John Edwards knows how to drag out a scandal. After falsely denying an Oct. 2007 report he was cheating on cancer-stricken wife Elizabeth, a more credible investigation was published in July, and Edwards spent several weeks dodging questions. He eventually confessed to ABC News, but insisted he hadn't fooled around with his mistress since 2006. Everyone thought that was bullshit, and now it looks like they were correct: The Washington Post this week noticed Elizabeth Edwards was missing her wedding band at a recent George Washington University appearance, with her husband absent. And Page Six heard further whispers:

A source said Edwards is no longer living with Elizabeth and that the couple have separated. But reps for Elizabeth Edwards did not return calls and e-mails.

If Edwards had truly resolved this matter with his wife in 2006, as he claimed to ABC, why would she be leaving him now? It stands to reason the purported split is related to this summer's press coverage of her husband's alleged "love child" with mistress Rielle Hunter.

Perhaps she tried to take John up on his public offer to take a paternity test, and things ended disastrously. Maybe she grew suspicious, as the Times did, about the provenance of the money supporting Hunter and her child. Or maybe the humiliating glare of further media attention finally tore apart a fragile marriage.

In any case, John Edwards will now face — or, more llikely, dodge — renewed questions about the true extent of his relationship with Hunter. And not just from tabloid reporters but also, judging from past coverage, from the likes of the Washington Post and the Times.

Given the more important topics on the national agenda, starting with the election and economic meltdown, Edwards will certainly have the option of punting the scandal a fifth or sixth time, if only by ignoring it. But he won' t be able to keep up the delusion that it is finally behind him.

(Pictures from Washington Post video.)