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Worth More Dead Than Alive

Kevin Knoefel Sits in Jail After Allegedly Beginning a Relationship With his Foster Daughter and Convincing Her to Murder His Wife

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Her parents didn't live together. Sabrina grew up with her father and grandmother in a small house on Regent Road in Wickliffe.

"The police were over here a lot," says a neighbor of Zunich's childhood home. "Mark was always drunk"

According to a 2006 police incident report, Mark Zunich was a paranoid schizophrenic and hadn't been taking his medication when he again got violent with Edwards, described in the report as "his girlfriend and mother of their 11-year-old daughter."

They had gotten into an argument over alcohol. Edwards was given money to buy some booze and Mark accused her of stealing it. "As Mark was yelling at Edwards, he grabbed her hair and pulled a large amount of hair out of her head."

When cops were there, he was yelling, "Leave my house and never come back," and, "You and your friends can suck my cock" and told police his girlfriend's friends were "murderers for hire." Edwards said he yelled like that even when sober, and his mother, Anna, said he "needed to see a doctor about his mental state."

Other recent incident reports from the Wickliffe police department include a 2007 arrest for shattering a glass door of Lino's Tavern and screaming at the responding officers. A 2010 drunk driving arrest had neighbors witnessing Zunich driving with two flat tires across three yards on one side of the street and another yard on the other. Zunich didn't remember driving or know why officers showed up. He has a number of arrests from the Willowick police department, including the time he was staggering drunk, angry and attempting to tear down street signs.

Mark Zunich died in 2012. His neighbor said it was a drug overdose. His daughter was out of the house by then.

"It's been a couple years since she's been gone," says the Regent Road neighbor about Sabrina—she lived in a county-run group home for some time before the Knoefels took her in. "I think she got to be too much for the grandma."

Some time when she was a student at Wickliffe High School, she was sent to Emma Caley Receiving Home in Painesville, Lake County's youth group home for "structured behavior modification." She was there "for a year or so," a former resident of the home said.

She had an anger problem and would get in fights, several of her friends from both in and out of school told Scene.

"I know she had a big anger issue and threatened to fight me a few times," one acquaintance says. "She did say she isn't someone to mess with, nor anyone in her life that she loves, because she'll make me or anyone pay."

Another friend from Wickliffe High School, who we'll call Sam to protect his identity, says he had to break up a few fights for her at school ("I had her back," he says). Sam also lived at Caley with Sabrina and got to know her well; he even hung out with her at the Knoefel house just weeks before the murder.

"She made them think she had a lot of problems because she wanted to not be there," Sam said about Sabrina being a pain to Caley staff so they would try to get rid of her sooner. "She portrayed herself as kind of a mean person to them."

The circumstances behind exactly when and how Sabrina ended up living with the Knoefels are still a little unclear, though her attorney said she had been living with them for about a year before the attack and had transferred to Willoughby South.

Until they got the call that one of their students was arrested for murder, Willoughby South administrators had no clue Sabrina had problems.

"She was never in trouble, not once," says assistant principal Dave Miller, clicking through old records on his office computer. "She was never even tardy. She had never missed a day or was even tardy up to that point, she had perfect attendance."

Unlike during her time at Wickliffe, she stayed out of trouble at school.

She just kind of blended in. "She'd sit down there in the cafeteria and sometimes be with people but all the time she would just be doing her schoolwork. She kind of kept to herself, but you'd never think there was any type of issue going on."

Her friend Sam says the Knoefel house was a good place, but he painted a bleaker picture of Sabrina's life after she left the Lake County group home. She got into hard drugs. She hung out with a guy who friends say was a bad influence. (Records for that guy show he was recently arrested several times for disorderly conduct, assault, burglary, and receiving stolen property)

When Sabrina ran low on drugs and didn't get enough money from Kevin, Sam claims, she turned to Craigslist to try and score funds. "I was talking to her about it one day, she was asking me if she could get in trouble for what she was doing."

"I thought it was the meth she was doing," he says about when he heard the news that Sabrina killed her foster mom. He didn't know it was much more complicated and sinister than that.

***

Lisa Knoefel was a longtime social worker for the Cuyahoga County Department of Children and Family Services. She worked in the sex abuse department.

"In that department they deal with a lot of incest cases," says co-worker Mike Bokmiller about Lisa's job. "They are continually working to make sure that kids who are involved with incest are always receiving the services and protection they need. She's worked with quite a few kids who were in custody because they were victims and quite a few who were in custody because they were offenders."

Bokmiller started working there nearly 13 years ago. Lisa had been there a couple years before him.

"She, specifically, was incredibly compassionate," he says. "I would say we all should be at our job, but the reality is not all of us are. You've got to be real quick on your toes, because you're not going to get a lot of truth or cooperation out of people who will not protect their kids or out of people who are abusing their kids."

Lisa's first child was born in 1999, around when she first started the job, during her first marriage to Nick Zanella, which ended in divorce in 2003. In 2006, she married Kevin Knoefel.

Kevin had been married between 1992 and 1997. His first child, born in 1993, lives with his mom in Mentor. According to records obtained from the attorney general, Knoefel made nearly $51,000 yearly driving a truck for Gordon Food Services based out of Cleveland and $19,000 working for National Express, a bus company.

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