John Cameron has a story to tell. Just how good a story it is depends on how far down the rabbit hole you’re willing to go. You see, Cameron knows who killed Teresa Halbach, and it wasn’t Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey.
Among the Making a Murderer fans who agree Avery and Dassey are innocent, there is much disagreement about who to point the finger at instead. But then, according to Cameron, that’s what the real killer wants.
A retired homicide detective in Great Falls, Montana, Cameron has spent the past six years investigating a serial killer who he claims murdered people across the US and framed others for the crimes. That killer's name was Edward Wayne Edwards.
“Every one of his murders was about setting anybody but him up,” Cameron told BuzzFeed. “He did exactly what he did in the Avery case, all over the country.”
A career criminal, Edwards was finally apprehended in 2009. He confessed to committing five murders between 1977 and 1996, and was sentenced to death. He died of natural causes in prison in 2011, at the age of 77.
“Nothing’s a hundred per cent in a murder investigation,” Cameron said. “There’s always gonna be doubt. But I’m 99.9% sure Ed Edwards killed Teresa Halbach.”
In Cameron’s theory, Ed Edwards would have waited for Teresa Halbach to leave Avery Salvage on Halloween 2005, and come up with some ruse to get her to stop. Edwards would have been 72 by this time, and would have appeared to Teresa to be a harmless old man.
Edwards, Cameron claims, would have walked up to her driver’s-side window as she pulled over and shot her in the left temple with a .22, pushing her into the passenger seat and shooting her again in the back of her head.
He’d have parked Teresa's car in the salvage yard before burning her body, and dumping some of her cremains in Steven Avery’s fire pit. He would then have joined the volunteer search party on November 4 and 5 and would have suggested searching a particular area to the right person, someone like Pam Sturm.
As we know, Pam went and found the car. The rest is what unfolds in Making A Murderer.
But Edwards wasn’t done yet. According to Cameron, he stuck around, and used an assumed name to visit the courthouse during Avery’s trial. And that's not all.
In Episode 6 of the series, at 12 minutes and 38 seconds, a man appears standing behind prosecutor Ken Kratz in the courthouse hallway. A man, according to John Cameron, who looks a lot like Ed Edwards. Thus far, Cameron hasn’t been able to find out who he is.
The five killings Edwards confessed to were the double murder of Billy Lavaco and Judy Straub in Ohio in 1977, the double murder of Tim Hack and Kelly Drew in Wisconsin in 1980, and finally, the 1996 murder of his adopted son, Dannie.
Dannie Law Gloeckner was a 25-year-old US Army soldier with a history of drifting. In 1995, Edwards and his wife took Dannie in and legally adopted him. Dannie subsequently changed his name to Dannie Boy Edwards.
“I have been living with Mr and Mrs Edwards for over a year and have been supported by them,” Dannie wrote in his petition. “I call them Mom and Dad. They treat me like a son, therefore I would like to take their surname.”
In May, five months after changing his name, Dannie disappeared. His remains were discovered in April 1997, less than a mile from the Edwards home. He’d been shot twice in the face and buried in a shallow grave.
In 2009, 29 years after the Wisconsin double murder, cold-case detectives were able to match Edwards’ DNA to semen found on Kelly Drew’s clothing. They arrested Edwards at his home in Kentucky and extradited him to Wisconsin.
He confessed to shooting Billy Lavaco and Judy Straub, and to killing Dannie in order to profit from a $250,000 life insurance policy.
“I did it, it didn’t bother me, and I moved on,” Edwards said in a taped interview.
“That’s all. That’s all I killed!”
Ed Edwards had a story to tell, too. He wrote a book, Metamorphosis of a Criminal, in 1972. The book is a 436-page memoir that recounts his early crimes, incarcerations, and eventual "rehabilitation" into a family man.
He murdered Billy Lavaco and Judy Straub just five years later, though John Cameron believes his killings began long before 1977.
To promote his book in 1972, Edwards appeared on the popular game show To Tell the Truth. The contestants, including actor Alan Alda, had to work out who the real Ed Edwards was from a lineup. One of the clues was that Edwards was a suspect in a double murder in Oregon in 1960.
In that case, two local men, Eddie Jorgenson and Robert Brom, were convicted of killing teenagers Larry Peyton and Beverly Allan, though some now believe Edwards was responsible.
Footage of Edwards' appearance on To Tell the Truth is on YouTube and it makes for illuminating viewing. Edwards is charming, affable, and clearly revelling in the spotlight.
“The more crimes you do, the bigger you are,” he says at the end. “I was out there committing crime for the recognition.”
In his book, Edwards details spending three years in Deer Lodge prison, Montana, after a series of gas station robberies in 1956. But it was another 1956 crime – an unsolved double murder – that first drew Cameron's attention to Edwards.
On January 2, Lloyd Duane Bogle, 18, and Patricia Kalitzke, 16, were shot and killed in a lovers' lane off Wadsworth Park, near Great Falls. Edwards was in the city at the time.
“I was trying to get Edwards to confess to a murder he did in Great Falls, when he was 22,” Cameron told BuzzFeed. “I had no idea that this was gonna take on a life of its own.
“I have records, pictures of him, all over the country. Plus his book documents everywhere he was until 1972. Everywhere he wrote about in the book he killed and set people up. And he was free to kill until 2009. He killed every moment of his life.”
And so we arrive at the rabbit hole. Because, according to Cameron, the crimes Edwards got away with include some of the most infamous murders in US history.
Zodiac wanted poster, 1969. Ed Edwards, 1962.
Between 1968 and 1970, a killer stalked San Francisco, murdering at least five people and seriously wounding two others. Taunting the police and media with cryptic letters, he eventually claimed as many as 37 victims. It’s a story most are familiar with: The Zodiac.
He was never caught.
Among professional and amateur investigators, everyone has their favourite suspect. Their guy. Their Zodiac.
John Cameron has his guy. In 1968, Ed Edwards was living in Northern California. He had (possibly) already committed two double murders on lovers’ lanes, in 1956 and 1960, and would go on to (definitely) kill two other young couples in a manner eerily similar to the Zodiac.
“How did the Zodiac kill? He liked to walk up on people parked in their cars, pretend he was a policeman, order them out, then shoot, stab, and strangle them,” Cameron says.
“In 1970, he sent a Halloween card to Chronicle reporter Paul Avery, and on the front it said by rope, by knife, by gun, by fire. Well, that’s how Ed Edwards kills. The MO matched to what the Zodiac did.”
More than 40 years after a killer taunted San Francisco, and some 2,500 possible suspects later, Cameron is convinced he’s finally caught the Zodiac.
On 5 May 1993, three 8-year-old boys were reported missing from their homes in West Memphis. Their bodies were found the next day. Three teenagers were convicted of the murders in 1994, and eventually released in 2011, after DNA evidence cleared them.
“I didn’t really know much about the case until I got involved with Ed Edwards,” Cameron says. “I tied him to a triple murder in 1955, and that led me to West Memphis.
“On October 17, 1955, in Chicago, Ed Edwards killed three little boys in Robinson Woods Park – in the same manner that the little boys in West Memphis were killed in 1993, in Robin Hood Hills Park. So even the park names were similar.”
“Then I watched the West Memphis Three documentary,” he says.
“And there was Ed Edwards.”
A documentary about the murders, Paradise Lost, was released in 1996. Around 38 minutes in, there’s a scene in a cemetery. For a few seconds, the camera cuts to an elderly man in the background (pictured above). According to Cameron, this man is Ed Edwards.
“He managed to con his way into the documentary," he says, "standing in the background at the cemetery, while the parents were grieving over their dead child. He’s under a very slight disguise, but that’s what Edwards would do.”
Edwards would have been 60 years old in 1993. Three years later, in 1996, Edwards killed his adopted son, Dannie. But according to Cameron, he wasn’t done yet.
On 25 December 1996, 6-year-old JonBenét Ramsey was reported missing from her home in Boulder, Colorado. Her body was found in the basement eight hours later. Her parents were initially suspected, but were never arrested. DNA testing cleared them in 2008.
“Once we knew Edwards was the Zodiac the first thing that caught our attention was the signature on the JonBenét Ramsey [ransom] note,” Cameron says. “It’s a three-page note and the signature was ‘SBTC’. Nobody could figure out what that meant.”
“It was the signature of the Zodiac. SBTC: Signed by the Cross.”
According to Cameron, Edwards was in Colorado at the time.
“He had killed a girl just like JonBenét in 1946, so JonBenét was the 50-year anniversary.”
Two years ago, John Cameron published It’s Me: Edward Wayne Edwards, The Serial Killer You NEVER Heard Of, a 709-page account of his investigation into Ed Edwards.
The book ties Edwards to some of the most infamous murders of the past century, including The Black Dahlia, Chandra Levy, and Laci Peterson.
The scope of Cameron's investigation seems to be so wide – between the distances the killer travelled, the methods he used, and the setting up of others – that it can link Edwards to almost any crime. It's both self-perpetuating theory and self-fulfilling prophecy.
It’s not that Cameron doesn’t have a case, it's just not clear how much of a case he has.
The problem with having an answer for everything is that it doesn't leave room for questions. Take, for example, the question of whether the recent Halbach tie-in is just Cameron trying to sell copies of his book.
“I published my book two years ago, I didn’t make any money on it,” Cameron says. “The only reason I put it out is 'cause I knew that the FBI and the police are not following Mr Edwards’ life after his capture, because he was an informant.
“Edwards had been an informant his whole life, for law enforcement, for the FBI, and had been paid for it. He’d been let out of prison for his information.
“What he was really doing was informing on his own murders."
Neat trick, isn't it. In this story, Edwards is always a few steps ahead, watching, laughing. And this is just the surface. Cameron’s book and website descend to Hadean depths in search of ways to connect Edwards with various unsolved crimes.
The deeper you dig, the more incredible and circumstantial the evidence: Zodiac cyphers, occult references, convenient acronyms, hidden messages in motivational tapes.
Even rabbits don’t burrow that far.
Perhaps least digestible among all these morsels is the total number of victims Cameron assigns to Edwards. It’s a number that seems to defy logic and sense. According to Cameron, Edwards claimed over five-hundred victims: 500. Five, with two zeroes.
Edwards supposedly revealed this number in a blog on 8 January 1997, just 12 days after allegedly murdering JonBenét Ramsey.
The blog post, written by someone using the handle Jen1orbit, is a theory about the ultimate serial killer. Cameron believes Edwards wrote this to taunt others with his identity. Here is the segment of the theory Cameron posts on his website:
I believe that beginning in the 1960’s or 1970’s, a new type of serial killer began to operate. I call him the Undetectable Serial Killer. This is a serial killer so brilliant, so organized, so in control of himself and his emotions, so determined to avoid capture, and so lacking in any desire for notoriety or publicity, that he or she is or was able to commit at least 50 individual killings, and perhaps as many as 500 killings.
What Cameron doesn't include on his website is parts of the blog post that seem to contradict his theory. User Jen1orbit goes on to list the attributes of such a killer, like never killing twice in the same city, that seem in direct conflict with the story Cameron has told us about Edwards.
Perhaps then, what ultimately ties Cameron's theory to the Avery case is nothing more than basic human psychology.
Cameron says he wasn't out to solve the Black Dahlia, or JonBenét: "I didn’t even pay attention to any of that stuff. It was just following the evidence."
Confirmation bias happens when we ignore evidence that discredits our theory, and over-value evidence that confirms it. The directors of Making a Murderer had a bias – the belief that Steven Avery is innocent – and showed us evidence to support that bias.
John Cameron has a bias. But then, so does this article.
“We are programmed to try to make sense of the world,” psychologist and lecturer Dr Julia Shaw told BuzzFeed, “and confirmation bias and pattern-recognition often work as thinking shortcuts, but they can also get us into a lot of trouble.
“We may be blinded by our biases, and see links where there may not actually be any. If we assume that a single killer is responsible for a number of deaths, we may make the evidence fit our theory, and as a result, fail to look for, and apprehend, the actual killer.”
In Ed Edwards, Cameron has found a real monster, a man capable of extreme depravity who may have committed many more crimes than he was convicted of. But Cameron's years as a detective don’t free him of confirmation bias.
“Police officers generally have the same kinds of assumptions and biases as everyone else,” Dr Shaw says. “Detectives are definitely susceptible to confirmation bias.”
To believe it possible that Ed Edwards killed Teresa Halbach, you’d need to believe that a man was capable of killing constantly for 50 years and not getting caught. You’d also need to believe it’s possible to commit, on average, 10 murders a year without leaving a clue.
You’d need to believe Edwards was behind the most infamous unsolved murders in US history – the Zodiac killings – a claim refuted by Zodiac expert Tom Voigt, who runs zodiackiller.com: "If Edwards was Zodiac, I'll eat my website," Voigt told BuzzFeed. (Voigt has his guy, too.)
And you’d need to believe that Edwards, for a short period of time, decided to wear a hood and tabard, and paused his regular penmanship to write cryptic notes in a glyph code of his own devising.
Finally, you'd need to believe that a man who confessed to committing crimes for the recognition would have gone to such great lengths to avoid getting any.
John Cameron believes. He has his Zodiac. He also has his Moby Dick and his Moriarty. There is no doubt Ed Edwards was a murderer, but perhaps one who was more myth than mastermind.
John Cameron has a story to tell, and it’s a hell of a story.
But maybe it's just that, a story.