By Michael E. Miller
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The way Buettner tells her story, everything was fine until long-time friends Erich and Susan Medenbach referred a stranger to her in August 2000, a man in need of a place to stay, a man who pitched in to help in lieu of rent.
Paul J. Edwards impresses people. Tall at six feet two, erudite, and self-assured, Edwards acts with the single-minded conviction of someone who has an unwavering faith in himself. He introduces himself as a professional tennis instructor and retired psychologist who entered international finance as a second career. He keeps his weight at 230-250 pounds with daily rounds of tennis. His straight black hair is now tinged with gray, but he has a full head of it. And then there are those eyes, sky blue and penetrating, set into a broad face with skin tanned the honey tone of heart pine.
Paul Joseph Edwards/Pavel Josef Placek
lawyer, Edwards's ex-wife
Heinrich's ex-girlfriend and mother of his three daughters
Erich Medenbach, who owned a foreign-auto shop before retiring, had worked on Edwards's Renault in the 1990s. In the summer of 2000, Edwards told the Medenbachs that he had to move from his rental home because the landlord planned to live there. The Medenbachs suggested Edwards move into the Noble Apartments for a month while he looked for a new place. In return for rent, he could help Buettner.
In August 2000, the 56-year-old Czech native set up house in one-bedroom, second-story apartment 16. His mother, Eliska, who had been living with him, returned temporarily to the Czech Republic.
Buettner liked Edwards right away. Despite his advanced degrees and international connections, he wasn't afraid of work. He did laundry, made beds, took out the garbage, distributed mail, and cleaned Buettner's house in Pompano Beach. He ferried her to breakfast in the morning and to feed her pet cats at the Pompano house in the afternoon. In return, Buettner cooked for him and gave him gifts.
As their friendship grew, Edwards delved into the motel's books. He took the title of manager. One month stretched into two, then three, then four. When Buettner suffered two strokes in January 2001, Edwards became her nurse. Nothing seemed too much for him. Edwards bathed Buettner and helped her dress. He supervised her diet. He dispensed her medications and administered her insulin shots. In a telephone conversation, he told Heinrich, "I'm taking care of your mother like a baby."
But behind the Good Samaritan schtick, Paul Edwards apparently had more-sinister motives. Although he refused payment for his services, Edwards opened five credit-card accounts in Luise Buettner's name and racked up more than $30,000 in bills, according to receipts provided by the Buettners. That allowed Edwards to get by while he worked on a bigger plan, they contend. The Buettners say Paul Edwards wanted control of Luise Buettner's life. He wanted the motel. He planned to pocket at least $1 million when it sold. He boasted that he had a buyer for the property. And he planned to move into the Pompano Beach house with his mother and his 17-year-old son -- after remodeling it.
He almost pulled it off.
Edwards dialed 911 after he discovered Buettner unconscious January 29, 2001. Her breathing was labored, guttural. She had lapsed into a diabetic coma. When she rebounded after her blood sugar was stabilized, Edwards pressured her to sign a power of attorney to him. She refused. He became angry. By February, accusations had replaced affinity. On February 15, Buettner reported her Chevy Blazer stolen when Edwards took it without permission. He was arrested for grand-theft auto the next day. After his arrest, Edwards abandoned Buettner and the Noble.
In March 2001, Fort Lauderdale police issued a warrant for Edwards's arrest on felony charges of financial exploitation of the elderly. He disappeared.
Today, Buettner disdains the man to whom she entrusted her motel, her health, and her friendship. And she is proud that somehow she outfoxed her alleged predator. "He doesn't own anything," she pronounces derisively in her thick German accent. "He doesn't even own a shithouse."
From a box of papers and 16 computer disks Edwards left behind at the Noble Apartments, New Times has pieced together a disturbing picture of Buettner's self-appointed benefactor. Court records and other material add to that image. His troubles trace at least to 1988 and involve allegations of financial fraud and violence against women. Edwards did not respond to an e-mail requesting an interview.
Originally from Prague, Pavel Josef Placek, who later changed his name to Paul Joseph Edwards, lived in Canada before moving to Florida in 1979. In court documents and conversation with the Buettners and others, the Czech native frequently referred to his work as a psychotherapist and psychologist for the Broward County Sexual Assault Treatment Center, where he said he counseled rape victims, children, and prisoners from 1979 until 1981. The Broward County Human Resources Department, though, has no record of him. In court documents, he also says he ran a private psychological service until 1987. Although Edwards did register the company Lauderdale Psychological Services in 1985 with Broward County, the state Division of Corporations does not list the business. Additionally, the state, which began requiring psychologists to be licensed in 1961, has no record of him.
Placek married Theresa Edwards, a Fort Lauderdale lawyer, in 1982. The couple had a son three years later, and in 1987, Placek changed his name to Edwards. When the couple divorced in 1988, he received a car and a condo the couple owned in Oakland Park. He agreed to pay child support of $400 a month and $35,000 in credit-card debt. Since that time, Paul Edwards has been involved in his son's life sporadically.