Ilene and Owen Nolan struggled to get on with their lives in the wake of Stella’s disappearance. They moved to the San Diego area, but I imagine that every time the story of a missing or abused child made the news their hearts broke a little more.
Sherriff’s deputies and LAPD investigators continued to pull in every deviant who even looked cross-eyed at a child. They busted other child molesters, but they couldn’t seem to get a break in Stella’s case which grew colder with every passing day.
In December 1955, Sheriff’s deputies interrogated Robert Louis Kracker, 20, on suspicion of kidnapping a 3-year-old Baldwin Park girl, Cynthia Hardacre. Kracker had been visiting a cousin in the Hardacre neighborhood when Cynthia, apparently mistaking Robert for her father, dashed toward his automobile calling, “Wait, Daddy.” Kracker told the police
that: “When I saw her, something just came over me.”
Kracker was on parole and had a record, including sex offenses, going back to age 14! In 1949 he spent three months in Juvie and was subsequently committed to the State Hospital at Camarillo. In July of 1950, he was arrested in L.A. on suspicion of a sex offense, and in November, 1951 he was arrested on suspicion of burglary.
Robert was guilty of the attack on Cynthia, but he was not responsible for Stella’s abduction.
In August of 1961 the L.A. Times reported on five children who had mysteriously vanished in recent years; Stella’s name was among them.
On March 6, 1970 a 51-year-old Sylmar construction worker, Mack Ray Edwards, appeared at the LAPD’s Foothill Division station. He handed them a loaded handgun and then said the had kidnapped three Sylmar girls earlier that day.
Edwards, a native of Arkansas, was booked on suspicion of murder in the 1969 death of a 13-year-old Pacoima boy — one of the six cases he voluntarily discussed with detectives.
Edwards and an unnamed 15-year-old companion told the police that they’d entered the home of Mr. and Mrs. Edgar Cohen at 5 a.m., after the couple had left for work. The two stole a coin collection and other items from the house and then took the three Cohen children, Valerie (12); Cindy (13); and Jan (14) by car to Bouquet Canyon in Angeles National Forest north of Newhall.
Two of the girls escaped and the third was abandoned by Edwards and his accomplice — they told her they’d send a sheriff’s car to pick her up.
It was during his confession to police that he admitted to kidnapping, raping, and then murdering 8-year-old Stella Darlene Nolan in 1953. The girl was allegedly his first murder victim.
In mid-March 1970, the skeletal remains of Stella Darlene Nolan were unearthed by a highway crew who worked from directions given to them by her killer.
In addition to the slaying of Stella, Edwards admitted to murdering Gary Rocha, 16, in 1968, and Donald Allen Todd, 13, in 1960. He also admitted to three other murders of children but he wasn’t charged with them because their bodies couldn’t be found. Edwards was a heavy machine operator and often worked freeway construction sites, it simply wasn’t possible for the law to go around digging up Southern California freeways in an effort to unearth the other remains.
In Van Nuys Superior Court, Edwards entered a plea of guilty in three of the six slayings to which he had confessed. Sgt. George H. Rock was called to testify about Edwards’ voluntary admission that he was a child killer. All of the murders were horrible, but Stella’s was the worst. Edwards had taken her from Auction City in Norwalk to his Azusa home where he molested and then attempted to strangle her. After he thought Stella was dead, he threw her body over bridge. The following day he returned to the scene to bury his victim and found the little girl still alive. She had managed to drag herself about 100 feet. She was sitting up, dazed, when Edwards took out his pocketknife and stabbed her to death.
Edwards attempted to sell his surrender and confession as a guilty conscience. He said:
“I have a guilt complex. I couldn’t eat and I couldn’t sleep and it was beginning to affect my work. You know I’m a heavy equipment operator. That long grader I’m using now costs a lot of money — $200,000. I might wreck it. Or turn it over and hurt someone.”
That doesn’t sound like a guilty conscience to me — it sounds exactly like the kind of profoundly stupid, self-serving statement a sociopath would make. There was no expression of remorse for his victims, his primary concern appears to have been the deleterious affect the brutal child killings were having on his work.
Edwards claimed to want a death sentence. Maybe he did — he attempted suicide twice during his trial. On March 30, 1970 he slashed a 14-inch cut across his stomach with a razor blade and on May 7, 1970 he took an overdose of tranquilizers The third time was the charm — he successfully hanged himself with a length of TV cord in his cell on California’s Death Row.
Edwards had always claimed six victims, never more; however, he is suspected in the murders of over 20 children between 1953 and 1970.
In 2006, a letter written by Edwards to his wife while he was on death row implicated him the 1957 disappearance of 8-year-old Tommy Bowman in the Arroyo Seco.
In 2011, the Santa Barbara Police Department took four teams of cadaver dogs to an area near a Goleta freeway overpass that was under renovation, looking for the remains of Ramona Price, a 7-year-old girl who disappeared in August 1961 — Mack Ray Edwards worked in the area during that time. Ramona wasn’t found, but the search for other victims of Edwards continues.
A little over 40 years following Mack Ray Edwards’ suicide I stumbled across Stella Darlene Nolan’s photograph in a Los Angeles Police Daily Bulletin as I was archiving documents from 1953. Something about Stella pulled me in and when I couldn’t find a cancellation for her missing notice in a subsequent Bulletin I followed up, and that’s when I discovered her entire story.
I shared everything I’d uncovered with the L.A. Police Museum’s Executive Director and he telephoned a detective he knows at Foothill Division. She told him she couldn’t discuss details of the case with him because she was assigned to the cold case! She’s seeking to solve many more murders and disappearances for which Edwards may have been responsible. The detective asked if we would send her a copy of the Daily Bulletin featuring Stella because she didn’t have one — it was an incredible feeling to be able to provide a small piece of information in an on-going investigation — my first cold case!
The Daily Bulletins aren’t merely artifacts to be cataloged and filed away; the impact of crime on victims and their families reaches across time. History lives.
I love reading stories like this. Wish I had a crystal ball to see what happened to those men, women and children who seems to have disappeared in a blink of an eye! Hope to see more stories in the future.
Marylou — the murders are profoundly sad, but it is the missing men, women and children that haunt me. There are many more
stories to tell. I thank you for your readership, it is appreciated. Best — Joan
Kudos to you Joan. You are making an impact and maybe more to come. When I read how little Stella died, tears came to my eyes. As for Edwards, you never know who may be standing in line behind you at the grocery store or someone you work with, or your neighbor. Keep up the good work Joan.
Sherry – thank you so much. I’ll never get over the horror of how Stella died. At least her killer was found and her parents were
still alive to witness Edwards’ demise. Cold comfort I’m sure, but at least it put to rest the mystery for them.
This is a heartbreaker. That poor poor child, what she had to go through.
As always, your posts are fascinating and so well researched. It’s the details, like knowing that Darlene was wearing a pair of socks with Disney cartoon characters on them, that turn this from “A Story”, about some random murder mystery, into something we can relate to.
Thanks, Cat. This story means a lot to me. I was irresistibly drawn to Stella’s photo in the Daily Bulletin and felt compelled to
find out what had happened to her. I’ve seen many missing kids in the Bulletins, but Stella was different for some reason. I told
the Executive Director of the L.A. Police Museum that she spoke to me, and I believe that she did. Best — Joan
I’ll just correct my mistake – her name was Stella not Darlene. That was her middle name.
Having a loved one go missing must be the absolute worst thing. The not knowing must be unbearable.
Her mother said something like “We’ll never stop looking til both of us are dead”. God bless them.
I believe she was alternately referred to by both her middle and first names in the newspapers, so you’re not wrong. I cannot imagine having
a loved one go missing — it would be tortuous.
WTG! I’m glad that they finally found her. And you discovered her story. To mention her name it to have her live again.
Dolores – Thank you for your incredibly kind comment. I appreciate it. Best — Joan
OMG I just got chills. I am a notary Public and people love to talk to me about the strangest of things at times and believe it or not I had a client (an older gentleman) about two years ago tell me a story about a little girl who was abducted many many years go in the city of Norwalk and was said to have been burried under the 5 fwy just down the street from where we were at the time he was telling me the story. And half a block away from where I was performing the notary. I have often wondered about that story and that poor little girl since I pass that same location that she was abducted from atleast twice a day to and from work. Thank you for putting my mind at rest a little because in the story I was told her body was never found and believed to be somewhere under the 5fwy. And yes by the way I hugged my daughter yesterday just a little longer than I do everyday.
Mireya, wow! Well, I’m glad I was help to ease your mind a little bit. At least Stella was found and, who knows, perhaps the
cold case detective will be able to find other missing child victims of Mack Ray Edwards. It never ceases to amaze me how these
stories from decades ago still resonate and continue to impact people directly and indirectly. Best to you and your little girl.
Before I got to the part about Ramona Price, I remembered the news stories a few years ago about the freeway construction worker suspected in children’s murders. I followed that particular story until they revealed nothing was found under the Goleta overpass. I never knew he had such a horrible history dating so far back.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I just LOVE your blog!
Susana — I will always have a soft spot for Stella Darlene Nolan because I became involved in the cold case. The back story
is horrendous. Mack Ray Edwards cheated justice — actually, if he hadn’t committed suicide his death sentence would have
been commuted to life (just like Manson and his followers) when CA overturned the death penalty in the early 1970s. I’m
so glad to hear that you’re enjoying the blog. Historic L.A. crime is a passion of mine.
Stella Darlene Nolan has a surviving brother: Dale D Nolan born on 1960, Ilena died of cancer and Owen Married Mary Nolan, they had a son, the first and only one biological son. He now lives in Yuma AZ and he always remember the time the FBI showed at his home to tell his Dsd the terrible fate of Darlene.
Stella’s case haunts me. She was a beautiful little girl, and her killer was a monster. Thank you for the update
on her family. I sincerely hope that they found some measure of peace. I cannot imagine what they endured.
Best — Joan