THE subject of hit US crime podcast The Clearing – and believed by some to be the Zodiac Killer – Ed Edwards could be the biggest mass murderer you’ve never heard of…
April Balascio couldn’t sleep. The name of a town she’d lived in when she was a child turned over in her mind.
The 40-year-old mother of three crept out of bed and went to get her laptop. She typed four words into Google: “Watertown Wisconsin cold case”.
It was May 2009 and April was fixated on the belief that something had happened in the small town where she’d spent a few months in 1980, aged 11.
The first result the search returned was a link to a police appeal for information about the unsolved murder of two teenagers that happened a few months before her family had left. The report detailed how, on August 10, 1980, sweethearts Tim Hack and Kelly Drew, both 19, went missing from a wedding reception in Watertown.
Two months later, their remains were found in woodland several miles away. Tim had been stabbed and Kelly had been raped and strangled. April was certain she knew who the killer was – her father, Ed Edwards.
April’s Google search was the first step in bringing Ed’s crimes to light. Two months later he was charged with double homicide, and over the following years he confessed to three more killings. He died in April 2011 while on death row.
Last year, Edwards’ crimes came into the spotlight once again, as he became the subject of true-crime podcast The Clearing, which has had over 720,000 downloads and is now being turned into a TV series. But many believe Edwards’ killing spree did not stop at five.
Since his death, cold-case investigators and even members of his own family have theorised that he may have been responsible for many more killings. And some people even believe he could have been the Zodiac Killer, one of history’s most notorious serial killers, operating in northern California in the late ’60s and early ’70s.
The Zodiac taunted police with coded letters and is known to have murdered five people, but believed to have been responsible for up to 37 deaths. “My grandfather was an opportunistic killer. If he got the opportunity, he killed,” says Edwards’ grandson Wayne Wolfe.
“He liked to be the centre of attention. When he was a kid he set off fire alarms to see how people reacted. He only cared about his own opinion. That’s why he didn’t come out as the Zodiac – he didn’t need to. He liked the fact that no one knew who he was. It showed that a murderer like him could exist and it gave him control.”
Growing up, April knew her dad was a bad man. A compulsive liar, he burned down two houses they lived in for insurance money and shoplifted in front of his children, but would tell them off for lying. He told his family the reason they needed to leave so many places was because in jail he had been an informer and the criminals he had snitched on had found him.
He also wrote a book about his criminal career. Published in 1972, Metamorphosis Of A Criminal told the story of his life and how he’d rehabilitated himself. He toured the country giving talks about redemption to church groups, schools and police academies. He even appeared on a game show and talked about his criminal past.
“Ed built up this façade of a normal life that became his cover, but underneath he was a narcissist,” says Wayne. “People were just there to be used, even his kids. He didn’t believe people existed outside of his own mind or that they deserved any consideration.”
April moved out of the family home at 18 and married her husband Michael Balascio when she was 21. She worked as a fitness instructor in Ohio, where she settled into stable family life she always craved. She kept in contact with her mother and four siblings, but never spoke to her father.
The morning after her Google search, April called the detective in charge of the case, Chad Garcia. He found Edwards had been questioned about the double murder in 1980, but no follow-ups made. He also found out that in 1988 the landlord of the house the family rented at the time of the murders had told cops he believed Edwards was involved.
This was never pursued due to a lack of communication between the two police forces investigating. Shortly after April’s tip-off in July 2009, Edwards was tracked down and arrested. He was 76 and living in a mobile home in Louisville, Kentucky, with April’s mum, his wife Kay.
He was morbidly obese, suffering breathing difficulties and wheelchair-bound. A DNA sample was taken and subsequently matched DNA taken from the scene of the double killing. After Edwards was charged, he was taken back to Wisconsin and held on remand, where he started plotting. He knew the game was up and confessed.
But faced with the prospect of spending the rest of his days in jail, he decided he would rather be executed – however Wisconsin did not have capital punishment. So he used other murders as sick bargaining chips.
First, he confessed to the August 6, 1977, killing of Billy Lavaco, 21, and his girlfriend Judy Straub, 18, in the town of Akron, Ohio. They had parked up in a lovers’ lane and were ambushed. They were found dead the next day, their bodies left in long grass. Both had been shot. The case went unsolved for 33 years – until Edwards told detectives he was the murderer.
A few weeks after this second confession, on May 3, 2010, Edwards was visited by Brian Johnson, a former police officer who knew him from his time as a detective working with the sheriff’s department in Geauga County, Ohio.
Edwards lived there until he disappeared in 1996 and had ingratiated himself with the local law enforcement officers as a low-level informant, feeding them details about petty criminals in the town. According to criminal behaviour analyst Laura Richards, this is classic psychopathic behaviour.
'Edwards was very much about power'
“I’ve worked on numerous cases where criminals have done this,” she says.
[British serial killer] Levi Bellfield, for example, was calling the police all the time. He was registered as an informant. A lot of them try to infiltrate the network.
It’s about power and control and manipulation, and it makes them feel important and that they have inside knowledge.
[Scottish serial killer] Dennis Nilsen actually joined the police. It’s more common than people think. Edwards was very much about power and coercive control.” Brian had long suspected his past informant was responsible for the unsolved murder of Daniel Gloeckner.
He was an impressionable young man that Edwards took under his wing, fostered, then tried to adopt in the mid ’90s when his own children had left home, but was unable to do so as Daniel was over 18. Edwards called Daniel “Dannie Boy” and in 1996, when he was 19, encouraged the teenager to enlist in the army. Daniel finished basic training and went AWOL.
Six months later his body was found half buried in a cemetery less than a mile from Edwards’ home in the town of Burton. He had been shot twice in the head and parts of his skull were missing. Edwards had convinced Daniel to name him the recipient of his army life insurance policy and when he died, Edwards collected over £160,000 and skipped town.
Brian never saw him again and always suspected he was involved. After the arrest and Edwards’ confession to the two double homicides, the men exchanged several calls. During one, Brian explained to Edwards that at the time of the Lavaco and Straub murders, the death sentence had been repealed in Ohio, so Edwards would not be executed for that crime.
If Edwards confessed to killing Daniel, however, and gave enough detail to prove it, he would face the death sentence as capital punishment had been reinstated at the time of Daniel’s death. In August 2010, Edwards was taken back to Ohio where he confessed to the murder. He was tried in March 2011 and his execution was scheduled for August 31 that year.
'Responsible for many more killings'
However, less than a month after the trial, on April 7 2011, he died of natural causes. No one claimed his body and he was cremated by the state. During the two years between his initial arrest and death, Edwards spoke to several journalists and cold-case enthusiasts and hinted that he was responsible for many more killings.
One contact was former Colorado detective John A Cameron. He specialised in cold cases and was convinced Edwards was responsible for the January 2, 1956 killing of teenage sweethearts Patricia Kalitzke, 16, and 18-year-old airman Lloyd Bogle in Great Falls, Montana. Both teenagers had been shot in the head.
John wrote to Edwards and sent him money as a goodwill gesture, in the hope of getting more information. After Edwards died, John became obsessed. He was convinced Edwards’ book was a puzzle containing clues to all the other murders he’d committed. He spent three years developing a master theory that the murderer had killed hundreds and framed other people for them.
He believed that Edwards committed some of the most notorious murders of the last 70 years, including the famed 1947 Black Dahlia killing in Los Angeles and the murder of child beauty queen JonBenét Ramsey in 1996. He believed Edwards killed Teresa Halbach – the case that featured in the hit Netflix series Making A Murderer – and also believed Edwards was the Zodiac Killer.
John spent his savings on self-publishing a book outlining his theory, which then spread through the internet and the true-crime community, turning Edwards from one kind of monster into an even worse one. “John Cameron was giving my dad money when no one else would,” said April during The Clearing podcast.
“Dad would do anything, say anything, play his games to keep that money coming in. He gave him a bunch of bull and John fell for it.” As April watched in shock while her father’s ghost morphed into a global bogeyman, TV and film producer Wayne, now 35, was researching his family tree.
He had no idea he was related to April– who it turns out is his father’s half-sister – or Edwards – his grandmother, Jeanette Wolfe, was Ed Edward’s first wife, and had kept the secret from her son, also called Wayne all her life.
'It Was Him: The Many Murders Of Ed Edwards'
Jeannette met Edwards when she was 17 and he influenced her through violence and fear. Soon after she conceived Wayne’s father, Edwards was jailed for armed robbery. Jeanette left him while he was in prison and met and married a man named Chuck Wolfe.
Wayne’s revelation that he was related to Edwards rocked the family and he set out on a journey of discovery about the grandfather he had never known. In 2018, he produced and presented a documentary series called It Was Him: The Many Murders Of Ed Edwards.
Wayne even worked with John on his TV series, but admits he is sceptical about some of his more fanciful theories. “[John] told me he had spoken to my grandmother when he was writing his book. She made him vow to never contact me or my father.
I feel bad for him because a lot of his theories are correct, but the dude had to lose his mind to get there. I believe the double slaying in Great Falls was my grandfather, for example.” But both April and Wayne believe that Edwards may well have been the Zodiac Killer.
In the podcast, April revealed that her father was obsessed with the case and would gather the family around to watch news reports of the infamous crimes. “He would be saying: ‘That’s not right, that’s not how it happened, that’s not accurate’, and then he just wanted to talk about the possible scenarios of who the Zodiac was,” April remembered.
Nell Darby, crime historian and associate lecturer at Oxford Brookes University, tells Fabulous we may never know how many people Edwards killed. “It’s rare for a serial killer to stop killing, and so it’s possible that he may have committed more murders, either before his ‘known’ killings, or in the gap between the murders he was convicted of.”
Nell, however, is sceptical about the theory that Edwards was the Zodiac Killer. “I’d treat the theories that he was responsible for some high-profile cases with a degree of caution,” she explains.
“The Zodiac Killer theory is less easy to dismiss, because of his own family’s belief that he may have been responsible. However, given that many serial killers need approbation for the ‘cleverness’ of their crimes, I find it unlikely because he never admitted to it or even boasted about it later.”
'My grandfather was a serial killer'
The revelations about his family history have turned Wayne’s life upside down. He says: “In LA, where I lived, as soon as people found out that my grandfather was potentially the Zodiac Killer and was a serial killer, everyone wanted to talk to me."
"I became the best ice-breaker at parties. But people who didn’t know me made judgements. Some were creeped out by me. On dating apps, when I tell people they either swipe left or they are more interested in that than they are me.”
After his TV series, Wayne moved back to Oregon where he grew up. He now cares for his mother, who is in the advanced stages of leukaemia. But the ghosts he uncovered still haunt him. “When I was filming the TV series, I didn’t realise it at the time, but it messed me up mentally."
"I was traumatised, I had anxiety and panic attacks. I am still living in the shadow of Ed Edwards,” he says. “That shadow is mine, also.”
Despite their similar missions and blood ties, Wayne and April are not close. They’ve messaged but not met in person. Indeed, Wayne admits that it’s been hard to build any ties with his new-found relatives.
“The circumstances make it difficult,” he says. “We are a sore reminder to them. A few cousins have reached out, but they prefer to keep it a secret.”
Determined to create some positives, Wayne has launched a crowdfunding campaign to buy a new headstone for Daniel.
He explains: “Ed described in a police interview how he shot Dannie in the shoulder and how he spun around and looked him dead in the eyes with a look that asked ‘why?’ before he finished him with a shot to the head. That broke my heart."
“The only man that ever showed him love betrayed him in the most unimaginable way. Dannie was then buried in a graveyard with no family or friends and the name of the man who killed him on his headstone. I need to find money to buy him a new headstone with his birth name on it, because it is the least I could do.”
Meanwhile, April reluctantly continues her quest to discover the true horror that her father wrought, in the hope that she can help other victim’s families find closure.
“I’ve come to terms with how ugly my dad was. I already suspect him of doing more,” she has said. “And I would like to have the same results that we had for [Tim Hack’s family] for other people. I saw what good that could do.”
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