Sixteen years after the body of Kim Thomas was found in her Cotswold home, her brutal murder remains Charlotte’s best-known unsolved homicide. The district attorney thinks her husband killed her; her husband thinks another man did it. In this exclusive story, which is the first of a two-part series and includes information never before published, we re-examine the often contradicting and confounding evidence
Late in the evening on July 27, 1990, Edward Friedland returned to his Wendover Hills home to find his wife, Kim Thomas, lying on her stomach, her face turned to one side, on the floor of the dark dining room. Staying fifteen to twenty feet away from the body, he told a 911 operator that, as a doctor, he knew his wife was dead and that she appeared "handcuffed and it looks like someone blew her brains out."
In fact, Thomas, a thirty-two-year-old National Organization of Women activist who had recently adopted a ten-month-old baby with Friedland, had died of blood lost from more than twenty stab wounds to her neck, some of which penetrated to her spinal cord. Her nightgown was hiked up around her waist, exposing bare buttocks, and her legs were widely splayed. The baby, Elliot, was unhurt, but distressed, in the crib in his room. Rags, the family's small terrier, was shut inside the master bedroom.
The case captivated the city for weeks after it occurred and again in 1995 when The Charlotte Observer ran a four-part series on the crime and its investigation. Although the case remains open, legal proceedings assert that the killer is almost surely one of two men: Marion Gales, one of several African-American handymen who at the time wound their way from the nearby low-income neighborhood of Grier Heights to Thomas’s primarily white, middle-class subdivision, or her husband, Friedland.
In photographs of Kim Thomas with her baby, her joy is palpable. Thomas and Friedland were the first couple in North Carolina to seek an independent adoption—that is, adoption without the mediation of an agency. Thomas had not only headed Southern Piedmont Ours, a support group for independent adoption, but had also co-authored a guide for pregnant women called A Charlotte Child. “When she was passionate about something,” says her friend Sally Gordon, “she just dove right into it.” Another friend, Margie Storch, admired Thomas’s energy and remembers her love of “fashion and dressing up.” Her plaid beret or knickers always stood out. And NOW meetings at her home were more than business meetings; they were social events with delicious appetizers and desserts.
But the adoption was her peak experience, representing everything she wanted. Gordon, who became friendly with Thomas after she evaluated the couple for adoption, recalls that Thomas “thought that little boy was beautiful.” Gordon remembers a follow-up home visit at Thomas’s house when Thomas, speaking to Gordon, noticed a splotch of grape jelly on Elliot’s mouth. She picked up Elliot, and, without missing a beat of her conversation, licked the jelly off his lip.
That image of a devoted mother is far removed from the brutal scene that Friedland reported to 911 on the night of Thomas’s death. Friedland, forty-nine, is a kidney specialist, now remarried and living in Pensacola, Florida. He and Thomas met in Rochester, married in 1984, and moved from Miami to Charlotte in 1986 when he was named medical director of a Matthews dialysis clinic. Gales, in his mid-forties, has been in and out of prison, mainly for theft, since his teens. Four years ago, he was released from prison after serving five years as a habitual offender. He is currently back on the streets of Charlotte.
Gales was initially a suspect in the crime, but police attention shifted to Friedland when a call to Crime Stoppers revealed his extramarital affair and alleged drug use. The affair—with Bridgette David, a nurse with whom Friedland worked—was later confirmed to have been ongoing at the time of the murder, although it ceased soon after. Friedland was charged with the crime four years later, but the charges were dropped after a judge ruled that key testimony about the time of death was inadmissible. A year later, Friedland filed a wrongful death suit in civil court against Gales and won. (The standard of proof for a civil suit is less stringent than that for a criminal case—a preponderance of evidence in the first instance, beyond a reasonable doubt in the second.) Although the trial judge initially overturned the verdict on the technicality that the suit was brought outside the statute of limitations, the North Carolina Court of Appeals subsequently upheld it. In 1997, Friedland sued the City of Charlotte and four individual police investigators for malicious prosecution. The case, which the city’s lawyers convinced the court to dismiss before it went to trial, consumed four years and cost the city $4 million.
Sixteen years and two civil trials later, no clear answer has surfaced as to the question of guilt. Circumstantial evidence surrounds both suspects, but not enough to convict either one.
No physical evidence links either man to the crime. Of four latent fingerprints found on the scene, only one was suitable for testing, and it didn’t match any suspects or emergency personnel. The handcuffs were free of fingerprints. A cigarette butt at the scene didn’t have enough saliva on it for DNA testing. Among the numerous hairs removed from the scene for testing, none appeared to be Negroid, but some were not suitable for testing. A stain in Friedland’s car may have been blood, but was too small to be tested accurately. Luminol testing for blood in the master bathroom sink was inconclusive.
Friedland and his lawyers contended that inexperienced detectives had botched the investigation of the crime scene. Most of the investigators assigned to the case were indeed relatively new, and they made some obvious mistakes, such as using luminol testing for blood before luma-lite testing for hair and fiber, which luminol can disperse. Still, Friedland’s own expert on crime scene processing testified during his prosecution that Charlotte police had done “a fairly good job of documenting this crime scene,” and Friedland’s attorneys conceded that the police did an “immediate and thorough” job, and that their efforts were “intensive.”
Despite a scarcity of physical evidence—or perhaps because of it—every detail of the crime scene became a point of contention. Did the victim’s blood, found in a secluded office in her home, come from her open wounds while she was still alive or from the killer’s bloody gloves, clothing, or weapon? Was the killer looking for something in particular as he riffled through papers in the office, replacing them neatly and closing the drawers, or was he deliberately misleading investigators as to his motive? Was the extreme violence of the murder—described by nearly everyone but Friedland's attorneys as “overkill”—a sign of intimacy between the victim and her attacker—or of a drug-induced frenzy? Did a single, wavy-lined shoe print—which did not match other prints—on the bloody dining room floor indicate an accomplice? Was the dog Rags passive and friendly or aggressive and likely to bark at an intruder?
Initially, the FBI’s Violent Criminal Apprehension Program (VICAP) issued two different profiles of the killer, one based on the motive of burglary, the other on the motive of anger and revenge. Gales appeared a likely suspect in the burglar’s profile; Friedland was equally likely in the profile of a killer motivated by anger. When reports of stolen jewelry from the Thomas-Friedland home proved false, the FBI, according to a motion filed by the city’s lawyers, sent word to the police “that the ‘robbery’ profile could be disregarded.” Both profiles included this statement: “The low-risk level exhibited by the victim suggests that she was more likely a victim of selection than a victim of opportunity.”
This murder taxes the intellect as much as it wrenches the emotions. Research and interviews with family members, friends of the family, lawyers, and others reveal that the case has polarized those who know anything about it, making unbiased information difficult to obtain and leading to predictable grudges. The indeterminate evidence does little to encourage open-mindedness and much to invite bias and rumors, sometimes outrageous rumors. But to step back from the ambiguity, even if a little, is to appreciate that some questions and problems elude human understanding.
Reviewing a few of the American TV crime shows that have recently clogged the air waves, Nancy Franklin has written in The New Yorker that “by solving crimes that often seem mind-bogglingly mysterious or unsolvable,” the programs “create the comforting illusion that competence—having the right tools for the job—will conquer all; they give us a handle on our chaotic, nonsensical world.” If the murder of Kim Thomas epitomizes that chaotic, nonsensical world, explaining it bears small resemblance to a tidy screenplay.
The Case Against Marion Gales
Although the jury in the wrongful death suit brought against Marion Gales by Edward Friedland deliberated for five hours, the time spent considering Gales’s innocence or guilt was, according to jury member Kurt Holmes, “closer to an hour.” Jurors used the rest of the time to determine the amount to award Friedland in damages, a sum that everyone knew Gales could never pay. But it was symbolic. The final figure, $8.6 million, represented $3.6 million in compensatory damages to Edward Friedland for the loss of his wife and $5 million in punitive damages against Gales.
Many factors account for how, in the view of such equivocal evidence, a jury could reach a guilty verdict so quickly. At the time of the trial in 1996, Gales was serving a prison sentence for first-degree burglary and breaking and entering and, in addition to being unqualified to represent himself, he had no lawyer. Friedland, on the other hand, had retained one of the area’s best defense attorneys: David Rudolf, who has since defended former Carolina Panthers receiver Rae Carruth and Durham novelist Michael Peterson, both on charges of murder. During jury selection, attorneys Jerry Jordan and Sharon Jumper rose theatrically from their courtroom seats to offer pro bono representation for Gales, a move that savored of self-advertisement by two neophyte lawyers looking for work. Their participation may have hurt Gales more than it helped. Jumper, who usually took the lead, was inexperienced at best. (She has since been disbarred for mishandling a client’s funds, falsely accusing an assistant district attorney, and delaying to answer queries from the State Bar Association. She has also been convicted of felony financial card fraud.) In addition, Jordan and Jumper were given no time to review the six thousand pages of documents available to Friedland and his lawyer.
In the absence of a skilled, strong voice for Gales, jurors heard almost nothing but the circumstantial evidence against him and virtually none of the counter-evidence. Juror Holmes, a strapping, sleepy-eyed man in his forties who is now Dean of Students at the College of Wooster in Ohio, says that the majority of jurors knew very little about the murder, which had occurred before he moved to the Charlotte area. “Three or four folks seemed to have a pretty good handle on the fact that Friedland had been charged,” Holmes told me. “But those people came in believing there was at least a possibility of his innocence. At least six of us had no prior mental picture.” Holmes says that Rudolf was looking for jurors whose scant exposure to the crime’s history and whose intelligence would allow them to “connect the dots” he would present in incriminating Gales. A little sympathy for victimization wouldn’t hurt, either. When asked during jury selection what he’d read most recently, Holmes was sure that Snow Falling on Cedars, a high-brow novel about mistreatment of Japanese-Americans in California during World War II, would spring him from duty. Instead, it made him appear the ideal audience for allegations by Friedland and his lawyers that Charlotte police had wrongfully accused Friedland of his wife’s murder.
Separated from counter-evidence, the case against Gales is highly suggestive. Gales’s girlfriend, Bernice Robinson, told police that, in the first half of 1990 alone, Gales had broken into more than twenty houses, some of them in Thomas’s neighborhood. Thomas’s friends recall him performing jobs for her, such as scrubbing her front walk and asking her for other work. That Gales denied ever having met her made his protestations of innocence seem less than credible. A 1990 polygraph test indicated that he was truthful when denying that he killed Thomas. Another, given by the same examiner in 1995, showed that he was lying when he said he didn’t know who had killed her. (Because of Gales’s drug use at the time, the city’s lawyers have questioned the validity of the second test.) Moreover, Gales was in the neighborhood, high on crack cocaine, early on the morning of the murder. A witness, William Nobles, first spotted him around 4 a.m. At 5:30 a.m., Gales rang the doorbell of Thomas’s neighbor David Moore, posing as an undercover police officer. “I could tell he was high on something,” Moore says. Telling Moore that someone had broken into his car, Gales urged Moore to get his license and car keys and come out to the car with him. Moore called 911 instead, but by the time police arrived, Gales had vanished.
Gales also had a history of violence in Thomas’s subdivision. Eleven years earlier, he had broken into the home of Gayanne Mraz on Thomas’s street, Churchill Road. When Mraz returned, surprising him in the kitchen, he shot her in the arm. One theory of Thomas’s murder is that Gales walked into her home sometime after 8 a.m., surprised a sleeping Thomas, and, in his drugged confusion, brutalized her. Friedland’s lawyers have repeatedly advanced such a theory and evidence that, they argue, supports it. Gales admitted to Friedland’s private investigator that he had owned a pair of handcuffs, although they were never proven identical to the ones on Thomas. Gales also told the private detective that he had tried to see if he could control his girlfriend, Bernice Robinson, with them. At a later point, Gales’s mother told police that the handcuffs were at Robinson’s house; Gales said his mother had thrown them away. (Police, say Friedland’s lawyers, never followed up on the discrepancy.) Shortly after the murder, police learned that Robinson had told a friend of hers that Gales had done “something real bad” in Thomas's neighborhood and that, as a result, she would stop seeing him. Gales's brother-in-law, James Roseboro, told police a few days after the murder that, on the day of the murder, he’d seen Gales in bloody clothes, a statement he later retracted. Friedland’s lawyers say that Gales owned a six-to-eight-inch knife with two or three blades that, by their estimation, was consistent with Thomas’s wounds. In a written statement, Gales denied that he owned such a knife. Later, James Roseboro told police that, on the day of the murder, Gales had been wearing a pair of shoes resembling Docksiders, the kind of shoe that left bloody prints on Thomas’s floor. Neither the knife nor the shoes have ever materialized.
Gales’s violence was not confined to Wendover Hills. He put Bernice Robinson in the hospital in 1989. A woman told a police investigator in the Thomas case that Gales raped her in 1985, although the woman never pressed charges. Friedland’s lawyers claim that Gales beat Annie Roseboro, his sister, in July of 1990, the month that Thomas died. They also say that Gales threatened to kill Robinson and another woman for saying that he murdered Thomas and that he issued similar threats against prison inmates who might otherwise have informed against him. He once drew a gun on a policeman, who, in response, shot Gales in the jaw, resulting in a speech impediment. How much of all this behavior traces to Gales’s use of crack cocaine is unclear, but, near the time of the murder, those closest to him say, he was abusing drugs badly, sometimes “going shell” —out of control.
At the wrongful death trial, Jeffrey Carter, a jailhouse snitch, testified that, while serving time for another crime, Gales had told him about breaking into the home of a woman he’d worked for, “blanking” when he found her, handcuffing her, and eventually cutting her throat. Carter said Gales discarded his bloody gloves and shoes near a drain in the woods behind the house in question and stole fresh clothes off the line at the home of James Roseboro. The gloves, like the shoes, have never been recovered. Carter’s detailed description of stairs—including one step with a drop of blood on it—inside a house that could be Thomas’s played a large role in persuading the jury of Gales’s guilt. How could Carter know about stairs that led from Thomas’s foyer into a hall unless Gales had been inside Thomas’s house? And how could he know about the one stair with a drop of blood on it? Jailhouse snitches like Carter are notoriously unreliable because they are often rewarded for their testimony, yet Carter’s only reward for serving as a witness was a new suit worthy of the courtroom. Questionable reliability also marks the testimony of other witnesses. At the trial for wrongful death, for example, Judge Bridges reminded Gales’s sister Annie Roseboro that she’d already said she’d seen her brother on the day of the murder between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m., thus providing him with an alibi that she later omitted in her deposition.
The “dots” that David Rudolf hoped the jury would connect outlined his theory that a doped and desperate Gales was roaming Thomas’s neighborhood on the morning of the murder, looking for an exit out of the general area. He was dodging numerous warrants for his arrest. When his initial attempts to leave (including the impersonation of an undercover cop) failed, he entered Thomas’s kitchen through an unlocked door in search of her car keys. He surprised her, and, Kim Thomas being “a very feisty person,” as Rudolf described her in an interview, “they got into it.” Once Gales had subdued her with handcuffs and initial injuries, he walked her into her office to find the keys. Thus the drops of blood on the floor came from her open wounds, and the blood on the documents from the scavenging. Once in the office, she tried to break away, and he retaliated violently. Rudolf believes that the single, unidentified shoe print at the crime scene belongs to James Roseboro, who either assisted his brother-in-law in the crime or arrived later to perform what damage control he could. If so, Roseboro would have had reason to implicate Gales in the crime a few days later, when he went to the police—it was a preemptive strike.
“If Marion Gales isn’t involved in this,” David Rudolf says, “Ed Friedland has to be the luckiest human being that ever walked the face of the earth. . . . some guy who worked at his house, who has a history of breaking into houses, who shot a woman on Churchill Road, is seen on the street at four o’clock, seen on the street at five-thirty . . . high on crack, his brother-in-law comes in two days later and says that he has blood on him; is it possible that that’s all a coincidence? And then it turns out that he owned handcuffs . . . and Docksiders? I mean, when you put it all together, what are the odds that he wasn’t involved?” Small wonder the jury sided with the plaintiff in this civil suit.
Friedland might have been even luckier if he had collaborated with Gales and only Gales took the fall, a possibility that Judge Bridges brought up to all the attorneys while discussing how he should instruct the jury in the wrongful death trial. Both sides, of course, strenuously objected, co-counsel Thomas Maher stating that “There was not one iota of evidence Dr. Friedland knew Marion Gales beforehand or vice versa.” Evidence that Friedland knew Roseboro did emerge early on: five days after the murder, Friedland told police that “James the yard man, the black man,” had worked at his home. He mentioned another black man who he’d been told had “shown up at the house on a few occasions.” Although that man may have been Gales, such comments are too slender to prove a theory of conspiracy.
Despite the neat summary that Rudolf prepared for the jury, the case against Marion Gales is fraught with loose ends, contradictions, and unanswered questions. Although exactly how the drops of Kim Thomas's blood got on the floor of her office is unclear, luminol testing revealed her footprints only on a path from the master bedroom to the dining room, where she was found. Had the killer walked her to her office, her footprints, probably bloody ones by then, surely, would have appeared. Rudolf’s theory that the killer was frantically searching for her car keys by leading her into her office is further compromised by several details: Thomas’s car keys were not missing; her large purse, containing a wallet filled with cash and very obviously hanging on the doorknob of the office, was undisturbed; the drawers that the killer searched were tidily put back as found, the only change being smears of blood left on some papers. As one court document reads, “There was no evidence that the house was ransacked.”
That a diamond necklace and gold bracelets on Thomas remained intact— “visible to the killer”—also discredits theft as the motive. Sworn answers to interrogatories given by the city’s lawyers in the malicious prosecution case also seem to rule out robbery as a motive (interrogatories being questions about evidence, submitted by one party in a legal case to be answered by the other party):
Death by cutting wounds is relatively uncommon. Death by cutting wounds and the use of handcuffs is even more uncommon. Death by cutting wounds of this number and to this extent is extraordinarily unusual in a robbery murder. Death by cutting wounds of this number and to this extent to the neck . . . is unusual in connection with crimes committed by individuals on cocaine or in a search for goods or money to supply a cocaine habit. [emphasis added]
Special Agent Greg Cooper similarly testified for the City of Charlotte in the malicious prosecution case that, when a murder is committed in conjunction with theft, “the intruder will generally be seen to commit a clean, quick kill, and not this very involved, personal process of what appears to be punishment.” The sworn answers to interrogatories also say, “that the killer used handcuffs, gloves, and a weapon . . . indicated significant planning.” Significant planning would seem alien to the Marion Gales who was wandering Kim Thomas’s neighborhood on the morning she died, apparently doped up and showing no signs of handcuffs or a knife. Planning, however, may have been essential to find Thomas’s office, which was tucked in a space nearly invisible from both the front entryway and the dining room. The killer likely knew the house plan. Gales may have been able to case the house earlier through its abundant windows, but no evidence has emerged of his ever having been inside the house.
The theory that handcuffing Thomas became necessary when she fought with Gales is subverted by numerous details, including the absence of blood under the handcuffs, of significant defensive wounds, and of damage to her pristine manicure. Nothing found under her nails indicated a struggle. Instead, the physical evidence suggests that she was caught by surprise—handcuffed unawares before she was injured, perhaps while sleeping. Thomas’s habits of turning off her alarm system, of leaving doors unlocked, and of forgetting to turn on her answering machine during the day are in dispute, although the city’s lawyers wrote that “no witnesses ever reported . . . that they discovered Kim Thomas in bed or asleep with her doors unlocked or the alarm off.” But on the day of the murder, the alarm system was deactivated, a door was unlocked, and the answering machine was off—a collection of circumstances that could make Marion Gales seem the luckiest man on earth or could make the house appear to have been set up for the crime. As for the single, wavy-lined shoe print, if it was Roseboro’s, then how and when he arrived at the scene and managed to leave only one print remains a mystery. According to a crime scene technician, the blood was dry by the time of first response. In all likelihood, the single print was already on the floor before the crime, but not made visible until it became covered with blood during the murder. If so, it was unconnected to the crime.
The city’s attorneys in the malicious prosecution suit maintain that the jury in the wrongful death suit never heard this view of the wavy-lined shoe print. They also say that further crucial information was withheld from the jury, including that “Edward Friedland’s own experts could not rule him out as the killer” and that “Edward Friedland’s own forensic pathologist” believed that “the condition of Kim Thomas’ body was consistent with her having been murdered before Edward Friedland left home on July 27th.” Nor did the jury, say the attorneys, learn about the spot of blood in Friedland’s car, blood that could have been his wife’s.
In his complaint against the City of Charlotte, Friedland alleged that the district attorney’s office made a “policy decision” to conceal incriminating evidence against Gales and to trump up a case against Friedland “and thereby cover up the mistakes that had been made in failing to follow up the information provided to the police department concerning Marion Gales.” Friedland’s lawyers further assert that hiding Gales as a suspect was a department-wide cover-up, orchestrated by District Attorney Peter Gilchrist and forced upon then-Assistant District Attorney Richard Gordon, requiring Gordon to lie by falsely affirming that he was aware of Gales’s status as a suspect before he attempted to prosecute Friedland.
This portrait of the Charlotte police and DA’s office as Friedland’s persecutors garnered him sympathy from some quarters, including NBC’s Dateline, on which he appeared in May 1998. “I’m angry because I have been on trial for seven years,” says Friedland on the show. “And the people who are responsible for this mess, in terms of failure of this investigation, not to mention the person who killed my wife . . . so far, are walking, and I’m left to suffer, and I want accountability.” Lawyers for the city respond that Gordon had information about Gales that he probably wasn’t even aware of, so bulky was the material sent to him by police, or hadn’t had time to read, so overburdened are ADAs, whose caseloads can approach forty felonies at once. One of the investigators sued by Friedland, Walter Bowling, had written to Gordon about the file on the crime that he was turning over, “I will be happy to go through the entire file with you if you think that would be helpful.” No one sought Bowling’s help. With audible irony, one lawyer for the city pointed out that the “place in which the police chose to ‘conceal’ the evidence about Marion Gales” was, of all places, “the investigative file”—that is, the most obvious place possible and one accessible to anybody involved with the case.
When asked why, even after the successful wrongful death suit, his office had not brought criminal charges against Marion Gales, Peter Gilchrist replied, “We never felt Gales committed a crime. This was a crime of passion.” Gilchrist is not alone. Special Agent Cooper commented in a deposition that the level of “comfort and familiarity of the offender at the crime scene”—the amount of time he spent in the house, for example, and his evident “lack of panic”—suggested a “personal” motive, “one which reflects a deep degree of animosity, and anger, and frustration.”
The Scene of the Crime
Late in the evening on July 27, 1990, Edward Friedland returned to his Wendover Hills home to find his wife, Kim Thomas, lying on her stomach, her face turned to one side, on the floor of the dark dining room. Staying fifteen to twenty feet away from the body, he told a 911 operator that, as a doctor, he knew his wife was dead and that she appeared “handcuffed and it [looked] like someone blew her brains out.”
In fact, Thomas, a thirty-two-year-old National Organization of Women activist who had recently adopted a ten-month old baby with Friedland, had died of blood lost from more than twenty stab wounds to her neck, some of which penetrated to her spinal cord. Her nightgown was hiked up around her waist, exposing bare buttocks, and her legs were widely splayed. The baby, Elliot, was unhurt, but distressed, in the crib in his room. Rags, the family’s small terrier, was shut inside the master bedroom.
The case captivated the city for weeks after it occurred and again in 1995 when The Charlotte Observer ran a four-part series on the crime and its investigation. Although the case remains open today, legal proceedings assert that the killer is almost surely one of two men: Marion Gales, one of several African-American handymen who at the time wound their way from the nearby low-income neighborhood of Grier Heights to Thomas’s primarily white, middle-class subdivision, or her husband, Friedland.
The Case Against Edward Friedland
What could motivate such deep animosity and frustration? Crime scene specialists have pointed out that Kim Thomas’s body looked staged—manipulated to seem as if she suffered a sexual assault (though she did not). David Rudolf disagrees.
Rudolf defended Friedland on the murder charge (the DA’s office dropped the charge after key evidence was ruled inadmissible) and helped him sue Marion Gales for wrongful death and the City of Charlotte for malicious prosecution. (Rudolf also defended former Carolina Panther Rae Carruth and Durham novelist Michael Peterson, both on murder charges.) When I asked Rudolf about the possibility that the body had been staged, he responded, “Bullshit. No evidence it wasn’t as if she was trying to get up. No evidence anything has been moved post-mortem. Not arranged deliberately. I’ll be happy to show you the crime scene photos and you can make up your own mind.” He did. And I would be interested in talking with a woman who could look at the images and not think the position of the body at least suggests humiliation. Her buttocks are exposed, and her legs are spread wider than the span of her shoulders: by my estimate, at least forty inches, a distance almost painful to achieve while conscious. The cuffed hands behind her back render her powerless, to say nothing of her neck wounds. The blade that cut her may have been serrated or, as one court document states, “a knife which did not have a sharp point but had an extremely sharp edge . . . consistent with a scalpel.”
Soon after learning of Friedland’s two-year and ongoing affair with Bridgette David, police developed the theory that he’d wanted to divorce Thomas, but recoiled from the high cost of doing so. In the years following the murder, Friedland maintained that he had little money to lose from divorcing her or to gain from killing her, but court documents reveal that several dialysis centers in which he had recently invested began generating significant profits as early as the year Thomas died. From 1987 through 1990, Friedland’s income had already more than tripled. Between 1990 and 1994, it rose from $250,000 to $450,000. About a year before the murder, Friedland spoke with the family lawyer about the cost of a divorce, a conversation that his defense lawyers say was both casual and brief. After the conversation with his attorney, David told police, Friedland told David that divorce was out of the question—if Thomas knew about any of his three extramarital affairs, she could seek alimony for life, not to mention half of their marital property, according to North Carolina law. Divorce, he told David, would “ruin me financially.” David began telling people, “alimony is something that sticks on you like a barnacle . . . You’ve got to pay that as long as you live or until the dependent spouse either dies or remarries.” Months before her murder, Thomas said to her sister Lynn Thomas, “I’m no fool. If we get divorced, I want to make sure that I am taken care of”—that is, financially, through collecting on profits from the dialysis centers.
Friedland and Thomas, who married in 1984, had been considering divorce off and on for some time, and Thomas herself had an affair early in the marriage. In 1986, Thomas wrote in her journal that she’d discussed having a baby with her husband. “He said he wouldn’t be around to bring it up. Am I willing to take responsibility? He thought we weren’t stable enough to have a kid. So I told him to see a shrink or we’ll get [sic] to a counselor or we should split up . . . .” At about the time that Friedland became involved with David, Thomas recorded more than a little dissatisfaction with her life in her journal: “We haven’t talked about our feelings in a long time . . . I have never been more unhappy in my whole life. I am just beside myself.” Although Thomas had become pregnant by Friedland before they were married, she underwent an abortion. Now, bereft of the careers she’d given up—first as a stockbroker in New York and then as a financial analyst on TV in Miami—and also unable to conceive again, she became despondent. In August 1988, she wrote in her diary, “No sense of self-worth, not fertile, no career, not in the right town and frankly not with the right guy. He’s watching a video. I’m drinking straight rum.” As a police report states, Thomas’s friend Jan Ellen Brown said that “[b]y the summer and into the fall of 1989, Kim Thomas told others that Edward Friedland did not want to be married and had asked her for a divorce.” Another court document states that “in the year before her death, Thomas had demanded a divorce from Edward Friedland.”
Thomas’s journal reflects some lightened feelings after Elliot’s adoption—at least for a time and in some respects. Yet the marriage remained in apparent trouble. David recalled in a police interview that, on the weekend that Thomas flew to Houston to be present for Elliot’s birth, David met Friedland at his Churchill Road home for a sexual encounter. Shortly after Thomas returned home with her new baby, David also told police, she informed Friedland that she was pregnant; she told Friedland he was the father, although she was unsure. Initially, Friedland responded, “I don’t want to hear about that.” Later, when he told her that a divorce would be too expensive for him, she terminated the pregnancy.
Over a long weekend in March 1990, five months before Thomas’s death, David accompanied Friedland on a vacation to Miami. Friedland’s excuse to Thomas, he told David, was that he needed to get away; he actually told Thomas that he would be visiting his sick grandmother. On the weekend before the murder, the Thomas-Friedland family vacationed in Blowing Rock, a fact Friedland’s lawyers cite as a sign of improved marital relations. But just days earlier, David told police, Friedland had met David for a tryst.
David, whose affair with Friedland ceased after Thomas’s death, told police that she and Friedland would talk about leaving their spouses to be together, but that in retrospect, she couldn’t say how much of such “play” was “reality” and how much was “romantic fantasy.” She also told police that Friedland often said he loved his wife. Yet David confirmed to police that, on two occasions, Friedland said of their spouses, “You know, we could have them killed.” To suppose that Friedland was serious is to deny him the dark, ironic humor that an intelligent, educated person should be allowed. But the statements, when considered alongside Friedland’s questions to a colleague about the undetectable, paralyzing muscle relaxant Anectine, could appear more serious. Dr. William Greenberg, an anesthesiologist, told police that, although Friedland “rarely talked” with him at work, Friedland approached him about the drug’s properties. Specifically, he asked whether “it could be detected.” Greenberg’s partner stated that the conversation left his colleague “bewildered,” and forensic pathologist Michael Baden told police that “the only reason he would want succinylcholine [Anectine] is to do somebody harm.” The drug was not one that Friedland would have reason to use in his practice. Investigators found no trace of it in Thomas’s bloodstream.
Injecting a drug to induce paralysis is quite removed from near decapitation. Inquiring about a drug does not prove that a murder is being planned. And killing a spouse to escape financial loss need not involve the horrific violence of Kim Thomas’s death, violence that crime scene experts have attributed to someone who was “emotionally attached” to her. When I asked Rudolf about what might have motivated this crime, he retorted, “Do you really think husbands kill their wives to avoid paying alimony?” In fact, my research shows that some do. While preparing to write about this case, I studied more than thirty instances in which husbands were convicted of killing their wives to escape at least one cost of divorce, whether money, custody, or reputation. Still, while many of the cases I explored involved unthinkably cold and calculated behavior on the husband’s part, most did not display the severe brutality inflicted upon Thomas, brutality that Kurt Holmes, a juror in the civil suit against Gales, described to me as showing either “rage or desperation.”
If it was rage, then the couple’s extramarital affairs give rise to two potential explanations. The first is that Thomas might have found out about Friedland’s affair very close to the time that she was killed. Friedland and his attorneys vigorously deny that possibility. But police discovered that, five days before the murder, Friedland was upset that David had disclosed their affair to a friend of hers. Lawyers have made much of that fact, arguing that Friedland feared wider public exposure. Whether word reached Thomas is unknown, but two friends noticed a mood shift in her in the days just before her death. When Thomas, soon to step down as a coordinator of NOW, called her fellow board member Margie Storch about passing on her files, Storch recalls her mentioning that “she was heading up to New Jersey with Elliot for a little reprieve,” a detail that Thomas’s sister, Lynn, validates. Kim and Lynn’s parent live in New Jersey. In retrospect, knowing that Thomas was going to visit her family, Storch thought Thomas might have meant to head in a new direction. Sally Gordon, who became friends with Thomas after working on the couple’s adoption, told me about another small incident. Thomas was waiting in a hallway to meet Gordon a few days before she died, when she was observed by one of Gordon’s friends, who later told Gordon how sad Thomas looked. Gordon remembers this instance because, she says, “You never saw Kim sad.”
On the flip side, could Friedland have known about Thomas’s affair? Police asked David if Friedland suspected Thomas of having a “relationship outside.” She responded, “You know what, he suggested that to me a couple of times, but who knows.” Although several years had passed between Thomas’s infidelity and her murder, time could have deepened the insult, especially if Thomas’s obvious social ease was another source of personal effrontery. In a police interview, a friend of the couple remarked that everyone loved Thomas, everyone gravitated to and surrounded her at social gatherings, while Friedland, much more the introvert, stayed in the shadows. Dr. H. D. Kirkpatrick, a forensic psychologist with twenty-three years of experience who often testifies in criminal cases, notes that, among couples in general, the constant popularity of a spouse can wear on a relationship and could eventually prompt rage, as might infidelity, which could make a spouse feel inferior to a lover. The independence in which Thomas reveled and that her closest friends admired could be perceived as threatening. She wrote in her journal, “Society and Eddie are forcing me to assimilate. He has always hated me keeping my birth name. It was always a source of pride for me.”
Friedland’s demeanor in the days following the murder has also bred suspicion for some. Over and again, court documents point out his lack of emotional response to his wife’s murder. His attorneys tried to establish his ability to feel by attributing his unemotional behavior to “shock,” but almost everyone who encountered him during the initial investigation and in the months following found him uncommonly detached. He did not, for example, approach Thomas’s body, but remained several yards away. When his business partner, Dr. Ken Dunbar, arrived to help him with Elliot, Dunbar went straight to the body. Later, Friedland apologized by saying that he knew better than to disturb a crime scene. Crime scene specialists counter that a husband who does not rush immediately to his wife’s side is suspicious. Friedland referred to his wife as “the body” and to the dining room as “the crime scene.” “The responder who found Kim Thomas stiff and without a pulse,” reads a motion filed in the malicious prosecution suit, “turned to his Captain and stated that it was a ‘1080’ or ‘dead-on-arrival.’ Friedland, who had accompanied the responders into the house to show them where Kim Thomas’s body was located, replied, ‘yes, it’s definitely a 1080.’ ”
Such remarks were followed, in the days, weeks, and months to come, by others that appeared equally insensitive. Michael and Nancy Verruto, who were friends with Thomas and Friedland, wrote in a letter to Thomas’s parents that, just after the murder, Friedland frequently repeated the question, “How are we going to survive this?” “And then,” the letter continues, “while holding Elliot, [he] started talking about being the REAL victims here. ‘Kim is gone. She doesn’t feel anymore. It is over for her. WE are the real victims here because we must continue on with this pain.’ ” Lou Thomas, Kim’s father, recounts a strikingly comparable moment at the interment of Kim’s ashes after her cremation: “All Friedland would say was how difficult it would be to be a [single] parent . . . not a word about love, not a word about missing her.” A document defending the City of Charlotte in the malicious prosecution case states with chilly terseness, “In no statement to date in this case—not in his police interviews, not in his media interviews, not in his testimony in the trial of his claim against Gales, and not in the several days of his deposition in this case—has Edward Friedland ever said that he loved his wife.”
Of course, a man could not miss his dead wife, but that doesn’t mean he killed her. Still, other words and actions point beyond insensitivity and self-centeredness to an eerie lack of remorse. Thomas had an appointment with her hairdresser on the morning of her death. Five weeks later, when Friedland arrived for his own appointment, “he was real nonchalant,” the hair stylist told police, “and made the comment that I guess Kim missed her appointment, didn’t she.” Then he “chuckled a bit.” In a similar vein, Thomas’s sister Lynn told me that Friedland held Elliot’s second birthday party in the very dining room where Thomas’s body was found.
Whatever Friedland’s feelings about the loss of his wife, he had the presence of mind to contact neighbors, as well as Thomas’s family and friends, repeatedly after the crime. Betty Palomba, who headed the Neighborhood Watch in Wendover Hills with her husband, says that Friedland called her home three times beginning two days after the murder. Palomba thought that Friedland’s apparent interest in “what was going on in the neighborhood” was actually an attempt at “expressing his innocence.” He inquired about what the Palombas had been hearing. “It was uncomfortable,” recalls Palomba. “We asked him to quit calling.” Storch also remembers that Friedland called “several times leading up to the memorial service . . . after it started to occur to me that he might be someone on the suspect list,” she says, she disengaged. Lou Thomas heard frequently from Friedland for updates about the investigation. Knowing that Mr. Thomas was coming by information regularly from a Charlotte police captain, Friedland called “once or twice a week.” Thomas later learned that Friedland taped those calls.
Although Friedland’s motives for making such calls are difficult to discern, checking in for information about a murder investigation and about one’s public image is a feature I’ve come across repeatedly while reviewing case after case in which husbands kill their wives or have them killed rather than divorce them. Another is arrogance. Sometimes the killer feels self-satisfied about having escaped detection; sometimes he’s convinced himself that he can’t possibly be detected. Sometimes the husband enjoys a game of cat and mouse with investigators. At various points in my research of this case, I sensed elements of “catch me if you can.” Special Agent P. Duane Deaver, an authority on blood patterns, testified that “The blood stains in the office looked unusual. . . . It looked contrived to me. . . . based on my experience, like an individual tried to make it look like they were rummaging through effects to find something . . . instead of actually going through them.”
Such intriguing questions as whether the killer was trying to disguise his motive afford no hard evidence. Police and prosecutors have focused instead on discrepancies between Friedland’s initial and later testimony. Most curious is how much Friedland seemed to know about his wife’s body despite his distance from it as he stood in the foyer (fifteen to twenty feet) and despite the absence of light in the dining room. In a court document, a firefighter, who could barely detect the outlines of a body in the darkness, couldn’t believe that Friedland would have been able to describe elements of the scene so specifically: “a good pair of gold colored cuffs;” the nightgown “folded up in such a way that I could see her buttocks and thighs;” blood on the walls; and a disturbed dining room chair. Friedland made a few mistakes in his call to 911: He said he saw no chain linking the two handcuffs, he located Thomas’s wounds in her head, not her neck, and he implied that she had been shot, not cut. Still, even once additional lighting had been imported for photographing the scene, the detail in the pictures was less graphic than Friedland’s verbal images.
Of the three polygraph tests that Friedland took in the wake of the murder, the first was one he contracted for himself in New York. He announced that it showed he was not being deceptive. The second was administered for the Charlotte police by a retired FBI polygrapher who reported that Friedland “was found to be deceptive.” Friedland also arranged the third; his attorney at the time stated that it showed no deception. Friedland, however, did not provide the Charlotte police with the polygrams for purposes of validating the results; nor, protests Rudolf, did the police share theirs with his client. A week after the murder, Friedland refused to be interviewed again without his attorney present, at one point, says a court document, becoming “verbally abusive, yelling and cursing at the police to ‘solve the goddamn crime’ ” when asked to be interviewed again. He eventually refused to talk to police under any circumstances. His defenders have inevitably explained his refusal to cooperate with police by complaining that police were out to get him.
As Friedland revised elements in his first narration of the day’s events, he apologized by blaming his initial “shock.” But he also contradicted that statement by saying that his clearest memories of that day were the earliest ones. Detective-Sergeant David Rivers, who was hired to consult for the defense in the malicious prosecution case because he had supervised the investigation of more than five hundred murders for the Metro-Dade (Miami) Police Department, doubted, along with Charlotte police investigators, that Friedland had been in shock, even at first. “I’ve seen people in shock,” he said during a deposition, and Friedland’s unemotional behavior “just didn’t ring true to me as . . . shock.” Furthermore, said Rivers, Friedland has “a lot of memory recall about the events of that day . . . most people I know . . . they were just zombied almost, catatonic, either that or tremendously emotional, crying. . . .
“Dr. Friedland’s actions just didn’t fit.”
The City of Charlotte escaped a trial by jury in the malicious prosecution suit because it demonstrated, to the judge’s satisfaction, that the Charlotte police had probable cause to arrest Friedland. Attorney James Cooney, whom a colleague in the case calls the “chief architect of our exit” from the lawsuit, went even farther in one of many arguments leading to the dismissal. Cooney argues that, at the time Friedland was arrested for murdering Thomas, the DA’s office was confident that it could not only show probable cause—the standard for criminal charges—but could prove guilt beyond the reasonable doubt required for conviction in a criminal trial. But that was before crucial testimony by forensic pathologist Michael Baden about the time of death was ruled inadmissible. The state backed away from its criminal case because, without strong testimony like Baden’s, the evidence could fall short at trial; if so, says District Attorney Peter Gilchrist, “a possible murderer might thereafter be protected from ever being prosecuted again” under the rule of double jeopardy.
Dr. Michael Sullivan, the Medical Examiner for Mecklenburg County who performed the autopsy on Thomas, said of her death that it “likely . . . occurred in the early morning hours,” before Friedland left the house for work. But, even after further investigation, Baden, too, could say only that she “more likely” died before 7:30 a.m.—when Friedland was still at home—than after. The knot that Baden’s tentative conclusion involves is one of the most vexing aspects of this complicated case. In court, Rudolf effectively unseated Baden, who had calculated time of death using fluid from Thomas’s eyes as well as other information about the case provided to him by the Charlotte police. Rudolf, who researched the technical procedure Baden had used to analyze the eye fluid until he quite possibly knew more about it than the doctor himself, famously referred to it as “voodoo evidence.” He also accused the Charlotte police department of coaching Baden to produce the evidence they needed to convict Friedland. Baden has said that, had he originally seen some of the information about Thomas and her case that he discovered later, he might have altered his conclusion. Cooney asserts that, although Baden couldn’t fix his opinion to 99 percent probability (which defines medical certainty), he could come close, adding that other forensic experts agreed that Thomas died before Friedland left home. Even so, the judge saw Baden’s testimony as inconclusive enough to rule it inadmissible in trial.
“You have to buy into the whole package,” says juror Holmes of the theory that Friedland killed his wife. “And if you do, then you could be that crazed and do that to your spouse, you could leave your child, you could be that cool and collected at work that day, but you have to go all the way.” Holmes pauses a moment, then adds, “If it isn’t Gales, it has to be a total psychopath.” James Cooney wrote something remarkably similar, but diametrically opposed, in one of his arguments:
Somehow, according to the plaintiff [Friedland], Gales transformed himself from a disheveled and drug-intoxicated thief who . . . will steal anything if given a chance at 4:30 a.m., into a killer so sophisticated that he can commit a terrible murder and not leave a shred of evidence behind him at 8:00 a.m.—one who uses handcuffs that have been wiped clean to control his victim, one who wears gloves and takes them from the scene, one who makes sure the weapon is removed from the scene, and one who proceeds through the house after the murder in an organized and methodical way, remembering to close doors and turn off lights.
More interesting still is the transformation from a drug-addicted thief who will steal anything—including a lawn mower and a Ryder rental truck—into a killer who will ignore numerous hard to trace valuables and a purse with cash and credit cards after breaking into a home and killing its occupant.
Gales had never exited a robbery without leaving physical evidence before Thomas was killed.
A Charlotte police officer has testified that, days after Thomas’s death, Friedland told him that he would never have married David because of her inferior social standing. To his defense lawyers this statement removes a motive for killing his wife. To others it conveys no little irony: Friedland’s second wife, Lisa Bennett Friedland, is a suspected former courier for a drug dealer, a man who fathered her first child out of wedlock. Friedland and Bennett have had three children together, and Elliot, now seventeen, continues to live with them. Friedland’s remark about David, then, also glints with the “patina of arrogance” that, Rudolf acknowledges, often leads people to distrust—even dislike—his client. Sorting out the abrasive characteristics of Friedland’s personality from any solid evidence of his guilt is as challenging as avoiding bias against Gales because of his history of violence. The fact is, according to Dr. John Butts, North Carolina’s Chief Medical Examiner, between 1988 and 1993, 80 percent of domestic murders in North Carolina were not preceded by domestic violence.
“After the first week, anyone who worked in domestic violence thought Edward Friedland had done it,” a social worker tells me one day. “I work in domestic violence, so I see it instinctively.” Instinct, of course, does not float a case. Yet lining up facts in this instance doesn’t necessarily provide truth, because the so-called “facts” are subject to wildly different interpretations. “I am very comfortable with our verdict,” maintains Holmes, on another day, of the jury’s decision for Friedland. “But I think it was easy in one sense,” he continues, “because you weren’t taking money that someone had. It’s pretty easy to take the high ground when the stakes are not real.” A criminal trial would be a different matter, he acknowledges, trailing off, “If you gotta decide beyond all reasonable doubt . . . .”
On still another day, Rudolf is explaining the significance of having the evidence in the Thomas case available to the public. “People like you,” he says, “can go and look at it and draw your own conclusions.” He adds, “Really, what we were doing was . . . documenting everything so that if, at some point in the future, some prosecutor decides they’re gonna go after Ed again, it’s there . . . it’s all there.”
“And I think it could happen,” I reply, meaning that his client is still vulnerable to the charge of murder.
“Oh, absolutely,” he says. “Absolutely.”