- Art Imitates a Life of True Crime -


It was in the wee hours of May 31st, 2014 as Dave Schrader of Darkness Radio was the guest host of the nightly Coast to Coast AM. Thankfully the evening's topic had nothing to do with the Paranormal or chasing Big Foot. The host introduced the radio audience to a retired cold case detective from Great Falls, Montana who had a compelling story to tell based on the life of a serial killer I'd never heard of.


I was immediately riveted by the conversation with the first-time author John A Cameron as he unfolded a story that, as it turned out, had far reaching implications above and beyond any run-of-the-mill true crime yarn. After visiting the timeline website dedicated to his book entitled It's Me - Edward Wayne Edwards - The Serial Killer You NEVER Heard Of, I spent the next few nights searching the internet for any other interviews with Detective Cameron as I couldn't get my mind around what he'd uncovered through his five year dogged investigation of such a prolific killer.


Then one evening as I tried to decide on something interesting to watch, I remembered how I hadn't seen a particular Coen Brothers film in many years. 1991 saw Joel and Ethan craft the cerebral Barton Fink with it's take on the "Life of the Mind" in Hollywood as it was applied to wrestling pictures. Although complete with the 91 Palme d'Or from Cannes, the film lost at the box office and never connected with an american audience the wayFargo did years later. That hardly mattered as I began to see one coincidence after another with the film of a writer in Hollywood, and that of the true life story of Ed Edwards.


The first thing that struck me was the resemblance between Ed Edwards and actor John Goodman. 

In 1972, Edwards' autobiography is published. The resulting memoir had the 39 year old invited onto radio and television shows including To Tell The Truth which aired that same year on October 17th.

Metamorphosis of a Criminal
the True Life Story of Ed Edwards
Hart Publishing Company, Inc. New York City

Edwards was born Charles Edward Myers. Goodman's character in the film goes by the alias identity of Charlie Meadows. Edwards, in addition to having fashioned himself as a writer and being a serial killer, was an insurance fraud artist. Charlie's ruse is a traveling insurance salesman who says to Barton, "I could tell you some stories!" 


The film takes place in Hollywood circa 1941. In that same year Edwards was living in a catholic orphanage where he'd been beaten and sexually abused, placed there after his real mother had died of a suspicious gunshot wound in their home. Edwards had serious emotional issues regarding his real mother who he hadn't known of until the age of 5. The studio head Lipnick goes over story elements with Barton for his first writing assignment and asks, "Which is it Bart? Orphan, dame?" Barton responds, "Both, maybe?"

Edwards framed many innocent individuals to go down for his murders. After Barton wakes up in bed to find Audrey lying next to him in a pool of blood, he pleads with Charlie, "I didn't do this!"


Among the many alias identities Edwards used was that of a psychiatrist. Two detectives inform Barton that Charlie's real name is Karl "Madman" Mundt.

Karl "E" Mundt was a Republican Senator during the 1940s and a member of the "Hollywood Ten" hearings. (Hollywood On Trial) "E" is for Earl. The film takes place in The Hotel Earl(e). The letter "E" is very prominent in ciphers and puzzles Edwards sent to newspapers and left at crime scenes which were clues to his identity.

Edwards was a wrestling coach in the early 80s. Charlie shows Barton a basic wrestling move and easily pins him to the floor. After the pin Charlie asks, "Did I hurt you?"


Edwards was photographed with Elizabeth Short (The Black Dahlia) just days before her murder. Charlie flashes Barton the backside of his tie exposing the image of a nude resembling Miss Short, an aspiring actress found naked and bisected in a vacant lot near Hollywood. Charlie, like a kid, jokingly says "Ouch!" 


Edwards beheaded many of his victims, often keeping the heads until he could stage a murder scene. Bill and Audrey's bodies were found beheaded, but the heads are missing. Detectives grill Barton, "Tell us where the heads are, maybe they'll go easy on ya, only fry ya once!"


Edwards was invited into the lives of many of his victims and planted evidence at his crimes. Charlie informs Barton that he's leavingtown on business and would he take care of a box of personal effects while he's away. Barton invites Charlie to a home-cooked meal at his folk's place while he visits the head office in NY. The last thing Charlie says to Barton after freeing him from the bedpost is, "Oh, I dropped in on your folks's in New York, and Uncle Morrey? Good people.", then flashes a devilish grin. Afterwards at the studio Barton tries to telephone his folks, but there's no answer.

Edwards was an arsonist who set many of his own homes ablaze to collect insurance and destroy evidence along with releasing an inspirational LP in 1970 entitled Build A Fire Inside The Person And Not Under Them Part 1Part 2. Barton informs the detectives that "Charlie's back. It's hot, he's back." We see the hotel is on fire as Mastrionotti and Deutsch step into the hallway and call out for Mundt to show himself.

Edwards was a satanist who termed his criminal exploits "Crimes of Recognition". As Barton rides the hotel elevator the number 6 is mentioned three times. Charlie (Mundt) asks Barton, "You think I've made your life hell?"  After Mastrionotti is gunned down, flames burst behind Mundt as he roars "Look Upon Me!" (It's Me) and chases Deutsch with a shotgun through the fires of hell.  Mundt later tells Barton that the hotel is his home.


Edwards killed people to become his slaves in the afterlife. Barton ends up a slave to the "Studio System" as Lipnick bellows, "Anything you write will be the property of Capitol Pictures and Capitol Pictures will not produce anything you write!" Bill sings the Civil War era folk song "Old Black Joe" about a slave preparing to meet his friends in a better land.


Barton Fink Film Reviews & Analysis

Roger Ebert | David C Cowen | Todd Alcott


* Disclaimer

I wrote this blog post in the spirit of illuminating the many coincidences between the film Barton Fink and the "True Crime" life of Ed Edwards. It is acknowledged that reading things from real life into a work of fiction can be a fools exercise. I have no knowledge of the Coen Brothers ever having read about the life of Ed Edwards. However, I do recommend getting a copy of Cameron's book and then watching the film again if not for the first time. I think you'll find the experience to be, at the very least anyway, thought provoking. And it might just give you the willies!

Joe DeRenzo
November 15th, 2015
New York City

Film Notes:
It has been noted in analysis of the film that when Barton places the box next to his typewriter he can suddenly write the screenplay Lipnick has hired him to write without wrestling with his blocked soul. Earlier in the film we see Charlie take Audrey's bloody body out of Barton's room. Charlie then brings Barton the aforementioned box for him to hold on to. In my opinion it's logical to assume that when Barton is given a box, the size of which could contain a human head, that he's being set up in the way Edwards might have set up an innocent person for one of his crimes.

When Audrey discusses with Barton how to approach his assignment for the studio, she tells him it's just a formula and that he doesn't have to type his soul into it. And that's exactly what Barton does anyway because he doesn't LISTEN to anyone. When Barton asks Charlie (Mundt), Why me?, he scolds Barton by answering, "Because you don't listen!" and there in we have the stated theme of the film.

Anyone who has read the "Save The Cat" series by the late Blake Snyder will recognize the term that describes a statement or question asked usually of the protagonist. And usually, but not always, appearing near page 5 of a screenplay. This time it comes near the end. And the end of Barton's relationship with Charlie who just wanted to help him out. Charlie's a good listener.


Barton is not a good listener. He cuts off Charlie who could tell him some real stories. He doesn't listen to Lipnick's instructions for the wrestling picture along with stuffing cotton in his ears when he finally does start writing it. Barton even has trouble hearing the girl on the beach we she asks what's in the box. 

Speaking of the box, if anyone had thought outside of that proverbial box through all the years that Edwards was literally standing in front of everyone, he might have been caught long ago, but then no one was listening. Even when he was on To Tell The Truth wearing a jacket with a snakeskin-like pattern over red pants. (think about it) Maybe that's the moral of the story. "Listen carefully!", which by the way are the first two words in the JonBonét Ramsey ransom note. But for more on that you'll have to read Detective Cameron's book.