Police have never searched a Richmond-area apartment belonging to Austin Lee Edwards, the Virginia cop who murdered three relatives of a 15-year-old girl from Riverside who police say he “cheated” on her online.
A judge agreed to evict Edwards from that apartment Wednesday. Now that the eviction is official, any evidence that may have been inside can be removed or destroyed, if it has not already been done.
In addition to the 15-year-old he kidnapped in Riverside, Edwards stalked at least one other child, a 13-year-old girl of whom he demanded nude photos even after she revealed her age. Experts say that many predators have many victims and that any evidence, especially technology or paper files, can help police identify other child or abusers.
But the Riverside Police Department, which is leading the murder investigation, saw no need to search the apartment.
“We didn’t need that in connection with our investigation,” State Department spokesman Ryan Reliesback said in a statement. Officials had already “confiscated things from him.” [Saltville] house relevant to our murder investigation.”
Riverside police only searched Edwards’ newly purchased white Cape Cod-style home in Saltville, Virginia, which he had purchased shortly before the murder. The Smith County Sheriff’s Department assisted in this search on November 26, the day after the killings.
Officials there said the Chesterfield County Sheriff’s Department and the sheriff’s office also did not search Edwards’ apartment in Richmond.
At some point, police will want to obtain a warrant and conduct a search to determine if there is any evidence to indicate whether Edwards abused other victims, said William Pelfrey, a professor of criminal justice at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Wilder State College. “He’s dead. So there’s no case against him. But if there were other victims or firearms, that sounds like something the police would want to know.”
Pelfrey said police may be reluctant to search Edwards’ apartment because having an officer commit murder and child sex “isn’t a good look” for law enforcement.
“There may be little interest among the police in pursuing information on other victims,” he added. He noted that if Edwards’ landlord told the authorities the apartment was vacant, the police would not need to search the home.
A visit to Edwards’ apartment on Wednesday indicated that at least some of his items may still be inside. Most of the curtains for the two-story apartment were closed, and the reporter could see only part of the kitchen, which appeared empty. What appeared to be a shirt tag dated February 2022 from Flying Cross, a company that sells law enforcement uniforms, was visible through the sliding glass door in the back.
A blue-green ball, which looked like a toy cat, also appeared through the glass door. Edwards has owned a female cat for years.
The blinds on Edwards’ second-story window were broken and two pieces of mail were attached to the front door handle with rubber bands. One was an envelope that appeared to be an eviction notice. The second is a notice asking tenants to keep their porches clean. A worn pair of black Air Jordans can be seen on the floor outside the front door. The backyard was empty.
Asked in an email if Edwards’ landlord had told Riverside Police if his apartment was vacant, Reliefback replied, “If there is any connection to our investigation, local authorities will contact our investigators.”
Elizabeth Caron, a spokeswoman for the department, said in an email that local authorities — Chesterfield County Police — are not involved in Edwards’ investigation.
Samantha Pallett, Livco Management’s chief operating officer, declined to comment when a Times reporter asked by phone if the company was inside Edwards’ apartment or if she had spoken with police in Riverside. “According to our company policy, I cannot comment on the matter,” said Pallett, who hung up when the reporter asked her for policy details.
Jane Manning, a former New York City sex crimes prosecutor and current director of the Women’s Equal Justice Project, said police should search Edwards’ apartment for evidence that could shed light on the killings or identify other victims who may need services. She added that any electronic devices he uses to communicate with other predators could be particularly useful.
Possession and use of child pornography and abuse of real children can overlap, Manning said, adding that it is common for predators to share child pornography. “Some predators use child pornography,” she said. Some predators use pornography to facilitate their planning of the crimes they want to commit.
She added, “Edwards is not someone who acted on a sudden impulse that he quickly regretted.” “This is someone who sought and cared for a minor child. He engaged in this behavior on multiple occasions. This indicates that he was deeply committed to child abuse. There are almost certainly more victims.”
However, the police may have already missed the home search window. Prior to the murder, Edwards was behind on rent and his landlord moved to evict him.
Court records indicate that Edwards owed $804 for November’s rent, $80.40 in late fees, $61 in court costs, $150 in attorneys’ fees and $90 in utilities and litter, according to the courthouse civil supervisor. Chesterfield County General Lynn Kosner.
In 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 he is, right?” She did, the lawyer said, and they both noticed a reporter in the courtroom.
The two law enforcement agencies that hired Edwards faced intense scrutiny for hiring him. Edwards worked for the Virginia State Police for nine months last year. He joined the Washington County Sheriff’s office as a deputy nine days before the Riverside killings.
Last month, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin asked the state’s inspector general to investigate the state police’s employment of Edwards. Edwards told state police when he applied that he had voluntarily checked himself into a mental health facility in 2016. The revelation should have prompted further investigation, but hasn’t, Gary Settle, the state’s police chief, wrote in a Dec. 30 letter. . Settle wrote that the state police did not search databases for Edwards’ mental health history prior to his appointment as an officer.
Two deputies from the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, the law enforcement agency that had employed Edwards just before his death, removed the items from his home in a neighboring county the day before the official search. Authorities there 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, Lynn from Los Angeles and Grist and Nocera from Chesterfield, Virginia.