Remains of Cranford homicide victim found in Newark

UNION – A woman’s dismembered body found in Newark Sunday, Oct 27, was officially identified by police authorities as the slain body of homicide victim April Wyckoff, 43, from Cranford.

“Human remains recovered in Newark on Sunday have been identified as belonging to the Cranford woman who was the victim of a homicide in Union Township last week,” according to a press release from acting Union County Prosecutor Grace H. Park.

Suspect Matthew Ballister III, 43, remained in the county jail this morning on $2 million bail while the Essex County Medical Examiner conducted an autopsy. Union County Prosecutor’s Office spokesperson Mark Spivey said earlier this morning he expected an update would be released on the murder.

Sources close to the investigation reported  that while there were body parts found, the torso was missing from the grisly remains found along a stretch of Raymond Boulevard close to several major state road intersections, including Routes 1 and 9, and near a branch of the Passaic River.

“The discovery followed an intensive search involving more than 200 municipal, county and state law-enforcement representatives combing through multiple areas in Hudson, Essex and Union counties,” the prosecutor’s office said in their release.

Wycoff’s car, with the engine running and a door open, was found last week in Newark about a mile from where the dismembered body was discovered. Raymond Boulevard runs through downtown Newark, but the location of the body was found in a more deserted, industrial area.

Over the weekend an intensive search continued in three counties, including Union, Essex and Hudson. Saturday sources indicated that the Union County search had extended to the Watchung Reservation.

According to one prosecutor’s office source involved with the investigation, based on Ballister’s mobile phone bouncing off cell towers, authorities know the 43-year-old Mercer Avenue resident spent the early morning hours of Wednesday Oct. 23 driving through Union, Essex and Hudson counties. It was also during this period of time that police believe Ballister ditched Wyckoff’s car in Newark, leaving the door open and engine running.

Liberty Park was zeroed in on for a more intensive search for Wyckoff’s body because cell phone records showed Ballister stopped in the park long enough to have disposed of Wycoff’s body.

Friday the Union County Prosecutor’s Office said there was enough evidence to indicate the method of murder was blunt force trauma and Ballister, charged with first degree murder and being held on $2 million bail in the county jail, killed Wyckoff in his Mercer Avenue home sometime Tuesday evening.

The only eyewitnesses to possible timing of the homicide were nearby neighbors who came home after dark Tuesday evening and saw a woman’s body clad in a bra and panties under Ballister’s Hummer. The witnesses, though, did not report what they saw to police until the following afternoon, Wednesday Oct. 23, according to officials.

At that point police say they converged on the Mercer Avenue residence with guns drawn and Ballister was eventually taken into custody and charged with Wyckoff’s murder.

A Kenilworth police source reported their department received a dropped 9-1-1 call Tuesday evening from Wyckoff’s cell phone, which was followed up on by the prosecutor’s office and is part of the ongoing investigation.

Police authorities are still searching for Ballister’s 2005 pale green Hummer H2, New Jersey license plate J29-CSS, which remains missing.

His mother, Eleanor Schofield, of Mountainside, was charged with fourth-degree hindering apprehension for allegedly interfering with the investigation by helping to conceal evidence of the crime. She was released on $1,500 bail on Friday.

According to sources, Wyckoff had an off and on tumultuous and often violent relationship with Ballister for several years. In fact, in May the Cranford mother filed a domestic violence charge against Ballister and a restraining order was issued against the Union man.

However, according to information obtained by LocalSource, Wyckoff, who graduated from Cranford High School, recently moved to Berkley Place in Cranford, had begun seeing Ballister again in recent weeks.

Authorities urge anyone who had contact with Ballister or Schofield between Tuesday night and Wednesday night to contact Union County Prosecutor’s Office Detective Robert Henderson 908-527-4126 or 908-347-2686. Also, anyone who sees an abandoned vehicle resembling the 2005 Hummer H2 should call the same number.