"We know you're a coward by the fact you have killed defenseless women," Judge Ralph Beistline told Joshua Wade in a 2010 sentencing hearing.
Wade's voice buckled with emotion. “What about the men?”
The judge paused for a moment, processing the shocking statement, and then he managed a response. "I don't know, tell me about the men you killed."
Little more was said at that moment, but almost immediately after the heated exchange in an Anchorage courtroom – which came while the judge was announcing Wade's life sentence for admitting the murders of Della Brown in 2000 and Mindy Schloss in 2007 – the Alaska law enforcement community came together to discuss whether there was any substance to Wade's claim. The conversation eventually grew into a full-fledged investigation that involved local, state and federal agencies.
Friday morning, in an Anchorage Police Department conference room crowded with more than a dozen journalists, leaders from four agencies announced that there may be something to Wade's claims.
Police investigators and government lawyers believe strongly enough that Wade has additional victims that they brokered a deal to allow his transfer out of state custody and into the federal prison system, though his life sentence remains intact.
“He got something that we don’t care about, and in exchange we got three things that we do care about,” APD Chief Mark Mew said.
The three things are confessions to the murder of three men in separate incidents over a six-year span.
Around 2:30 a.m. on May 11, 1994, 38-year-old John Michael Martin left the Village Inn on Northern Lights Boulevard, where he had ordered coffee.
"He came in all the time with some friends of his, and they'd sit down and have coffee and chat, and that was about it," a Village Inn employee told former KTUU reporter Tim Haas at the time. He was "pretty quiet and to himself, never caused us a lot of problems."
But on the walk home, somewhere on a bike path not far from the road, Martin was shot dead with a single bullet to the head, a shot Wade claims he fired when he was just 14 years old.
"There was no incident that happened, no argument, no fight that we are aware of," former APD spokesperson JoAnn Brandlen said at the time. "It doesn't appear to have been any problems at all going on in his life that would have been related to this."
A cross marking the grave of Henry Ongtowasruk in Wales, Alaska. (FindAGrave.com)
A wooden cross bearing the name Henry Ongtowasruk stands in Wales, a community on the western tip of the Seward Peninsula.
The Anchorage Daily News reports that in Ongtowasruk's obituary he was remembered by his family as “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,” the family wrote.
On Nov. 30, 1999, when Ongtowasruk was 30 years old, he was found dead in a room he rented at an Anchorage motel.
He was strangled, and the case joined the roster of unsolved Alaska homicides.
Wade now takes credit for killing Ongtowasruk, though a motive is not publicly available while the renewed investigation continues.
A family member contacted by KTUU did not want to speak publicly but called the news "closure."
A photo of the motel where Henry Ongtowasruk was found dead in 1999. (KTUU file)
WADE'S EVOLVING STORIES
Della Brown's head was bashed with a rock until the 33-year-old died in a Spenard shed. That was in September 2000, and Wade initially admitted to the crime to acquaintances, who he brought to see her body.
But Wade changed his story, recanting his confession, and he ended up being acquitted of the murder charge after a jury trial and instead went to prison for evidence tampering.
He was released in December 2006, and by August 2007, 52-year-old nurse Mindy Schloss disappeared. Wade was arrested weeks later for using her ATM card, setting into motion an investigation that eventually led to Wade's admission of guilt in both murders.
Those killings were random, though there are few details about the ongoing investigation into the three additional murders Wade claims he committed.
On the same night he murdered Brown, Wade now also claims he killed a man whose identity known to police, bringing his number of victims to five.
Mindy Schloss (above) and Della Brown (below) are Wade's two confirmed victims. (KTUU file)
Officials at the press conference Friday said investigators are following up on all of Wade's claims.
"Just because somebody confessed to something it doesn't mean they acted on it or necessarily did it," said John Novak, "It has to be corroborated."
Even with the uncertainty of the claims, officials said they believe what he says to varying degrees and that it is worth a gamble to potentially give closure for families plagued by questions of what happened to a loved one.
"I don't really care what his motivation was (for striking a deal)," U.S. Attorney Karen Loeffler said. "I just care that he doesn't get out."
And while officials admit that Wade may view a transfer to federal custody as a victory for himself, they emphasize that he will remain incarcerated somewhere.
John Novak, assistant attorney general for the State of Alaska, has followed the cases against Wade for 14 years and said the array of agencies involved is unified in their goal.
“We all want to do everything that we possibly can to make sure that he’s never out in the community again, that he takes his last breath in a cage,” Novak said.
Wade is behind bars in a federal prison in Indiana.
U.S. Attorney Karen Loeffler (R) and State of Alaska assistant attorney general John Novak tell media about Joshua Wade's claim that he killed three men. (Austin Baird photo)