NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - Crimetracker Cold Case: A New Orleans mother of three killed was inside her home and the killer remains on the loose 37 years later.
Parents taking their kids to schools is a daily occurrence across the country, but for one local woman, it’s a sad reminder of the last time she saw her mother alive.
“So, she dropped us off at school. When I got out the door, you know, I looked at her,” said Angel Lester, the daughter of the victim, Edna Muscarello Lester, about the last day she saw her mother alive.
The date was November 15th, 1982. It was ten days before Thanksgiving. Her mother, 32-year-old Edna Muscarello Lester drove her and her brothers to school at St. Maurice Elementary shortly after 8.a.m, Angel Lester said.
Back then, Muscarello Lester was a single, divorced mother living with her mom in the 5300 block of North Rampart in the Lower 9th Ward.
Little did she know, these would be the last words she would hear from a woman she described as a great, kind, loving mother.
“She’s like, bye, I love you. I’ll see you this afternoon and y’all can start working on the playground, and that’s the last memory, and I walked into the school building,” said Lester on the last words her mother ever spoke to her.
A few hours later at lunchtime, she says a priest at the school delivered the devastating news to Angel and her brothers.
"He just said I want to tell you that your mom died, and we just started crying....why.... how," said Angel on their reaction when they learned their mother had died.
Angel said they were told their mother died in a fire. They moved in with their father and Angel says they weren’t allowed to have contact with her mother’s family. It wasn’t until she moved out of her dad’s home at age 17, that she says she learned from her mother’s family and friends that a fire didn’t kill her mom, instead, she was murdered.
Angel says she learned that her mom was home alone at her home on North Rampart street on the day she was killed.
It was shortly after she dropped the kids off at school. Angel says she later learned that her mom was on the phone and talking to her cousin when someone knocked at the door. She says her mother told her cousin to hang on while she went to see who was at the door. " So she walked to the door. So she came back and she told her cousin; look there is a black guy at the door. He went to the Naval Academy ith V.J, which is her older brother, and he wants his address. I’m a go get it for him and I’ll be right back. said Angel on what she learned about her mother’s last moments before her death.
However, Edna Muscarello Lester never got a chance to call her cousin back. Neighbors saw smoke coming from her home around 9 a.m and called the fire department.
The new NOPD Detective on the unsolved murder case, Winston Harbin, says they were able to pull her body out before she was too badly burned. He says that’s when firefighters noticed multiple stab wounds on her body when they dragged her from a smoky bedroom. He says the killer stabbed her 15 times and left her in the house set on fire.
“Discovered, she’d been stabbed in the chest. The autopsy produced several other stab wounds to the victim, quite vicious,” said Detective Harbin.
Harbin said there was no sign of forced entry. He also said her body was left in a manner that looked staged to give the appearance of an attempted rape.
That’s why he’s focusing on whether the killer did that deliberately to throw Detective off on what could be the real motive for the murder.
“I’ll give you an example. If you have a murder for hire, you don’t want to make it look like murder for hire; you want it to look like a possible sexual assault. You want it to look like a possible sexual assault so the detective can guide themselves toward previous sexual assault individuals in their neighborhood,” said the Detective on why the crime scene appeared staged.
Detective Harbin says the main suspect is the unidentified African American male who knocked at the front door of the home while the victim was on the phone with her cousin.
“He may or may not be in jail. He may or may not be dead considering the time frame. The name I have at this point and I’m willing to share, it, its’ Marty. I have Marty that’s all I have to go with,” said Harbin on the name of the suspect in his case.
He’s looking at everyone in the case for now and wants to speak with the victim’s ex-husband, though he is not calling him a suspect.
“Absolutely. Absolutely, a person of interest, absolutely a person of interest. Lack of cooperation back then. The fact that nobody was home and limited people knew here where she was about where she’d be at that time of the morning. Monday morning, recently following court papers filed for property settlements. All that plays a part in. You can’t ignore that as an investigator,” said Detective Harbin on why he’s looking at every aspect of the case.
We reached out to the victim’s ex-husband Russell Joseph Lester Senior by phone.
I told him we were working on a story about the unsolved murder of his ex-wife Edna Muscarello Lester and asked if he wanted to do a phone interview with us regarding some of the allegations after talking with the NOPD and his daughter Angel.
“No,” he replied. " My daughter is really nuts. I’ve been through this too long, too many times with the police and everybody else and I ain’t going through it again, ok? " said Joseph Lester senior on the phone when asked if he wanted to talk to us about the NOPD’S investigation of the unsolved murder of his ex-wife.
When he was asked if he had a lawyer we can talk to he said, “No, I’m keeping what I got to statement, ok?”
He also responded when asked if he is going to talk to the police again because they want to reach out to him.
“I will talk to somebody and its gonna be come back at somebody else okay if I have to do it. Thank you. Bye.” said Lester Senior. He hung up the phone.
Again, the NOPD is not naming Russell Lester Senior as a suspect.
In the meantime, Angel Lester, the victim’s daughter, believes someone still alive has the clues to her mother’s murder.
“She didn’t deserve it. She deserved to finish her life out and watch us grow, see her grandkids, great-grandson and she got robbed of all that. We got robbed of all that,” said her grieving daughter.
While solving the case won’t take away her pain, it would bring peace and justice for her mother, Edna Muscarello Lester.
If you have any information that can help solve this murder, you’re urged to contact NOPD Detective Harbin at 504-658-5315