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Dangerous Games: The Victims of Edward Wayne Edwards

At approximately 10am on Monday, August 8th, 1977, police in Summit County, Ohio found the bodies of two missing young people: Billy Lavaco and Judith Straub. The young couple were found in Silver Creek Metropolitan Park. They had both been shot, were both fully clothed, and more than $400 was found in Judy’s purse. Billy’s car was found nearby. What was the motive to kill these young people? It clearly wasn’t robbery or sexual assault. The double murder was a mystery that shook the citizens of Summit County. It would take decades for the community to finally get answers.



William Joseph Lavaco, known as Billy, was born March 7th, 1956. He was twenty-one at the time of his death. He was a 1974 Chippewa High School graduate, where he played basketball. He worked for B&O Railroad Co. He was a member of the Doylestown Jaycees. His girlfriend, eighteen-year-old Judith Lynn Straub, was born June 9th, 1959, in Wayne County Ohio. She was a graduate of Wayne County Vocational School and was working as a dental assistant. The couple had been dating for eight months when they were killed, devastating both of their families.

There were very few clues in the case. The couple was last seen early Saturday morning leaving a bar together. They were both shot with a shotgun at close range. Despite the lack of clues, police believed they had solved the case in June of 1978. Dennis Busson was arrested for the crimes. According to police, on August 5th, 1977, just days before the murder, Busson was arrested for having an open can of beer in his vehicle. With Busson was Billy Lavaco, who was not arrested. The police theorized that Busson was angry and blamed Billy for the arrest. Dennis Busson refused to give a statement to the police, and his mother insisted he was innocent of this crime.

In August of 1979, the prosecution brought the case before a grand jury in Ohio. After the prosecution presented its case, which included a witness who said they saw Dennis commit the crime from a barn nearby the park, the grand jury insisted upon visiting the scene of the crime. “Prosecutor Stephan Gabalac Jr. said it was first time to his knowledge that a grand jury was taken to the scene of a crime” (Tucker & McBane, 1979). The grand jury members went to the location of the barn and tried to identify each other from the scene of the crime. They were not able to see clearly enough to do so, indicating the witness may not be reliable. The grand jury voted unanimously that Dennis Bunson should not be indicted for this murder. He was a free man. In 1980, he filed a lawsuit for false arrest.

Almost exactly three years after the murders of Billy Lavaco and Judy Straub, a nineteen-year-old couple from Wisconsin disappeared after a wedding reception. Tim Hack and Kelly Drew attended a wedding reception at The Concord House on the evening of August 9th, 1980. The couple left around 11 pm for a party in Fort Atkinson, but they never arrived. Tim failed to show up for church the next day, which his family found very alarming and out of character. Police in Jefferson County Wisconsin started searching for the couple on Sunday August 10th. The couple’s vehicle was found abandoned with Tim’s wallet inside. The vehicle was in good working order, further perplexing the community. Where were Tim and Kelly?



Timothy John “Tim” Hack was born March 13th, 1961, in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin. He was a 1979 graduate of Fort Atkinson High School and worked on his family’s farm. He enjoyed tractor pulling. He had been dating Kelly, born October 9th, 1960, in Newport News, Virginia. Kelly worked as a beautician and at the local Dairy Queen at the time of her disappearance.

More than two months later, on October 20th, 1980, the badly decomposing bodies of Tim Hack and Kelly Drew were found in a cornfield just off Highway 16 between Ixonia and Watertown in Wisconsin. Although the advanced decomposition made determining the cause of death difficult, authorities believed Tim had been stabbed while Kelly had been sexually assaulted and strangled. The couple were laid to rest next to each other at the Hebron Cemetery near Tim’s family farm. There were no clues as to who killed the couple, and the cold case became known as the Sweetheart Murders.

In 2009, nearly three decades after the Sweetheart Murders, the police in Wisconsin received a grant to investigate cold cases. One of the cases they reopen is the case of Tim Hack and Kelly Drew. An article was posted detailing the case and asking the public for help. They utilized funds from the grant to test Kelly Hack’s clothing, on which they found DNA from semen. They didn’t know who it belonged to, however, but they assumed it was the murderer. An article published regarding the case caught the attention of a woman living in Wisconsin.

April Balascio is the oldest of the five children of Edward and Kay Edwards. She remembers parts of her childhood that were pleasant, but other parts that were frightening. In 2009, the now adult woman saw the article about the Sweetheart Murders following the wedding reception at The Concord House. She remembers The Concord House vividly from when she was a child. On a hunch, she reaches out to police. She tells them she might be sending them on a wild goose chase, but she thinks her father may have committed the murders of Tim Hack and Kelly Drew.

Who was Edward Wayne Edwards and why would his daughter think he had anything to do with the heinous murders of the young couple? Edward Wayne Edwards was born Charles Edward Myers on June 14th, 1933, in Akron, Ohio. He was born as an illegitimate child of a single mother. When he was just a baby, his mother was sent to jail for theft and Edwards became an orphan. His mother then committed suicide when he was just two years old. He is then adopted by Fred and Mary Ethel Edwards, who change his legal name to Edward Wayne Edwards. His adoptive mother passed away from Multiple Sclerosis shortly after the adoption in 1938, however, and Edwards became an orphan once more.

At the age of seven, he was sent to the Parmadale Catholic Orphanage. Edwards claimed that he was abused by the nuns in the orphanage, claiming he was spanked and beaten by the nuns for misbehavior. He was kicked out of the orphanage at age twelve and started committing petty crimes such as theft. He was eventually sent to a juvenile detention center. He was given permission to leave the detention center if he joined the United State Military. He accepted this offer and joined the United States Marine Corp. This didn’t last long, however, and Edwards went AWOL and received a dishonorable discharge.

During his early adult years, Edwards traveled frequently, working a variety of jobs. He was sent to a federal prison in 1952 for impersonating a Marine and interstate transportation of a stolen car. In April of 1955, three years into his sentence, Edward Wayne Edwards escaped from the federal prison and started a crime streak that included several bank robberies. He made no attempts to disguise himself during the robberies, later stating he wanted to be famous. He certainly did become famous, earning a spot on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List.



Edwards was finally arrested in 1962 near Atlanta, Georgia. He was sent to Leavenworth Federal Prison to finish his sentence. Unbelievably, he was paroled just five years later in 1967. According to Edwards, however, the time in Leavenworth changed his life. He said that a guard at the prison helped him to overcome his criminal past and change his life. After his parole, he married Kay and became a motivational speaker. He wrote a book called “Metamorphosis of a Criminal”, which detailed his criminal history and reformation into a law-abiding citizen.

In the early 1970’s, Edwards was living with his wife and children and touring the country as a motivational speaker. He even had appearances on television shows including “To Tell the Truth” & “What’s My Line?”. He enjoyed his fifteen minutes of fame, but this soon came to an end. He and Kay settled in Doylestown, Ohio. He buys a nice “fixer upper” and starts to make it a home. He befriends local law enforcement and becomes an informant, providing information that led to multiple arrests for offenses like drug sales. Because of his status as a “snitch”, April remembers being told that “bad people” were after them. One time, they came home from the movies and found their home ablaze.

After the fire, the Edwards family moved. They kept moving, about every six months, in order to escape the “bad people”. The kids were told to keep the moves secret, not telling friends from their former hometowns. April recalls living in Ohio at one point, when something happened to a man that was helping her father build a house for the family. She wasn’t sure what happened, but they sold the house unfinished and moved suddenly to Florida. She remembers living in Wisconsin, where her dad worked as a janitor at The Concord House. She said one night her dad came home with a scratch on his nose and a black eye. He told his family he had been in a fight. Police officers came to the home, and he told them he had hurt himself when hunting. April doesn’t ever remember her father hunting. Once again, the family up and moved quickly, this time to Pennsylvania.

One night, Kay Edwards was in the hospital. Ed took his children camping, only to find their house ablaze upon returning home. This fire was different, however, as the perpetrators of the arson came forward, admitting their crime. The three young boys, the sons of Edward Edwards, admitted they set the home on fire at the request of his father. Ed said he had to escape as the “bad people” found them but needed money. He said he asked the boys to burn down the house so they could collect the insurance money and move. He was sent to prison in Pennsylvania for two years for arson. Years later, April learned from her brothers that the injury her mom was recovering from that night was a stab wound inflicted by her father in a fit of rage over a bag of chips.

Despite some frightening experiences, Ed Edwards tried hard to be a good father for his children. He was involved with their schools and attended their sporting events. When a young man in the neighborhood befriended Ed, Ed took a father-like role. The boy had been raised in much the same way as Edwards had, with an unstable childhood. Danny wanted to be adopted by Edwards, but the judge felt he was too old. He did change his name to Danny Boy Edwards. At Ed’s encouragement, he joined the military after high school. Unfortunately, he was injured and was facing discharge from the forces when he suddenly disappeared. His remains were found a year later in 1996 with a shot gun wound to the back of the head. April remembers her father being distraught and obsessed with the murder.

As an adult, April had put some of the bits and pieces of memories of her childhood together and realized her father was not a very good person. They were basically estranged by 2009, with Ed and Kay living in Kentucky. April felt in her gut her father had committed more serious crimes during her childhood than he had been convicted of. She started looking into cold cases in places they had lived throughout the years. That is when she came across the article about Tim Hack and Kelly Drew.

When April came forward in 2009, she explained where she lived and who her father was. As an employee at The Concord House in 1980, Ed Edwards had been questioned after the crime, but was not on the police radar of likely suspects. April remembered that night in Wisconsin when her father came home with a cut on his nose and the differing stories he gave his wife and the police. The family left the day after Edwards was questioned by the police. She remembers her father becoming obsessed with the murders of Tim Hack and Kelly Drew. The detectives were intrigued and wanted to speak to Ed Edwards once again.

Police went to Kay and Ed’s trailer in Louisville, Kentucky. Edwards is now seventy-five years old, obese, in poor health, and dependent on oxygen. He denied knowing Tim or Kelly, or anything about the murders. He also said he had never been hunting in Wisconsin. When asked to give a DNA sample, he declined. However, the police had already obtained a search warrant for his DNA and so a buccal swap was obtained for DNA comparison to the semen sample found on Kelly’s underwear. It was a perfect match.

The families of Tim Hack and Kelly Drew found some relief when Edward Wayne Edwards was arrested in August of 2009 for the 1980 murders. Edwards declines to confess to his crime or offer any remorse or explanation. He did, however, write a letter to prosecutors in Ohio. In this letter, he said that if they talked to him, they would “want to put a needle in his arm”. Ohio, unlike Wisconsin, had the death penalty.

In 2010, Ohio detectives and prosecutors came to talk to Edward Wayne Edwards. He gave a chilling confession, admitting to the 1977 murders of Billy Lavaco and Judith Straub. According to Edwards, Billy Lavaco was helping him build his home. Billy, twenty-one, was playing with his young daughter April. Ed became convinced that Billy was molesting April. He said he decided he needed to protect his children. He knew that Billy and his girlfriend Judy often drank at a bar and then went to Silver Creek Metropolitan Park to make out. One night, he followed them.

Ed said he approached the vehicle as the two were being romantic. He put a shotgun up to the window, requesting Billy get out of the car. He said Billy called him by name, telling him that he could have the four hundred dollars in Judy’s purse. Ed shot Billy and then Judy, claiming he only killed Judy for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Ed knew very specific details of the crime, proving he was the assailant. Edwards asked them to give him the death penalty. Only, Ohio did not have the death penalty when the crime occurred in 1977.

To his disappointment, Edwards still was not eligible for the death penalty and wanted badly to be transferred back to Ohio. He called a press conference with The Associated Press. He told the reporters that when Danny Boy Edwards went into the service, he took out a large life insurance policy through the military with Edwards as the beneficiary. When Danny was facing a medical discharge, he was going to lose the policy. Ed said he was out walking with Danny Boy and shot him in the chest as he bent down to get a cigarette out of his bag. Edwards collected $250,000 in insurance collections.

The State of Ohio prosecuted Edward Wayne Edwards, who was allowed to plead guilty and not contest the death penalty. He was placed on Ohio’s death row with a planned execution date in August of 2011. However, Edward Wayne Edwards died of natural causes just months before his execution on April 7th, 2011. When asked once if he offered apologies to his victims, Edwards said, “If I felt that bad about it, I wouldn’t have done it to start with”. Edward Wayne Edwards played dangerous games and left a terrible legacy for April and his other children. According to the Podcast, “The Clearing”, Kay Edwards felt a sense of relief and freedom after her husband’s arrest.

Retired detective John Cameron started looking into Ed Edwards and communicating with him during his final days. He later published a book entitled “It’s Me: Edward Wayne Edwards the Serial Killer”. In the book, Cameron claims to have linked Edwards to hundreds of murders across the United States including many high-profile cases. He claims that Edwards often set other people up for the crimes and believes Edwards to be the person responsible for The Black Dahlia Murder, The West Memphis Three, Lacy Peterson, Jon Bonet Ramsey, and Theresa Halbach’s murder for which Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey are currently imprisoned for. Other detectives and even April have stated that this is not based on factual information and there is no connection between Edwards and the hundreds of unsolved high-profile murders that Cameron claims to have linked him to.


References

Tucker, M. & McBane, R. (1979). Murder scene visit led to refusal to indict. The Akron Beacon Journal. 29 Aug 1979

Ryan, T. & Hoiles, R. (1977). Slayings ended couple’s budding romance. The Akron Beacon Journal. 08 Aug 1977

McEaneney, D. (1980). Names may be added in Norton arrest suit. The Akron Beacon Journal. 02 Apr 1980

Jaeger, R. (1980). Disappearance of Fort couple is perplexing. Wisconsin State Journal. 15 Aug 1980

Associated Press. (1980). Classmates, friends mourn Fort Atkinson teens found dead in cornfield. Chippewa Herald-Telegram. 24 Oct 1980.

Carney, J. (1979). Anger theory cited in arrest for slayings. The Akron Beacon Journal. 22 Jun 1979

The Clearing True Crime Podcast

People Magazine Investigates. My Father, the Serial Killer. Season 2 Episode 11

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