Peter F. Edge, a Maryland state trooper who worked undercover and was known for his unconventional behavior, outrageous sense of humor and penchant for disguises that drew in miscreants, died Saturday at his home in Columbia of congestive heart failure. He was 76.
"Back in the 1970s, when I was an investigative prosecutor working on political corruption, drug and contract murder cases, we worked closely with the Baltimore County police, feds and state police, and Pete was a big part of our investigations. We worked out of a house in Towson we called the 'War House,'" recalled Rep. C.A. "Dutch" Ruppersberger.
"And here was this overweight, rumpled state trooper with a beard. He didn't look like normal troopers who have an almost military-like bearing," said Mr. Ruppersberger. "He was the best undercover investigative cop I've ever known, because no one ever expected the state police to hire a guy like that."
"Pete Edge's death is a great loss," said state police spokesman Gregory M. Shipley. "He was already a legend when I came on the job in 1976, and he was someone we all wanted to know and be approved by. Pete also had a great reputation as an investigator and was known in law enforcement all across the country."
"We were a family of men and women who stood for something, and he represented that. He was a great goodwill ambassador for the state police," said retired Lt. Col. Stewart Russell, who worked with him for 35 years. "He was a total delight and the earthly version of Halley's comet, something you only see once in your lifetime."
The son of William Kirby Edge, a salesman, and Dorothy Denney Edge, a homemaker, Peter Fairchild Edge was born in Maplewood, N.J., and later moved with his family to Catonsville, where he graduated from Catonsville High School in 1959. He then served for two years in the Coast Guard as a cook at its Cape May, N.J., training center.
He earned a bachelor's degree in sociology in 1979 from what is now Loyola University Maryland.
In 1966, Mr. Edge entered the Maryland State Police Academy and after graduation was assigned to road patrol at the Waterloo Barracks. In 1970, he was assigned to the investigation section.
From 1971 to 1984, he served in the intelligence division, and from 1984 to 1988 was assigned to the Maryland Port Administration, where he attained the rank of first sergeant.
As a detective sergeant, he was in charge of the Westminster Barracks Criminal Investigation Section, and then from 1992 to 1995 was assigned to the Maryland State Police Criminal Investigation Division.
He was first sergeant and staff officer for the Field Operations Bureau's central region from 1995 to 1997. From 1997 to 1998, he held the same position in the state police's southern region.
"He was a tough state trooper. He'd dress up as a drug dealer, a john, a deliveryman or a truck driver. He was very much an actor, and no one ever suspected him of being a cop. He thrived in that environment and was in his element," said Mr. Shipley.
"He was a tremendous covert investigator, and I wanted to be just like him," said Colonel Russell, who is now the police chief of Forest Heights in Prince George's County. "He was a unique character and [had] a combination of seriousness and a sense of humor, even when we were working dangerous jobs. It kept you on your toes."
Don Newcomer, who is retired from the state police, worked closely on cases with Mr. Edge.
"He always took the job very seriously and was a really good cop," said Mr. Newcomer. "He really got into projects and thought them through."
"Pete was a bigger-than-life character, and he was someone who made thousands laugh over the years," said Mr. Shipley.
Because of his sense of humor and his endless costumes, he was much in demand as an emcee, not only at state police ceremonies but at police departments "all across Maryland," said Mr. Shipley.
"With his self-deprecating humor and costumes, he continually made fun of himself to make people laugh," he said.
"After he retired, he'd dress up in his Irish coat, pajama bottoms and an Irish hat. He'd go to formal affairs wearing a tux coat, shirt and pajama bottoms," said Mr. Newcomer.
Mr. Ruppersberger said it was a tradition that after wrapping up a case, the team would go out and celebrate.
"I'll never forget it. We're sitting in Bo Brooks Crab House, and Pete orders a huge plate of mashed potatoes with thick gravy. When he got it, he put his whole face right in the gravy and when he came back up, it was dripping down his beard and everyone was laughing," he said. "He was always finding a way to make people laugh. He should have been a stand-up comedian."
Mr. Edge's exploits take up a chapter of Howard County police officer James H. Lilley's most recently published book, "Cop Tales: Legends, Pranks and Stories from a Bygone Era."
Mr. Edge did have a serious side and was an active supporter of Special Olympics Maryland, participating in its annual Polar Bear Plunge from its inception in 1996 until just a few years ago.
He also was active in the Maryland chapter of Concerns of Police Survivors, whose loved ones had been killed in the line of duty.
"He had a big heart for police officers and for people who had physical disabilities and disabled children," said Mr. Shipley.
When Mr. Edge reached the mandatory retirement age of 60 in 1998, he left the state police.
"He loved it so much that if they would have let him stay, he would have been there until he was 80," said his daughter, Lacey Edge Sladky of Arnold.
In 2000, Mr. Edge did return to the state police, as a civilian administrator in the personnel division and as curator of the state police museum in Pikesville, until retiring again in 2007.
In 1974, Mr. Edge married the former Margaret Scott, who was a member of the first class of six female troopers.
Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at Bethel Baptist Church, 4261 Montgomery Road, Ellicott City.
In addition to his daughter, Mr. Edge is survived by his son, Jeremy K. Edge of Arlington, Va.; a sister, Denney Magee of Malvern, Pa.; and two grandchildren. His marriage ended in divorce.