CSI CALTRANS: DEPARTMENT HELPS DIG UP THE PAST TO SOLVE COLD CASE
District 7 joins forces with law enforcement to help locate victim of notorious California serial killer.
Caltrans is known for solving problems but recently the Department was involved in solving something else: a crime.
Notorious local child killer Mack Ray Edwards admitted to murdering 18 children before hanging himself in 1971 while awaiting execution. More than 35 years later, police are still searching for some of those victims.
Cases that had become as cold as a meat locker were reopened after an investigation by Pasadena author Weston DeWalt into the 1957 disappearance of 8-year-old Tommy Bowman in the Arroyo Seco produced evidence linking the boy with Edwards. At that point law enforcement agencies became involved.
Edwards, by the way, was a heavy equipment operator who was employed by various contractors working for the Division of Highways during the big freeway building boom of the 1950s and 60s. One of the victims Edwards confessed to killing was 16-year-old Roger Dale Madison, a friend and classmate of his son. He said he buried Madison under State Route 23, which was under construction at the time.
Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Detective Vivian Flores, of the cold case squad, was quoted in a recent Los Angeles Times article as saying, “It was (Edwards) intimate knowledge of these often desolate sites, where it was easy to dispose of a body with little danger of discovery, that I think allowed him to kill repeatedly. His work was a huge part of it. It was essential to his crimes.”
Based on Flores’s research, police decided to dig for Madison’s remains along Route 23. The problem was that Edwards’ confession didn’t indicate exactly where along the 10-mile stretch of freeway he had buried the teenager. The detective then paid a visit to the Thousand Oaks construction field office to speak with staff, who directed her to Lee Everett, a retired Bridge Engineer. Everett still had his calendars, which indicated his work locations. Based on his 1968 calendars, law enforcement was able to pinpoint where construction on SR 23 was active.
In his interview, Edwards reported that he placed Madison’s remains in a compaction hole, (used during freeway construction to determine if underlying soil can support the structures being built above it). The police went out on several different Saturdays with four different cadaver dogs. All four dogs “alerted” in the northwest quadrant, said Christina Ruano, a senior transportation engineer in Caltrans Legal division who became the Department liaison.
The Caltrans Ground Penetrating Radar Unit, based in Sacramento, was able to examine the site. Their report indicated several anomalies in the area. The Ventura County Fire Department utilized their Photoionization Detector (PID) meter, which tests for organic compounds. The meter found organic compounds present that would indicate human remains, Ruano said, adding that “Our next question was, ‘how do we get down there?’”
Caltrans originally had considered using the district’s Geotechnical staff and bringing drilling equipment down from Sacramento. “Then the budget intervened,” Ruano said, “and we had to wait.” Ultimately, it was decided to bring out a loader and dig the area.
Excavation began on October 6 and, by that time, a virtual alphabet soup of agencies had joined the LAPD, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the Department of Justice, the Ventura and Los Angeles County Sheriffs’ offices, the California Highway Patrol (CHP), and a forensic anthropologist.
The dig was helped by the fact that a breaker and an excavator were donated by private construction companies “and that sped things up a great deal,” Ruano said. “Unfortunately, it was a matter of how far we could go and, as it turned out, we couldn’t go that far.”
On October 10, the search was halted due to concerns about damaging the freeway structure. Although no remains had been located, certain items were discovered, such as survey tape, a lathe and a small piece of plastic that looked like it came from a tarp, which further indicated this had been the right area.
Madison’s sister and niece flew in from back East to observe the dig. Although they were not able to bring him home, they were very grateful for all of the efforts to find Madison and close the case.
“This was a tremendous effort from everyone in the Department, from District Director Doug Failing on down,” Ruano said. She specifically cited Maintenance Deputy Dan Freeman, Environmental Deputy Ron Kosinski, Traffic Operations Deputy Frank Quon and the Traffic Management Team (TMT) responsible for CMS signs and detours as well as the electrical group for managing signals and, of course, Linda Harrel, District 7 Deputy Chief Council and Guy Harris of Headquarters for giving her the time and resources to do her job. “I’m very, very proud of everyone for all their efforts and dedication,” she added. “I would also like to acknowledge the Moorpark Maintenance team, especially Barbara Cisneros, whose ‘can do’ attitude made a lot of things happen.”
Meanwhile, Madison’s case remains open. It is conceivable that his DNA will be found in the soil samples still being analyzed. If not, the search will continue, to find justice for him, Tommy Bowman and the other unsolved missing child cases from that “innocent time,” Ruano said, “when you didn’t know there were monsters around.”