Karin Strom Murder: Edward Owens’ DNA Solved 1980 Homicide

Investigation Discovery’s ‘Nightmare Next Door: Killer on South 1200 West’ features the brutal murder of 25-year-old Karin Strom inside her marital Wood Cross, Utah apartment in early June 1980. Touted as the first homicide case of the quaint town, the authorities took almost three decades before they could bring her killer to justice. The episode features interviews with Karin’s family members, friends, and police detectives involved with the probe to provide a clear and comprehensive view of the case.

How Did Karin Strom Die?

Karin Ann (née Saltzgiver) Strom was born to the late Dave Saltzgiver and Mary Ann Saltzgiver in Salt Lake City in Salt Lake County, Utah, on December 5, 1954. She and her sister, Colleen “Coco” Saltzgiver, grew up in Bountiful, Utah. Coco recalled on the show how Karin was her “everything” while in tears as she reminisced about their childhood and how they were always there for each other. The sister was proud as she recounted how beautiful her elder sibling, Karin, was and her popularity, kindness, and other virtues.

According to the show, Karin, then 17, began a relationship with her future husband, Steven Dale Strom, in 1972 while both were students at Viewmont High School. Despite Coco’s reservations about her sister’s lover, he and Karin got hitched after the latter graduated from school in 1973. After marriage, the Stroms shifted to a modest home in Wood Cross, Utah, just nine miles north of Salt Lake City. The bedroom community had always prided itself in being one of the nation’s last bastions still untouched by violent crime.

The episode noted how the young Strom couple worked hard to pay their bills, with her being employed with the state while he worked the graveyard shift as a machinist at a local aeronautics plant. While the Stroms seemed to have been living the American dream, all of it changed on the fateful morning of June 6, 1980. Just a few days after their seventh anniversary, the Wood Cross had its first homicide when Steven returned home to find his 25-year-old wife dead. She had been strangled, and there were bloody abrasions and scratches on her neck.

Who Killed Karin Strom?

The investigators interviewed Steven to learn he had last seen his wife on June 5 evening before he went to work. He claimed he and Karin had a pleasant evening, with her already in bed when he left. Steven returned home the following morning to find the front door locked as he had left it. Upon entering, he saw nothing unusual before he reached the bedroom to find Karin lying on the floor with blood around her neck. When the police entered the bedroom, they immediately noticed signs of struggle inside, indicating Karin had fought for her life.

The medical examiner observed Karin had torn fingernails and bruising on her legs and feet. Coupled with the body injuries, the broken bed rungs, and the overturned television, the investigators initially thought it might have been a robbery gone wrong. However, that theory was discarded after Steven reported nothing stolen, and everything pointed toward a personal attack. While the Wood Cross police still searched for potential leads, Coco arrived and pointed her finger at the most unusual suspect — Karin’s husband, Steven Strom.

According to Coco, Steven was quiet and introverted until he started to drink. The liquid courage unleashed the abusive husband with him, and his alleged alcoholism and short temper had often resulted in bitter arguments. While she did not have any proof, Coco even alleged Steven might have been physically abusing her sister till the latter allegedly wanted a divorce around three months before her murder. She stated her elder sister had been living with their murder but returned to her marital home out of pity toward her husband.

The police also learned about Karin’s new love interest, with Coco claiming Steven killed Karin out of jealousy. However, he outright denied physically abusing Karin and claimed they had been on the path of reconciliation. After verifying he was at work on the night of the murder, the police released Steven due to a lack of evidence. Amongst the other people the police interviewed was Edward Lewis Owens, a close friend of Steven’s, with potential access to the house. He claimed he left work around 8:00 pm and spent the evening drinking at a bar.

But the police found suspicious scratches on his arms and face, though he attributed them to his hazardous job at a manufacturing plant. When his colleagues confirmed his alibi, the police shifted their focus from Edward. New evidence implicated Steven — his fingerprints inside the home and a failed polygraph test. Statements from her co-workers revealed Steven had once choked her, suggesting a history of violence. The authorities tracked him to an apartment, leading to a three-hour standoff before Steven eventually surrendered.

Image Credit: KSL News

A setback occurred six months later when a judge ruled against using the co-workers’ testimony in the trial. The prosecutors reluctantly released Steve to avoid the risk of him being acquitted, thereby forfeiting another trial. After lying dormant for two decades, the case was revived in 2006 with technological advancements. Testing material found beneath Karin’s nails revealed a shocking revelation — DNA belonging to Steven and Edward. Further testing uncovered the majority of the DNA being Edward’s, specifically in the form of seminal fluid.

Contacting his co-workers revealed inconsistencies in his alibi, as they couldn’t confirm his presence at the bar all night. Moreover, the investigators found he had told his colleagues that the scratches were caused by his dog, thus contradicting his initial claim. Edward, agreeing to speak with authorities, failed to appear for the interview and subsequently fled to Mexico, abandoning his wife. A warrant led to Edward’s arrest upon his return, and he was charged with Karin’s murder in 2007, nearly three decades after the crime.

Where is Edward Owens Today?

However, the prosecution was thrown off-guard when Edward’s lawyers claimed their client and Karin had been having an affair, blaming a jealous Steven for the murder. They decided to drop the charges and find evidence to build a stronger case. Speaking with friends, the police learned an affair was unlikely, and they had their break when forensics found Edward’s blood on Karin’s underwear. The authorities claimed a drunk Edward killed her after Karin fought back when he attempted to sexually assault her. They arrested him again within eight months.

Edward was convicted of murder on April 2, 2009, and he was sentenced to five years to life, according to the 1980 statutes. During his late May 2009 sentencing, he attempted to play his last card — he confessed to killing Karin but claimed Steven had offered him money for the murder. He claimed he visited Karin to warn her about the plot but ended up strangling her after an argument. Davis County prosecutors dismissed his allegations after a thorough investigation in August 2009. Edward Owens, now 72, is presumed to be out on parole.

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