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.”
After the wedding, the couple moved to Dallas, where Robert went to work for Honeywell. The next year, Robert and Linda moved to New York City so that Linda could pursue a career on the stage. But the parts didn’t come, and Robert and Linda grew to hate New York. They moved back to Dallas in 1972, taking an apartment off Meadow Road.
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.
The Colonel Young known to Robert Edelman and the Green Berets of the Special Forces Association was a decorated officer of three wars, a man who said he had achieved the rank of full colonel before his 36th birthday. This Colonel Young said he had engaged in covert operations with intelligence forces of the United States, England, and France. The icing on Young’s military career was his Bronze Star. Young displayed the medal proudly in his office along with the Distinguished Service Cross, two Purple Hearts, and more than 50 commendations from the Army. Young spoke regularly at area high schools in his work for local Army recruiting offices. Photographs of Young in uniform adorned his office walls. There was a picture of Young with Cardinal Spellman of New York and another of Young with attorney Melvin Belli.
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.”
The FBI told Edelman that there had been a death threat at the house and that the children were in protective custody until the following Monday. So because of the complication with the children, Hubbell rushed the payment from Young. That Friday, Young was scheduled to meet Fred Zabitosky at the VFW Post to pay him a $2,000 “finder’s fee” for securing Hubbell. Hubbell showed up unexpectedly at that meeting and told Young that he had completed the hit on July 18. The arrangement was for Hubbell to be paid 10 days from the murder, and on Monday, July 27, 10 days were up. Hubbell asked Young if he had the money from “the guy,” and Young said he didn’t but would meet with him over the weekend and get it. Over the weekend, Masterson says, the FBI didn’t follow Young or Edelman. Edelman says he didn’t meet with Young. Young said in testimony that he did meet with Edelman over the weekend—twice.
On Monday, the FBI didn’t get what it was after. The agents had hoped that Young would get money from Edelman over the weekend, with fingerprints, and then pay Hubbell with that money. But again, inexplicably, the FBI decided not to tail Young and Edelman, though the sting was nearing its climax. Then on Monday, July 27, before Young met Hubbell at the Unocal 76 truck stop in Rockwall, Young went to his bank and took out two loans totaling $5,000. Then Young paid Hubbell with his own money. He explained to Hubbell in the truck stop that he couldn’t get in touch with “the guy.”
In the car, after his arrest, Young told FBI agents that the money was his and that the only way he could tie “the guy” to the murder was if they gave him immunity and let him go try to get money from him.
But by that time, the FBI had already arrested Robert Edelman.
When the jury in the Edelman case retired to deliberate a verdict, the feeling in the courtroom was electric. Defense attorney Steve Sumner’s case was so convincing that at the close of his final arguments, one juror was crying as she nodded along with Sumner’s affirmations of Robert Edelman’s innocence. Virtually everyone in the courtroom was sure that Robert Edelman would be a free man in a matter of days. In a surprising move at the end of the trial, Judge Barefoot Sanders turned to Robert Edelman and told him that Sumner had provided him with a fine defense. Prosecutor Mark Nichols says he was unhappy with his own closing arguments. While the jury was still out, reporters asked Sumner to approve statements to the press regarding Edelman’s acquittal. Even the U.S. marshals who escorted Edelman throughout the trial assured him that he would walk, that the federal case had been a farce. But within three hours, a jury of six women and six men convicted Robert Edelman of masterminding the plot to murder his wife.
Steve Sumner—who is perhaps best known for his successful defense last summer of Cullen Davis in a civil case filed by his ex-wife Priscilla—had led a stunning defense. Sumner was in prime form, having racked up nine straight acquittals. In the Edelman case, Sumner had a two-part strategy: to point out what was missing from the government’s case, and to show that it was feasible for James Young to have acted on his own, intending to blackmail Robert Edelman. There was no corroborating witness telling the jury that Robert had confessed his intentions to murder Linda. There was no tape of Edelman and Young discussing the murder. There were no fingerprints connecting Edelman and the photographs shown in the Chinese restaurant. There was no money up front—Young had paid Hubbell with his own money. These were the major punches in Sumner’s warmup; next he attacked the FBI evidence head on.
The Photographs—Robert Edelman says there never was a second contract with James Young. After the contract with Young was terminated in June, Edelman says that Young called him and told him he had “definitive information” on the boyfriend. He wanted to meet on July 16 at the Chinese restaurant to show Edelman this information and to clear out his bill. Edelman still owed Young $1,500 for following Linda and the children to Florida earlier in the summer. Even though Young says that Edelman wanted Linda killed when she wasn’t with the kids, Young testified that Edelman wanted him to murder Linda during the Florida trip—another inconsistency in his story. He says he told Edelman that he couldn’t find Linda in Florida because he didn’t want to go through with the murder. Edelman says Young was following Linda to Florida because he suspected a boyfriend might be going along.
According to Edelman’s version of the meeting, Young was showing him pictures of a man in front of the Cartier store at the Galleria. Edelman says that Young told him he had followed Linda Edelman and this man, whom he supposed was her boyfriend, to the Galleria. Edelman says he asked for a copy of the pictures, but Young told him he “didn’t have any more prints.”
Edelman says that when he left the Chinese restaurant on July 16, Young got in the car with him uninvited and continued to push his services in pursuing the boyfriend. “He was a persuasive salesman,” Edelman says, explaining that he didn’t need Young’s services any more.
In the trial, Steve Sumner’s assisting attorney, Rex Gunter, asked the FBI agent who sat next to Edelman and Young in the restaurant whether he heard Robert Edelman raise his voice and ask Young, “What do you mean showing me pictures now of the woman you were supposed to be following for eight months?” The FBI agent, without cracking a smile, said he didn’t hear those words, either. Young had testified earlier in the trial that Edelman had given him a picture of Linda and the children on the night they supposedly first talked about the murder. It didn’t make sense that Young would have to identify the target this late in the game—after all, he had been following this woman since October.
The Telephone Call—On July 21, the day James Young was told that Linda Edelman was dead, Robert Edelman says he had a cookout at his house for some friends, a business associate, and his children, along with Diana Key and a girlfriend of hers. Later, Edelman’s parents came over to visit the grandchildren. They left about 10 p.m., Edelman says, and then he put Kathleen and Stephen to bed.
Edelman says that when he has guests, he doesn’t answer the phone but lets his housekeeper take messages. That night, he says he didn’t take any calls, and he doesn’t remember any messages from the housekeeper or left on the answering machine.
The Bank Records—Steve Sumner used bank records to establish a pattern of spending for Robert upwards of $5,000 a month that began shortly after Linda filed for divorce and continued until the time of his arrest—without any deviation during the time he supposedly paid James Young $21,000. Edelman says he spent his cash mostly on expenses associated with running his house on Pagewood, and that he started dealing in cash to be less accountable to Linda. In April, Edelman’s cash withdrawals did jump to $14,800. He says that month he paid $7,000 in cash for a pair of earrings for Diana Key. Only two of nine payment dates correspond to Edelman’s cash withdrawals and one of those Edelman admits to. He says he did pay Young $1,500 on July 16 at the meeting at the Chinese restaurant. In the eight months that Young was in his employ, Edelman says, he paid Young a total of between $5,000 and $7,000.
Why would Robert Edelman want to kill his wife? For one reason, says the prosecution, to gain full custody of his children. But Steve Sumner painted a picture of a custody battle winding down, if not near settlement. Further, Sumner showed that Robert Edelman never had tried to get full custody of his children, and, in fact, didn’t want it. Diana Key had no interest in raising small children. Further, Sumner said in the trial, Robert and Diana were planning for Linda Edelman to be alive in the fall. They were making marriage plans to follow the September 14 trial date with Linda.
That motive damaged, the prosecution leaned on motive number two: money. Robert Edelman wanted to kill his wife to keep her from getting a chunk of his considerable estate, the prosecution maintained. So, Sumner raised this question to the jury: wouldn’t a woman who hated her husband, who had battled for more than two years over the custody of her children, change her will? Robert was certainly sophisticated enough, Sumner maintained, to realize this and know that Linda’s parents, with whom he had a hostile relationship, would contest his taking over the entire estate. Plus, with the failing real estate market, the Edelmans’ estate was considerably diminished. The prosecution itself introduced this piece of evidence: that according to some of Edelman’s financial statements, his wealth had fallen from $6 million in early 1985 to $750,000 in the fall of 1986.
More mystifying is the question of why James Young would want to kill Linda Edelman. According to Sumner, Young hoped to ingratiate himself with Robert Edelman, whom the prosecution had called Young’s “rich man on the line.” Young was losing his “rich man on the line,” and he wasn’t above blackmail to keep him, Sumner says. Young repeatedly tried to keep his association with Edelman alive by calling him up with new information even after their contract was terminated in June. Young told the FBI undercover agent at one of their meetings that he didn’t mess with blackmail, but: “I just go ahead and do it. And once in a while these characters they give me a gift.”
And what about the money for the hit? Doesn’t that usually come up front? Even the FBI was perplexed about that. Young had repeatedly been questioned by Zabitosky and Hubbell about money up front, and each time he answered that he did not have any money up front for this job. Young said that’s just the way he worked—that he “knew these guys,” so they paid him.
“Who benefits from Linda Edelman’s death?” Sumner asked the jury. “Young’s going to benefit. He’s going to own Robert Edelman. In that sick mind of James Young, he is going to benefit.”
In the end, it came down to one thing. The jury either had to believe Edelman or Young. Both men were shown to have lied. Young admitted to having lied extensively during much of his adult life. During Young’s testimony on the witness stand he contradicted himself over and over again, and he was directly contradicted by more credible witnesses. He told the jury that a police badge he carried had been given to him by a policeman, the son-in-law of a woman Young was dating and later married just days before his arrest. The man, Steve Escalante, who was a member of the Heath police department and now works for the city of Heath administration, says that he didn’t give Young the police badge but that Young had plenty of opportunity to steal it while visiting his mother-in-law. Escalante says Young was also suspected of stealing money from his family and one of their friends.
But the prosecution scored points by bringing up a statement from Edelman in an interrogatory during his custody battle, Edelman had sworn in the document that he did not hire a private investigator.
Both Young and Edelman lacked key corroborative evidence to support their stories. Young had told the jury that early on in the murder plot, he and Edelman had met in the Howard Johnson’s near his office, spread blueprints of the Caruth house out on the table, and planned the murder scheme. But in Young’s apartment, office, and car, the FBI found no blueprints. The FBI never searched Young’s new house in Rockwall, bought just weeks before he was arrested, where he had moved the majority of his belongings. The house is empty now; Young’s daughter has moved its contents back to Illinois, where she lives. Young says he burned the blueprints.
Also absent from the evidence are the photographs of the boyfriend that Edelman says he saw in the Chinese restaurant.
Certainly all of the questions regarding this case were not answered for the jury that convicted Robert Edelman. In the end, they chose to believe James Young. After the jury delivered its verdict, spectators were told that the jury dwelled on several key points: that Young was incapable of planning the murder on his own; that Edelman was vague about the money he paid Young; and that Robert Edelman acted as if he were too good to answer the prosecutor’s questions. Once again, the “asshole factor” came into play. Edelman’s slick, sarcastic wit dominated his responses to the prosecutor’s questions, and apparently the jury didn’t like it. But perhaps most enlightening is another juror’s observation: that the defense didn’t prove Robert Edelman’s innocence.
“Whatever happened to the defendant being presumed innocent?” Sumner says. “It just made me want to stick my hand through the wall when I heard that. That’s why I argued the defense the way I did, pointing out to the jury everything the prosecution didn’t bring them. For a normal, reasonable person, that should at least produce a hesitation if not a reasonable doubt. I really think we could go back in that courtroom with a different jury and get an acquittal, and that is really tragic.”
THE SECOND TRIAL
Sumner may get his chance to try Edelman’s case before another jury. The lawyer is currently investigating information that may help explain the adding machine tape found in the Edelman file—the only piece of evidence his defense did not directly dispute. If Sumner turns up enough solid new evidence, Edelman may be granted a new trial. If not, Sumner will pursue an appeal.
Since Robert Edelman’s trial, James Young’s partner, Ken Aten, has said there were other active files on Young’s desk. One was for a debugging job with an Australian-owned company that Young was billing $1,000 a day for a total of $30,000. The other file was a political investigating job for a doctor in Greenville who was running for the hospital board but later pulled out of the race. Aten says Young made a trip to Las Vegas for the doctor and then went to Florida, where he worked the Edelman case and the doctor’s case simultaneously. Young billed the doctor $13,500, Aten says. Young’s new partner, Jim Hass, confirms those amounts—which add up to $43,500. Add to that the $1,500 that Edelman says he paid Young on July 16 and bingo: $45,000. Could the adding machine tape have represented payments for all three cases? Could some of the payment dates in Young’s black book be for those other two jobs? The Greenville doctor, James Raur, wouldn’t reveal the dates he paid Young and says for the record, “I don’t know anything much about what the man may have been doing.”
New information may also show Young is indeed capable of masterminding a complicated murder plot. If Young lived his life in a fantasy world of military prowess, at some point it appears that his fantasy became reality—and that reality may have included masterminding a murder-for-hire plot. Young knew enough to make many members of the Dallas Special Forces Association believe his story. Jim Hass, a former president of the association, is the man who bought Young’s business. Hass says that one of the first times he met James Young, Young described to him a highly classified assassination mission from beginning to end. “This would not have been cocktail party conversation,” Hass says. “This was not a mission that many people knew about or talked about.”
Obviously, someone within the U.S. Army had thought Young credible enough to make him privy to this information.
In the months before Young’s arrest, Hass had been working with him on a new business—Selective Enforcement Consultants International—to offer protection to executives and train security forces in Central America. Hass says he sat in on at least one conference call in Young’s office with an undersecretary of state for Latin America. The three discussed the various permits needed to start the business, which would have imported equipment and supplies to securities forces—including arms.
Shortly after Young’s arrest, Hass says, a file was stolen from his office. Hass says the file held details of another mission in Southeast Asia, a POW rescue. “Young was the director, the force behind the mission,” Hass says.
Hass also says that after Young was arrested, he visited him in jail to talk about buying the business. On one occasion, Hass says that Young gave him a contact name and a procedure for contacting a person who identified himself to Hass as a former high-ranking officer with the CIA. Young wanted Hass to contact this man about an ongoing rescue attempt of hostages in the Middle East. Young had told Hass and Fred Zabitosky about the case and said that it was so hot that “even Ross Perot wouldn’t touch it.”
If all this is true, then surely a man capable of planning rescue attempts in hostile countries has a mind creative enough to carry through a murder-for-hire scheme. “My firm belief,” says Hass, a decorated veteran, “is that James Young is or was a member of the intelligence community of the United States. Sometimes these people go rogue. If that is the case with Young, it wouldn’t be the first time that happened.”
And in a second trial, Steve Sumner may be able to get his expert witness’ testimony admitted. Judge Sanders denied the testimony of linguist Roger W. Shuy, chairman of the linguistics department at Georgetown University. Shuy was instrumental in the Cullen Davis trial in 1979. Shuy says he analyzed the FBI tapes of Young and broke down the patterns of conversation. Then he tried to fit them with a typical murder-for-hire contract. Of the four murder-for-hire cases that Shuy has worked on, he says this is the first where conversations between the client and original contractor weren’t on the tapes and where the hit man didn’t have money up front.
“I was prepared to say that the FBI agent regularly offered opportunities for Young to offer information about or from the client. But Young is evasive and that never happens,” Shuy says. “My conclusions were that James Young did not indicate authorization of a husband client and in fact acted on his own.”
In the meantime, Robert Edelman’s life is in limbo. Diana Key waits for him in an addition Robert’s parents built onto their house in North Dallas. She is undergoing a conversion to Judaism. Edelman’s financial problems continue to mount. The day after he was convicted, MBank filed a $400,000 lawsuit against him for nonpayment of real estate loans. More suits from other lenders are expected to follow. In March, Edelman’s office in Cedar Maple Plaza was closed. The custody case for the Edelman children is set for May 2, and Robert plans to be at that trial, though he says the custody issue is basically a moot point given his conviction. The children have moved out of the huge house on Caruth and live with their mother in a house she rents in University Park. Linda Edelman supports the children with a $4,500-a-month allowance that comes out of $400,000 in proceeds from the sale of the Caruth house. She also has a part-time job and teaches voice lessons in her home.
The length of Robert Edelman’s prison stay will depend largely on the other case pending against him; he is charged by the state with solicitation of capital murder. Edelman’s federal sentence was 10 years and a $100,000 fine, but the state violation carries a range of punishment of five to 99 years. When D went to press, assistant district attorney Charlie Mitchell had not made a plea recommendation to Edelman or to James Young, though it was expected that Young would also plead guilty and testify against Edelman for the state.
Despite the considerable gamble, Sumner says that Edelman is looking forward to the state trial and would rather take his chances before another jury and risk life in prison than admit he plotted to murder his wife. Why is Robert Edelman willing to gamble years of his life? “Because I am completely innocent,” Edelman says.