Image: Edward W. Edwards
John Hart  /  AP
Edward W. Edwards enters Jefferson County Circuit Court in Jefferson, Wis., on Aug. 13, 2009. He pleaded guilty Wednesday,to killing a teenage couple in Wisconsin nearly 30 years ago and agreed to plead guilty to two Ohio slayings.
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updated 6/9/2010 5:05:47 PM ET 2010-06-09T21:05:47

An ailing Kentucky con man pleaded guilty Wednesday to killing a teenage couple in Wisconsin nearly 30 years ago and agreed to plead guilty to murdering a young Ohio couple a few years earlier.

Edward W. Edwards, 76, unexpectedly pleaded guilty to murdering 19-year-old sweethearts Tim Hack and Kelly Drew in 1980 during a hearing that was supposed to determine where he would be housed while awaiting trial.

His attorney, Jeffery De La Rosa, said Edwards didn't decide to accept the deal until an hour before the hearing, and that he did so to spare his wife and family, as well as the families of his victims, from having to sit through a trial.

Edwards, who's in poor health and sat in a wheel chair, didn't address the roughly two dozen friends and family members of his Wisconsin victims in the courtroom, and he only spoke in response to questions from Jefferson County Judge William F. Hue.

'One step on the way to hell'
He will be sentenced at a later date to mandatory life prison terms for each of those murders.

"It's just one step on the way to hell for him," Patrick Hack, Tim Hack's brother, said after the hearing.

Drew's brother, Mike Drew, said he was surprised Edwards admitted to the murders but glad he did.

"I was hoping it would come to this," Mike Drew said.

A woman who answered the phone at Edwards' home in Louisville declined to comment and hung up without identifying herself.

As part of his deal, Edwards will be transported to Summit County, Ohio, where he is expected to plead guilty Friday to the aggravated murders of Bill Lavaco, 21, of Doylestown, Ohio, and Judith Straub, 18, of Sterling, Ohio, in 1977.

He confessed last month to shooting both victims in the neck at close range in a park in Norton, Ohio, but he wasn't charged for those killings until earlier Wednesday. Prosecutors there plan to seek two consecutive life sentences for Edwards. He will be sent back to Wisconsin to be sentenced for those murders before returning to serve his time in Ohio, which is closer to his Louisville home.

Lavaco's sister, Kathy Cardinal of Orrville, Ohio, said prosecutors advised her not to comment about the case until after Friday's hearing.

Jefferson County District Attorney Susan Happ said discussions about a deal began about a week ago, but that she wasn't sure it would happen until shortly before the hearing.

"I'm extremely pleased," Happ said after the hearing. "This is the first time I've been able to see the families breathe a sigh of relief. ... I think it's the right result."

Disappeared from a wedding reception
Hack and Drew disappeared from a wedding reception in Sullivan, about 40 miles west of Milwaukee, in August 1980. Searchers found their scattered remains in the woods two months later.

Investigators questioned Edwards, who was working as a handyman at a campground next to the reception hall, about a month after the teens vanished. He then abruptly left the state.

Police arrested Edwards in Louisville, Ky., last July after matching DNA evidence collected from Drew's pants to him.

Detectives say Edwards acknowledged having sex with Drew, but he said a group of men attacked her and stomped her and Hack to death as he looked on.

Edwards' attorney said he didn't know if more details about the murders would ever become known, and he declined to say if Edwards expressed remorse about the killings.

"Whatever he's told me about the issue remains with he and I," De La Rosa said.

Edwards wrote an autobiography in 1972 detailing how he spent the 1950s traveling the country, stealing cars, running scams and seducing women. He landed on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list in 1961.

Police captured him in Atlanta in 1962. After doing time in federal prison, he gave speeches discouraging others from turning to crime. He and his family moved every few years, drifting through at least nine states, authorities believe.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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