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More than three decades after Roxanne Wood was discovered dead in the kitchen of her Michigan home with her throat slit after a night of bowling, her suspected killer pleaded no contest to second-degree murder.
Patrick Wayne Gilham, 67, entered the plea as part of a deal with prosecutors in the death of 30-year-old Roxanne Wood that will require him to serve a minimum of 23 years behind bars for the brutal slaying, according to a statement from Berrien County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office obtained by Oxygen.com.
“The plea bargain was offered with input of family members, including her husband, Terry Wood,” Berrien County Assistant Prosecutor Jerry Vigansky said. “This sentence agreement effectively keeps Mr. Gilham in prison for the rest of his life. This plea will allow the family to have some closure and continue to work on healing from this tragic murder.”
Wood was found dead, with her throat slashed, in the kitchen of her Niles Township home in the early morning hours of Feb. 20, 1987, CBS News reports.
She was discovered by her husband, Terry.
The Woods had gone out bowling earlier that night but the couple had driven separately and Roxanne decided to head home first.
For 35 years, Terry lived under a cloud of suspicion and remained a suspect in his wife’s death until recent advances in DNA and genetic genealogy pointed investigators away from Terry and toward another man who had lived just miles from the Woods home.
According to the Michigan State Police, Gilham was identified as a potential suspect in the homicide after he was linked to original evidence left behind at the scene through the forensic work of MSP Forensic Laboratory in Grand Rapids, Michigan and Indentifinders International LLC.
Gabriella Vargas, an investigative genetic genealogist with DNA-ID who worked as a consultant for Identifinders International, told WOOD-TV she finally helped crack the decades-old case by using a DNA profile gathered from the evidence at the scene to build out the suspect’s family tree.
“It ultimately led me to where the suspect would fall in that family tree,” she said, adding it took her just four days to identify the suspected killer.
Vargas was able to narrow it down to three brothers within the family, but said Gilham was the only one who had been living just four miles away from the Woods’ home at the time of the murder and had a criminal past.
“Patrick Gilham was never a suspect in this case,” she told the news outlet. “He was never on the radar. He was not somebody that they had interviewed or crossed paths with Roxanne at any point.”
After Vargas provided investigators with the information, they began to build a case against Gilham.
He was arrested on Feb. 17 and charged with open murder and breaking and entering of an occupied dwelling, according to an earlier statement by prosecutors obtained by Oxygen.com.
Prosecutors said Gilham “forcibly entered” the Woods home on Feb. 20, 1987, encountered Roxanne and killed her with a “cutting instrument.” She had also been hit in the head with a frying pan, WOOD-TV reports.
Berrien County Prosecutor Steve Pierangeli declined to provide further details about the case to Oxygen.com until Gilham is formally sentenced next month.
Vargas said she was grateful to have played a role in solving the cold case.
“It’s a very powerful feeling that you’ve brought closure to this family,” she said. “You’ve brought these answers that they’ve waited for so long for.”
Gilham is set to be formally sentenced on April 25 in the Berrien County Niles Courthouse.
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