Little girls in leotards and clouds of pink netting were already fluttering around the auditorium on the Southern Methodist University campus when Linda Edelman pulled up in her Cadillac with her daughter Kathleen. In 1986, when the ugly custody battle between Robert and Linda Edelman was at its height, the little girl’s ballet recital had been a disaster. The parents had actually gone to court for a hearing to decide who would get to brush Kathleen’s hair and put on her makeup for the performance. Now, a year later, on June 6, 1987, the battle still raged. Negotiations for this recital had begun weeks before the event. Linda’s latest divorce attorney, M.J. “Ike” Vanden Eykel, didn’t want any problems this time around, so he hired a private investigator, Michael Grimes, to accompany Linda and Kathleen to the recital.
During her ballet recital, Kathleen might have looked out in the audience and seen Daddy sitting with his girlfriend, Diana Key, and Mommy sitting with a private investigator. Not exactly a Norman Rockwell painting, but at least everything was going according to plan.
After the recital, though, there was an ugly scene in the hallway that continued out into the parking lot in full view of the other parents and children. The scene involved, according to various reports, Robert being kept from taking photographs of Kathleen, Kathleen crying, and Diana Key grabbing Kathleen from her mother’s arms, hurrying her off to Daddy’s car, and saying something to the effect of, “Your mother doesn’t know how to dress you … we’ll get those awful clothes off of you.”
This had always been a very public divorce—messier than most, painstakingly difficult. And it was dragging on and on. The ritzy University Park neighborhood where Robert and Linda built their dreamhouse was involved in the divorce from the beginning. As time went on, neighbors even volunteered to videotape Robert for Linda’s divorce attorney if they saw him driving down the street during undesignated times. Robert Edelman’s divorce attorney, Ken Fuller, says he and Vanden Eykel were trying to get their clients to settle their differences, but heels were dug in hard on both sides, and Kathleen and Stephen were caught in the middle.
“What these people were doing to the children was just atrocious,” says Brian Webb, the court-appointed attorney for the children. “They both loved the kids, there was no question of that, but I’ve never seen two people behave so misguidedly with their children.”
Although the emotional level of the Edelmans’ custody case was high last summer, the divorce was actually winding down. Linda and Robert were still jockeying for holiday time, but they had already agreed to a visitation schedule. And that June, when the Texas Legislature approved a “joint managing conservatorship” statute, Ken Fuller says that he and Edelman declared victory. The change in the law didn’t guarantee Robert joint custody, Fuller says, but at the very least, the statute took the wraps off of the judge and allowed him to give Robert the liberal visitation he sought without violating Linda’s sole conservatorship of the children. Says Vanden Eykel, “From where I was sitting, the divorce was less antagonistic in June than it had been in April, and it was looking like we could have a trial in September and not have, figuratively speaking, bloodshed in the courtroom.”
The new conservatorship statutes took effect on September 1. The Edelmans’ custody trial was set for September 14. But that trial never came to pass.
Not long after the ballet recital, the Federal Bureau of Investigation discovered that Linda Edelman was the target of a mysterious murder-for-hire scheme. The FBI was tipped off by a man who had been contacted by a private investigator looking for a contract killer. The FBI believed that Robert Edelman had hired that private investigator and was masterminding the murder plot in order to gain full custody of his children and retain 100 percent of a substantial estate. The FBI planned to stage the hit, make Linda disappear for a few days, and then catch Robert Edelman in the sting. Although all didn’t go according to the FBI plan, on July 27, 1987, Robert Edelman was arrested on two counts of conspiracy to murder his wife. The FBI took him to the Lew Sterrett Justice Center, where he was held without bail.
It has now been more than nine months since Robert Edelman has had contact with his children. He did write them a letter from jail that was passed from Robert’s divorce attorney to the children’s court-appointed attorney to the children’s psychiatrist and finally to Linda Edelman. Some normalcy has finally come into the Edelman children’s lives in the wake of the charges against their father. But this placid, calm time is only the eye of the emotional storm around them. The winds of change have been raging for more than two-and-a-half years, devastating what was once a family. And though Robert was found guilty by a federal jury early in March of plotting to murder the mother of his children, the storm of gossip and hatred shows no signs of subsiding. The mystery that still surrounds the murder scheme won’t let it die.
THE HOLY WAR
Friends refer to the Edelmans’ huge house on Caruth as “The Amityville Horror.” While the house swelled to the edges of its lot as if it had some horrid gland problem, the Edelmans’ marriage began to fall apart.
While the Caruth house was being finished, Robert was spending more and more time at work. Like many other real estate developers in Dallas, Edelman was prospering in the Dallas boom days. And as quickly as Robert made money, Linda spent it on the Caruth house. She filled the 7,300-square-foot manse with elaborate Victorian antiques, creating a wealthy history with purchased heirlooms. The Edelmans moved into this new and elaborate setting before Christmas in 1984. This house, in its richness, was a blatant departure from their past.
Linda grew up in a small town in Oklahoma where she was raised by simple, fundamentalist Baptist parents. Robert was a middle-class Jewish boy from North Dallas who went to Hillcrest High School. Neither Robert nor Linda came from wealthy families. Friends say Robert never lost sight of who he was and where he came from, but the stories told about Linda are different. Says one close friend, “Linda lives her life as the lead in a different musical every day. That’s what is fun about Linda. What is tough is figuring out which character she is playing today.”
Robert Marc Edelman and Mary Linda DeSilva met in 1967 during Robert’s fifth year in college at the University of Oklahoma. They fell in love almost immediately, and after a swift courtship, got married in June of 1968. Even during their courtship, the religious difference was a problem. Robert says that at one point they decided they wouldn’t have children at all because the clash just couldn’t be resolved. “Linda agreed to convert before we got married,” Robert said from jail in mid-March. “But I told her she didn’t have to do that for me … I loved her so much anyway.”