Breaking the Laws of Physics

According to Kankakee, Ill. police, Daniel Edwards was as surprised as they were when he led them to where he had hidden his kidnapping victim, Stephen Small, only to find Small had died of asphyxiation.
On reflection, it’s tragic, but not unexpected to most people that Small would have suffocated after being buried under four feet of sand for several days.
“They forgot the law of physics,” one investigator said. “You can’t draw in air through a tube when you’re four feet under the ground.”
Edwards and his girlfriend, Nancy Rish, had apparently been planning the kidnapping for months, after Edwards, a known drug dealer, had done some work for Small on a house the newspaper publisher owned.
Figuring Smalls was very well-to-do because of his media holdings, Edwards and Rish came up with a plan to kidnap Smalls and hold him for $1 million ransom. They built a coffin-sized wooden box complete with air holes, a battery-powered light and a container for water and put it in a six-foot-deep hole they dug in a rural area of Illinois, about eight miles from the Indiana border.
Neighbors told police that Edwards made no secret of constructing the box and even borrowed their tools. Some who asked were told by Edwards that it was to contain firewood. Another neighbor told Edwards it looked like a lemonade stand for Rish’s 8-year-old son.
“You’re pretty perceptive,” Edwards replied. “That’s not a bad idea.”
After buring the box, Edwards and Rish set about capturing their victim.
Posing as a Kankakee police officer, Edwards phoned Small’s home in the early hours of September 2, 1987. He lured Small to a home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright that Small was having restored, claiming that someone had tried to break in.
At 3:30 a.m., Small’s wife, Nancy, was awakened by a telephone call.
“We have your husband,” the male voice. Nancy then heard her husband say that he had been handcuffed inside a box underground. Small told his wife to obtain $1 million in cash.
“Nancy, this is . . . I thought this was a joke or something, but it’s not,” Small said on the tape. “This is not some party or something…I’m-there’s somebody, and I’ve got handcuffs on, and I’m inside some, I guess a box.
“It looks like it’s . . . it’s under a couple of feet of sand or something like underground and, uhh . . . I want you to get a million dollars,” he went on. “God only knows how you’re going to do that, and I don’t know who you’re going to call.”
The kidnapper directed Nancy not to report the matter to the police. However, through relatives, she did contact police, who in turn notified the FBI. Wiretaps were placed on the Smalls’ telephone, but it was not until 14 hours later that the family was contacted with further instructions.
By that time, police later determined, Stephen Small was already dead, although neither Edwards or authorities searching for the victim knew it.
The investigation revealed that the air tube linking the box to the surface was not directly connected to the box nor would its diameter have allowed enough oxygen even it had been attached. The coroner later testified that Small had lived only a few hours before suffocating.
Despite their later denials that they didn’t intend to kill, the kidnappers’ intent was clear from a tape recording recovered by police.
“I ain’t gone this far for nothing. If she don’t pay the money, you’re dead,” Edwards told Stephen Small. “I want to get that through your head, and I ain’t coming back to dig you up.”
After the 5 p.m. contact, police managed to trace the telephone call to a telephone located at a Phillips 66 gas station in Aroma Park. Edwards was seen there at that time, in the company of a blonde-haired woman, believed to be Rish.
Jean Alice Small, Stephen Small’s aunt, telephoned the Small residence 40 minutes after the second call to tell them she had been contacted by the kidnappers. Jean said that the caller had told her that he knew that Nancy Small’s telephone was tapped. After telling Jean that the victim was buried, the caller threatened to kill Jean’s husband.
Nancy Small received another telephone call from the kidnapper at 11:28 p.m. September 7. This call originated from a telephone at a Sunoco station in Aroma Park, where an FBI agent saw a white male at a telephone, and a blonde-haired woman in a car that was later identified as belonging to Rish. The caller played a tape recording of Stephen Small’s voice. On the tape, Stephen provided instructions for delivering the ransom. After audio enhancement, a voice in the background could be heard threatening Small.
Unfortunately, the FBI agents observing the phone call lost the suspected kidnappers when they made an illegal U-turn. They did, however, get the license plate of the vehicle.
Fifteen minutes after the third call to Stephen and Nancy’s home, a final call was made from the kidnappers, telling Nancy that she had “fucked up” by involving police. The caller refused to make arrangements for the delivery of the ransom.
By this time, the home shared by Rish and Edwards was under surveillance. They received a warrant to search the home and executed it on the morning of September 3. After finding significant clues linking the duo to the crime, both were arrested and taken to the police station and interrogated.
Knowing the gig was up, Edwards led police to the place where Small was kept and the box was unearthed and open. Small was dead inside.
Edwards cried out in apparent surprise, witnesses said. A few days later, Edwards attempted suicide by slashing his wrists with a torn aluminum can.
He and Rish were put on trial for kidnapping and murder, and both were convicted. Edwards was sentenced to death, but later taken off death row when the Illinois governor issued a blanket pardon to condemned inmates. Rish received life in prison.
On his appeal, Edwards made the argument that his arrest was unconstitutional because police only had a search warrant, not an arrest warrant.
That argument held no sway with the appellate courts:
“There was no doubt that a crime had been committed and that the police were in possession of sufficient knowledge to believe that defendant had committed the crime,” the Illinois Supreme Court wrote. “Our review of the record therefore persuades us that the police had probable cause to arrest defendant at the time police entered his home with a search warrant.”