UNION COUNTY, NJ — Tears streamed down Matt Ballister’s face as he cried out: “I loved her.”
The 47-year-old Ballister, accused of killing and dismembering April Wyckoff nearly four years ago, collapsed under questioning by Union County Prosecutor Scott Peterson.
“I didn’t mean to do it,” he said. “This wasn’t supposed to happen. I have made a life for myself.”
That statement came Oct. 13, at the end of the second full week of testimony in Ballister’s murder trial. Wyckoff, 43, was Ballister’s girlfriend of almost two years. Her dismembered body was found in five black garbage bags near 155 Raymond Boulevard in Newark, near the Passaic River in 2013.
John McCabe, deputy chief of investigators for Union County Prosecutor’s Office, and Union police Director Daniel Zieser spotted the garbage bags five days after the date officials believe she was killed, Oct. 22, 2013.
During Ballister’s two-day testimony on Oct. 12 and 13, he described how he dismembered Wyckoff with a saw and sharp knife in his two-car garage at 375 Mercer Ave. in Union.
He detailed the moments following her death as a “nightmare-like state,” and described his dismembering of Wyckoff as a compulsion. Ballister said he was incited by the trauma of, what he called her accidental death and a drug-induced hysteria.
According to Ballister, both he and Wyckoff had been on a “drug binge,” spanning three days from Oct 20 to 22, 2013. During that time, the couple continuously smoked, snorted and injected cocaine in their home and at the Benedict Motel in Linden, spending approximately $2,500 to $3,000 on vials of cocaine within the three days.
Throughout the three-day time frame, Ballister said he and Wyckoff argued about what he believed was Wyckoff’s infidelity, and during one of the fights, she stabbed herself with his pocket knife outside the Benedict Hotel in his car. The fight reignited Oct. 22, when Wyckoff dialed 9-1-1 from Ballister’s home.
Ballister claimed that he placed her in the back seat of his car. He said he planned to seek medical attention for their drug addiction and for Wyckoff’s stab wounds. However, when he went back into the house to retrieve his keys, she climbed out of the backseat of his Hummer and hid under the car; when Ballister proceeded to reverse out of his driveway, he ran over Wyckoff.
The 9-1-1 phone call was played during Peterson’s opening statements. On the recording, Wyckoff could be heard screaming and telling the police her Mercer Avenue location with Ballister’s voice in the background asking: “Who are you talking to you?”
The couple met online in spring 2012 and, according to the Oct 11 testimony of Wyckoff’s daughter, Ashley Purachev, the couple had been on and off, indicated by Wyckoff’s having taken an apartment in Cranford. Purachev said her mother transitioned between staying at Ballister’s house and her own apartment.
Purachev also testified to a missing piece of surveillance equipment Ballister had kept in his upstairs closet prior to Wyckoff’s death.
Peterson cross-examined Ballister on his testimony about the night of Wyckoff’s death and read a phone transcript from the night of Oct. 22, after Wyckoff’s 9-1-1 call, when police contacted Ballister. When asked if he knew Wyckoff’s whereabouts, Ballister said he hadn’t seen her, and that she may have been with her boyfriend in New Brunswick.
After her death, Ballister was seen on multiple surveillance footage cameras collected in Newark, Jersey City and at The Home Depot Store on Route 22 in Watchung, where the prosecution produced a receipt for $72 worth of cleaning products such as bleach, carpet cleaner and Clorox wipes.
Ballister said he had used the cleaning products on his floors prior to the police arriving at his home, claiming they were for cleaning up after his dogs, who had defecated inside the house.
Later that night, Ballister went to visit his mother, Eleanor
Schofield, in Mountainside, where he cleaned out his Hummer. Outside Schofield’s house, detectives found Ballister’s bloodied sneakers, jeans and Wyckoff’s passport in Schofield’s outdoor garbage cans.
Despite Ballister’s testimony indicating his mother had come to his house the night of Wyckoff’s death, Schofield vehemently denies having any involvement and is currently facing charges of hindering the police investigation of Wyckoff’s death.
Schofield said she is accused of hiding a bloody mattress cover that her son had placed in her car, a previous NJ.com article reported.
Dr. Junaid Shaikh, the Union County medical examiner, testified that Wyckoff’s autopsy revealed blunt force trauma, sharp force trauma and multiple injuries as her cause of death.
Shaikah recalled the police discovering bags of Wyckoff’s body parts and said he received a phone call Sunday, Oct. 27, at around 3:04 p.m. that brought him to the scene in Newark.
He described the heft of the five individual black garbage bags tied by white cord, and stated that one bag had been torn open, possibly by a rodent. The tear allowed some of the contents to fall out, such as Wyckoff’s severed left thigh.
Shaikah said other bags contained most of Wyckoff’s body, including her head, right thigh and right side of her body, from the knee to her foot. Another bag contained alcohol wipes, fragments of plastic, four fingertips and other items. Not included in the bags was Wyckoff’s torso.
An evaluation revealed several stab wounds on the recovered thigh, precise sharp incisions on the lips, bruises and multiple fractures on the facial region.
Defense attorney Thomas Russo indicated that he believed the evidence presented showed the most extensive injury as the crushing of the head, which he suggested was caused by Ballister’s vehicle.
Prior to Ballister’s second day of testimony, Russo reiterated to state Superior Court Judge Stuart Piem that he and Ballister didn’t have a strong attorney-client relationship. He said Ballister had requested that Russo obtain experts on drug addiction to speak about his pathological state, but Russo was unable to obtain one.