Roxanne Wood

The Crime

The evening of February 19th, 1987, Roxanne Wood and her husband Terry met for dinner then headed to their favorite local bowling alley to meet friends.  Roxanne left for home than her husband as they had driven separate vehicles.  When Terry arrived at their home 45 minutes after Roxanne he found an unimaginable scene. 

After receiving a call from Terry, Michigan State Police (MSP) concluded Roxanne had been assaulted, raped, and died when her throat was slashed. The only evidence left at the scene was a broken frying pan, a knife found in the freezer, semen, and a blood stain on the outside of their backdoor. Their first suspect was Roxanne’s husband, Terry, since he was the last person to talk to her.  He would remain the primary suspect for the next 35 years. 

The Victim

Roxanne Woods was born and raised in Niles, Michigan. She graduated from Niles High School in 1974 and married Terry shortly after that.  She was described as a fun, generous sister, daughter, wife, and friend by many. Her friends and family said Roxanne 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.”

The Cold Case

Though Roxanne’s murder was examined by multiple detectives, each piece of evidence ultimately led to dead-ends for over 35 years.  MSP ultimately concluded that they would wait for more advanced technology to evaluate the evidence that existed from the case. 

In 2020, Michigan State Police reopened the case.  The perpetrator had left DNA evidence at the scene of Roxanne’s murder, but the sample was badly degraded. Since it had been over two decades since the DNA evidence had been examined, they submitted the sample to Identifinders International, a California-based genetic genealogy company run by Dr. Colleen Fitzpatrick.  Dr. Fitzpatrick had been able to create genetic profiles from small amounts of DNA by working with an investigative genetic genealogist, Gabriella Vargas. In what would turn out to be a landmark case, Identifinders was successfully able to test the sample using the lowest amount of DNA to date (3 percent of what is typically needed). This led to a possible family connection to the rapist and presumably Roxanne’s killer. A genealogist was able to link the family to a possible suspect who still resided near Niles, Michigan.

MSP immediately collected a discarded cigarette from the possible suspect 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’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 her.  However, in that case, the victim survived the attack and became the primary witness against him.  Gilham was convicted of that rape and sentenced.  But he had been released early.  Four months after his release for that crime, 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.

How WMU Cold Case Program Students Helped

WMU students from the Cold Case Program dedicated several thousands of hours organizing the boxes of material in the case file, then digitizing the case file into searchable document. This allowed MSP detectives to easily search keywords or phrases and find information and evidence that could now be tested and people who had been interviewed about Roxanne's death. Students also created posters, family and friends webs, and a case and person index to help the detectives understand what was in the file, and what the primary leads were for each time Roxanne's case was opened.

After Patrick Gilham was arrested, students from the program attended his sentencing where they heard Roxanne's brother and sister, Brad and Janet, give their heartbreaking victim impact statement.