1987 Roxanne Leigh Wood murder solved with the help of students at Western Michigan University

April 05, 2022

Thirty-year-old Roxanne Leigh Wood was murdered in her home on 1524 Tam-O-Shanter Lane, Niles, Michigan during the early morning hours of February 20, 1987.

Roxanne was born April 15, 1956, in Niles and worked in the customer service department of Automatic Molded Plastics Co. in South Bend, Indiana.

On the night of February 19, 1987, she had been out with her husband Terry Wood at Whites’ Bowling Lanes on 11th Street Niles. Roxanne left before her husband at around 12:30AM in her 1984 Grey Chevrolet Cavalier and would never be seen alive again.

Terry discovered her body at around 1:00AM on February 20, 1987. The victim was collapsed in a pool of blood on the kitchen floor and an empty knife sheath was found near her body. The murder weapon is believed to be a filet knife from the kitchen drawer, but the knife was never recovered. She was dressed in sleeping clothes.

 There was no sign of forced entry to the home and investigators later learned that Terry found the rear door to premises ajar.  

It appeared she had been raped and was stabbed multiple times. Her throat had been slit and appeared to have been cut post-mortem.

The South Bend Tribune reported that her throat had likely been slit while she was unconscious and that it appeared she had first been struck in the head with a nearby kitchen pan. She was struck with such force that the handle of the pan broke on impact.

Terry and Roxanne Wood had lived at the address on Tam-O-Shanter Lane for around two and a half years before Roxanne was brutally slain. They didn't have any children and Roxanne was home alone when she was brutally assaulted and murdered by an unidentified assailant.

In April, Roxanne's husband Terry put up a $15,000 reward for anyone who could provide information that would lead to the arrest and conviction of her killer.

Terry Wood was considered a suspect in the case, however, a DNA sample taken some years later did not match that of Terry. In 2001 over 200 people were interviewed but brought investigators no closer to cracking the case. The DNA sample was entered into CODIS, but no match was found.

The case was announced as solved earlier this year on March 18, identifying Patrick Wayne Gilham, 67, as Roxanne’s killer. He was arrested on February 18, 2022, and pleaded no contest to second-degree murder last month and will remain in prison for no less than 23 years.

The case remained cold until criminal justice students at Western Michigan University and their professor, Dr. Ashlyn Kuersten teamed up with Michigan State Police to finally crack the case.

Dr. Kuersten started the Cold Case Program last fall, and the unsolved murder of Roxanne Wood was the first case her team tackled and lead to an arrest.

Over a period of several months, Students Ashley Chlebek and Carl Huber put over 1,200 hours of their time into scanning and digitizing multiple boxes of evidence and documents pertaining to the Wood case. Digitizing the handwritten files and organizing them with the aid of character recognition software, allowed detectives to browse through the files and search for specific names, dates and keywords.

The students suggested potential persons of interest or lines of enquiry and detectives requested information.

According to reports, Patrick Wayne Gilham was committing crimes well before CODIS existed, and wasn’t registered in the database.

A profile was created with the DNA of the killer, and using both the data compiled by the students and genetic genealogy databases, detectives had three suspects in their crosshairs- three brothers, one of which was Gilham. They followed Gilham waiting for an opportunity to collect a DNA sample. When Gilham tossed a smoked cigarette detectives retrieved it and matched his DNA to that of Roxanne's killer.

Gilham was arrested at his home in South Bend, around ten miles from the home where he raped and murdered Roxanne Wood.

In a news release Michigan State Police said:

"The MSP Fifth District Headquarters and Western Michigan University partnered and collaborated on this case through the universities’ Cold Case Program. This program provided organizational and informational support made up of college students and its director, Dr. Ashlyn Kuersten. This was the first case in which the two entities formed the collaborative effort. This investigation encompassed over 10,000 hours of investigative work by the MSP and its Special Investigation Section. Additional, significant support was provided in this case by the MSP Fifth District Fugitive Team, Technical Services Unit, and the South Bend Police Department’s patrol and investigative bureau."

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