First case solved: Roxanne Wood

Roxanne Leigh Wood was known as Rock to those in her circle.  She was born in Niles, Michigan and graduated from Niles High School in 1974. Roxanne worked in customer service for Automated Molded Plastics, Co., not far from the state line in South Bend, Indiana. 

Roxanne Wood

She was married to Terry Wood, and her friends said she loved flowers and was particularly proud of the rose bushes she grew. She enjoyed cooking and baking and shared family recipes with friends. One of her favorite songs was Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive.”

On February 19, 1987, Roxanne was 30 years old.

That evening, Roxanne and her husband, Terry, went to dinner then to their favorite bowling alley in Niles. She left the bowling alley and headed home first, as the pair had driven separately. When Terry followed her 45 minutes later, he discovered that his wife had been murdered after being attacked in their kitchen and beaten with a frying pan.  Her throat was slashed and she had been raped.

For 34 years, Roxanne’s killer remained elusive. Roxanne’s husband, Terry, lived under a cloud of suspicion. The Michigan State Police (MSP) reopened the investigation in 2000 but were unsuccessful in finding her killer.   

The case was reopened in 2020 but this time MSP took a different approach.   Detective First Lieutenant Chuck Christensen and Dr. Ashlyn Kuersten of Western Michigan University (WMU) teamed up in a new partnership and Roxanne’s case was their first case.  MSP provided WMU’s team with all of their case files. Student investigators took boxes of loose paper files and organized them chronologically into binders over 3,000 pages in length. The students scanned the massive case file and converted it into a searchable digital format. The digital file was game changing for detectives—it was searchable, portable and made sifting through the available information far more practical. 

Student investigators also read through Roxanne’s file in total, familiarizing themselves with the details of the case. They took their own extensive notes and did follow-up research via internet sources. Meetings with detectives allowed for student investigators to bring up any questions or inconsistencies, and for the group to discuss the case.

What was also game changing in this case was that MSP also enlisted the help of Identifinders International, Dr. Colleen Fitzpatrick’s California-based genetic genealogy company. The perpetrator had left DNA evidence at the scene of Roxanne’s murder, but the sample was degraded. In what would turn out to be a landmark case, Identifinders successfully were able to test the sample using the lowest amount of DNA to date.  They found a possible family connection.  A genealogist was able to finally give MSP the name of a possible suspect. 

Patrick Wayne Gilham

MSP immediately collected a cigarette butt the Defendant had discarded and verified that the person who had left his DNA at Roxanne’s murder scene was 67-year-old Patrick Wayne Gilham.

Gilham was arrested for Roxanne Wood’s murder in South Bend, Indiana on February 17th, 2022, almost 35 years exactly from the day of Roxanne’s murder.  After pleading no contest to second-degree murder, he was sentenced in April to a minimum of 23 years. Gilham had previously committed a similar crime in 1980 in which he entered a woman’s home and sexually assaulted.  However, in that case the victim survived the attack and became the primary witness against him.  Gilham was incarcerated for that crime but was released early.  Six months after his release, he murdered Roxanne.

The identification of Gilham not only brought Roxanne’s killer to justice, but it cleared Terry Wood’s name after 35 years of suspicion.