SMYTH COUNTY, Va. (WJHL) – A man hired as a local deputy who is accused of killing three people in California after “catfishing” a teenage girl had recently purchased a home in Southwest Virginia – and appears to have blacked out its windows.
Smyth County property records show that Austin Lee Edwards, a former Virginia State Police trooper, bought a home in the 600 block of Allison Gap Road in Saltville. A deed of sale for the property was recorded on Nov. 14, according to the office of the Smyth County Commissioner of Revenue.
County officials also confirmed water service was turned on at the home on Nov. 15.
Less than two weeks later, three family members of a teenager in Riverside, California were killed and their home was set on fire. Riverside police identified the victims as Brooke, Sharie and Mark Winek. A 15-year-old girl described as being in distress was rescued, and a suspect identified as Edwards was killed after a shootout with police.
News Channel 11 sent a crew to the home on Allison Gap Road, where the windows had been blacked out. Jacob Gordon, who sold the home to Edwards and lives in one of the neighboring homes, told News Channel 11 that the windows had not been tinted when it was purchased.
Gordon said the house was only on the market a few hours before he had a full-price offer from Edwards.
“This is something you see on Netflix, you see on Hulu,” Gordon said.
Gordon said when Edwards bought the home he told him he was looking to leave the city and move back to the region he was from.
“I actually told him the day that he moved in that I was very happy to have him,” Gordon said. “My wife and child were home alone a lot and it made me feel safe you know having an officer behind me.”
Edwards had resigned from his trooper position on Oct. 28, the agency informed News Channel 11.
The Washington County, Virginia Sheriff’s Office (WCSO) stated in a release that Edwards had been hired to work in the department’s patrol division on Nov. 16. At the time of the California killings, Edwards was still undergoing orientation in Washington County and had yet to work in the field as a deputy.
The WCSO reported that the department had contacted Edwards’ former employers, including the Virginia State Police, prior to his hiring. No previous employers reportedly informed the WCSO of any “troubles, reprimands, or internal investigations” regarding him.
According to police, Edwards is believed to have posed as a 17-year-old boy while interacting with the teenage girl online prior to driving across the country. Riverside Police Chief Larry Gonzalez told media that police do not believe the girl had anything to do with the murders. As of Tuesday, she was in counseling for trauma.
This is a developing story. Look for updates online and on-air.