Couple charged with boy’s murder have led a life of contrasts

The Kansas City Star, Jan. 19, 2003
http://www.kansascity.com/
By MARK WIEBE and DONNA McGUIRE, The Kansas City Star

Friends describe Neilaccused of murder. The victim: their 9-year-old adoptive son, Brian Edgar.

On Dec. 29, authorities say, the Edgars bound Brian’s arms and chest, stuck a sock in his mouth and taped his lips shut. Authorities learned of the death after Neil took Brian’s body to KU Med about 5 a.m. Dec. 30.

Brian’s body bore evidence of previous bindings, the Wyandotte County coroner said.

Johnson County prosecutors charged the Edgars and their baby sitter, 19-year-old Chasity Boyd, with first-degree murder. All three also are charged with abusing two of Brian’s siblings, a 9-year-old girl and a 12-year-old boy. The Edgars also have a 16-year-old son and two grown children.

And Thursday, the Wyandotte County district attorney charged Boyd, Christy Edgar and five other women from the church with abusing Brian, two of the Edgars’ other children and one of the children’s friends.

The Edgars are not giving interviews, and they have not entered pleas.

Bob L. Thomas, who represents 46-year-old Christy Edgar, said his client “maintains her innocence.” Carl Cornwell, who represents 47-year-old Neil Edgar, urged people to remain open-minded.

“There is another side to this story that will come out at the appropriate time,” he said.

Brian’s death and the other developments of the last three weeks have astonished, outraged and puzzled Kansas City area residents. Fueling the puzzlement, in part, is the silence of church members — a silence that Wyandotte County District Attorney Nick Tomasic said Thursday had hindered his investigation into the latest child-abuse charges.

Despite that silence the Edgars, their church and their dealings are hardly a blank slate.

In a two-week investigation, The Star uncovered much about them — their early years, their calling to the ministry, the buildup of their church and their insistence that children toe the line.

A life together

By the time he was 7, Neil Edgar knew whom he wanted to marry. Her name was Christy Davenport, and she lived in his Quindaro neighborhood in northeast Kansas City, Kan.

Neil and Christy were born in the mid-1950s. Though Neil was 17 months older, they attended school together from Quindaro Elementary through their sophomore year at Wyandotte High School.

They were so close that even Carl Bruce, their principal at Northwest Junior High, remembers them as sweethearts.

“Christy was a delightful little girl, and Neil never had any major problems,” Bruce said. “I don’t even remember minor problems with them.”

Both dropped out of high school.

Christy was 15 and Neil 17 when they married in 1972 at the Jackson County Courthouse in Kansas City. Three months later their baby girl was born.

Neil had grown up the fifth of eight children. Times were tough for the family, which sometimes received food from the government. Like his siblings, Neil wanted a better life for his own family, said an older brother, Tony Edgar.

Neil Edgar found work at a North Kansas City flour mill, where, family members say, he stayed more than 20 years.

He also took various second jobs or operated small businesses, such as a clothing store. For a few years he ran an arcade and pool hall, where Tony Edgar remembers helping Neil cook “Edgar burgers” for patrons.

In the early 1980s, the family moved from a cabin-size house in northeast Kansas City, Kan., to a larger home a dozen blocks from Kansas City Kansas Community College. They lived there, at 750 N. 82nd Terrace, until last spring.

Friends and family say the Edgars doted on their first two children, Monita and Neil Jr.

Neil Jr. recalls that when he was 11, his father rented a limousine so that he could take his friends to McDonald’s.

“I was the only one in my neighborhood in fourth grade with an ATV four-wheeler,” said 24-year-old Neil Jr., who is serving 30 years in a Missouri prison for a murder committed in 2000. “I had my first car when I was 13.”

Besides caring for their two biological children, Christy and Neil began to take in children from troubled homes, usually from relatives, Neil Jr. said. Eventually they became foster parents.

Neil Jr. said his parents often bought Christmas gifts for extended family members and that one year, his mother bought bicycles for “half the neighborhood children” near the church.

Darker days

Not all was rosy in their lives, however.

Christy filed for a divorce in 1979 and obtained a restraining order against Neil, then her husband of seven years. She feared “receiving bodily harm at the hands of the defendant,” the divorce petition said.

At the time, Neil Sr., then 24, was earning $280 a week, court papers say. That’s about $700 a week today, or more than three times the current minimum wage. The Edgars also owned four cars and paid a $210 monthly mortgage.

The divorce never happened.

Five years later, a lender sued the Edgars for failing to make payments on their home’s second mortgage. It’s one of the family’s contrasts: While the Edgars owned multiple cars, lavished gifts on their children and took in foster children, they also allowed a variety of bills to go unpaid.

Between 1986 and 2002, at least 10 creditors filed small-claims cases against the Edgars, ranging from $61 to nearly $2,000. The creditors included a bank, an auto credit company, an apartment complex and a hospital. Many times the Edgars failed to show up in court.

One case involved Christy Edgar’s braces. She paid her bills to orthodontist Richard Devine until he finished the work in the mid-1990s. Then she refused to make the final payment, Devine said. She owed $382.17.

“Her argument was that her treatment was over,” Devine said.

The collection agent later told Devine’s attorney that the Edgar case was one of the hardest he had worked. “We never got a cent,” Devine said.

Another debt, which never entered the courts, involved property near the church that the Edgars bought in 1997 from David and Andrea Elyachar. The Edgars signed an $11,800 mortgage payable to the Elyachars, who run Big Bob’s Carpet company.

Andrea Elyachar said the Edgars had paid about $2,000 of the debt, then stopped.

“Yes, they still owe us money,” she said. “We haven’t made steps to foreclose. It was more of a pain owning that property.”

The Edgars also owe more than $6,600 in taxes on property they purchased in 1988 at 1961 N. Thompson St. in Kansas City, Kan., county records show. When they bought it, a house valued at $20,900 sat on the lot. As the house deteriorated, the property’s value fell. By 1998, the house was gone. Today, the empty lot is appraised at $300.

Last year, the Edgars entered a rent-to-own agreement for a $350,000 house in southern Overland Park. And they paid off the $36,000 mortgage on the church.

Focus on religion

Neil’s brother Tony isn’t sure when Neil and Christy turned to Christianity.

He thinks a family tragedy might have touched Neil. Their oldest brother, Lincoln Edgar Jr., died in 1991 after he was shot in the head while protecting one of their sisters from a man who was badgering her.

All seven surviving siblings became more interested in religion after that, said Tony, an ordained deacon at Bethel Baptist Church in Kansas City, Kan.

“It’s been a good experience to know who God is in our lives,” Tony said.

Other people think Neil grew interested in ministry before the shooting.

Either way, Christy had a head start.

Pastor Alexander Mitchell remembers her arriving about 1988 at his Kansas City church, Charity Holy Temple Church of God in Christ.

In the early years, Neil did not attend church with Christy, Mitchell said.

After noticing how hard Christy worked on church matters, including the recruitment of new members, Mitchell said to her one day: “You are doing the work of an evangelist. I’m going to ordain you.”

Months later, he did — although the exact date is unclear. His wife, Nadine Mitchell, thinks it was 1989. Alexander Mitchell thinks it was a year or two later.

Christy didn’t need a seminary or college education, Mitchell said. Ordination in his church is based on a person’s church works, faith and attendance.

He described Christy as a good Bible teacher who loved young people — “and they all loved her.”

Neil eventually joined and became church treasurer. Mitchell ordained him, too.

Building a ministry

The Edgars left Charity Holy Temple in the early 1990s to start their own church in Kansas City, Kan.

They filed a Kansas application to incorporate God’s Creation Outreach Ministry Church on April 2, 1992, as a nonprofit at 1015 Central Ave. At some point, they aligned their church with the Church of God in Christ, headquartered in Memphis.

The covenant for God’s Creation called for members to abstain from alcohol, avoid “tattling, backbiting, and excessive anger,” and to cultivate Christian sympathy and courtesy.

Christy gave herself the title of “evangelist” and took charge. She had charisma, she brought in members and she helped members overcome their problems.

The church’s Pentecostal-style services featured a praise choir, drums, guitar and frequent testimonials.

In his testimonials, Neil spoke of a dark past that God had helped him shed.

“He would talk about drugs he used to sell; he would talk about how he would mistreat his wife,” Alexander Mitchell said.

The Mitchells, who have remained close friends of the Edgars, offered encouragement.

“They would call us for advice on Scriptures and things,” Mitchell said. “They were busy young people.”

As the church grew, it turned aggressive in its fund raising. Women and children sold candy, and members frequently took part in a fund-raising program at Worlds of Fun.

Eventually, the church’s message went public — on local Christian radio stations.

Mitchell remembers hearing Christy exhort listeners: “Repent and turn from your evil ways.”

`Loyal only to us’

For a year in the mid-1990s, God’s Creation shared space with Central Avenue United Methodist Church, a block from its current home.

The Rev. Joyce Harris-Scott, the Methodist pastor, recalled a new church whose 70 or so members loved the Edgars. They felt so close to God’s Creation, Harris-Scott said, that they spent Thanksgiving Day together.

“Evangelist Edgar told me one time that these young people totally gave their life,” Harris-Scott said. “They became like a family.”

Christy, she added, did most of the preaching. Sunday services, which took place after those of the Methodists, were filled with singing, dancing and testimonials punctuated with shouts of “Praise the Lord.” Children, even young ones who could barely talk, recited Bible verses.

Christy’s sermons played up her personal experience with God. “She was very good, excellent,” Harris-Scott said. “I liked her, and I think most people did.”

Because the Methodist church had few children and God’s Creation had many, Harris-Scott approached the Edgars about a joint Sunday school.

“They totally refused that,” she said. “They in fact kind of made fun of me, saying all we do is color and do arts and crafts.”

The two also differed on how to best discipline children. Harris-Scott said she never observed anyone from the church using corporal punishment. Certainly nothing that approached what prosecutors say the Edgars did to Brian.

But she did observe them being especially strict with the children. Once, she noticed that a child had been in time out for at least an hour — too long by her standards. Harris-Scott, who has a master’s degree in divinity with an emphasis in Christian education, told Christy about laws regarding the discipline of children.

“I just suggested to her that she could use the state guidelines in terms of how long you should keep a child in time out, how you deal with children who are acting out,” she said. “She did not want to do it that way.”

Harris-Scott also noticed the Edgars, especially Christy, controlling their members.

“They did not permit other leaders, like myself, to have direct contact with their members,” she said. “You had to go through (the Edgars)….”

Harris-Scott said Christy told her: “We basically train our members to be loyal only to us.”

The Edgars’ powerful influence was conspicuous to neighbor Patricia Gaines, who saw members frequently gather at the 82nd Terrace house.

Gaines, whose daughter married Neil Edgar Jr., said that whenever the members left the house, one would open the car door for Christy. The rest would get into their cars and wait for Christy to leave before pulling away.

The control Harris-Scott describes didn’t register with former member Toriana Carter, who attended God’s Creation for a few months during its stint at the Methodist church.

“They (the Edgars) were so into helping,” said Carter, a niece of Gaines’ who knew the Edgars’ daughter, Monita, before the church was formed. “If there was something you didn’t have, they made sure you had it.”

Carter, a 31-year-old beautician who has since moved to the Houston area, said the church gave her stability during a rocky marriage.

Although Carter never fully committed to God’s Creation, she returned for one service in 1999 and saw that the church had changed. The members, who always had admired the Edgars, now called them “Mom” and “Dad.”

“When Christy entered,” Carter said, “it was like all the ministers were behind her as if they were her bodyguards.”

`Train up a child’

About the time of Brian’s adoption in 2000, Neil Edgar took the stand in a Wyandotte County courtroom and testified about his involvement in a child-abuse investigation.

Lee Ray Banks Sr. — a member who lived in a church-owned building across the street from God’s Creation — stood accused of abusing his four children with a stun gun. However, investigators didn’t find the gun at Banks’ home. They found it and a paddle in Edgar’s office.

“The love of God” appeared on one side of the paddle; “Train up a child in the way he or she should go” on the other.

According to a trial transcript, a detective testified that Edgar at first denied keeping a stun gun on church property. “After I told him we needed him to unlock the desk and file cabinet, he remembered that he had a stun gun in his desk,” the detective said.

Prosecutors, who called Edgar as a witness, didn’t ask him why he had the gun. Nor did they ask him about a detective’s previous testimony that Edgar had used the gun on two of Banks’ children.

Mostly they asked him whether Banks kept a stun gun at home. On this, Edgar was evasive.

Even Banks’ attorney found Edgar hard to believe. Mark Birmingham said in a recent interview that Edgar’s demeanor on the stand “left the impression that he was either hiding something or he wasn’t telling the full truth.”

The issue of Edgar’s use of the stun gun never again surfaced during the trial. In testimony, the children implicated only their father, not Edgar. The prosecutor, Sheryl L. Lidtke, said in a recent interview that she had considered bringing charges against Edgar but that the evidence “just never was strong enough.”

A defense witness, Marcia Bennett, co-owner of a company with Christy Edgar, testified that the church never encouraged parents to use anything more than a time out on their children.

“Well, at the church the biggest discipline for children and the thing that’s the most effective is if they do not get to participate in the activities with the other kids,” Bennett told the court. “That’s discipline for them.”

Banks was convicted and is serving a nearly five-year prison sentence.

Locked doors

Last Sunday, the doors remained locked at God’s Creation Outreach Ministry. Services were not held.

That morning, a church neighbor said he saw people removing items from church property the previous week.

Across the street from the church, several people were building a wood-and-plastic shelter for a stuffed-animal memorial that has steadily grown since Brian’s death.

Meanwhile, children from the church who were enrolled at a virtual charter school, which uses computers to assist home-schoolers and other students, have stopped attending. In the past two years, about 15 children had participated.

“They were extremely polite and pleasant kids to work with,” said Cal Cormack, superintendent of Basehor-Linwood schools, the Leavenworth County district that oversees the virtual school.

Investigators in Johnson and Wyandotte counties continue to build their cases, fleshing out details of what happened at the Edgars’ south Overland Park home and at several Kansas City, Kan., homes in the days and weeks before Brian’s death.

Apart from his involvement in the charter school and apart from prosecutors’ charges, few details about Brian’s life with the Edgars have surfaced. Though many questions remain about the Edgars’ foster care years and their children’s adoption, Kansas law keeps the records closed.

Tony Edgar said he didn’t even know that his brother had adopted Brian and the other three children.

Nevertheless, he and others who knew Neil and Christy Edgar have said the charges have left them stunned.

“I can’t believe this,” said Alexander Mitchell, the pastor who ordained the Edgars. “I don’t know what went wrong.”

The Star’s Richard Espinoza, Robert A. Cronkleton, Benita Williams, Joe Lambe and Tony Rizzo contributed to this report.

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