A look at how investigators solved the murder of Roxanne Wood after more than three decades with no leads, and a tiny DNA sample the size of a human cell.
Niles, Michigan | 1987
“There’s a lot of young girls that grew up not knowing if there was a bad guy around the corner, because this was unsolved,” said Detective John Moore about the Roxanne Wood case.
Horror at home
In the early morning hours of February 20, 1987, Roxanne Wood headed home from a night out with friends about 45 minutes before her husband, Terry. When Terry got home, he found Roxanne dead on the kitchen floor. He called local police and said, “my wife has been murdered. She is dead. She has been cut.”
The “Rock” of the family
Roxanne Wood took on a motherly role with her younger siblings, Brad and Janet. “48 Hours” correspondent, Peter Van Sant talked to Janet about her sister, whom she called “Rock.” “She always made people think you’re her best friend,” said Janet. “She just loved everyone.”
On the evening of February 19, 1987, Roxanne and Terry Wood met at home after work. The couple drove separate cars to a restaurant and had dinner together. Later, they went to a nearby bowling alley where investigators say Terry played in a league.
The investigation begins
When investigators from the Michigan State Police arrived at the Wood home, they took photos of the scene and Terry was questioned by police. Roxanne’s body was examined for more evidence.
Suspicions surround Terry Wood
Investigators at the scene found no evidence of forced entry raising suspicion. According to investigators, Terry also seemed to get belligerent with first responders that night. And when Terry was brought to the station for routine questioning, he quickly asked for an attorney. This set off alarm bells for investigators.
Janet Wood told “48 Hours” what an investigator told Terry while looking into Roxanne’s murder. “I believe you’re the killer and I will not rest until you’re behind bars.”
Life without Roxanne
Janet Wood says she always knew Terry didn’t kill her sister. She talked to “48 Hours” about the possibility of her sister’s killer still being out there. “I didn’t lose hope ever. I mean, this guy just didn’t do this and then lead a clean, pristine life, the rest of his life.”
Due to limitations on technology in 1987, Roxanne Wood’s murder case went cold.
The Michigan State Police still had a tiny amount of the 1987 DNA evidence from Roxanne’s case. In 2020, more than 30 years after Roxanne was killed, they started looking into new ways to solve the case with some innovation.
In 2020, Professor Ashlyn Kuersten and students at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan started helping the Michigan State Police with the Roxanne Wood case. The students digitized more than 3,500 pages from the 1987 case file, making it quicker and easier to search through evidence for information.
“The officers are able to search by name … and see if they’ve already been interviewed,” said student Samantha Rogers. “Things that they wouldn’t be able to do just flipping through thousands of pages.”
Detective First Lieutenant Chuck Christensen took the investigation a step further and reached out to genetic genealogist, and president of Identifinders International, Colleen Fitzpatrick. Her company helps identify unidentified remains and people involved in violent crimes by looking at their DNA.
“A gnat’s eyebrow of DNA”
In 2020, Identifinders International started looking into the unidentified DNA left from Roxanne’s case. “We found out there was, what I would call, a gnat’s eyebrow of DNA left, about 3 percent of what we normally use,” said Colleen Fitzpatrick. “It really did feel impossible.”
After about 10 months of testing the small amount of DNA left to solve the Roxanne Wood case, Colleen Fitzpatrick discussed the case with Identifinders International consultant Gabriella Vargas. After months without success, Fitzpatrick didn’t want to disappoint investigators.
Vargas looked at the case file and generated a genetic profile from the killer’s trace DNA. She then entered the DNA information into an online database. “I believed that this case was extremely solvable,” she told “48 Hours.” “And I believed that I could solve it.”
Surveilling for DNA
In April 2021, Gabriella Vargas used the online DNA database to start building a family tree of the suspect. That family tree led to a man named Patrick Gilham, who was living in South Bend, Indiana, not far from where Roxanne Wood was killed. Investigators surveilled Gilham with the hope of collecting his DNA. While undercover, Trooper Ryan Codde noticed Gilham was a smoker and knew a cigarette would be a great source for a DNA sample. Trooper Codde picked up Gilham’s cigarette after having a conversation with him outside of the laundromat.
On July 29, 2021, investigators brought Patrick Gilham in and interviewed him. They told him he wasn’t in trouble and that they needed to question him about an old case. Detectives showed Gilham photos of Roxanne and told him she was assaulted. They asked him questions about Roxanne, but Gilham denied knowing her. Soon he said, “I gotta talk to my lawyer, man,” and investigators let him go.
Patrick Gilham arrested
On February 17, 2022, Patrick Gilham, 67, was arrested and questioned for more than five hours. When asked why his DNA was found at the scene, he kept telling investigators, “I have no clue!” and “I don’t remember.” Gilham asked for an attorney at the end of interview. He pleaded no contest to second-degree murder and on April 25, 2022, Gilham was sentenced to a minimum of 23 years in prison for the 1987 murder of Roxanne Wood.
35 Years as a Suspect
Detective John Moore said up until Gilham’s arrest, Terry Wood was considered a person of interest. For 35 years, he labored under false assumptions that he murdered his wife. “I’d heard stories that at times he’d walk into a place and somebody would call him “Slash,” said Detective Jason Bailey.
Roxanne’s brother Brad Woods was only 14 when his sister was murdered. He says he couldn’t believe the day when they finally found the guy who killed his “Rock.” “It didn’t seem real. You know, it was nothing like I had ever played in my mind of how I would be when they came to the door to say, ‘We’ve got him.'”