Longform

Innocence Lost

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Within days of his return, Cook was strip-searched by guards who were unaware of the tattoo carved into his buttocks. He pleaded with them not to make him expose it in front of the other inmates, but the weaker he sounded, the tougher they got. "Take your panties off, Cindy. Bend over and grab 'em."

Humiliated, Cook says, he returned to his cell, and a trusty passed him a note: "Tomorrow bitch, you are going to have a taste of this in the dayroom." He had drawn the shape of a penis and ejaculated onto the note.

Cook wanted out. In his cell, he swallowed a dozen cold pills. He had been told for 13 years that he wasn't a man, just a pussy who shouldn't even have a penis. So he grabbed a razor, cut his arms, his legs, and his throat and shouted, "I can't have a dick! Here, you have it!" Then he sliced off his penis and threw it at the cell door.

Blood was spurting from his neck and groin, and he began to grow faint. But before passing out, he dipped his finger in a pool of blood and wrote on the wall: "I really was an innocent man. Goodbye Mama, Daddy and JoAnne. I am sorry I could not fight it anymore. Take me home, Kerry Max Cook, Lord."


Cook came within a life's breath of cheating the executioner. Prison guards rushed him to the hospital. His penis was reattached, his life was saved, and guards captured the whole gory mess on videotape, documenting the suicide attempt for the record.

David Hanners was pissed: How could Cook try to take his life when he was working so hard to save it? Hanners had contacted Centurion Ministries to see whether it might be interested in helping Cook. The nonprofit organization, run by a rough-and-tumble minister from New Jersey named Jim McCloskey, had an amazing track record investigating the cases of those convicted but innocent. In Texas alone, McCloskey had helped free Joyce Ann Brown, a Dallas woman serving a life sentence for robbery and murder, and Clarence Brandley, an East Texas janitor wrongfully accused of murdering a schoolgirl who was freed after spending 10 years on death row.

Labeled by the media as the "divine detective," McCloskey accepted Cook's case. "It didn't take a good deal of intellectual acuity to figure out who did this," he claims. "It was Jim Mayfield who Paula Rudolph saw, naked from the waist up."

And that's whom McCloskey targeted, interviewing more than 50 individuals -- friends, relatives, and colleagues, who "almost to a person believe that Mayfield...could very well have killed Linda Jo Edwards."

Jim Mayfield had been Linda's boss and lover, hiring her as his periodicals clerk when he was dean of library services at Texas Eastern University (now the University of Texas at Tyler). Their 18-month affair was tumultuous, taking place under the nose of his wife as Mayfield brought Edwards into his home under the guise of helping her through a difficult divorce. (Attempts to contact Mayfield both directly and through his attorney were unsuccessful.)

Mayfield had a fiery temper, says Olene Harned, who was the head of public services at the library. "You never knew what was going to set it off...He was one of the most manipulative individuals I have ever known." He was a domineering husband and a demanding father, and McCloskey learned that no one in Mayfield's family would stand up to him.

Linda Edwards became something of a project for Mayfield: She was like an eager child, half his age, and he took credit for transforming her from a country bumpkin into a lovely young woman. He put her on a diet, helped her lose more than 60 pounds. And the sex between them was intense, adventurous, and risky.

After 23 years of marriage, Mayfield decided to leave his wife, moving into the Embarcadero Apartments with Edwards. Only he missed his home on Lake Palestine, and told Harned that Edwards was too young for him. After four days, he returned to his wife, leaving his girlfriend suicidal. On May 20, 1977 (21 days before her murder), Edwards swallowed a handful of sleeping pills. After convalescing in the hospital for a week, Edwards moved in with Paula Rudolph, who also lived at the Embarcadero and worked at the library. Mayfield would later testify that the suicide attempt brought their affair to the attention of the university, and he and Edwards were both fired.

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Mark Donald
Contact: Mark Donald