Joseph Hatley: How was He Caught? What Happened to Him?

’20/20: There is a Monster in Me’ features the true crime story of the discovery of Susan Woods’ lifeless body in her bathtub in July 1987. At first glance, the police realized she had been submerged in water for over two days, leading to significant decomposition. The advanced state of decay made it nearly impossible to determine the exact cause of her death. Although the investigators uncovered handprints, fingerprints, and cigarette butts in her residence, it wasn’t until 19 years later that they could link the murder to Joseph Hatley.

How was Joseph Hatley Caught?

Joseph Hatley’s origins trace back to his birth in 1986 in Stephenville, Texas, where he was immersed in a close-knit community of friends and family. His father managed several small businesses in town, including a Texaco station and a diesel repair shop, while his mother dedicated herself to homemaking, caring for their three children. Raised in a deeply devoted Christian household, Hatley later alleged that he experienced physical abuse from his mother. Additionally, he asserted that his childhood was marred by frequent bullying due to his weight and persistently angry demeanor.

Following his high school years, Hatley, driven by a penchant for drinking and pornography, enlisted in the Air Force Reserve during his senior year in 2004. He underwent training at Carswell Air Force Base in Fort Worth to become a munitions specialist. After graduation, he pursued reservist training and attended technical school outside Denver, where he met and fell in love with a girl whom he soon married. Despite choosing not to enlist, Hatley’s wife joined the Air Force, and they began living together in Guam. Hatley found employment at an insurance agency, but their marriage quickly deteriorated due to his escalating alcohol consumption. At the age of 21, he returned to Stephenville to live with his parents.

Back in Stephenville, Hatley encountered Susan Woods through mutual friends during a card game. He perceived a flirtatious vibe from Susan, who had recently separated from her husband, Michael Woods, and was in the process of rediscovering herself. About a week later, under the influence of alcohol, Hatley visited Susan’s home. Recognizing him from around town, Susan allowed him inside. However, his advances were met with rejection, leading to Susan slapping him in response. Hatley claims that he does not remember what happened or what came over him. He ended up brutally raping her, sodomizing her, and leaving her dead in the bathtub. Her body was found on July 28, 1987, by her father.

Susan Woods// Image Credit: Investigation Discovery

In the aftermath of Susan’s death, the investigation primarily centered around her husband, Michael Woods. Due to the lack of a match for the fingerprints and DNA discovered at the crime scene, Joseph Hatley was never considered a suspect. Living in fear, Hatley, being part of Susan’s community, engaged in discussions about her murder, attended her funeral, and even signed the book. In 1988, Hatley was accused of the brutal rape and attempted murder of a 16-year-old girl named Shannon Myers, whom he had been in an on-again-off-again relationship with since she was 15. However, he was never indicted by a grand jury on the case and was able to walk free.

In 1993, Hatley got married again and moved to Nashville. He had two children and started working as a truck driver. His wife later alleged that he had been abusive to her throughout the relationship. After an accident, he was let go from his job and started working at a warehouse and by 2006, he was living in Texas again after getting a promotion. A new detective who was working on Susan’s case got to know that Michael Woods was in utter distress so he started investigating again. The technology had advanced by then and he was able to get a match for the fingerprints found at the crime scene. The Texas Department of Public Safety had access to the FBI database and fingerprints matched with that of Hatley. Hatley had given his fingerprints to the police after being arrested in the 1988 rape case.

On June 6, 2006, the police found 40-year-old Hatley living in Round Rock, Texas. He appeared for the questioning and was very calm and collected, a sign that alerted the officer right away. His DNA samples were taken and they matched the ones that were found on the cigarette buds in Susan’s house and he was taken under arrest.

Where is Joseph Hatley Now?

Faced with compelling evidence, Joseph Hatley confessed to the murder of Susan Woods a week before his 2007 trial was set to commence. Striking a deal to serve 20 years, he was transferred to the Huntsville Unit in Texas to carry out his sentence. During his incarceration, Hatley claimed to rediscover religion and authored a manifesto justifying his life. Diagnosed with bladder cancer in 2017, he was released from prison in 2018 on account of good behavior, having served only 11 years of his originally stipulated sentence. Following his release, he resided in a halfway home in Midland and secured employment repairing oil-field trucks.

Joseph Hatley faced additional challenges when he lost his job during the COVID-19 pandemic, leading him to relocate to an RV park outside Abilene to be closer to his daughter, Amanda. On Halloween of 2021, he disclosed to his daughter that his cancer had resurfaced and was spreading to his spine. On December 9, 2021, he was discovered deceased in his RV at the age of 56. The guy who purchased the RV found his manifesto and handed it over to the police.

Read More: Susan Woods’; Murder: How Did She Die? Who Killed Her?