Steven Goff, 41, of Ventnor, turned himself in to police Monday and confessed to the 1990 stabbing of 15-year-old Frederick "Ricky" Hart in Galloway Township.
In a telephone call from jail Monday night to his friend Alan Rickel, Goff confided that he was tortured by what he had done, Rickel said.
"He couldn't bear it anymore," Rickel told The Associated Press on Wednesday. "He told me he had nightmares. He'd go to sleep and see the kid's mother staring in his face."
Goff had said goodbye to his friend at a lunch they shared on Friday.
"He said, 'Al, you're not going to see me anymore. I'm going to do something that will shock the world,'" Rickel said.
Rickel said he knew Goff had psychological problems, and figured he was going through one of his periodic dark spells. Then Sunday morning, Goff called Rickel from northern Michigan. He said he had been heading for the Canadian border but changed his mind and decided to return to New Jersey and take responsibility for having done something horrible, Rickel said.
"He said he was going to meet his maker and 'fess up to what he had done," Rickel said. "I said, 'I don't know what you're talking about, but just come back and I'll get you some medicine and some help.' I thought he might be having a psychotic breakdown. He said, 'No, it's much worse than that.'"
Rickel said he wired his friend $500 to help him get back home. The next call he got was from Galloway Township police on Monday, saying Goff had confessed to a cold-case murder. Police and investigators from the Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office said Goff had told him details about the case that only the real killer would have known, Rickel said.
Goff was charged with murder and a weapons offense for stabbing Hart in the woods behind a condominium complex on May 7, 1990. At a court appearance scheduled to present the charges to him, Goff surprised the judge by confessing and saying he was ready to enter a guilty plea, sobbing lightly as he said, "I did the crime."
Superior Court Judge Michael Donio advised Goff that he had to wait until being indicted by a grand jury before he could enter a plea. The prosecutor's office said no further court appearances or grand jury proceedings had been scheduled as of Wednesday.
Goff called Rickel again from jail on Wednesday, reiterating that he was wracked by guilt and simply could not endure it any longer, Rickel said.
"He said it's been gnawing at him for years," Rickel said.
Goff was nearly 18 at the time of the killing. He was a senior at Absegami High School, where Hart was a freshman.
Hart was reported missing the next day, but it was not until a year and a half later that his remains were discovered by a hunter. By that point, a cause of death could not be determined.
Rickel met Goff 10 years ago and the two became friends. He said Goff was a skilled mechanic, plumber and electrician. But every once in a while, Goff would have what his friend described as "a rough spell."
"I always thought it was that he was a moody guy, but now it's obvious that it was because of this," he said. "He had some demons in him."
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC