Dig Begins For Serial Killer's Victim, 40 Years Later

Mack Ray Edwards

It is not known exactly how many children Mack Ray Edwards killed. At one point, he told a cellmate that it was 18 or 20. Only three of his victims' bodies have been found thus far. Courtesy LAPD hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy LAPD

The Los Angeles Police Department has set up a live Web cam at the site of the dig. You can watch the progress of the excavation as it happens. hide caption

Watch The Dig Live
itoggle caption
Roger Madison

On the afternoon of Dec. 16, 1968, 15-year-old Roger Madison left his home in Sylmar and was never seen again. His family sometimes invited construction worker Mack Ray Edwards to dinner. Courtesy LAPD hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy LAPD

Alongside a freeway near Los Angeles on Monday, law enforcement officials are hoping to locate the remains of 15-year-old Roger Madison, the likely victim of a serial killer.

If their excavation is successful, they will complete a story that began almost 40 years ago. On the afternoon of Dec. 16, 1968, Madison left his home in Sylmar, an L.A. suburb, and was never seen again.

Two years later, a highway construction worker named Mack Ray Edwards turned himself in to the police. He confessed to the murders of six children — including Madison, according to author Weston DeWalt, who is writing a book about Edwards and his victims.

"Mack Ray Edwards had a relationship with [Madison's] family, had dinner in their home," says DeWalt. "Roger Madison trusted Mack Ray Edwards. And Mack Ray Edwards lured him into an orange grove, and stabbed him multiple times, and killed him."

Edwards told police that he buried his victims along freeways at highway construction sites where he was working, using the heavy equipment he operated as part of his job. After his confession, Edwards led police to the sites where he had buried three of his victims. Their bodies were recovered; he was convicted of those crimes and sentenced to death. But the three other bodies, including Madison's, were never found.

Shortly after his conviction in 1971, Edwards hung himself with an electrical cord in his cell at San Quentin prison. When he died, so did efforts to find his other victims' bodies.

Digging Up The Past

Then, just three years ago, DeWalt shared his research about Madison's disappearance with L.A. Police Detective Vivian Flores. Others had been intrigued by the case, but when Flores learned that the teen's body had never been found, locating him became her personal mission.

"I think a lot of people take missing persons as very trivial," she says. "You know, kids that run away and then come home. He didn't come home. He never came home."

DeWalt and Flores began interviewing survivors. Madison's parents were dead, but a brother and three sisters survived. They obtained DNA samples and talked to people who had worked on the construction crew with Edwards. They read and re-read his confession. They pored over old, yellowed documents, construction plans and weather reports.

Finally, they settled on a spot along an offramp on the Ventura freeway. They brought in a team of cadaver dogs. All four dogs indicated they detected human remains in a specific area.

Then, with the help of forensic archeologists, they used ground penetrating radar. It revealed what the experts called anomalies. They recommended an excavation.

The Excavation

Along with units from the LAPD and Ventura County Sheriff's Department, a special unit from the FBI was to assist in the excavation Monday. More than 100 people — highway workers, law enforcement officers, forensic experts and archeologists — were to begin what could be the end of a three-year effort by DeWalt and Flores.

When asked why she devoted three years of work to finding the body of a boy who died 40 years ago, whose parents are dead and whose killer is dead, Flores looks a little incredulous.

"Does that mean that I forget about that child that never came home? No. We have an obligation. He deserves," she wipes away a tear, "just as much as much as all the other homicide victims, to be found, and to be brought back to his family.

"I have a child. If he went missing, I can't fathom [him] being missing for 40 years. This mother and father had to live with that. Not knowing where their kid was. We have to test our knowledge and our expertise and just work it, as best as we can. I do it for these kids. I do it for my kid. I do it because I care."

Workers could find remains within hours — or it might take weeks. If they come up empty, it's likely that DeWalt and Flores will go back to their documents, re-examine their research, and continue their search until the body of that teen, who disappeared on that fateful winter day, is found.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.