"No parent can ever abandon their child no matter what awful thing they may have done in their life."
- Jim Wood (Craig's Father)
It was the 18th of February 2014. A Tuesday. That afternoon was a warm afternoon as ten year old Hailey Owens walked down West Lombard Street. She lived in Springfield, Missouri, United States of America with her mother, step father and brother. That afternoon, Hailey was walking home from a friend's house. Her home was just a few minutes walk from her friend's house. It was just after 4.40pm.
Hailey loved being outside. Even though she was very much a "girly girl", she could be a bit of a tomboy at times too. She loved to climb trees and make silly videos. Hailey also loved to spend time with friends and dress up and get her nails done.She was a fun and friendly girl. That day, she had spent time with a friend and they had written down the lyrics to one of her favourite songs and she played with her stuffed toys and dog.
Carlos and Michelle Edwards noticed Hailey walking down the sidewalk near their home in Springfield that afternoon. They were in their garage finishing up some yard work. They saw a tan Ford Ranger drive past Hailey. The truck turned around and pulled up beside Hailey to ask her for directions.
Hailey said that she didn't know where the street he was looking for was and walked away from the truck. As Hailey began to walk away, the driver of the truck opened the door and called after her "Hey, come here for a minute." As Hailey stepped towards the truck, the driver lunged at her and pulled her into the truck.
It happened so fast. Carlos and Michelle saw it happen. Carlos ran toward the truck shouting at the driver to stop. Carlos was a former bull rider and high school football standout and he sprinted towards the truck with his arms stretched out , trying to grab anything he could and pleading with the driver to stop. He almost made it. But the truck sped away.
Michelle called 911 and told the operator everything. She provided a detailed description of the driver, the truck and she even provided his license plate number:
Carlos banged on doors along the street trying to find out where Hailey lived. He was frantic with fear .Somebody had just grabbed a little girl from the sidewalk in the middle of the day. Carlos knew that every second counted.
Police searched the area and spoke to neighbours. As they had the license plate number, they were able to trace the truck to the Woods home in Ash Grove. However, they discovered that even though the truck was registered to that home , it was their son, Craig Michael Wood, who was the primary driver and he lived in a different house. Craig was a forty five year old school district employee and youth football coach.
When police arrived at Craig's house, he wasn't home so they waited for him. They saw a tan Ford Ranger truck pull into the driveway around 8.30 pm and it had the same license plate number that they were looking for. The police approached the truck and Craig got out and threw some duct tape into the truck bed. Craig told police that he knew why they were there . He smelled like bleach. He told them he had just been to a nearby Walmart Neighborhood Market.
Craig went with the police to the station. He confirmed the truck was his but refused to answer any questions about Hailey. There was dried blood on his lower lip and on one of his fingers, and red vertical marks on his neck and near his groin.
The police asked Craig what he did that day. He told them he went to Walmart twice. They asked him what he bought and he told them he bought bleach and drain cleaner.
Craig said that after he went to Walmart, he went to a laundromat to drop off some clothes for cleaning.
Craig still refused to answer any questions about Hailey. Police searched his home. The back door was open. There was a strong smell of bleach coming from the basement. The basement steps and floor were wet and there was a fan on.
Police found empty bleach bottles and several plastic storage tubs inside The officers secured the house and left. They noted:
"He had a fan blowing from down there, up the stairs. And it was blowing bleach. You could smell the bleach. It was almost overwhelming."
Police needed a search warrant before they could fully search the home. They got one. When they returned to the house they noticed that Craig's bed had no sheets or bedding on it and on the bedroom dresser, police found two handwritten stories. The stories contained fantasies of sexual encounters between an adult male and thirteen year old girls. There were photographs of girls too. The girls in the photographs were students at the middle school where Craig worked.
When police went down to the basement, they found some storage containers. When they opened one of the container tubs, police made a devastating discovery. Hailey's nude body was inside wrapped in black plastic bags. She was dead.
Hailey's body was wet and smelled like bleach. There were bruises on her lips, cheek and ear and ligature marks on her wrists. These were consistent with her wrists having been tied at some point. She had been shot in the back of the head. An Autopsy revealed Hailey died from a gunshot to the back of her neck. She had been shot at close range. A .22-caliber bullet passed through the base of her brain. Police found a .22-caliber shell casing on the basement floor. The shell casing was fired from a .22-caliber rifle locked inside a gun safe in a storage room in Craig's house.
There were further injuries on Hailey's vagina and anus. The bruises were consistent with sexual assault.
Police searched the area outside of Craig's home, near his home and along the routes he took that day. They found Hailey's clothing in a dumpster behind a strip mall. Police requested a copy of surveillance footage and on the footage, they saw Craig putting Hailey's clothes in that very same dumpster.
Police went to Walmart to see if Craig had been there that day as he had said. Surveillance footage showed him buying bleach and drain cleaner. This took place an hour after Hailey was abducted from the sidewalk.
Craig was charged with first degree murder and entered a plea of not guilty. The Prosecution's case was strong. They had evidence which included the eye witness testimony of Carlos and Michelle Edwards, the injuries to Hailey's body, the shell casing and weapon used to murder Hailey and the discovery of Hailey's body in Craig's house.
While Craig pleaded not guilty, his lawyer conceded that Craig did indeed commit the crime but they argued that he did not deliberate first (it wasn't premeditated) and it therefore should not be a first degree murder charge. It was their argument that Craig acted impulsively when he abducted Hailey and this was due to " long-suppressed urges" Craig had and methamphetamine use.
Craig Wood was found guilty of first degree murder. But The Jury could not reach a unanimous verdict on his sentence. In Missouri (and Indiana), if the Jury cannot decide, the decision is made by a Judge instead. He chose the death penalty.
That day, the 18th of February 2014, Hailey was walking home from her friend's house on a street that she was familiar with. It was the afternoon, still bright out and there were people out on the street and in their gardens. She should have been safe. But she wasn't. Hailey did not know Craig. He was a complete stranger to her and yet over the course of a forty five minute period, that complete stranger subjected her to the worst fear and abuse she had ever encountered. The forensic pathologist who oversaw Hailey's autopsy testified at Craig's Trial that marks on Hailey's arms indicated she struggled against some type of material that he had used to bind her. She fought for her life. But Craig did not want any evidence left behind. He knew Hailey would be able to identify him so after he abused and raped her, he murdered her in a brutal and terrifying manner.
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