CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Accused cross-country killer and former Virginia law enforcement officer Austin Edwards’ Chesterfield County apartment was never searched by authorities, multiple law enforcement agencies confirmed with 8News.
Chesterfield General District Court records showed that an unlawful detainer or eviction claim had been filed against Edwards, alleging that he owed more than $1,100 for a residence with the Crystal Lakes Apartments. A clerk’s office employee told 8News that the claim included $804 owed for November rent, $61 in court costs, $150 in attorney fees, and $170.40 in other costs, including damages for utilities and trash.
8News reached out to the company behind the apartment complex, Levco Management, but did not receive a response.
The claim was dismissed in January because of Edwards’ death, which authorities said was the result of a self-inflicted gunshot wound during a shootout with sheriff’s deputies in California the day after Thanksgiving 2022.
But the alleged delinquency on November payments raises questions about whether Edwards could have been corresponding with a 15-year-old girl — whose family police said he later murdered — while living in the apartment at Crystal Lakes in Chesterfield County. However, a Riverside Police spokesperson told 8News that the department would need to have probable cause specifically related to its investigation of the triple murder in which Edwards is believed to be involved in California in order to request a search warrant for the apartment.
“It strikes me as odd in that they found that they were able to search his residence in Saltville, Virginia, but not his residence in Chesterfield,” private investigator and former law enforcement officer Jeff Pike said. “What’s the difference? Your probable cause would be an easy standard to meet based on the fact that he resided at his property in Chesterfield for almost a year and a half.”
This all stems from the murders of three members of the Winek family out in Riverside, Calif. the day after Thanksgiving. Authorities said that Edwards — a former Virginia State Police trooper and recent Washington County Sheriff’s Office hire — traveled across the country after engaging in a deceptive online relationship with a 15-year-old girl. During this relationship, he posed as a teenager himself, despite being in his late 20s. The Riverside Police Department, which has been leading the investigation, said that Edwards murdered the teen’s grandparents and mother, then set their home ablaze in an attempt to cover it up, before driving off with the young girl. Authorities said that Edwards later killed himself in a shootout with sheriff’s deputies.
In the months since that tragedy, questions have been raised about how Edwards could be hired by two different Virginia law enforcement agencies, especially as new information has been revealed about previous violent incidents involving the young man in the Commonwealth.
Washington County Sheriff’s deputies previously conducted an “emergency entrance” search of Edwards’ recently purchased Saltville home in southwest Virginia, despite the property being located in Smyth County. That jurisdiction’s sheriff’s office obtained and executed a search warrant for the residence the following day.
A Riverside Police spokesperson told 8News that authorities believe they obtained relevant information through that search to help piece together the ongoing investigation into Edwards’ communication with the 15-year-old girl and the triple murders that followed.
Spokespersons for the Chesterfield County Police Department and Virginia State Police also noted that they had not searched nor been asked to search Edwards’ Central Virginia apartment.
“In writing search warrants, which I’ve done, it would be very easy to articulate that there’s a possibility there’s some evidence at this property in Chesterfield County that would possibly contain evidence related to the Riverside crime,” Pike said. “But, if you look at the broader picture, if you are a jurisdiction, say, Chesterfield, State Police, is there a cold case, a runaway, unidentified body, unsolved murder?”
Pike referenced earlier messages that appeared to have been exchanged between a then-19-year-old Edwards and a different 12-year-old girl back in 2014.
“Read the way he speaks to her,” podcaster Justin Smith, who obtained the messages from the alleged victim, previously told 8News. “It’s almost like he’s so confident that you could tell that he has spoke like this to other girls.”
A Riverside Police spokesperson told 8News that prior to reporting on these messages, the department was unaware of another possible victim of grooming, but that the new information corroborated the concerns presented early on in the investigation. The 2014 exchanges, which continued through 2016, were not reported to authorities. Nevertheless, a department spokesperson said those details would not enhance their investigation into what happened with Edwards and the Winek family in November of 2022.
“He’s possibly living at one or the other simultaneously as he’s going through the process of purchasing the residence in Saltville,” Pike said. “At the end of the day, both properties could, maybe, contain evidence.”