Riverside 'catfish' murders: Unreported red flag on record of cop accused of killing family

The state trooper who catfished a young Riverside teenager and killed her family had a glaring red flag on his record that was apparently not detected by Virginia authorities. 

Austin Lee Edwards, 28, was able to become a Virginia state cop even though he was detained for a psychiatric evaluation six years ago. 

According to a police report obtained by the Los Angeles Times, Edwards threatened to kill himself and his father after having problems with his girlfriend in 2016.

Virginia authorities had previously said they knew of no red flags on his record and they were shocked to learn of the Riverside killings last month.


Officials say the Virginia sheriff’s deputy posed as a 17-year-old boy online and asked the Riverside teenage girl for nude photos before he drove across the country and killed her mother, 38-year-old Brooke Winek, and grandparents, 69-year-old Mark Winek and 65-year-old Sharie Winek and set their house on fire. 

He then left with the girl. Police said they are not investigating this as a kidnapping.

Edwards died by suicide during a shootout with San Bernardino sheriff’s deputies in Needles, California. The teenage girl was with him in the car and taken into safety by law enforcement.

It is unclear if this was their first in-person encounter or whether the girl was aware that he was coming to California, officials said.

Edwards was in law enforcement. He was formerly with the Virginia State Police, and most recently as a county sheriff in Washington County, Virginia. He had a short law enforcement career. According to the Virginia State Police, Edwards entered the academy in July 2021, and graduated in January 2022, assigned to Henrico County, which surrounds Richmond. He was with the department until last month.