Roxanne Wood Murder: How Did She Die? Who Killed Her?

Image Credit: Roxanne's family/Wood TV

Roxanne Wood returned home from a night out in February 1987, but in a tragic turn of events, she was brutally murdered in her kitchen. Unfortunately, though, The case stayed cold for more than three decades before technological advancements finally led to the person responsible. CBS News’ ’48 Hours: The ‘Unsolvable’ Murder of Roxanne Wood’ focuses on this years-long fight for justice and what led to the arrest and conviction of the killer. 

How Did Roxanne Wood Die?

Roxanne Leigh Wood was a Niles, Michigan, native who had graduated from a local high school in 1974. However, at the time of the incident in 1987, the 30-year-old worked in customer service for Automated Molded Plastics Co. in South Bend, Indiana. The young woman loved cooking as well as baking, and she often shared recipes with loved ones. She was married to Terry Wood, devoted to her family, and enjoyed tending to her roses.

Image Credit: Janet Wood/CBS News

Though everything changed on February 19, 1987, after Roxanne and Terry met at their home in Niles after work. The couple decided to head out for dinner but did so in two cars. They then went to a bowling alley, just for the former to return home alone sometime after midnight because she had work the following morning. Her husband came back around 45 minutes later too, yet all he could do was call 911.

After all, Terry had walked into a horrific scene in the kitchen; Rozanne was lying on the floor in a pool of blood. It soon came to light that she’d been attacked right there, following which the perpetrator hit her in the head with a frying pan and slashed her throat. Her autopsy revealed that she had been sexually assaulted as well. Yet despite the undeniably and completely gruesome crime scene, there wasn’t a lot of evidence for the authorities to go off on, and in the end, it took decades before her heinous killer was caught for good.

Patrick Gilham: Killer of Roxanne Wood

While some reports suggest there was forced entry through the back utility door, others claim there was no forced entry at the residence. The authorities obviously questioned Terry, yet apart from being belligerent with first responders, he was even quick to ask for an attorney, leading to suspicion regarding his involvement. Nevertheless, not only was there no evidence tying him to the murder (despite past infidelities from both sides), but investigators also couldn’t find much more about the scene in general, given the technological limitations of the time.

Roxanne’s case thus remained cold for many years. It was reopened in 2001, but detectives again couldn’t make much headway. That’s despite the fact they did have a tiny amount of DNA from the killer recovered from the crime scene. Then, in 2020, it was looked at one more time, with the authorities leaning on new technology and newer ideas for ways to solve the matter. Western Michigan University’s Cold Case program also helped the Michigan State Police at the time by digitizing around 3,500 pages from its overall file.

This made sifting through information to hopefully find something they didn’t before a whole lot easier for the local authorities. Students from the university helped with all of it, logging about 1200 hours of work into this haunting case. Then, officials decided to look into genetic genealogy as well, only to be led to Identifinders International, a company specializing in identifying remains and people through DNA.

The challenge they faced here was the small amount of DNA. According to President Collen Fitzpatrick, “We found out there was, what I would call, a gnat’s eyebrow of DNA left, about 3 percent of what we normally use. It really did feel impossible.” However, the company still worked on it for about ten months before speaking with Gabrielle Vargas, an expert genealogist who often served as a consultant.

Gabrielle thankfully decided to take on the problem and was soon able to generate a DNA profile from the trace amount available. It then came down to building a family tree by utilizing the publically available DNA databases. This process began in April 2021, and Gabrielle quickly narrowed it down to three brothers from a family. Investigators were the ones to rule out two of them, leaving just one suspect: Patrick Gilham.

Patrick actually has a prior criminal history; he had once spent time in prison for breaking into a woman’s house and sexually assaulting her. More importantly, though, he had been released on parole a mere six months prior to Roxanne’s murder and even lived close to her home. Therefore, detectives tracked Patrick down and began surveilling him, only to quickly learn he was a smoker. They hence decided to collect a discarded cigarette butt, and the subsequent testing revealed that his DNA matched the profile from the 1987 crime scene.

In July 2021, Patrick was ultimately brought in for an interview. He denied traveling to Michigan apart from going there for work in 1987, and when asked about Roxanne, he claimed to have not known her or where she lived. But eventually, he asked for a lawyer while insisting he had no idea why his DNA was found at the crime scene. In the end, Patrick was arrested for the murder, moving the case forward after about 35 years.

In March 2022, Patrick pled no contest to second-degree murder and was later handed down what was effectively a life sentence. At the sentencing hearing, Roxanne’s brother, Brad Woods, said, “I’ve devoted much of my adult life to doing whatever it took to get justice for my sister, and the day has finally come for her to have the justice and the peace that she deserves.”

Read More: Where is Patrick Gilham Now?