Both Robert and Linda were more successful at their vocations in Dallas. Linda sang and danced in the Dallas Summer Musicals for the next several years, but her stage career slacked off after Stephen was born in 1979.
Upon returning to Dallas, Robert left Honeywell and went into the homebuilding business. He founded his Good Earth Development company in 1973. After Good Earth came a slew of other development-related companies, including Robert Edelman & Co., Interstate Capital Corp., and Welmarc Housing Corp. Robert and Linda started trying to have a family in 1978, about the same time that he branched out from building homes into commercial development. Their pact not to have children because of their religious differences had lasted for 10 years. But in 1978, Linda, unbeknownst to Robert, converted to Judaism. "She surprised me with it one day," Robert says. "And after that, we went back to the rabbi together and were remarried in the synagogue." Linda’s religious conversion only lasted about four years. "She just told me she just couldn’t do it any more," Robert says. "She had always had problems with it and had refused to tell her mother that she had converted." In 1982, Linda returned to her beginnings and started attending Park Cities Baptist Church. She took the children with her.
Soon after Linda returned to the Christian fold, the Edelmans started seeing a marriage counselor. It was the beginning of the end. In October of 1985, Linda filed for divorce, and Kathleen and her older brother Stephen began to live a life torn between two parents. For many months, the children lived in the big new house on Caruth Place, and Linda and Robert moved in and out. Linda would live in the house with the children from Wednesday until the following Friday. Then Robert would move in Friday morning and stay until the next Wednesday afternoon. Eventually, Robert moved into their old house on Pagewood, and the children stayed in the Caruth house with Linda. But Kathleen and Stephen still witnessed countless screaming fights between their parents, and the struggle began to cause damage, psychiatrists have said. Both children started having various problems in school. Since the early days of the divorce, when Stephen was 5 and Kathleen was 3, the children had seen a psychologist or psychiatrist.
In the beginning, Robert fought against the divorce. When Linda had the children, she would take them to the Baptist church; when Robert had them, he would take them to synagogue. He proposed that he and Linda stay married and continue to do just that. But counseling didn’t help. The arguments never stopped. And the religious issue escalated, becoming the focal point of the divorce. Attorneys say both Robert and Linda became decidedly more religious as the divorce progressed, each coming up with new holidays on which they had to have the children.
As the Edelman family began to split, Robert’s businesses hit some shaky times of their own. His foray into commercial development wasn’t always successful. Edelman built the 10-story Embassy Tower on Douglas Avenue, a condominium project that still stands vacant, having never been granted a certificate of occupancy. The building had structural problems and didn’t meet fire and building codes. Other investors who have looked into buying the Embassy Tower add that part of the building’s problem was Robert Edelman’s attitude. "That building didn’t get a certificate of occupancy because of the asshole factor," says one prominent builder. "It was 90 percent code problems and 10 percent asshole problems." The builder says that Edelman badgered city inspectors until they permanently red-tagged the building.
Such strong language comes up a lot when businessmen talk about Robert Edelman. He is described as ruthless, backstabbing, and confrontational in business; his hot temper is well known. David W. "Buzz" Tompkins, one of Edelman’s partners, is described as the "face man" for Edelman, the guy who comes in and smoothes over the deals after Robert has made everyone furious. But even Tompkins couldn’t save Edelman’s Cedar Maple Plaza project across from the Crescent from foreclosure.
In the months before Robert Edelrnan’s arrest, cash flow problems at the poorly leased project became unmanageable. His projects were not meeting projections, and his loans were in default. But come July, when many developers were frantically working out loans with lenders, Robert Edelman had other, more pressing business: he had been indicted for conspiring to murder his wife.
Linda Edelman walked slowly past the spectators gathered in Judge Barefoot Sanders’ federal courtroom and took an oath to tell the whole truth. She was dressed in a casual pastel sweater, flowered skirt, and flats. Her big square eyeglasses were almost obscured by the blondish curls that surrounded her face. The first words out of her mouth were actually small sobs, followed by a request for water. The prosecutor had asked Linda to state her name.
It was the first day of criminal case 3-87-194-H, the United States of America versus Robert Marc Edelman: February 23, 1988. On that day, Linda made a statement that she had first made to the press just days after Robert was arrested. She said that when she filed for divorce in the fall of 1985, Robert came to the house after receiving the papers, pointed them in her face, and said: "I will never give you a divorce. I will see you dead first." They couldn’t have written it better on As The World Turns.
Linda Edelman’s first divorce attorney, Reagan Martin, says that Linda was genuinely afraid of Robert from the early days of the divorce. "But her melodrama tends to hurt her credibility," Martin says.
Linda went on in testimony to tell of a time Robert "threw me on the bed and almost choked me to death." Once, she said, he yelled at their little girl when she was just a tiny baby screaming in her crib: "Shut up, I’m going to kill you if you don’t stop." Edelman denies both incidents, and both references are absent from sworn divorce depositions.
The only time Linda looked at Robert, still her legal husband, during her testimony was when she was asked to identify him in the courtroom. She broke into sobs periodically as she described how "he never gave us peace."
The prosecutor for the government, Mark Nichols, had a hard time directing Linda’s testimony. Rather than just answering Nichols’ questions, Linda would launch into long, detailed, emotional narratives that would inevitably provoke objection from Edelman’s defense attorney, Steve Sumner. Judge Barefoot Sanders ordered Mrs. Edelman more than once to confine her answers to the prosecutor’s questions.
The Edelman case was prosecutor Mark Nichols’ first federal trial. Though he has six years of experience in the Dallas County District Attorney’s office, Nichols was so new with the U.S. Attorney’s office that he didn’t even have business cards. The courthouse scuttlebutt was that a senior U.S. attorney in the Dallas office, Terry Hart, had originally planned to prosecute Edelman but decided this case was a loser. So it was passed down the line through several attorneys until it finally reached the bottom—Nichols. But Nichols says that’s not exactly the way it happened, that Hart is one of the lead prosecutors on the I-30 condo scams, and he just didn’t have the time to devote to the Edelman case. A more experienced federal prosecutor, Vick Conrad, was brought in from the Lubbock office to prosecute the Edelman case jointly with Nichols. The two had 10 days to prepare.
Actually, the "hit" of Linda Edelman had been orchestrated by the FBI. After agents got the tip in June of 1987 that a private investigator was looking for a hit man, they used the informant, Fred Zabitosky, to set up an elaborate plan. The FBI taped Zabitosky as he met with the private investigator, retired Colonel Joseph James Young, to outline the hit for a "hit man," who was also working for the FBI.
Though the FBI had the tapes and videos that would clinch Young’s conviction, it had nothing but vague circumstantial evidence tying Edelman to the murder plot—except, of course, for Young’s own testimony. But Young had some major credibility problems of his own. An admitted pathological liar, James Young nonetheless had made a plea bargain with the feds. He came to the courtroom to help the prosecution pin the alleged murder attempt on Robert Edelman.
On the surface, Colonel Young was not the slimy type of character you might expect to be involved in a murder-for-hire scheme. In fact, in November of 1986, on the anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Young was the presiding officer at a Dallas Special Forces Association wreath-laying ceremony and was asked by the patriots to say a few words in memory of JFK. The occasion came just a month after Young had been hired by Robert Edelman.