Carroll Edward Cole
Murder in Dallas
Dallas police are no strangers to violent death, and Det. Gerald Robinson expected no surprises when he was called to examine a woman’s corpse at 6:00 a.m. on Wednesday, November 12, 1980. The body had been found 45 minutes earlier on Bryan Street, an inner-city neighborhood of honky-tonk saloons, cheap lodgings and greasy-spoon restaurants. Tempers flared often there, and the results were sometimes fatal.
Robinson found the victim nude from the waist down, her blouse ripped open. Bruises on her neck suggested strangulation as the cause of death. Her torn slacks lay 20 feet away, hastily concealed in a clump of trees. Drag marks and abrasions on the woman’s flesh showed that she had been hauled across dirt and gravel after she was killed and stripped. A driver’s license in the victim’s pocket identified her as 32-year-old Wanda Faye Roberts, residing five blocks north of the site where she was found. Postmortem tests revealed no sexual assault, but they proved that Roberts had been drinking heavily before she died.
Police scoured the Bryan Street bars and soon found one where Roberts was known as a regular. The bartender recalled her latest visit, on the night she was murdered. Roberts had left the bar around 2:00 a.m. with another frequent customer, known only as “Eddie.” Det. Robinson filed the clue but could do nothing with it. He needed a suspect, and there were thousands of “Eddies” in Dallas.
There was nothing Robinson could do but wait.
Near midnight on November 30, 1980, 43-year-old Sally Thompson’s two sons brought a girlfriend home to visit at her Dallas apartment. They saw lights burning in the living room and heard the TV playing, but the door was locked. Knocking and rattling the knob, they waited several minutes before a stranger opened the door. He was slender, average height, with dark hair and a thin mustache. He reeked of whiskey and appeared disoriented, but he offered no resistance as the boys pushed past him.
They found their mother lying on the floor, facedown beside the couch, with her jeans and panties wadded around her ankles. Frightened now, the boys fled to a neighbor’s apartment and summoned police. Offices found the stranger standing beside Thompson’s corpse and took him into custody without resistance. The man identified himself as Carroll Edward Cole, residing two blocks from the Thompson apartment. When questioned, he recalled meeting Thompson at a nearby bar and accepting her invitation to come home for sex. Cole had been undressing her, he said, when Thompson suddenly collapsed. Paramedics on the scene found no signs of violence on her body, suggesting possible death from an overdose of alcohol or drugs. Cole was detained until a medical examiner completed the autopsy, listing Thompson’s cause of death as “indeterminate, and then he was released.
Det. Robinson reviewed the Thompson file next morning, noting that Cole’s middle name might be shortened to “Eddie” by friends. He also noted that Cole’s Lemmon Avenue address was a halfway house for felons on parole, located within two miles of the Wanda Roberts murder scene. A call to the halfway house told Robinson that Cole had arrived in Dallas on October 8, 1980, two days after his release from a federal lockup for mail theft. After missing curfew several times, he had left the halfway house on November 3, but called back to negotiate a second chance on the night Wanda Roberts was murdered. A further background check on Cole revealed an extensive criminal record, including a 1967 Missouri conviction for felonious assault on an adolescent girl.
That afternoon, Robinson led a team of plainclothesmen to pick Cole up at his workplace, a Toys R Us warehouse. In custody, Cole repeated his story about Sally Thompson and admitted a casual acquaintance with Wanda Roberts. They had quarreled the night she died, Cole said, but he had no idea who had killed her.
(police file photo)
In the midst of the interview, Det. Robinson was called to visit the scene of an officer-involved shooting. As if disappointed by the interruption, Cole launched into a murder confession, describing the death of a woman he’d met in a Dallas saloon. It took several moments for Robinson to realize the details fit neither Sally Thompson’s nor Wanda Roberts’s murders. This one, apparently, had been committed on November 9. A swift records check identified the victim as 52-year-old Dorothy King, found dead in her apartment on November 11, 1980. Again, the coroner had blamed her passing on an overdose of alcohol.
Returning from that errand, Robinson decided to start from scratch. “Now about that girl in the bar,” he began. “Tell me about her.”
Cole frowned and replied, “Which one?”
Cole’s litany of death consumed the afternoon and evening of December 1, 1980. Det. Robinson took notes as the prisoner admitted strangling Dorothy King, Wanda Roberts and Sally Thompson. In each case the scenario was nearly identical: a barroom meeting, promises of sex, and Cole’s hands clamped around a dying woman’s neck.
Nor were the Dallas murders isolated incidents. In fact, there had been six before them in the past nine years. All drunken sluts, by Cole’s account. All strangled. Some of them molested after death.
In San Diego he remembered three victims. The first was Essie Buck, a tavern owner strangled, stripped and dumped outside the city limits in May 1971. The second was Bonnie Sue O’Neil, a prostitute Cole strangled and discarded in the alley behind an appliance shop where he worked in August 1979. A month later Cole’s alcoholic wife Diana fell prey to his murderous rage, her body wrapped in blankets and hidden in a closet of their home while Eddie hit the road.
Las Vegas was another city where Cole had spent considerable time, and he had claimed two victims there. Part-time prostitute Kathlyn Blum was strangled and dumped in a residential neighborhood during May 1977. More than two years later, in November 1979, victim Marie Cushman had been left in the bed she shared briefly with Cole at the Casbah Hotel. The final victim on Cole’s list was Myrlene Hamer, nicknamed “Teepee” for her Native American roots. Strangled and dumped in a field outside Casper, Wyoming, her body was recovered by authorities in August 1975.
When he ran out of names, Cole was booked into Dallas City Jail on three counts of first-degree murder. Despite his confessions, however, Cole still presented a problem for prosecutors. Local medical examiners had missed the cause of death on two of his three victims, and San Diego authorities told the press Cole had killed no one at all in their city. Deputy Coroner Jay Johnson told reporters, “I don’t believe there’s anything to it,” while Lt. John Gregory, chief of San Diego’s homicide squad, held a similar view. “The coroner conducted thorough autopsies,” Gregory declared, “and the man would have to have been some sort of expert to have strangled these women without leaving any bruise marks.”
(Dallas Bar Association)
Meanwhile, Dallas psychiatrists examined Cole to learn if he was fit for trial. Cole’s blasé descriptions of murder and necrophilia unnerved them, but the doctors agreed that he was legally sane. Cole’s trial began on April 6, 1981 before Judge John Mead, with Cole himself appearing as the sole defense witness. Under oath, he told a story of childhood abuse inflicted by his sadistic, adulterous mother, giving rise to a morbid obsession with women who betrayed their husbands or lovers. “I think,” he told the jury, “I’ve been killing her through them.” Details of the Dallas slayings were “pretty fuzzy,” Cole said, but he surprised the court by adding three more victims to his formal tally. The “new” crimes included two more women killed in San Diego and a victim slain in Oklahoma City on Thanksgiving 1977.
“This one is almost a complete blank,” Cole said of the Oklahoma victim. He didn’t know the woman’s name, but Cole remembered finding pieces of her body scattered from the bathroom to the kitchen of his small apartment. “Evidently I had done some cooking the night before,” he testified. “There was some meat on the stove in a frying pan and part that I hadn’t eaten on a plate, on the table.”
attorneys while Cole tries to collect
himself on the stand
(Dallas Morning News)
Jurors had heard enough. Prosecutor Mary Ludwick blamed the cannibalism confession on Cole’s “tendency to grossly exaggerate” and a wild bid for an insanity plea. The panel deliberated barely 25 minutes before convicting Cole on three counts of murder. Judge Mead spared his life with a sentence of life imprisonment on April 9, 1981.
Carroll Edward Cole was born at Sioux City, Iowa on May 9, 1938, the second son of LaVerne and Vesta Cole. A sister followed in 1939, before the family moved to Richmond, California, LaVerne seeking work in the local shipyards. Drafted to serve his country in World War II, LaVerne would be absent when his younger son’s life took a sudden and bizarre turn for the worse.
One day in 1943, as Cole recalled, his mother took him with her to visit an unfamiliar apartment. There she met soldiers, engaging in drunken sex while Eddie waited in the squalid parlor with strangers. Afterward, at home, Vesta beat Eddie and twisted his arms, threatening worse if he ever revealed her transgression. The excursions were repeated, each capped with increasingly sadistic punishment, until his father returned home at war’s end. According to school records, Vesta kept her whipping boy at home until age seven, when by law he should have entered first grade at six.
War’s end and his father’s return brought relief of a sort, but only by a matter of degree. Vesta still harassed and punished Eddie over the slightest infraction, and he had also begun to suffer at school. Playmates teased him mercilessly about his “girl’s name,” often leaving him in tears.
“The kids made quite a thing of taunting me,” Cole later recalled. “I felt the animosity, withdrawing more and more into myself.” One afternoon, hiding beneath the porch at home, Cole briefly “blacked out” and awoke to find he had strangled the family’s puppy. Strangely relieved by the act of killing, he began to fantasize about killing his mother—or, for that matter, any female who crossed his path.
Despite those lethal daydreams, Cole’s first murder victim would be male. The boy—”an ass from school named Duane”—was one of those who taunted Cole relentlessly about his name. One summer afternoon in 1946, Cole joined his brother and a group of other boys to go swimming at Richmond’s yacht harbor. Duane was part of the group, and they had barely reached their destination when he resumed the tired old litany: “How does it feel to have a girl’s name, Carroll?”
They were alone, with Cole in the water and Duane crouched on a nearby log, prepared to spring. He held his nose and jumped, Cole tracking his progress from a trail of bubbles, moving to intercept Duane. As Duane tried to surface, Cole clamped his legs around the other boy’s neck, bracing his hands against the nearest log for leverage. “I held him under till I knew he was dead,” Cole later wrote. “And when I let him go, he sank.”
Authorities dismissed the drowning as an accident, though Cole spent several months in fear of imminent arrest. “I was afraid of the police—with reason, as I thought—but there was no remorse about Duane,” Cole said. “I hated him, and I was glad I stood up for myself.”
It was the first time, but it would not be the last.
‘Not Mentally Ill’
The thrill derived from murder is a temporary fix. Like any other powerful narcotic, homicidal violence satisfies the senses for a time, but the effect soon fades. And when it does, a predator goes hunting.
“If I thought my life was going to improve,” Cole said, of killing Duane, “I was sadly mistaken. Neither at home or at school. I was getting meaner and meaner, fighting all the time in a way to hurt or maim, and my thoughts were not the ideas of an innocent child, believe me.”
Cole masked his morbid fantasies to a degree, in elementary school and junior high, but they began to take a toll. An IQ test administered in February 1953 ranked Cole at the “genius” level of 152, but his grades scraped along that semester at a D+ average. By high school he was burglarizing liquor stores and drinking heavily, finally dropping out entirely in the middle of his junior year.
Cole worked briefly at a Richmond factory, then joined the Navy in February 1957. Drinking and theft of government property sent him to the brig, but it was a San Diego arrest on suspicion of burglary and auto theft that finally got Cole discharged on October 4, 1958. For reasons even he could not explain, Cole returned to his parents’ home in Richmond and endured a new round of abuse from his mother, rubbing his nose in the latest abject failure.
Cole remained with the family, working odd jobs and logging various minor arrests, until June 1, 1960. That night, prowling a local lover’s lane, he approached two couples in a parked car and attacked them with a hammer. Convicted of assault with a deadly weapon on June 28, he was sentenced to 30 days on the county work farm.
In January 1961 Cole flagged down a Richmond police car and told the patrolmen of his urge to rape and strangle women. Several phone calls later, the officers suggested voluntary self-committal to a mental hospital. Cole entered Napa State Hospital on February 2, 1961, for 90 days’ observation and treatment. He wanted help, but dared not mention Duane’s murder and could not bring himself to discuss Vesta’s cruelty. Reports from Napa record Cole’s fantasy of a “happy childhood,” noting that he “talk[ed] about both of his parents in rather glowing terms.” Vesta confirmed the lie when she was interviewed by Dr. R.C. Hitchen. Another psychiatrist, Dr. L.M. Jones, described the final meeting where staff members discussed Cole’s case:
It was felt by some that he was a possible sexual psychopath, potentially dangerous to the community. Staff made a diagnosis of Anti-Social Sociopathic Personality Disturbance on March 21st and recommended that he be discharged, Not Suitable, Not Mentally Ill and recommended that he apply for outside psychiatric treatment or voluntary admission to Atascadero State Hospital because of his sadistic, abnormal sexual tendencies.
Napa staffers released Cole on March 25, 1961. While serving a six-month sentence for auto theft, that July, Cole repeated his plea for psychiatric help. Judge Raymond Coughlin signed the committal order on October 6 and Cole entered Atascadero State Hospital 10 days later. Doctors there found his test results “very puzzling and contradictory.” Dr. Irwin Hart diagnosed Cole as “a very passive-dependent person with a façade of independence, and confusion concerning sexual identification.” Cole was transferred to Stockton State Hospital for further testing and treatment on September 12, 1962. There, Dr. I.I. Weiss noted that “He seems to be afraid of the female figure and cannot have intercourse with her first but must kill her before he can do it.” Weiss diagnosed Cole’s condition as a “schizophrenic reaction, chronic undifferentiated type”—and released him on April 19, 1963 with an “indefinite leave of absence to self.”
Upon his release, Cole noted that his family “was solicitous, to some extent, but they were really wishing I was elsewhere.” Brother Richard had moved to Dallas with his wife, and Texas was suggested for a change of scene. LaVerne bought the bus ticket in May 1963 and Eddie headed south.
Cole later recalled that his brother “spent the next few weeks showing me Dallas through bar and tavern windows.” Soon, he was able to find the saloons—and the women they attracted—by himself. On July 5, 1963, despondent over a failed attempt to strangle a woman he met in one dive, Cole attempted suicide with pills and spent four days in a psychiatric ward.
Soon after his release Cole met Neville “Billy” Whitworth, an alcoholic stripper whom he described as “neurotic and unstable, just like me.” It was the ultimate co-dependent relationship, complete with raging violence on both sides. Cole and Billy married in November 1963, soon after her part-time employer—one Jack Ruby—murdered the alleged assassin of President John Kennedy. The marriage was chaotic from day one, lust and anger fueled by alcohol, interrupted by arrests for drunkenness and domestic violence.
It came to a head in August 1965, Cole convinced that Billy was servicing men at the motel where they lived. Furious, Cole set the place on fire and was indicted for arson on August 19, convicted and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment in March 1966. He served nine months and was released on January 5, 1967. Tired of Billy and their wasted life, he started drifting aimlessly, his travels marked by a series of arrests. An Oklahoma City court fined him $20 for “vagrancy by pimping” in April 1967. A month later he invaded the bedroom of a 11-year-old girl in Lake Ozark, Missouri and tried to strangle her as she slept. Her screams summoned help, and Cole was captured moments later by police, facing 10 years in prison on a charge of felonious assault with intent to ravish.
“The public was so aroused,” Cole recalled, “that in another time frame, I would doubtless have been taken out and lynched.” Instead, he pled guilty to a reduced charge of assault with intent to kill and received a five-year prison term. He was paroled on May 1, 1970, entirely unrepentant. “If anything,” he later admitted, “I was worse.”
Cole drifted back to San Diego, then to Reno, Nevada. Twice he tried to strangle women met in bars, but his victims escaped both times. On September 19, 1970 he surrendered to Reno police and confessed his urge to murder women. Detained on a charge of disorderly conduct, Cole was committed four days later to a state hospital at Sparks, Nevada. There, Dr. Felix Peebles diagnosed Cole as an “anti-social personality with alcoholism, with compulsion to strangle and rape pretty females. By October 13 that diagnosis had changed to brand Cole “a highly manipulative young man who is utilizing his difficulties with the law in the past and his threats of violence upon others to find shelter when he is out of funds or ways to get what he wants.” Dr. Peebles ordered Cole released, with the following notations in his file:
Condition on Discharge: The same as on admission Prognosis: Poor Under “disposition” Peebles noted, “He was discharged and placed on an Express Bus for Los Angeles where he was to change buses and go on to his home in San Diego, California.” Eddie wasn’t cured, but he was someone else’s problem now.
And he had given up on seeking help.
Mexico’s border (AP)
Naming San Diego as his home was a strategic move on Cole’s part. “As a border town,” he later wrote, “it’s wild and practically anything goes. Also, being in California, it’s easy to get on welfare, and my record with the state hospitals qualified me for more disability.”
Cole played the game to a point, training as a nurse’s aide, but he was appalled by local hospital conditions. “Have you ever seen a patient eaten up with bed sores because someone didn’t care enough to do their job?” he wrote. “And the verbal abuse was something else. I often thought of waylaying one of those nurses in the parking lot, killing her for the old folks, but unfortunately our classes were in the daytime.”
Instead, he transferred his aggression to others. After three flings at psychiatry, Cole noted, “My urges were stronger than ever but I wasn’t concerned about it anymore. I just said to hell with it and waited to see what would happen.” On May 7, 1971 he met Essie Buck in a San Diego tavern and strangled her in his car, leaving her body in the trunk overnight. Next morning, Cole remembered, “I felt nothing—not elation, guilt, or any of the feelings thought to appease someone like me. Just cold nothing.” He discarded the body on May 9, his thirty-third birthday.
Two weeks later, Cole would claim, he met another hard-drinking woman known only as Wilma and strangled her after a night on the town. He buried her corpse in the foothills outside San Ysidro, where it remains undiscovered today. His third victim, a week after Wilma, was killed and buried in similar fashion. If Cole ever knew her name, he had forgotten it years later, when he penned an account of the murder from prison.
In June 1971, while serving time for theft and drunk driving, Cole was questioned by San Diego homicide detective Robert Ring. Essie Buck was mentioned, startling Cole. He admitted sleeping with her on the night she died, but claimed he woke next morning to find her dead of unknown causes beside him. Cole had dumped her body in a panic, he claimed. “It was farfetched,” Cole wrote in 1985, “but Ring bought it.” Cole was released on schedule, in March 1972.
A short time later, hunting, he drove to San Ysidro on the Mexican border. Cole picked up two Hispanic women in a bar and took them for a ride. A few miles outside town, to drink more beer, but Cole had other plans. When one woman slipped away to relieve herself, he bludgeoned her companion with a hammer, then strangled the other upon her return. Afterward, he buried both women in the desert, two more victims who were never found.
In the summer of 1972, shortly after his release from jail on yet another drunk-driving charge, Cole met an alcoholic barmaid named Diana Pashal. They soon moved in together, although neither was monogamous. Diana’s infidelity rankled, reviving memories of Cole’s mother, but it did not stop him from proposing marriage in July 1973. The union was nearly as tempestuous as his first, and Cole celebrated their first anniversary by fleeing to Nevada with a girlfriend.
Diana forgave him when Cole returned home a month later, in August 1974, and they agreed that no good would come of their relationship in San Diego. They picked Las Vegas on a whim and left to start a brand-new life.
For Cole, things were about to go from bad to worse.
Nothing improved for Eddie and Diana in Las Vegas. They drank as much as ever, and both still had wandering eyes. Despite his ex-con status, Cole soon found a job transporting coins from the slot machines at McCarran Airport to downtown casinos. The lure of easy cash proved irresistible, and Cole soon fled with a day’s receipts, leaving Diana behind as he set off on a rambling cross-country jaunt.
While working oil rigs at Casper, Wyoming in August 1975, Cole met Myrlene “Teepee” Hamer. He noted the wedding ring on her finger and Hamer’s seeming disregard for what it meant. After hours of drinking they went for a drive, to find some privacy. Hamer had suggested sex, but Eddie wanted something else. He strangled her in the car, then left her on a grassy hillside, covered with an old sleeping bag. Her corpse was found by police on August 9, and Cole left town the next day, heading west.
Back in San Diego, Cole stayed briefly with Diana, then wound up in a local detox center after one of his drunken binges. Worse trouble followed when he stole a $1,500 government check from one of his fellow patients and tried to cash it for himself. Charged with mail theft in June 1976, he jumped bail but was soon recaptured and slapped with a new charge of unlawful flight. Conviction on both counts earned him a one-year sentence in February 1977. Paroled in April, he fled back to Las Vegas, a federal fugitive. A month later, he strangled prostitute Kathlyn Blum and dumped her body in a stranger’s backyard, where police recovered it on May 14, 1977.
Detectives had no leads in that case, and Cole stayed in town long enough to be jailed for car theft in North Las Vegas, on July 19, 1977. Cole made bail, then skipped his September court date and made his way to Oklahoma City. Nevada authorities waited until December to swear out a warrant for Cole’s arrest, too late to apprehend him—or to stop him from killing again.
On the night before Thanksgiving, sitting in an Oklahoma City topless bar, Cole met a woman who agreed to spend the night with him. “Somewhere in the middle of our making love,” he later wrote, “the booze kicked in, or else my mind went blank—I can’t say which.” He woke at sunrise on November 24 to find the woman dead in his bathtub, both feet and her right arm severed and missing. Cole found those remnants in his refrigerator, while a steak sliced from the corpse’s buttocks lay in a skillet on the stove. Using kitchen knives and a hacksaw, he finished the dismemberment, placed her remains in plastic garbage bags and drove them to the city dump, where they presumably were burned.
“That day,” he later wrote, “was something else.”
But it was not the end.
From Oklahoma City, Cole drove to Texas and found work at Denver City. Unfortunately, the town was “dry,” but that didn’t stop Cole from drinking whatever alcohol he could find. He was soon arrested for public drunkenness, and a fingerprint check revealed that he was wanted in California as a federal fugitive. One week later, Cole was headed back to San Diego, wearing chains.
On March 8, 1978 Cole received a six-month jail sentence plus three years’ probation contingent on full-time employment and participation in an alcoholic rehab program. North Las Vegas dismissed his bail-jumping charges on Cole’s fortieth birthday, and Cole was freed on June 16, 1978.
Soon after his release, Cole reunited with Diana. “We got along fine,” he later wrote, “but I was sleeping on the couch for several days until she finally invited me into the bedroom.” Probation notwithstanding, Cole kept drinking and skated from one part-time job to another. He was jailed for drunkenness on October 25, slapped with another probation violation, then released on $2,000 bond. Police arrested him again on November 8, but neglected to inform his probation officer. A federal hearing in March 1979 continued his probation, while Cole continued his drinking and trolling for victims.
On August 27, 1979 Cole met Bonnie Sue O’Neil in a local bar and took her back to the appliance shop where he was temporarily employed. Years later, Cole recalled their tryst as “a night to end all screwing,” but it ended when O’Neil mentioned a need to phone her husband. Cole strangled her on the spot and dumped her body out back, throwing her clothes into a nearby garbage bin. Speaking in 1985, Cole and his former employers agreed that police on the case never came to the shop or questioned any of the staff.
Cole’s marriage was on its last legs by that time. On September 17, 1979 he strangled Diana at home, wrapped her body in blankets, and stowed it in a closet. A neighbor called police eight days later, to report Cole scrabbling around beneath his house. Patrolmen found him in the crawlspace, working on a grave-sized excavation, and they drove him to the local detox center. By the time he was released next morning, Cole’s mother-in-law had found Diana’s corpse and the house was crawling with police, but he eluded them and caught a bus to Las Vegas.
In fact, he had nothing to fear from San Diego authorities. Autopsy results pegged Diana’s blood-alcohol level at four times the legal limit, and her death was attributed to alcohol poisoning. The only person looking for Cole, so far, was his federal probation officer. A bench warrant for his arrest was issued on September 27, 1979.
In Las Vegas, Cole found work as a truck driver for a religious charity, picking up donations of clothing and other second-hand items. Newly single, he began dating a female coworker, and while the relationship led to his third marriage, it never prevented Cole from picking up women in bars. One of them was Marie Cushman, who accompanied Cole to the Casbah Hotel on November 3, 1979. He killed her there and left her body in the room, to be discovered by a maid next morning. Curiously, an article in the Las Vegas Review-Journal described two suspects in Cushman’s murder: one was “an unidentified 50-year-old man,” five-feet-two, with gray hair; the other, described by a Casbah desk clerk, was “an Indian in his thirties, about six feet tall, with short, wavy black hair,” driving a Chevrolet with California license plates. Neither bore any resemblance to Cole, and the false leads left police stymied.
Married in Las Vegas on December 16, 1979, Cole took his bride to Texas for a long-term honeymoon. He was stopped for driving without a valid license in early January 1980, and might have escaped with a warning, but a computer name-check turned up the federal bench warrant. Held as a persistent violator of probation, he wound up in Springfield, Missouri, at the Medical Center for Federal Prisoners. In August 1980 Dr. A.E. Miller filed the following report:
There is no evidence of psychosis or neurosis in Mr. Cole. Diagnostically he may be described as a character disorder. It is unlikely that major personality changes will occur. He does not appear motivated for any sort of treatment at this time.
Prisoners in Missouri
Despite that judgment, Cole was released on October 4, 1980 and bussed off to Dallas, where he would murder three more women by November 30.
(Dallas Morning News)
Cole’s murder confessions in Dallas rang bells in Las Vegas, where Det. Joe McGuckin heard the news and booked a flight to Texas on December 3, 1980. His interview with Cole convinced McGuckin that he had solved the homicides of Kathlyn Blum and Marie Cushman, but knowing the killer was not the same thing as bringing him to justice. Texas had Cole on ice for a 25-year minimum, making it doubtful that he would ever face trial in Nevada—unless Cole himself collaborated in the effort.
Huntsville Texas (AP)
Eddie, meanwhile, had other plans. In November 1982, after nearly two years inside, he began plotting an unscheduled exit from the Texas state prison at Huntsville. “By now,” he later wrote, “escape was my only thought, and I began to put an elaborate plan in effect.” He stole food coloring, to dye his white prison uniform a less conspicuous hue, and Tabasco sauce for his shoes, to throw tracking dogs off the scent. Angling for a transfer to the prison’s garden crew, he planned to overpower a guard, take his weapon, and run as if his life depended on it—which it might, considering the temper of his guards. Then, on the eve of his planned escape, Cole was injured in a prison wood shop accident and transferred to a new facility, his plans all gone for nothing.
In January 1984 Cole received a letter from California, advising him of his mother’s death. A month later, on February 15, Nevada authorities formally announced their intent to extradite Cole and try him on capital murder charges. Cole waived extradition on March 30 1984, and Las Vegas detectives were sent to fetch him on April 9. In lieu of escape, Cole had decided he would rather die.
Nevada prosecutors were anxious to oblige. A psychiatrist examined Cole in May 1984, and two more in July; all agreed that he was sane and competent for trial. On August 16 Cole appeared before Judge Myron Leavitt and pled guilty on two counts of first-degree murder. Attorney Tom Pitaro, appointed as “standby” counsel over Cole’s objections, protested Cole’s “attempt to commit legal suicide.” In fact, Pitaro argued, Cole had no right to determine his own punishment and thereby “undermine the integrity of the court.” For the good of society at large, Pitaro said, he should be granted leave to search for mitigating circumstances.
Cole had a simpler, more direct perspective. “I believe in capital punishment,” he declared. “I don’t see where [Pitaro] is going to come up with this stuff, because there’s nothing good about me.”
Cole’s penalty hearing convened on October 12, 1984, before a panel of three judges. Judge Leavitt was joined for the occasion by colleagues Richard Legarza and Norman Robinson. District Attorney Dan Seaton called as witnesses detectives from Las Vegas, Dallas, Missouri and Wyoming to confirm Cole’s admissions of serial murder. Two officers from San Diego also testified, but their confused descriptions of the several cases in their city added nothing to the presentation. Cole capped the testimony with his own on October 12, reminding the judges that “within about five more years [he] would be eligible for parole” in Texas (false), and “if not that, I got very ample chances to escape from the Texas Department of Corrections.”
The panel took Cole at his word and sentenced him to die for Marie Cushman’s murder. Execution was barred in Kathlyn Blum’s death, since Nevada had no death penalty in May 1977. It hardly mattered, though.
In Cole’s case, one death sentence was enough.
Cole was transferred from Las Vegas to Nevada’s state prison at Carson City on November 6, 1984. Ironically, that morning brought an announcement from the warden’s office that the prison’s death chamber—out of service due to gas leaks for the past five years—was once again open for business. State legislators had saved themselves a $20,000 repair bill by voting for lethal injection in 1983, and the changeover was finally complete.
If Cole died on schedule, he would be Nevada’s first inmate to get the needle.
(prison photo ID)
For the next eleven months, Cole doggedly resisted all outside attempts to file appeals on his behalf. The attempts were fewer than expected, in light of his crimes, as most civil libertarians balked at defending a confessed serial killer and cannibal. Nevada’s Supreme Court affirmed Cole’s death sentence on October 22, 1985 and Judge Leavitt convened a hearing three weeks later, fixing the date of execution as December 6.
Cole had just over three weeks to live.
He spent the time quietly, completing a handwritten autobiography that ran to some 100,000 words, granting permission for a Las Vegas neurosurgeon to study his brain after death, in an effort to explain his violent life. On December 4 he was moved to a seven-by-seven-foot “last night cell,” under 24-hour suicide watch to prevent him from cheating the state. The next day, three other death row inmates filed an appeal with the state supreme court on Cole’s behalf, declaring him “legally insane,” but the court rejected their petition in a special nighttime session.
At 1:43 a.m. on December 6, Cole entered the execution chamber before an audience of selected witnesses. By 2:05 a.m. he was strapped to the table with needles inserted in both arms. Warden George Sumner signaled for the execution to proceed, a lethal cocktail of chemicals flowing into Cole’s veins on command. His body convulsed at 2:07 a.m. and then relaxed. The prison’s physician pronounced him dead three minutes later. Emerging from the theater of death moments later, Dan Seaton told the TV cameras, “It is enjoyable to see the system work.”
Unfortunately, in the case of Eddie Cole it took four decades, 16 wasted lives and countless dollars to complete the job.