Weeks before a former Virginia state trooper allegedly killed three members of a California family in a “catfishing” scheme, he bought a home sight unseen and blacked out the windows, the man who sold him the house said Friday.
Jacob Gordon, 28, said in an interview that Austin Lee Edwards, who was killed in a shootout with authorities on Nov. 25, made a full-price offer on the two-bedroom house in Saltville, in southwestern Virginia, hours after it was listed in the first week of October.
Edwards, 28, asked almost no questions about the home and moved in on Nov. 14, Gordon said. Property records from Smyth County, Virginia, list Austin Lee Edwards as the owner of the home on Allison Gap Road. He paid $79,900, according to the records.
TMZ first reported the sale.
Authorities believe Edwards posed as a 17-year-old while interacting with a teenage girl in Riverside, California. Edwards traveled there and is accused of killing the 15-year-old’s mother, Brooke Winek, 38; and grandparents, Mark Winek, 69, and Sharie Winek, 65, authorities in Riverside have said.
A fire that authorities believe was intentionally set broke out at their home and Edwards allegedly drove off with the teen. Sheriff’s deputies in San Bernardino County found them hours later and fatally shot Edwards after he opened fire, the Riverside Police Department has said.
The girl is in the custody of Child Protective Services and is receiving trauma counseling, a family friend said at a news conference Wednesday.
Edwards resigned from the Virginia State Police in October, roughly 10 months after graduating from the academy. The department has declined to say why, citing a state law barring them from releasing additional details.
The agency denied a public records request from NBC News seeking personnel records.
Edwards had recently begun orientation and was in the process of being reassigned to the patrol division at the Washington County Sheriff’s Office when he moved into the Saltville home.
The sheriff’s office has previously said that a background check revealed Edwards had not been subject to reprimands, internal investigations or other issues.
After moving in to the home, Edwards hung blackout curtains and tinted the windows with what Gordon believed may have been a product made for cars, he said. It isn’t clear why he did so. Gordon did not discuss it with Edwards and said he didn’t think much about it at the time.
“I actually told him, ‘I’m glad we got a cop back here,’” Gordon said. “My wife and baby are home alone a lot.”
“When I look back there’s 100 things I could question,” he added.
Ryan Railsback, a spokesman for the Riverside Police Department, said Friday that detectives have not yet analyzed items discovered at the home.
Gordon described Edwards as shy and said he mostly kept to himself, though he offered to help Gordon fix things around his nearby property. Because Edwards was new to the area, Gordon said, he once offered to go to dinner with Edwards at a Chinese restaurant.
“He politely declined,” Gordon said.
Gordon said Edwards told him that he moved to the area because he’d grown up in the region and wanted to return. The Riverside Police Department previously said Edwards was from North Chesterfield, several hours northeast of Saltville, near Richmond.
Efforts to reach Edwards’ relatives have been unsuccessful.
Gordon described Saltville as rural Appalachia, a place where credit cards can’t be used on gas pumps and fast food franchises are all but non-existent.
“When you come here you’re traveling back in the past,” he said.
Authorities have not said when Edwards arrived in California or how he got there. The last time Gordon said he saw Edwards was Tuesday, Nov. 22, three days before the Wineks were killed.
“He’d come home from work early that day,” he said. “He packed his things in his car and left.”