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COLD CASE FILES: Police have a suspect in 26-year-old murder case....but did he do it?

By Kristin Bien
Published On: Nov 13 2013 05:36:52 PM CST
Updated On: Nov 13 2013 05:40:20 PM CST

26 years after her murder, police in Berrien County are still trying to get enough evidence to arrest a suspect in the death of Roxanne Woods. WSBT's Kristin Bien has the latest Cold Case.

NILES, Mich. -

Police are convinced they know who killed a 30-year-old Niles woman 26 years ago, but they have not made a single arrest -- because there are still unanswered questions about her case.

Roxanne Wood was found lying in a pool of blood on her kitchen floor in 1987.

Two separate teams of investigators have looked into her case, and each came to the same conclusion. But there is still no justice for her family. That is because while police say they have a suspect, there is another person they have yet to find.

Roxanne Wood

"She was very outgoing, friendly, loved to laugh," says Roxanne's younger sister, Janet Wood.

"She was just a very fun person to be around," says Roxanne's brother Brad Woods. "She always had a smile, and she just lightened up a room when she came in."

In 1987, Roxanne Wood was 30-years-old. Her family says she loved to shop, go to the movies and had plans to start a family with her husband Terry.

"The last time I talked to her was a couple days before," says Janet.

She and her sister were close.

"For all I knew, we were going to go shopping Saturday morning," says Janet.

But early in the morning on February 20, Roxanne was murdered.

"Beyond angry," says Janet, as she starts crying, "I lost a best friend, a lifelong best friend."

A Cold Case

"Unfortunately, this case is what you consider a cold case," says Michigan State Police Detective Fabian Suarez. Suarez was part of a team of cold case investigators who looked into the case 10 years ago.

"This is the original report," says Suarez as he holds up a large binder. "At 1:18 a.m., the 911 Niles City received a dispatch call from Terry Wood. He was telling them that his wife Roxanne had been murdered and raped."

Suarez says that evening, Roxanne and her husband were bowling. Roxanne left early. Police believe her husband Terry arrived at their Niles home on Tam-O-Shanter Lane shortly after 1 a.m. Roxanne was lying in a pool of blood.

According to the South Bend Tribune, she had been hit over the head with a frying pan, and police say her throat had been slashed. Investigators never found the murder weapon which they believe was a filet knife. They found no evidence of forced entry or a struggle and no evidence of sexual assault.

"The scene just looked like whoever was there with her, she knew who it was and she didn't fear for her life until it was too late" says Suarez. 

A Suspect and Reasonable Doubt

In 1994, Roxanne's husband, Terry Wood, told the South Bend Tribune he was a prime suspect. Detective Suarez says that is still the case.

"The husband, Terry Wood, has always been the main suspect, the main person of interest in this investigation," says Suarez.

Suarez says Wood's story has never made sense, and when police tried to interview him in 1987, the interview was interrupted when his family hired an attorney. Since then, Suarez says Wood has never contacted him about the case.

But Wood told WSBT he has been advised by his attorney not to talk. We caught up with him at his home. He said he wasn't willing to sit down and talk about the case.

"Because it's not my job to solve the case. I didn't murder Roxanne. And here it is 25-years later, and the state police are not doing their job. At that point, none of this is on the record and that is it," said Wood.

Wood later emailed us a statement saying: "My family and I are very happy that Kristin and WSBT are keeping this story in the forefront, with the hope of someone coming forward with information that will help solve the murder of Roxanne Wood in our home on Feb. 20, 1987." 

And 26 years after Roxanne's murder, Wood has never been arrested or charged. That is because there was something else found at the crime scene: DNA on Roxanne's body. And that DNA does not belong to Terry Wood or anyone else police have talked to.

"To a defense attorney, it tells you that is your killer. To an investigator, it tells you that is your motive," says Suarez.

Police need to know who that DNA belongs to. They need to answer that question of why and where that DNA could have come from, says Suarez. There are theories. In 1994, one of Roxanne's friends told the South Bend Tribune that Roxanne was unhappy in the marriage.

That DNA is one of the reasons, says Suarez, that the past two Berrien County prosecutors have declined to take the case to trial. Suarez told WSBT he plans to talk with the new Berrien County prosecutor in the next few months about the case.

Unanswered Questions

To Roxanne's family, the case has meant a lot of unanswered questions.

"It's very hard. I think not a day goes by that I don't think about my sister," says Brad Woods.

"The older I get, the worse it gets, 'cause I see what our lives have been and what she has missed, what we have missed, what is could have been," says Janet.

Police are always looking into new tips.

If you know something, call Suarez at the Niles Michigan State Police Post at (269) 683-4411.