Johnny Zera, part 3

This is part 3 of Johnny Zera.  Be sure to read parts 1 and 2 first!

The next major suspect in the case wouldn’t come until 2009. 

Daniel Acker was a swim coach at the West Allis-West Milwaukee Recreation Department.  An unhappy parent had reported him to his boss for showering with the male swimmers after practice. 

Daniel Acker, 2009

Just two weeks later a man called Acker’s boss.  The man told him that he needed to know he had hired a pedophile.  The man told Acker’s boss that he had been molested by Acker when he was 12.  That was 30 years ago.

Acker’s boss reported him to the police.

Acker was brought in to the police station.  He was chatty with police offices and agreed to let them search his home. 

In the basement of Acker’s home the police found model cars and scale buildings.  When the police officers removed the roof of Acker’s miniature police station there were photos on the walls.  Each photo was of a missing or murdered child.

Scale Police Station Model in Acker’s Basement

Acker had written numbers and names on the bottoms of the model cars.  One said “14 John C Zera”.  He told police that he did this to honor the victims.  He dedicated his hobby to boys that couldn’t have hobbies anymore.

Model car with Johnny’s name in Acker’s Basement

The police also found photos and a journal written about Johnny’s murder.  They found maps of the area that had been searched after Johnny’s disappearance.  The journal was 173 pages long and began immediately after Johnny’s disappearance and continued for the next 30 years.


In 1973 Acker was kicked out of his apartment because he was partying with underage boys.  Shortly after that, the mother of a teenage boy called the police saying that Acker had asked her son to pose naked for a photo.  Acker denied the allegation and the case was closed.

1n 1974 Acker was invited back to his old apartment if he promised that he would not bring teenage boys into his home.  When boys were seen at the apartment a short time later, his landlord called the police.  Again, the case was closed on Acker after the police monitored his home for several days and came up with nothing.

Acker had been questioned by police in 1976 and had been part of a search party in the park where Johnny was later found.  He was even seen by a police officer in the exact location where Johnny was found the day after his discovery.  He passed a polygraph test and was removed from the suspect list.

Acker in the 1970s

2 months after Johnny’s murder Acker accused a patient in the mental health facility where he worked of killing Johnny.  The police did not believe him.  This is what Acker said spurred his personal investigation into Johnny’s murder and led him to start keeping the journal.

Acker wrote Johnny’s mother and father and told them about the patient.  Johnny’s mother wrote to Acker several times and the two became friends.

The patient was shown a photo of Johnny.  He said that he had never seen him before.  His doctors at the mental health facility said that he had the brain function of an 8 year old.


Some investigation into the case uncovered 3 additional victims of Acker’s from the 1970s and the police suspected that he had committed over 100 assaults in the past 30 years.  One of Acker’s current victims came forward.  He was a 19 year old male who said that he had begun sleeping with Acker when he was 15 and that they were still together.

Acker had worked as a swim coach and lifeguard.  He had also worked for the Milwaukee County Mental Health Complex and Child/Adolescent Treatment Center.

Acker confessed to having a relationship with the 19 year old when he was a minor and to more than 20 additional assaults on underage boys.  He pled no contest to 2 counts of second-degree sexual assault in 2009 and is serving a 20 year sentence in Osh Kosh State Prison.

Osh Kosh State Prison

He has never confessed to having anything to do with the death of Johnny Zera.

 A video summary of this story:

Sources/Photo Credits

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