Joshua Wade, who admitted to killing Della Brown in 2000 and was convicted in the 2007 murder of his Anchorage neighbor, Mindy Schloss, has confessed to killing three men, state and federal investigators and prosecutors said Friday. He admitted to the killings months ago as he brokered a deal with prosecutors that allowed him to move from an Alaska prison to a federal facility Outside.
In a lengthy interview with authorities, Wade took responsibility for the deaths of 38-year-old John Michael Martin in 1994, when Wade was 14, and 30-year-old Henry Ongtowasruk in 1999. Both men were mentally ill. Wade also confessed to killing an unidentified man the same night he murdered Della Brown.
Law enforcement and court officials offered few details about their investigations into Wade's claims. Anchorage police Chief Mark Mew said his department will investigate every one, but investigators aren't equally confident about all of them. The families of Martin and Ongtowasruk have been notified about Wade's confessions. Anchorage police Sgt. Slawomir Markiewicz said Martin's family, living in Washington, was encouraged by the news. Assistant Attorney General John Novak said Wade did not offer details on additional potential victims.
Police found Martin in May 1994, dead from a single gunshot wound to the back of his head. His body was next to a bike trail that runs along Northern Lights Boulevard. He had just left a Village Inn restaurant nearby when he was killed, according to an Anchorage Daily News story from that time.
Martin was a regular at the Village Inn for at least five years, according to the story. He often came in during the daytime and evening to have coffee with friends. The night his body was spotted by a passing motorist, there had been no indication he was upset or that anyone around him was upset, the story said. He left the restaurant to walk home around 2:30 a.m. His body was discovered 30 minutes later.
Police said Martin was unemployed but not homeless. Martin suffered from schizophrenia and had been unemployed for years despite his efforts to find a job, his sister, Joan Woodard, told the Daily News in another report. Most of his friends were outpatients at Southcentral Counseling, where he was treated for mental illness, the story said.
Fliers were posted around town with Martin's picture. Detective Leo Brandlen said at the time he had no clues after Martin's death and had exhausted all leads.
Ongtowasruk's body was discovered in December 1999 in Room 221 of Alaska Budget Motel in Fairview, according to a Daily News story. A maintenance worker at the motel found the body. The state medical examiner determined that the man had been killed and had been dead for two days.
Ongtowasruk had been staying at the motel for a week or more at a time over the previous couple of years. He reportedly had a mental health case manager, and his $194 weekly rent at the motel, at East Fourth Avenue and Gambell Street, was paid by the state.
According to Ongtowasruk's obituary, he was born in the northwestern Alaska village of Wales. His family wrote: "Henry's boyhood was carefree and he was happiest outdoors, no matter what the season ... Henry will be remembered by many for his ability to figure out the Rubik's Cube and later on timing himself."
Wade said he killed the third man on the night of Brown's death. He said the victim was with him in the Spenard shed where he'd killed Brown; he knocked him out and put him in the trunk of his car, then later stomped on his head when the man began "thumping" around in the trunk.
"I drove out to the Valley, found a spot, took the guy out, took his clothes off and shot him in the head two times with a shotgun and pretty much took everything from the shoulders up," he told KTVA in a phone interview.
"It didn't really bother me," Wade told the station about one of the killings, adding that he didn't view himself as a serial killer. He told the station he'd made the admissions to get out of state custody, where he said he wasn't being treated well.
In exchange for his confessions, Wade, 34, has been shipped to a federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana. Alaska Department of Corrections and Federal Bureau of Prison records show Wade was transferred from Spring Creek Correctional Facility in Seward in February.
Novak said authorities held off discussing Wade's claims due to a pending state case. The prosecutor said Wade had filed a notice for post-conviction relief; he was trying to backtrack on his prior confessions of killing the two women. That case was dismissed June 10, Novak said.
In 2010, during a testy exchange at his sentencing for killing Schloss and Brown, Wade hinted that he might have more victims.
When U.S. District Court Judge Ralph Beistline called Wade a coward, someone who preyed on defenseless women, it hit a nerve. A burst of emotion got the best of Wade.
"Don't push it," he blurted, teary-eyed. "What about the men?"
Head U.S. district attorney in Alaska Karen Loeffler declined to comment on Wade's motivation for killing the men Friday but said his actions were "situational" as opposed to predatory.
Officials said they have yet to discuss whether Wade will be tried for the deaths of Martin and Ongtowasruk if his confessions are found to be true. Novak said legal action would be discussed but authorities were focused on providing closure for the victims' families.
"How many life sentences can somebody get?" Novak remarked, adding that Wade, a defendant with whom he's become intimately familiar during 14 years of legal proceedings, would certainly "take his last breath in a cage."
Wade has no hope of release. He faced twin trials in 2009 in state and federal court related to the Schloss killing. In state court, he faced a murder charge. In federal court, it was a carjacking charge. Alaska has no death penalty but because Schloss died during a carjacking, Wade became eligible in the federal system for death.
To avoid death row, Wade agreed to admit to killing Schloss and to killing Brown -- whose murder he'd previously been acquitted of in state court. The deal called for Wade to immediately go into federal custody if he ever left the state system. He faces life sentences in both jurisdictions.
Wade got a rough start in life, according to court testimony. A young victim of sexual abuse, he'd tried to commit suicide as a boy and spent much of his youth in and out of juvenile detention and treatment facilities.
He was 19 and, according to his claims, had already killed Martin and Ongtowasruk when he first saw Brown. He was driving through Spenard with a group of acquaintances, according to their testimony in the 2003 murder trial. He went back, supposedly to rob her, and ended up smashing her head in with a rock, leaving her body in an abandoned, trash-filled shed, prosecutors said then. She was alive when he first encountered her but unconscious from a mix of cocaine and alcohol. He left her there, half naked, and paraded a stream of acquaintances through to look at the body.
Brown's murder was one in a string of six unsolved homicides of local women at the time, five of whom were Alaska Native. After reading a newspaper story about the deaths, Wade had made an admission to an acquaintance that in addition to Brown, he'd known one of the women. That prompted an inquiry into whether Wade had anything to do with the other cases.
During the Brown trial, Wade's defense attorneys characterized him as a big talker who would say anything to impress his new, criminal-minded friends. Nothing ever came of the suggestion that he might be connected to the other murders. A jury acquitted him of murder, sexual assault and robbery in connection with Brown's death. Only one of the 13 charges levied against him stuck: tampering with evidence. That landed him a prison sentence of 6½ years.
By 2007, Wade had just completed probation in the Brown case when he moved next door to Schloss, according to court testimony. One night, upset over being broke and having a rough time at work, Wade crept into Schloss' home to rob her. He restrained her with zip ties, forced her ATM card and PIN number from her, then stuffed her, alive but tied up and wearing only a bathrobe, into the rear seat of her red Acura Integra. Wade drove more than an hour north of Anchorage to an undeveloped cul-de-sac, marched her into the woods and shot her in the back of the head with a .45 caliber Glock. After she died, he burned the body, prosecutors said.
By JERZY SHEDLOCK and JILL BURKE
Alaska Dispatch/Anchorage Daily News