppard because Judge Blythin had refused to sequester the jury, did not order the jury to ignore and disregard media reports of the case, and when speaking to newspaper columnist Dorothy Kilgallen shortly before the trial started said, “Well, he’s guilty as hell. There’s no question about it.”
4. Stephanie Bryan ( Burton Abbott convicted )
Stephanie Bryan (age 14) was last seen on April 28, 1955, walking home from school where she went through the parking lot of the Claremont Hotel. A large-scale search failed to find her. In mid-July, Georgia Abbott, Burton Abbott’s wife, reported finding personal effects which had belonged to the girl, including a purse and an ID card, in the basement of the Abbotts’ home in Alameda. The basement was in the home she shared with her husband, their son Christopher, and Burton’s mother, Elsie Abbott (née Moore).
In interviewing the Abbotts, the police learned that Elsie Abbott had found the purse earlier, but said she did not connect it with the case. She would profess her son’s innocence until she died.
Police subsequently recovered Stephanie’s glasses, a brassiere, and other evidence in the basement. No one in the family could account for how the victim’s personal effects came to be in the basement.
Abbott stated he had been at the family’s cabin 285 miles away near Weaverville, California, in Trinity County, when Stephanie disappeared.
On July 20, 1955, the victim’s body was found by The San Francisco Examiner reporter Ed Montgomery, in a shallow grave, a few hundred feet from the cabin and Abbott was charged with her rape and murder.
Abbott was subsequently convicted, sentenced to death, and executed after a stay from the governor reached the execution chamber too late.
Edwards apparently led Montgomery to the body, using a false name:
5. The Robison Family Murders
On June 25, 1968, near Cross Village Michigan, a family of six were executed in their summer cabin. The bodies were not found until July 22.
John Cameron obtained the case file with a FOIA request.
The letters “EBE” are highlighted in two documents, see “It’s Me”, page. 254. Cameron suggests Edwards thought of himself as “Edward Burns Edwards”.
When the prime suspect Scolaro learned of the impending charges and arrest, he committed suicide on March 8, 1973.
6. The Zodiac Killings
The Zodiac killings started on December 20, 1968. The killer targeted four men and three women between the ages of 16 and 29, with two of the men surviving attempted murder. The Zodiac himself claimed to have killed up to 37 victims. The killer originated the name “Zodiac” in a series of taunting letters and postcards sent to the local Bay Area press. See here for more evidence that Edwards was the Zodiac killer.
7. Three boys ( West Memphis Three convicted )
On May 5, 1993, three eight-year-old boys—Steve Branch, Michael Moore, and Christopher Byers—were reported missing in West Memphis, Arkansas.
See here for more evidence that Edwards murdered the three boys.
8. Laci Peterson ( Husband Scott Peterson convicted )
Laci Peterson disappeared while 8 months pregnant with her first child around December 24, 2002. Her husband Scott Peterson was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. An anonymous message was sent to the press soon after Laci and her son Conner’s remains were discovered on the shore of San Francisco bay, hundreds of further messages posted by “I Killed Laci Peterson” were subsequently posted. A cryptic signature apparently encoding “Edward E” ends “1947”, apparently referring back to the murder of Elizabeth Short. See here for more evidence on Laci/Scott Peterson..
9. Teresa Halbach ( Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey convicted )
Sometime during the day on October 31, 2005, photographer Teresa Halbach was scheduled to meet with Steven Avery, one of the owners of Avery Auto Salvage, to photograph a maroon Plymouth Voyager minivan for Auto Trader Magazine.
On November 11, 2005, Steven Avery was charged and later convicted of the murder of Halbach. Avery protested that he had been framed. Brenda Dassey ( who was an alibi for Avery ) was also convicted after making a confession that has all the hallmarks of being false. Two anonymous notes were left. See here for more on Teresa Halbach.
10. Coleman Family ( Husband and father Chris Coleman convicted )
Chris Coleman was convicted of strangling his wife, Sherri, and their boys Garrett, 11, and Gavin, 9, on May 5, 2009. Red, spray-painted graffiti messages were left inside the house. The messages apparent reference the 1947 murder of Elizabeth Short. See Opinion: New trial likely for murder of wife, two sons.
The Old Evidence
John Cameron connected the above murders ( with the exception of Teresa Halbach and Laci Peterson ) to Edwards in his 2014 book mostly using various anonymous writings – either discovered at a crime scene, sent to newspapers, or left on the internet, most notably in a website about the Black Dahlia case ( BlackDahliaSolution.org ).
The Peterson case is mentioned in appendices, but without any detail. John Cameron contacted me in 2015, sending me a copy of his book. I started to understand Edwards, and the evidence linking Edwards to the Peterson case, including the “Message from God” and the “I Killed Laci Peterson” messages, I also decoded the “Short Code” signature, see here. I already knew Scott Peterson was innocent on the basis of other evidence.
The New Evidence
In August 2019, I was contacted by Margot Burns ( first name changed ), who explained that she encountered Edwards in 1971, she had been forced to help him prepare one of the Zodiac cards, and he confessed to the murders of Elizabeth Short, Stephanie Bryan, Paul Lee Stine and to directing the planting of the remains of Laci Peterson on the shore of San Francisco Bay using a boat.
In addition, further clues have been discovered in the BlackDahliaSolution website related to the Laci Peterson case, and also in messages left on a message board under the name “I Killed Laci Peterson” which are not only a confession to the murder of Laci Peterson, but also hint that Edwards was involved in the murder of Teresa Halbach.
Finally there is evidence that Edwards and/or his associates was manipulating and mis-directing people who were studying the murders:
- The “fratpack” forum on which the “I Killed Laci Peterson” messages were posted was apparently being run by Edwards and/or his associates. This was used to mis-lead people into thinking the author of the “I Killed Laci Peterson” messages was someone who was looking into the case.
- On April 11, 2003 Steve Hodel’s theory that his father murdered the Black Dahlia in 1947 was announced, on April 13 further rumours in the Black Dahlia case were announced, the very same day that Conner’s body was found. See here.
- The final page of the the BlackDahliaSolution website discussed Larry Harnisch, a Los Angeles Times copy editor and writer, who published books about the case.
- The author of the BlackDahliaSolution website claimed he was 13 years old in January 1947, after being challenged about knowing an inordinate amount about the case in the FAQ section ( It’s Me, page 303 ). If Edwards was born June 14, 1933, as he claimed in this autobiography that would be true, but in fact records show he was born May 30, 1928 ). Conclusion : Edwards was using his fake birth date as a cover story.
The evidence linking Edwards to the wrongful convictions of William Heirens, Sam Sheppard, Burton Abbott, the West Memphis Three, Scott Peterson, Steven Avery, Brendan Dassey and Chris Coleman is extensive and compelling. Edwards committed murders and framed innocent people from 1945 to 2009. See here for more on Edwards.