Chelsey Weber

Growing Up With a Serial Killer: How April Balascio Turned Her Father In

april-and-her-dad-600x315-1.jpg

By CWS

Those of us with an interest in crime spend a lot of time thinking about what-ifs. What if we were in that situation, would we be able to survive? Would we have gotten in the car with the handsome, charming man, or would we have known something was wrong? Could we tell a dangerous serial killer apart from a normal person? Or would we too be fooled by a killer’s ability to blend in? I can tell you, with all the research I have done, with all the experts I have spoken to for both this blog and our podcast Behind True Crime, you wouldn't know. Really. Even world renown criminologist Katherine Ramsland let me know in no uncertain terms that none of us has the ability to sense a killer, as much as we like to think we do.

For April Balascio, that person was her father, convicted serial killer Edward Wayne Edwards. She would not put the pieces together until she was a parent herself to three children: her father was housing a deadly secret, he was the murderer of at least five people.

Unlike the what-ifs of our imagining, April spent her entire childhood with a serial killer and still, she didn’t know. That’s how difficult it is to tell.

People Magazine published April’s story in their most recent issue, and followed up with April in their Investigation Discovery show People Magazine Investigates. People Senior Editor Gillian Telling wrote the cover story for People and appeared in the episode.

“He was a very charming guy, he was a very good-looking guy, he was funny. People said he would have been a great salesman had he not been a murderer. So he had been questioned once or twice, but he managed to ingratiate himself with the police. … He just managed to fool everybody because he was a likable guy.” Telling said.

April Balascio courtesy of People Magazine

April Balascio courtesy of People Magazine

It was 2009 when April and her four siblings sat down to discuss their childhood. Together, they remembered the strange patterns of moving in the middle of the night, often after a troubling event. Twice the Edward’s residences were burned down, and the second time, the three brothers admitted to police that they had helped their father commit the arson to collect insurance money. “I don’t think my dad’s a very nice man,” April remembers thinking at the time. Edwards was sentenced to two years in prison.

They talked about the book Edwards wrote in 1972 that provided a glimpse into his criminal past, for which he served 14 years in state prison for armed robbery. The Metamorphosis of a Criminal: The True Life Story of Ed Edward turned Edwards into a small-time celebrity of sorts, a fully rehabilitated criminal, appearing on TV shows and speaking on radio programs about prison reform.

They remembered another time when Edwards showed up in the evening with a cut on his nose and told the family he had been in a fight. However, when the police arrived to question Edwards about a missing couple that had disappeared from his workplace, a dance hall, he told them the cut had been from a hunting accident. “One night I remember my dad coming home, he had a cut on his nose, and while we had only lived there for a very short time, we again left in the middle of the night.” April said in the ID episode.

Despite that, April does remember positive sides of her father: “We had a lot fun. My dad did things like hide and go seek in the dark and haunted trails at Halloween. My parents tried to do everything on a grand scale when it came to holidays and family dinners and birthday dinners and tried to make things special to us.” Edwards was active in his children's schools and sports teams.

The siblings also recalled Edwards’ obsession with law enforcement and murder cases. Edwards kept a close relationship to law enforcement where ever the family moved, and acted as a voluntary informant, listening for the chatting of petty criminals in local bars. He was especially obsessed with the murder that prompted the police to question him that night that became known as the ‘Sweetheart Murders.’

In 1980, the Edwards’ family was living in Ohio when word of two missing young adults, Timothy Hack and Kelly Drew, hit the media. Their clothes were found strewn along side the road, seemingly cut with a knife. Police also found pieces of rope, leading them to believe that Kelly Drew had been sexually assaulted. Squirrel hunters eventually found the bodies of the couple in the nearby woods.

Tim Hack and Kelly Drew

Tim Hack and Kelly Drew

April and her siblings also remembered a strange camping trip they took while their mother was in the hospital. The bad memories started flowing again, and they remembered that she had been stabbed by their father in an argument over a bag of chips that he wanted, that the children had eaten before he came home from work.

They recalled their family friend Dannie Glockner, who Edwards took a strong interest in. Dannie was an orphan, just like Edwards. Edwards was born fatherless and his mother committed suicide when he was five years old. He claimed he was abused in the orphanage he lived in after, and that it contributed to his criminal behavior. Edwards took Dannie in, and they developed a father-son relationship. Dannie even legally changed his name to Dannie Boy Edwards. Dannie disappeared shortly after going AWOL from the military, from which he was medically discharged. He was found a year later, the cause of death a shotgun blast.

Edwards was very emotional when he got the news about Dannie, and told police he would do anything to help. He started his own investigation of Dannie Boy’s murder. He went as far as to interview people at the funeral.

After the conversation with her siblings, April became obsessed with the idea that her father was a serial killer, seeing the links between the missing people and the areas they lived. She began researching cold cases in all the different cities they lived in the 70s and 80s, looking for new connections. She came up with nothing, but she had forgotten to search Wisconsin.

It was the Sweetheart Murders that clicked for April in 2009, when she was reading about new funds given to Wisconsin cold cases. The couple's murder was one of the crimes discussed, and when they showed a picture of the dance hall, Concord House, April remembered. Her father had worked there. Her father had come home with a cut on his face the night of their disappearance. The police had questioned him, and then they had left in the middle of the night. 

That’s when April finally felt she could contact the police. She called Detective Garcia and told him her theory. The detective got to work right away, and when he read Edward’s strange memoir which spoke of violent tenancies, he had what he needed to get a DNA warrant. Garcia showed up to Edward’s home, finding an ailing man with an oxygen tank and a bad case of diabetes. Edwards at first refused to give his DNA, until he was presented with a warrant and swabbed. It was a perfect match to the DNA found on Kelly Drew’s underwear. Edwards was arrested and sentenced to life.

“Everything was kind of foggy, and I remember just literally hyperventilating, and that’s when it really hit me.” April said.

But Edwards didn’t want to spend the rest of his life in prison, and began advocating for a lethal injection. He began admitting to murders in other states, hoping for new trials that would convict him with the death penalty. He wrote a letter to law enforcement stating: “Once I tell you all the details, you’ll want to put a needle in my arm.”

Edwards at the time of his sentencing

Edwards at the time of his sentencing

He admitted to the Sweetheart Murders. He admitted to the killing of his adopted son Dannie Boy, all for the military insurance money, a sum he received of $250,000. He admitted to another couple’s killing, that of Billy Lavaco, a man that worked for the family, who Edwards says molested April. April remembers no such crime being committed against her. Edwards shot and killed both Billy and his girlfriend Judy Staub while they were parked at a lover’s lane. Finally, Edwards was given the death penalty, but died from natural causes just one month before his scheduled execution. When asked if he is regretful of his actions, he had this to say: “I’m sorry and everything, but if I felt that bad about it I wouldn’t have done it to start with.”

April struggles with a lot of conflicting feelings: “A lot of regrets. A lot of guilt. The guilt of turning your father in, and then the guilt on not turning him in sooner. It’s a no win situation.” Despite April's feelings, without her courage, justice would have never been served for the families of the five victims. But both Detective Garcia and April believe that Edwards committed more murders than he admitted to.

April still wonders how many more there could be: "It makes me wonder, it makes me really wonder. And it’s just going to be something that is going to bother me til the day that I die. I just believe that there are so many more out there that he has killed that we’ll just never know about.”