BEAUMONT, Texas — Clayton Bernard Foreman and Mary Catherine Edwards were casual acquaintances.
The pair had graduated from the same school, Forest Park High School in Beaumont, Texas. Edwards had also stood alongside Foreman’s first wife as a bridesmaid when the couple married in 1982.
Now, Beaumont investigators and Texas Rangers say DNA evidence and genetic genealogy have tied Foreman to the brutal 1995 rape and murder of Edwards, who had become a beloved elementary school teacher in their hometown.
Edwards’ identical twin sister, Allison Edwards Brocato, was also an elementary school teacher in Beaumont.
“If you see another one of me walking around somewhere and she doesn’t speak to you, don’t get your feelings hurt. It’s probably my sister,” Edwards would tell her new students each fall, according to the Houston Chronicle.
Foreman, 61, is charged with capital murder in Edwards’ killing. The unemployed bill collector, who was working as an Uber driver, remained jailed Monday in Ohio, where he was arrested April 29 at his Reynoldsburg home.
Former classmates were stunned by the allegations against Foreman, who they said was active in planning high school reunions, KFDM 6 News in Beaumont reported. Foreman was in charge of the tributes to those former classmates who had died since graduation.
According to 12NewsNow in Beaumont, the accused killer appears to be fighting extradition to Texas.
Foreman refused to leave his cell for his extradition hearing on Thursday, the news station reported. A governor’s warrant has been issued for his extradition and a new hearing has been set for next month.
Her final day
Edwards, 31, was last seen alive Friday, Jan. 13, 1995, according to the Texas Rangers. Floyd Broussard, Edwards’ principal at Price Elementary, told the Beaumont Enterprise that Edwards was a diligent teacher.
“She would normally stay late at school preparing her lesson plan for the following class,” Broussard said in 1995.
According to reports, Edwards was seen leaving Price Elementary around 5 p.m. the day she was slain.
The Chronicle reported that Edwards went home, walked her beagle as usual, and poured herself a glass of wine before calling her boyfriend.
That was likely the last phone call Edwards made, according to the newspaper.
The Rangers said when Edwards did not respond to phone calls the following day, her parents went to her townhouse to check on her.
Her father, Lum Edwards, went upstairs to find a horrifying scene, the Chronicle reported.
Catherine Edwards’ hands had been handcuffed behind her back and she had been sexually assaulted. Her partially clothed body was “draped over the edge of the bathtub with her head in the water and her legs on the floor,” read a probable cause affidavit obtained my multiple sources.
Edwards had been drowned. She had about three dozen injuries to her body, indicative of a violent struggle, including finger-shaped bruises on her hips.
The shower curtain had been knocked from its mooring. In the bedroom, the bedding had been torn from Edwards’ bed.
Though DNA evidence had been found on the teacher’s body and on other items in her home, she was killed in the early days of DNA technology. Detectives turned to what was then more traditional methods of investigation, including looking at the victim’s life and those she shared it with.
According to the Chronicle, Edwards had a squeaky-clean background. Her days revolved mainly around church, the gym and her second graders at Price Elementary.
Steven Thrower, a retired investigator from the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office, told the newspaper he recalled thinking, “This can’t be real. Nobody is this nice.”
Except Edwards was, Broussard said. Her former students agreed.
“She loved on us,” La’Toyya Twine-Ozane recalled. “You’d feel comfortable and safe with her. She was just one of those teachers. Her smile made my day.”
Despite the ample evidence left at the scene and the relatively small pool of potential suspects, Edwards’ case went cold.
Reopening the investigation
By the mid-2000s, the genetic profile of Edwards’ killer had been entered into DNA databases, including the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS. There had been no match.
“We just haven’t found the right person,” then-police Chief Lt. Charles Tyler told the Enterprise in 2006. “As more and more people are put into the (DNA) database, it gives me hope that we will get more of the offenders.”
Eight years later, when Jefferson County District Attorney Bob Wortham took office, the Edwards cold case was one of his top priorities.
“The very first day I was sworn in as district attorney, I called (Beaumont police Chief James) Singletary and asked him to put some people on the Edwards case, because it was such a terrible set of facts,” Wortham told the newspaper. “I really wanted to find a way to solve that case.”
Advances in DNA technology, including the advent of genetic genealogy, gave investigators that opportunity. According to the Chronicle, they went to Othram Inc., a private forensics lab in The Woodlands that specializes in DNA testing for police agencies.
Though the DNA evidence in the Edwards case was “fairly degraded,” Othram CEO David Mittelman said, the forensic scientists were able to extract a tiny sample of the killer’s DNA from the evidence still in storage.
Cold case investigators then plugged the suspect’s DNA profile into GEDmatch, a public genealogy database that has become an important tool for investigators over the past several years.
Detectives and lab experts from across the country have been utilizing the database’s files to reverse-engineer family trees for unidentified suspects in cases of murder and sexual assault. They use those trees to narrow the suspect pool to people who were of the right age and geographical location at the time of a crime.
Investigators can then obtain DNA from their suspects to confirm or eliminate them as a suspect.
In the Edwards case, several of the killer’s second cousins and other distant relatives showed up in the database. Investigators obtained DNA samples from about 30 distant relatives, who willingly cooperated with police.
“Everybody was on board,” Texas Ranger Brandon Bess told the Chronicle. “Everybody loves a true crime story, and they want to be involved.”
The search narrows
The data from the database, along with the fresh samples from relatives, led to connections on both Foreman’s paternal and maternal sides, the probable cause affidavit stated.
The suspect pool was then winnowed down to two men: Foreman and his brother. Detectives delved into the background of both men and found that Foreman’s brother had no criminal history.
The same was not true for Foreman, who had pleaded guilty to assaulting a fellow Forest Park High School classmate in 1981, the year before he married his first wife, the Enterprise reported. According to court records, Foreman met up with the woman, who was stranded at a gas station.
Foreman, who told her he was a police officer, offered the woman a ride home. Instead of taking her home, he stopped his car, tied the woman up with a belt and, holding a knife to her throat, sexually assaulted her.
“There are numerous similarities in the 1981 case and the Edwards murder,” the affidavit stated. “Foreman claimed to be a police officer in the 1981 case, and in Edwards’ case, the suspect utilized police tools of the trade.”
Foreman, who pleaded guilty to aggravated assault, received three years’ probation in the 1981 case, the Chronicle reported.
After learning about the previous sexual assault case, investigators tracked Foreman to his home in Ohio. Last month, Ohio investigators surreptitiously collected trash from the can on his curb.
DNA found on items in the trash matched the genetic profile of Edwards’ killer, authorities said.
“These lab results confirmed Foreman is the suspect that entered Edwards’ residence, bound her hands behind her back, sexually assaulted her and subsequently murdered her,” the affidavit stated.
Broussard and Edwards’ former students remember her for her smile, her kindness and her generosity. Cory Crenshaw recalled a homeroom party in which the parents had forgotten to provide enough money for snacks for him and his classmates.
Edwards bought the snacks herself.
“Catherine went to the store and bought them out of her own pocket,” Crenshaw told the Chronicle. “She was sweet, kind and beautiful, but also generous.’
“She cared about the kids so much,” Broussard said.
Cox Media Group