In 2009, April Balascio contacted authorities about the cold case murder of Wisconsin teenagers Kelly Drew and Tim Hack. She believed the man responsible for strangling and stabbing the couple to death back in 1980 was Edward Wayne Edwards, a former Marine who’d served time in prison for arson and robbery.
Edwards had led an unusual life, travelling often and making money as a handyman. He’d also been on the FBI’s Most Wanted List, and written a book. But perhaps most unusual of all was his relationship to the woman turning him in – Edward Wayne Edwards was April Balascio’s father.
Her tip led to Edwards’ conviction and, once in prison, he confessed to more unsolved crimes, including the 1977 slaying of another young couple, and the murder of his own adopted son in 1996. His arrest and confessions confirmed for Balascio what intuition and half-buried memories had led her to suspect for decades: Her father was a serial killer.
When Edwards died of natural causes in 2011, Balascio’s journey didn’t end. In fact it got even stranger. In “The Clearing”, a podcast from Gimlet and Pineapple Street, Balascio teamed with veteran journalist Josh Dean to tell her story and unravel the truth about her father’s life and crimes. The result is an exploration of memory and family, as well as an interrogation of true crime narratives. Because he eluded authorities for so much of his life and died shortly after being imprisoned, Edwards remains a cipher not only to Balascio, but also to a large community of crime conspiracy theorists who have blamed him for a slew of unsolved murders.
One man in particular, a former detective named John A. Cameron, has made it his mission to prove that Edwards is the most prolific serial killer in the world. He credits him with hundreds of victims, including the murders of The Black Dahlia, Jon-Benet Ramsey, Jimmy Hoffa, Chandra Levy, and Laci Peterson.
For Balascio, the theories distract from the real, but lower-profile murders she believes her dad was responsible for.
“The breaking point was [convicted murderer] Scott Peterson’s lawyer contacting me,” she told Refinery29. “He wanted me to help him overturn his client’s conviction due to the information that was being spread to the public. It was just crazy and ludicrous and I had enough. Meanwhile nothing was being done about the cold cases that I do believe my Dad committed.”
It was then that Balasico got in touch with Dean, who’d first contacted her a few years earlier about potentially writing a story. With their partnership on The Clearing, they’ve set out to finally set the record straight. The result is the rare podcast about murder that’s wide-ranging in scope, yet intimate in tone.
Refinery29 spoke with Balascio and Dean about Edwards’ legacy, the search for answers, and the unexpected moments of grace that came with their investigation.
Refinery29: Can you tell us how you decided to tell this story?
Josh Dean: “I had read this story about this obscure serial killer I'd never heard of who was being accused of all these outrageous murderers like JonBenet Ramsey and I was like, what is the deal of this guy? How can this possibly be true? Is any of it true? So, I started working on what I thought was going to be a magazine story. And in the process of that, I reached out to April and asked if she’d be willing to be interviewed. And she said, ‘No, actually I'm not talking to the media.’ She hadn't talked to the media really since she made that first call in 2009.
“And then I think I bugged her a couple more times and then one day, years later, she wrote me back and said, you know what, actually I am ready to talk.”
April Balascio: “I felt like nothing was being done about the cold cases that I believe my dad committed, because of all the rumours. I had turned all this information over to the authorities, and no one was doing anything about it. So, I was frustrated and at my limit. That’s when I finally reached out to Josh and decided to take him up on his offer to talk.”
What effect did the conspiracy theories have on the direction of the show?
Dean: “April is in such a strange and psychologically troubling position which is like ‘My Dad is a bad person, but he's not the bad person that you think he is.’ In fact, he may even be worse than what we think. But he didn't kill JonBenet Ramsey or Lacey Peterson.
“Because her dad was made into a kind of serial killer caricature, the police departments weren’t really doing anything. So, when you call the police department, especially in a big jurisdiction, they were just kind of like, ‘Don't even bug me with that Edward Wayne Edwards stuff. That's just that crazy conspiracy stuff.’ But in reality, April knows things that are going to be useful and it's hard to get their attention when they think that you're crazy. So, some real damage was done in the sense that her dad becomes like the murder wild card for attorneys believing they are going to get their clients conviction overturned.”
How did you make the decision to turn your father in?
Balascio: “From a very young age, I started to question things. I was always an inquisitive child and always asking questions. I've always loved to learn, and I knew my dad very well, and I’m actually a lot like him. And the pieces of the puzzle just started coming together.I just started questioning things. And then I came across the news article [about the then-unsolved murders of Drew and Hack] and I made the phone call. I just made the conscious decision to make the right choice.
“I didn't think about him facing the consequences. I mean, he asked for the death penalty, so, you know, he wanted it to be over. It was just a choice I made and one I should have made years before. I mean, [my dad] killed Danny boy [Edwards’ adopted son] in 1996. I suspected he was a murderer before 1996, and I didn't do anything about it. And I have to live with that guilt.
In the podcast, you discuss your work trying to help the victims’ families find closure. Can you speak about that?
Balascio: “I don't want to say this has become my life’s mission because that's kind of depressing, but one of my goals is to help people. And I’ve found healing in the process. My husband will tell you that I have too much empathy and sympathy, and that it’s led me to make choices that aren't in my best interest, but I like that about myself.
“I usually excel at everything that I do, not because I'm excellent at it but because I'm just too stubborn to give up. And if I don't know how to do something, then I figure out how to do it, or I'll find some way, for someone to teach me or I'll Google it. I don't give up and I'm not afraid to try. And my dad, actually, was that way as well.”
Dean: “I wanted to make sure that at the end of the day we were acknowledging the damage that has been done. These cases don’t all get solved. But I always say if nothing else ever comes of it April should feel good about what she's done already.”
This interview has been edited and condensed.