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Where Is Billie Lynn Groff? ‘Cold Justice’ Investigates The Ohio Mom’s 1977 Disappearance
A young Ohio mom vanished 45 years ago after a July 4 community event. What happened to her?
In the summer of 1977, a young Ohio housewife and mother vanished and was never seen again. Did she leave on her own or was she murdered?
On “Cold Justice,” airing Saturdays at 8/7c on Oxygen, veteran prosecutor Kelly Siegler and homicide investigator Tonya Rider worked the 45-year-old case with Sgt. Michael Banic and Sgt. Howard Haynie of the Hubbard Police Department.
On July 4, 1977, Billie Lynn Groff, 28, a dance teacher and devoted mother of two children aged 10 and 7, went missing after a July 4 community event. She was in the process of splitting from her husband, Ed, who had been her high school sweetheart.
Despite the stigma of divorce at the time, “she was excited about her future,” said Siegler.
She added that police always suspected that Ed may have buried Billie Lynn near his mom’s house.
Until recently the Hubbard Police Department had lacked resources to execute a dig to search for remains. But then, the dig was underway when the “Cold Justice” team arrived.
Siegler and Rider reviewed the facts of the case with the local law enforcement officers. On Monday, July 4, 1977, Billie Lynn went to a church near her home to practice piano, while Ed and their kids, Michelle and Mark, went to a community ox roast.
After the event, the children rode home with their grandmother and an aunt. Billie Lynn was nowhere to be found.
Ed returned home and said he didn’t know where his wife was. He reported Billie Lynn missing two days later.
“He did not seem overly concerned about her whereabouts,” said Siegler, “but he did hand the police this four-page manifesto that outlines all of her shortcomings as a wife and a mother.”
According to Hubbard PD, Ed was highly controlling and short-tempered. When Billie Lynn filed for divorce, did that push Ed over the edge?
The team also considered the possibility that Billie Lynn ran off to escape the marital misery. Her father had given Billie Lynn $1,000 not long before she went missing. But would she leave her children behind?
Investigators spoke with Billie Lynn’s children, Michelle Kowalczyk and Mark Cianciolo, who are still grappling with losing their mom. They said their father told them not to speak of their mom and that he had fits of explosive rage.
“I don’t have anything to say [that’s] nice about him,” said Cianciolo.
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The investigators went to the dig site. Between the passage of 45 years and the vast wooded area, Siegler acknowledged that finding Billie Lynn’s remains was “going to be a heck of a challenge.”
As excavators got busy, investigators set out to contact as many witnesses as possible. After four-and-a-half decades, though, memories had faded, and the team hit a series of dead ends.
But a high school friend of both Billie Lynn and Ed recalled his need to control everything. He had once shut Billie Lynn up in a locker, she said. Another friend claimed that Billie Lynn told her Ed hit her and also showed her pictures of a broken bathroom door he’d busted.
“They just didn’t have a very healthy relationship,” the friend told investigators.
Investigators also spoke with Ann Cliness, who was the last person to talk with Billie Lynn. Rider asked her if Billie Lynn confided in her about how her husband treated her.
“He was being very abusive,”alleged Cliness. “That’s one reason she wanted to go.”
Cliness added that Billie Lynn wouldn’t abandon her kids.
Billie Lynn had planned to bring money to Cliness on July 5 to secretly keep for her. Investigators reasoned that Billie Lynn was putting together money so that she and her kids could get away.
The last thing Billie Lynn said to Cliness was ,“Here they come. I’ll see you tomorrow,” according to “Cold Justice.”
Investigators believe that she thought her family was arriving home from the festivities.
However, a timeline showed that the Groff’s children didn’t arrive home until an hour later. Had Ed managed to slip away unnoticed from the ox roast? Had something happened before the kids returned home an hour later?
Despite having conflicted feelings about talking with authorities, Ed’s sister, Janice Hutz, told investigators that she’s become less convinced her brother wasn’t involved in the disappearance.
She also said her mother expressed concern for her daughter-in-law on the day of the town party.
“She was worried about Billie,” said Hutz. “She goes, ‘Well, I saw Eddie coming out of the woods with a shovel.’ And my friend said, ‘What does she think, he killed her or something?’”
Ed’s excuse had been Billie had wanted a plant and he’d gone to the woods to get it, but Hutz didn’t believe it because he hadn’t dug up anything. Moreover, he wouldn’t be inclined to do favors for Billie Lynn since she was divorcing him.
Investigators considered the possibility that Ed had dug a grave before the ox roast.
“It seems like Ed’s perfect little alibi might not be so perfect after all,” said Siegler.
When Siegler and Banic arrived at Ed’s home, he declined to let them in and spoke to them through an upstairs window.
“I think you people are here to trick me,” he said.
Despite his reluctance to be interviewed, Ed characterized his marriage to Billie Lynn as amicable, and he said they didn’t fight. He said that she blamed him for her getting pregnant in high school.
He denied taking pictures of Billie Lynn from his kids and said they could do whatever they wanted, adding that he wasn’t upset about the divorce.
He also firmly denied being involved with his wife's innocence.
“The last time I saw her was when me and the kids left for the ox roast,” Ed said. “Now you want to arrest me? I'll come right out and you can handcuff me and take me to jail.”
Unfortunately, the dig did not reveal any new evidence.
They reviewed the case with Hubbard Police Dept. Chief Robert Thompson. In the end, the prosecutor felt that at this time there wasn’t enough evidence to move forward.
To learn more about the case, watch “Cold Justice,” airing Saturdays at 8/7c on Oxygen. You can stream episodes here.