By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
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By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
Theresa Edwards still harbors affection for her ex-husband. She cautions that the domestic-violence complaints against him may stem from bitterness. "He may have been depressed at times at the way his life was going, and I know he has a checkered past," Theresa says. "But I've known him a lot longer than most people, and I've never known him to be violent."
In May 1999, Paul Edwards's troubles worsened. The federal Securities and Exchange Commission levied a civil judgment in Colorado against him for a banking scheme advertised over the Internet. Through his company, HDG Investment Corp., Edwards pledged a whopping 20-to-1 return in 30 days from bank-to-bank loans and trade transactions, according to an SEC press release. The SEC says Edwards harvested $305,000 with what the agency characterizes as "complete fabrications."
Paul Joseph Edwards/Pavel Josef Placek
lawyer, Edwards's ex-wife
Heinrich's ex-girlfriend and mother of his three daughters
The Buettners had problems before Paul Edwards entered Luise's life in August 2000. She hadn't seen her son Heinrich in years because he was on the run from an ex-girlfriend.
Heinrich Buettner is bitter at 42 years of age. He says he was in his prime 16 years ago at age 25 -- polyester shirt unbuttoned to his breastbone, gold chains flashing from his neck, black hair feathered back like John Travolta in his disco days, cruising the Fort Lauderdale strip in a Corvette paid for by his mom. It was in 1985 that he met 16-year-old runaway Susan Seigler. They never married, and she ended the relationship four years and three daughters later, leaving the couple's home while Heinrich slept. His life, he says, fell apart.
Although Buettner doted on Heinrich's children, she and Seigler didn't get along. "I never liked her," Luise Buettner says. When the couple was together, Luise Buettner paid the electric, water, and cable bills as well as the mortgage so that Heinrich and Susan could set up house in the Pompano home. "He was in love -- what could I do?" Buettner asks.
Susan, who changed her last name to Cerny after marrying David Cerny in 1995, has filed several lawsuits against the Buettners, including one that accuses Luise and Heinrich of hiding assets so that Heinrich can avoid paying child support for Angel, 15, Amanda, 13, and Ashlei, 10. That chilled the relationship between Luise and Susan. They couldn't talk without arguing, Cerny says.
In addition to running the motel "like clockwork," as he said on several occasions, Edwards was soon involved in trying to patch the rift between the Buettners and Cerny. He wanted to reunite Buettner with her grandchildren. Just before Christmas 2000, Edwards drove Luise to Cerny's Hollywood home with presents for the kids. "This is my chauffeur," Cerny recalls Buettner saying when she introduced him.
A few weeks later, they returned. Edwards offered to give the girls tennis lessons. Edwards had been certified as a professional-level tennis instructor by the United States Professional Tennis Association from 1985 until 1992. Angel, Amanda, and Ashlei climbed into Buettner's Volvo, and Edwards drove the bunch to a tennis shop, where Buettner bought tennis outfits, shoes, and rackets.
Twice a week thereafter, Edwards would drop by Cerny's home for lessons at a nearby court. He persuaded Buettner to lease a red Chevy Blazer to carry all the gear. Sometimes, Buettner would come along. Edwards liked the three girls, whom he pronounced "well-behaved, polite, and very intelligent." At one point, he even mentioned he might adopt them. "Why would I let you do that?" Cerny recalls telling him. "They're my kids!"
In addition to his adoption offer, Edwards told Buettner he would like to marry her. "What would you want with an old grandmother!" she remembers crying out. She was flattered, even though she thought the suggestion ludicrous.
Not everyone saw Edwards as the guardian angel Buettner perceived. "I smelled a rat, right from the start," Candy Fulves declared during a visit to Buettner's apartment several weeks before her recent death. Edwards and Fulves didn't get along. She told people she suspected Edwards might have connections to the Russian mob. He said Fulves was mentally ill and should be hospitalized, Fulves reports.
Fulves, who arose well before dawn, said she often watched Paul sneaking home in the wee hours. He would tiptoe into Buettner's apartment and lie down on the day bed. When Buettner awoke, Edwards would be sleeping soundly. "Look at him," Buettner would say. "Isn't he wonderful? He was up all night watching for me."
No matter what criticism Fulves leveled at Edwards, Buettner dismissed it. The friends weren't as close after Edwards came on the scene. During one dispute, Fulves said, Edwards threatened her. Buettner did nothing. "He said he was going to kill me, and Luise didn't even come to my defense!" Fulves complained.
When Buettner suffered two strokes in January 2001, Edwards telephoned Cerny. She brought Angel, Amanda, and Ashlei to see their grandmother. At the hospital, Cerny says, Edwards asked her to step outside. He explained that Buettner's near-death experience had made her think about providing for her grandchildren. The year before, she had written a will leaving all of her possessions to Heinrich. Now, she wanted to change things.
Edwards explained that Buettner would place $200,000 for each grandchild into a trust. Cerny promised to ask her lawyer to work up a settlement agreement that would absolve Heinrich of the child-support claim, which at the time totaled about $30,000. The idea made sense to Cerny. "Luise loves those children," she says. "And they love her."