According to Young’s business brochure, he is familiar with a variety of sophisticated electronic surveillance equipment, as well as with "countermeasures used to neutralize such equipment." The brochure contains one page of information on his partner, poly-grapher Ken Aten, and four detailed pages on services Young could provide clients.
The fact that Edelman hired Young in October of 1986 to follow Linda Edelman is not in dispute. Notes from their first meeting found in an "Edelman" file in Young’s office indicate that Young would be paid $50 an hour to make spot checks on Linda. The notes outline Young’s twofold mission: to find out if Linda had a boyfriend and to track her spending. Robert says he was concerned about Linda’s constantly bringing up his relationship with Diana Key, which had begun to deepen that fall. He hoped to uncover a boyfriend to help diffuse the attention on him. And he suspected Linda had a boyfriend because of things his children had said. "They even made up a song about [the boyfriend]," Robert says. He also says that Linda had control of a large amount of money that she had transferred out of state to a bank in Oklahoma, and he wanted to know where that money was spent.
Young followed Linda from November until June, according to notes found in the file. He periodically gave oral reports to Edelman at meetings at various restaurants, usually a Howard Johnson’s next door to Young’s office on Stemmons Freeway. According to Edelman, Young, and notes found in the Edelman file, the contract to follow Linda Edelman was terminated in June 1987. And there the two men’s stories part ways. The story Young tells—that there was a second contract with Edelman to murder Linda—is as elaborate as the tales of espionage he has weaved into his past.
According to the FBI, Joseph James Young Jr., 64, was never a colonel but was honorably discharged from the Army as a private first class in 1946. He went to college for three years on the GI bill, opened a liquor, wine, and deli business in New Jersey around 1950, and married in 1953. Young and his wife had a daughter, but his wife left him and the baby when she was nine months old. For the next 20 years, Young was a jack-of-all-trades who did time-motion studies for a fan company, sold auto parts, ran a gas station, and worked as a chef.
In 1965, Young started impersonating an officer, the FBI says. Here’s the story Young tells now: the Army reserves in New Jersey were forming a ski group and came to the ski club where Young and his daughter were members. "Someone made me in charge of the ski group, and I made myself colonel," Young says. From there, Young said on the stand, his lies grew more elaborate. He even told people that he had guarded the Pope during his celebrated career.
But Young never kept any job for very long. He was constantly looking in the classifieds for something else to do. While he was working as a chef in New Hampshire, Young saw a blurb in a paper advertising for a New England seafood chef. The ad was run by Dallas restaurateur Abbas Bagheri, who owns the Enclave. In 1978, Young moved to Dallas to work for Bagheri, but the New England seafood place soon closed. During the next few years, Young sold machine parts to oil companies, ran a pet shop, and drove a truck for a Dallas clothing manufacturer, Jerell, where Young also did some undercover work monitoring inventory for employee theft.
In 1983, Young answered another classified ad, this time placed by polygrapher Ken Aten, who was looking for a partner to expand his business into the area of investigations. Young never obtained a license for private investigation; Aten held the license for the firm. Young had been working as a private investigator in Dallas for about a year and a half when a client referred Robert Edelman to Young.
Young says that in January of 1987, his work for Robert Edelman took off in a different direction. He says that in January or February Edelman invited him to his home, strip-searched him, and then took him for a walk around the block. During the walk, he outlined a plot to murder his wife.
From January until June, Young says he stalled the murder. He says that Edelman was getting impatient as summer approached and told him the hit had to take place before July, when an important trial date was approaching. But there was no July trial date; the Edelman custody trial was set for September.
Still, the FBI knows that in June—after Edelman had terminated the contract for Young to follow Linda—Young did contact Fred W. Zabitosky, a Medal of Honor winner in Vietnam, about a hit. Young was acquainted with Zabitosky through Dallas Special Forces Association functions. Zabitosky cooperated with the FBI in setting up a sting by telling Young that he wasn’t interested in the job but could find someone who was. Enter "J.C.," also referred to as "Hit Man Jack." In reality, he was an FBI plant, undercover agent Gerald W. Hubbell.
The FBI taped Zabitosky, Hubbell, and Young during phone conversations, in face-to-face meetings at the Unocal 76 station in Rockwall, in a room at the Radisson Hotel, and after the staged hit at a VFW Post. By July 21, I987,|the day Hubbell reported to Young that the job was done, the FBI had everything it needed to arrest James Young for conspiracy to murder Linda Edelman. Young had not only contacted Zabitosky through the mail about the hit, but had elaborately planned the murder with Hubbell while under surveillance. But Young had never referred to Robert Edelman as the client on any tape. The FBI needed something more: money with Edelman’s fingerprints on it, a tape of Edelman and Young discussing the murder. Something solid.
"They never got it," says Robert Edelman’s defense attorney, Steve Sumner. "They didn’t have that link of evidence to tie them together."
Prosecutor Mark Nichols says it’s easy to play Monday morning quarterback with the FBI. "Whenever you have a case, unless you have a videotaped confession with a lawyer present when the confession is signed, there is always something else that could make the case stronger," Nichols says.
But what the prosecution did have, Nichols says, was a series of events in which the FBI undercover agent started a chain that led Young back to Edelman. In each instance, however, the FBI’s case depends on James Young to fill in the blanks.
The Photographs—On July 15, before "the hit," undercover agent Hubbell told Young to take pictures of Linda Edelman back to the client and verify the target. The FBI had photographed Linda leaving her divorce attorney’s office at the Galleria. The next day, on July 16, Young and Edelman met for lunch at the King Palace Chinese BBQ restaurant on Fitzhugh. The FBI was covering the two in force. A couple of agents watched the parking lot; Edelman and Young were both tailed to and from the restaurant; and an agent sat in the booth next to Edelman and Young at the restaurant. Edelman did look at some pictures that day, but the FBI agent, David H. Israelson, couldn’t make out the photographs from where he was sitting and only heard pieces of the conversation. Israelson says that he heard Edelman say, "you’ve got it," after Young handed him some photographs, and then Young tell Edelman, "be sure to wipe them off," followed by something unintelligible and then the word "prints." Israelson says that Young and Edelman also discussed the Galleria parking lot and the fact that Linda’s new divorce attorney (Vanden Eykel) officed there. Israelson left the restaurant before Young and Edelman finished lunch. But he says he never heard the words "murder," "hit," or "kill" during his surveillance.
The FBI photographed Young and Edelman leaving the restaurant and followed them while they rode around in Edelman’s black Cadillac for several minutes.
Young fills in the blanks like this: he says that Edelman did identify Linda as the target and that after they left the restaurant, he drove around with Edelman to talk about the details of the hit: it was to happen when Linda was away from the children, in the vicinity of the garage—which wasn’t protected by the alarm system at the Caruth house—and Young was to make it look like a robbery by taking Linda’s cash and jewelry. Young also says that he burned the photographs, destroying any prints that Edelman may have left on them. Young says Edelman wasn’t surprised that he asked him to identify the woman he had been following since October. He says he never told Edelman that he had subcontracted the hit to someone else. Edelman thought he was doing it himself.
The Telephone Call—One of the FBI’s strongest bits of evidence against Edelman is a telephone record from July 21 that shows James Young called Robert Edelman two minutes after "Hit Man" Hubbell called Young and told him, "the job’s done." According to the phone log, the call to Edelman was a short one, registering one minute. Young says he talked to Edelman and told him his wife was dead, then explained that he couldn’t talk any longer because he had to go to the grocery store. Young says he later talked to Edelman from a pay phone outside of a grocery in Greenville. The FBI never had a wiretap on either Edelman’s or Young’s phone, so they have no tapes of any conversation between the two. FBI agent Joseph G. Masterson testified that he didn’t think a wiretap was necessary, and that a life needed to be in danger to obtain court permission. (Apparently nobody considered Linda Edelman’s life at risk.) And the FBI did not have Young under surveillance on the evening of July 21, so no one except Young knows if he really made that second call.
The Bank Records—Young says he recorded payments from Edelman in a black datebook. Edelman’s name and phone number were in the front of the book, but no name was recbrded with the individual payments. Young says he was to receive $45,000 for the hit and that he was paying Hubbell $10,000 for the subcontract. Edelman’s cash withdrawals at his bank don’t match exactly with all of Young’s payment dates, but on Friday, April 10, Young shows a $5,000 payment, and Edelman’s bank records show $5,600 in withdrawals. Again on July 16, Young’s book shows a $2,000 payment, and Edelman’s bank records indicate a $2,000 withdrawal. Young says he was paid $21,000 by Edelman from April until July.
The Adding Machine Tape—The prosecution’s clinching piece of evidence was an adding machine tape found in the Edelman file on Young’s desk. The tape showed various additions and multiplications adding up to $45,000—the amount Young says he was to be paid for the hit.
In his closing arguments, Nichols used charts with the phone logs and bank records to establish the "chain of events" that led Young from agent Hubbell back to Edelman. But as defense attorney Steve Sumner pointed out to the jury, the solid connection the FBI was looking for—Edelman’s fingerprints on money or photographs—was absent from the government’s case. Though the FBI’s plans had gone smoothly in setting up the sting, the feds ran into some complications as the operation began to unwind.
Linda Edelman had told the head FBI agent on the case, Masterson, that he wouldn’t be able to hide her disappearance from neighbors, given their active involvement in the divorce. She was right. Less than 12 hours after she was taken into protective custody on July 21, a neighbor and Linda’s maid were at the University Park Police Department crying foul play, suspicious of Robert Edelman.
After Edelman was notified by the University Park police that Linda was missing, he immediately began trying to get the children. Edelman was told that the children were with Linda’s parents. The next day, on July 23, FBI agent Masterson met with Edelman and his divorce attorney. Ken Fuller, at Edelman’s office. He told Edelman that foul play was suspected, that Linda’s car had been found in Durant, Oklahoma, splattered with a substance that "may or may not be blood." At that meeting, Masterson asked Fuller if Edelman had hired a private investigator. Fuller, who hadn’t been told that Edelman had hired Young, responded, "not to my knowledge."
"At that point," Masterson said after the trial, "if Edelman had volunteered the information and said, ’Yeah, I hired the investigator,’ we wouldn’t have had much to go forward with."
But Edelman stayed silent. He says he did talk to Young during the next day or so. He told Young that his wife had disappeared and that her car had been found in Durant. Edelman and Young had suspected that Linda’s boyfriend was from out of town since a rental car had been parked in front of the house one evening when Young says he observed Linda with a man. Edelman told the UP police that he thought Linda’s disappearance might have something to do with a boyfriend.
After Masterson left Edelman’s office that day, Edelman and Fuller got the ball rolling to get Stephen and Kathleen back into their father’s custody. Fuller got a court date set for that Friday.
"At that point," says Linda’s divorce attorney, Ike Vanden Eykel, who was in on the sting from the beginning, "I called the FBI and told them I needed help because I didn’t intend to go into the state district court and perjure myself to a judge that I make a living in front of. So overnight they worked up a scenario."