The I-5 Killer
With the 428th pick in the 1974 NFL draft, the Green Bay Packers selected. . . one of the most violent killers in U.S. history. No one is saying football led Randall Woodfield down his dark path—but did it perhaps deter him from it, at least for a while?
Even as crime scenes go, this one was sensationally gruesome. Shari Hull, age 20, lay splayed naked on the floor, blood pooling near her matted hair, brain matter seeping from her skull and spackling the carpet. She was surrounded by her discarded clothes. Gradually her moans and her deep, labored breathing diminished until her body was drained of life.
Some time around nine o’clock on the evening of Jan. 18, 1981, Hull had been nearing the end of her Sunday-night shift, cleaning the TransAmerica office building in the central Oregon town of Keizer. She was preparing to leave when she was grabbed by a man who’d somehow managed to enter the building. He was strikingly handsome, maybe six feet tall, blessed with a torrent of thick, curly brown hair and eyes to match. He was wearing jeans and a leather jacket. Corralling Hull with one hand and holding a gun in the other, he walked her down a hall. Soon he saw another cleaner, 20-year-old Lisa Garcia.
The assailant took both women into a back room and ordered them to the floor. After sexually assaulting them, he shot them each in the back of the head. This, it would later be revealed, was generally in keeping with his M.O.: some sexual act followed by a .32 bullet to the rear of the skull. But while Hull died of her gunshot wounds, Garcia survived by feigning her death, lying motionless on the floor with slugs lodged in the back of her skull. As soon as her attacker left, she called the police. En route, one officer noticed a thickly built man fitting the assailant’s description standing at an intersection—but this was more than a mile from the attack; it would have taken a hell of an athlete to make it that far so quickly on foot. So the policeman drove on.
For weeks afterward Garcia worked with detectives to crack the case. Little did she know, this attack was one of many allegedly carried out by the same man; she was helping track one of the most notorious serial murderers in U.S. history. Nicknamed the I-5 Killer, he had threaded a trail of almost unspeakable brutality up and down the upper left corner of America, killing in California, Oregon and possibly Washington. His orgy of violence started in the mid-1970s; by the time he’d gotten to Hull and Garcia, he’d already amassed a sizable necrology. Many more murders would follow.
Based on DNA evidence and advancing crime lab techniques, the I-5 Killer’s body count has climbed through the years. Cold case detectives have conservatively put that number at a dozen, though a few journalists and armchair detectives believe he’s responsible for as many as 44 deaths. And that doesn’t include a string of more than 100 other crimes, mostly robberies and rapes, that bear his hallmarks.
The I-5 Killer’s victims were mostly from the same subset: petite, Caucasian women in their teens or 20s. Sometimes they had declined his sexual advances and the killings seemed to be acts of retribution. Other times he didn’t know his victims at all. But he had his way with them and then snuffed out their lives because he could.
And then there’s this small detail, which Garcia shared with detectives and which surfaced again and again across the I-5 Killer’s crimes: He wore what appeared to be a strip of athletic tape over the bridge of his nose, in the manner of a football player at the time. Which stood to reason. Because not long before turning into one of America’s most depraved and remorseless serial killers, Randall Woodfield had been drafted by the Green Bay Packers.
The new coach had to have been torn. He wanted to pump up the Portland State program he had just taken over, and placing a guy in the NFL would go a long way toward that. But he also knew that if he oversold a player, he’d lose credibility. So on that fall day in 1973, as Ron Stratten sat in the bleachers of Multnomah Stadium—now Providence Park, home to MLS’s Timbers—he chose his words carefully.
An NFL scout had come to see Randall Woodfield, the Vikings’ leading receiver. He had been impressed with Woodfield’s hands and athleticism. But when he asked Stratten for further assessment, the coach wavered. “Randy runs decent routes,” Stratten said with enthusiasm, “and he’s good to the outside.” He spoke positively about the speed that enabled Woodfield to run high hurdles for the school’s track team. But he also mentioned Woodfield’s glaring deficiency: He didn’t like getting hit. Not by the safety. Not by the linebacker. Not by anyone.
The I-5 Killer, recalled by his former teammates and coaches
When Stratten was named Portland State’s head coach, a year earlier, it had marked a rarity. Though scarcely acknowledged at the time, he was just the second African-American in the modern era to hold that position at a predominantly white school. Stratten was only 29, less than a decade removed from playing at Oregon. And as a former linebacker, he was quick to notice receivers who resisted cutting across the middle of the field. “It’s a point of character,” Stratten told the scout. “Woodfield doesn’t have that.”
To Stratten, this softness, this dislike of confrontation, was in keeping with Woodfield’s genial personality. It wasn’t just that Woodfield was, in the cliché, coachable. Maybe more than any other player on the team, he seemed to seek out the staff for companionship and counsel. “He was always bopping by our offices before heading to class,” recalls Stratten. “It was like he just wanted to hang out with us.”
Teammates’ and coaches’ memories of Woodfield vary wildly. Some remember him as unassuming and quiet, if a bit odd. “He really didn’t fit in,” says Anthony Stoudamire, who was a freshman quarterback at PSU in 1973. “He’d make out-of-the-blue, off-the-wall statements.” Stoudamire’s brother, Charles (both are uncles of 1995–96 NBA Rookie of the Year Damon Stoudamire), was a halfback on that team; he recalls Woodfield for his vanity. “[Randall] was always grooming himself. That even carried over to the way he played. He seemed like he was more interested in looking cute out there than getting the job done.” True as that may have been, the pride Woodfield took in his appearance was justified. He was six feet, with negligible body fat, well-defined muscles and a sly smile framed by what today might be called a pornstache. To trade in understatement, he did not struggle to find female companionship. “He was a suave, sophisticated fella,” says Jon Carey, a PSU quarterback in ’72. “Confident in himself, but not to the point of being cocky.”
Woodfield may have been best known at PSU, though, for his devotion to the Campus Crusade for Christ and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. A former teammate who spoke on the condition of anonymity recalls, “It seemed real important to him that he come across as someone who would do the right thing—almost like it was keeping him together.”
Armed with the resources—and facing the public relations pressures—of a modern-day NFL team, the Packers would have conducted a detailed background check on Woodfield. And the proverbial red flags would have flapped wildly. Raised mostly in the picturesque Oregon mid-coast town of Otter Rock, Woodfield grew up in a fiercely middle-class home. His father had a steady managerial job at the phone company Pacific Northwest Bell; his mother was a homemaker. Woodfield had two older sisters, who would babysit him. The family was well-known and well-regarded in the community. Outwardly, Woodfield appeared to be the portrait of normal. But in high school he was caught standing on a bridge and exposing himself to females. His parents sent him to a therapist, who, by all accounts, was not overly concerned by a teenager’s exploring his sexuality. According to law officials, Newport High’s coaches knew about the situation but, wanting to protect their star, chalked it up to an adolescent’s lapse in impulse control. Police say that when Woodfield turned 18, his juvenile record was expunged.)
Later, at Treasure Valley (Ore.) Community College, where Woodfield played football for one season before transferring, he was arrested for allegedly ransacking an ex-girlfriend’s home. (With little evidence, he was found not guilty in a jury trial.) At PSU, Woodfield was arrested multiple times for indecent exposure. (He was convicted twice.) Stratten, who didn’t recruit Woodfield, says he didn’t learn of those arrests until years later. “If I had known,” he says, “I would have said something [to interested NFL teams] for sure.”
As it was, having done little in the way of intel, Green Bay remained interested in Woodfield. In the first round of the 1974 NFL draft the Packers selected Richmond running back Barty Smith, who would go on to start 42 games in seven seasons. The next day they used their 15th-round pick on Dave Wannstedt, a natural-born leader who never played a down but who went on to become an NFL head coach. Two rounds later, with the 428th pick, Green Bay took Woodfield.
These may not have been the dynastic Packers who won the first two Super Bowls, in the 1960s, but this was still a celebrated franchise. Woodfield was offered a one-year contract to serve as a “skilled football player” for $16,000. The deal came laden with bonuses: an extra $2,000 if he caught 25 passes that fall, $3,000 if he caught 30. “Here’s what you need to keep in mind” about those figures, says Bob Harlan, who as assistant GM handled the team’s contracts that year (and whose son Kevin, now a prominent broadcaster, was a Packers ball boy back then): “When Bart Starr made $100,000, people thought he was overpaid.”
Woodfield’s contract also stipulated that he keep himself in peak condition, avoid consorting with gamblers and wear a coat and necktie in public places. He signed almost immediately. The money enabled him to quit his job at a Portland-area Burger Chef. But beyond that, this was all validation. He was on the verge of playing in the NFL. “Everyone made such a big thing when he was drafted,” one of Woodfield’s roommates told The Oregonian. “He put a lot of pressure on himself to make it big.”
That April, Woodfield attended a minicamp in Scottsdale, Ariz., an innovation of Green Bay coach Dan Devine. As special teams coach Hank Kuhlmann explained beforehand in a letter to players, the minicamp would be “a get-acquainted period so that in July we can all start working toward our common goal, ‘The Championship.’ ” Afterward, Woodfield returned to Portland galvanized, impressed with the speed of the other players but confident he would make the team.
Per the Packers’ request, he spent the next months staying in shape and working on his pass catching. In June the team sent him a first-class plane ticket, along with instructions for an airport limo pickup that would take him to the team’s training camp in De Pere, Wis. Woodfield declined, opting instead to drive out from Oregon. When he arrived, his bio in the Packers’ media guide listed him at six feet, 170 pounds and assessed him as follows:
In July, Woodfield was among the rookies who competed against the Bears in a scrimmage at Lambeau Field. Writing in the Green Bay Press-Gazette, Cliff Christl, now the Packers’ team historian, sought out Woodfield for a quote. “I’m pretty excited,” the young wideout said. “I’m just really thankful for the opportunity.” Woodfield survived early cuts and reported to friends in Portland that he was acquitting himself well, that he felt as if he belonged.
The Packers thought otherwise. They released Woodfield on Aug. 19, 1974, before their season began. Woodfield would later contend—not unreasonably—that his prospects were hindered because Green Bay was stressing a run game that season. Police would contend that the team had other reasons. (Packers officials declined to comment for this story.)
Rather than return to Oregon, Woodfield remained in Wisconsin, settling an hour and a half west in Oshkosh, where he played for the semipro Manitowoc Chiefs and moonlighted as a press-brake operator. (We pause to point out the irony: Manitowoc, the 24th-largest city in Wisconsin, would be the setting for the acclaimed 2015 Netflix documentary Making a Murderer.) While he would have preferred to spend his Sundays at Lambeau, Woodfield reckoned that, playing on Saturdays nearby for the Chiefs, maybe Packers execs would notice him and reconsider their decision.
Teammates from that stop recall Woodfield as a “smooth operator,” a “ladies man” and a bit strange. Fred Auclair, a teammate and roommate, recalls Woodfield bringing home a trinket he had acquired at a local Christian bookstore. “How much was that?” Auclair inquired. “Well,” said Woodfield, “it wasn’t really for sale, so I stole it.” Woodfield, adds Auclair, “was on the phone all the time, telling tall tales. He had a woman in every port, it seemed.”
As Woodfield had at Portland State, he ran precise routes and distinguished himself with speed in Manitowoc. In the 1974 Central States Football League championship game he caught a pair of passes for 42 yards, though the Madison Mustangs beat the Chiefs 14–0. The Packers, meanwhile, went 6–8 and, as a team, averaged only 13 completions per game.
After the season, though, Woodfield was dropped by the Chiefs. No reason was given publicly. There were murmurs, however, that the team had off-field concerns. (The Chiefs, along with their league, disbanded in 1976.) While there are no public arrest records for Woodfield in Wisconsin, a detective would later learn that Woodfield was involved in at least 10 cases of indecent exposure across the state. As one Wisconsin law enforcement officer recalls, years later, Woodfield “couldn’t keep the thing in his pants.”
By multiple accounts, Woodfield was devastated by being cut. “Deeply hurt,” was the phrase The Oregonian would later use. And, curiously, Woodfield acted as if he knew there would be no more invitations from other teams. With his ambitions of being a pro football player killed off, he drove back to the West Coast. And then the rampage started.
It took some time before Randall Woodfield graduated to murder, but the buildup was steady. Back in Portland, he drifted to the margins. He was three semesters short of completing his physical education degree at Portland State, but he rejected suggestions that he return to school; instead he cycled from job to job, residence to residence, romance to romance. He was 24 and moving backward in life.
Woodfield would show up at Portland State on occasion to work out with his old team. By then, Stratten had been replaced by Mouse Davis, who would later coach as an assistant in the NFL and become known as the godfather of the run-and-shoot offense. “[Woodfield] seemed like a nice kid; he was a good athlete,” Davis recalls today. “But one of the other players said, ‘Coach, don’t get too close with that guy. He’s strange.’ That was the end of my relationship with him.”
In early 1975, Portland police were vexed by a series of attacks on women, carried out by a man—invariably described as athletically built and handsome—armed with a knife. After demanding oral sex he would take a woman’s purse or wallet and run off. On March 5, detectives set up a sting operation. An undercover female officer walked leisurely through a park, and a man wielding a paring knife darted out from behind some bushes demanding money. Officers converged and arrested the assailant, who identified himself as one Randall Woodfield.
Charged with robbery, Woodfield gave an extensive interview to police. He claimed he didn’t drink or smoke and that he was committed to the Christian faith. He admitted to some impulse-control issues and some “sexual problems.” And he confessed to one vice: He’d taken steroids to augment his physique. Maybe, he speculated, that charged his sex drive.
“There was a conventional wisdom back in the day that someone who was an exposer or a Peeping Tom wouldn’t elevate to more serious crimes,” says Lieut. Paul Weatheroy, a longtime Portland cold case detective who retired from that job last year. “We’ve learned that nothing’s further from the truth.”
Former PSU teammates threw Woodfield a party to celebrate his release from prison, but some thought it strange when the guest of honor arrived 21⁄2 hours late to his own event. Woodfield also got out just in time to attend his 10‑year high school reunion in Newport. There, he wore his muscles almost as a fashion statement and told stories about his time in the Packers’ organization.
Out of prison, he cut a contradictory figure. For all his failures—let go from bartending gigs, jettisoned by girlfriends—they hardly seemed to come at the expense of self-confidence. He cruised around Portland in a gold 1974 “Champagne Edition” Volkswagen Beetle and took unmistakable pride in his physique. He was especially fond of sending naked photos of himself to women. In late ’79, Woodfield was photographed in a state of undress, his abundant muscles abundantly oiled. He mailed the image to Playgirl for consideration. The following May, he received a letter back: “Congratulations! You have been selected for possible publication in Playgirl’s Guy Next Door feature.” Woodfield waited for his photo shoot, and that’s when police believe he began to murder.
On Oct. 11, 1980, Cherie Ayers, an attractive 29-year-old, was found raped, stabbed and bludgeoned to death in her Portland apartment. According to the coroner, she died from blunt-force trauma and knife wounds to her neck. Former classmates at Newport High, Ayers and Woodfield had reconnected at the reunion and had then seen each other socially.
Immediately Woodfield was pegged as a suspect, based mostly on his recent release from prison. When homicide detectives questioned Woodfield, they found his answers “evasive” and “deceptive.” But he declined to take a polygraph. A blood test did not link Woodfield to the crime, nor did his semen match that found in the victim’s body. In a time predating reliable DNA testing, there was no other physical evidence.
Apparently emboldened, the one-man crime wave picked up momentum. Seven weeks later, Darcey Fix, 22, and Doug Altig, 24, were shot to death, execution-style and with a .32 revolver, in Fix’s Portland home. Again Woodfield had a connection to the murdered woman: One of his closest friends—a teammate from PSU’s track team—had dated Fix. Again Woodfield was questioned, but police had nothing concrete linking him to the murders.
On Dec. 9, 1980, a man wearing a fake beard held up a gas station in Vancouver, Wash., just across the Columbia River from Portland. Four nights later, in Eugene, Ore., a man wearing a fake beard and a Band-Aid (or what looked like athletic tape) on his nose raided an ice cream parlor. The next night, a drive-in restaurant in nearby Albany, Ore., was robbed by a bearded man. A week after that, in Seattle, a gunman matching the same description pinned down a 25-year-old waitress inside a restroom and forced her to masturbate him. Hull and Garcia were sexually assaulted and shot in central Oregon four weeks later.
Word began spreading that there was an “I-5 Bandit” marauding up and down the northern half of Interstate 5, a ribbon running parallel to the Pacific for the 1,400 miles between the Mexican and Canadian borders. All of the crimes occurred within two miles of an interstate exit.
The spree accelerated, each crime more twisted and horrific than the last. On Feb. 3, 1981, Donna Eckard, 37, and her 14-year-old daughter, Jannell Jarvis, were found dead in their home in Mountain Gate, Calif., just off I-5. Each had been shot multiple times in the head. Lab tests would later reveal that the girl had been sodomized. Earlier that same day, an 18-year-old waitress was kidnapped and raped after a holdup 15 miles to the south, in Redding. The next day, a similar crime was reported 100 miles up I-5 in Yreka, Calif.
By then, word of the I-5 Bandit had amplified to the point that women were being warned to exercise caution. On Valentine’s Day 1981, Candee Wilson implored her 18-year-old daughter, Julie Reitz, to “be careful—there’s a dangerous person out there.” Later that night, Julie was shot and killed at their home in Beaverton, Ore., not far from where the Nike campus now sits. She had known Woodfield previously. In his job as a bouncer he had overlooked her fake ID and let her into a bar.
From one act to the next, the descriptions were remarkably similar: An athletic man, armed with a silver .32 revolver and wearing tape or a Band‑Aid over his nose, abducted a woman, committed a sexual act and then shot her execution-style. Detectives targeted Woodfield as their suspect, convinced that the receiver who turned squeamish running across the middle of the field had become an astonishingly brazen murderer.
Pick a country and you likely can find a citizen who has killed ritualistically and repeatedly. Consider the phrase run amok, which derives from a Malay word translated loosely as “to attack with homicidal mania.” Believing that amok was caused by an evil spirit, Indonesian culture tolerated these violent outbursts and dealt with the aftereffects with no ill will toward the assailant. The underlying premise: The capacity to kill indiscriminately dwells in all of us; most people just suppress the urge or avoid the spirit.
Still, the serial killer occupies a singular role in the cast of Americana. Here he—and the vast majority have been male—has been hyperbolized and fetishized, even romanticized. Serial killers are responsible for only a small fraction of the murders committed in the U.S., but they are some of the most notorious figures in our history and culture. Says Sarah Weinman, who runs the newsletter The Crime Lady, “[Serial killing] is twisted fantasy that has roots in the wide-open American landscape, where it is all too easy to hunt and kill without detection and with impunity.”
It was in the 1970s that agents Robert Ressler and John Douglas of the FBI’s behavioral science unit coined and defined the term serial killer, distinguishing one from a mass murderer (who may kill many at once) or a spree killer (who lacks a so-called “cooling off” period between murders). Indeed, the ’70s marked the crimson-stained height of serial killing in the U.S. In that era there were a number of factors working in the assailant’s favor, from lax gun laws to the popularity of psychedelic drugs to the sprawling interstate highway system to cheap gas. And from the dearth of surveillance technology to the spotty coordination among police precincts, it may never have been easier to avoid getting caught.
Woodfield wasn’t the only sociopath terrorizing the West Coast around that time. Ted Bundy’s killing orgy in the Northwest is believed to have begun in 1974, his first eight known victims slain in either Oregon or Washington. And roughly concurrent with the I-5 Killer, Gary Ridgway had begun committing ritualized murder in Seattle, mostly targeting young women. It would take 20 years before he was caught, but immediately he was known as the Green River Killer, a nod to the waterway where his first five known victims were found.
What accounts for our captivation—warped as it might be—with serial killers? Evolutionary biologists have pointed out that as a species, we are hardwired to run away from predators in a way that we don’t reflexively run away from, say, sunbathing or eating bacon or other potential causes of death. So the serial killer triggers fear and a visceral reaction rooted in the most basic human nature.
Others cite the stirring exploration of the darkest corners of humanity. Serial killers may commit acts of unadulterated evil, but they are also figures that generate at least a teensy measure of titillation, sometimes even affection. (See: Lecter, Hannibal.) “In a perverse way, you sometimes end up rooting for these guys,” says Skip Hollandsworth, a true crime writer whose latest book, The Midnight Assassin, focuses on a series of unsolved murders in 1880s Austin.
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Hollandsworth even sees overlapping elements with football. “The reason we love to watch wide receivers is because they are so elusive. They run a particularly designed route, hoping to wriggle free and catch a pass despite a defense stacked against them. It’s the same reason we are fascinated with serial killers. They come up with a particularly designed killing route, carry out the kill and then make their escape, eluding the cops and crime-scene technicians—only to do it all again after taking a breather.”
And while we call serial killers monsters, often they are all too human. There’s something unsettling but also a little tantalizing in the capacity of everyday people—siblings, classmates, coworkers, teammates—to carry out such chilling acts. “He seemed like such a normal guy” is the inevitable refrain from the shocked neighbor. This was a central theme for Ann Rule, a prominent true crime writer who in her best-selling book The Stranger Beside Me portrays Ted Bundy as a handsome, well-spoken, good-looking law student . . . who happened to kill at least 30 women. Rule has conceded, “I can remember thinking that if I were younger and single, or if my daughters were older, [Bundy] would be almost the perfect man.”
From her home base in the serial killer hotbed of Seattle, Rule grew interested in the I-5 case and published a book in 1984 about Woodfield titled The I-5 Killer. A meticulously reported account—and an invaluable resource in this story—Rule’s book relied on public documents as well as interviews with detectives, family members and the socio-path himself. She was clearly captivated by Woodfield’s conventional upbringing, jock pedigree and good looks. Even the breathless jacket synopsis asks how “a suspect who seemed [so] handsome and appealing [could] have committed such ugly crimes.”
The I-5 Killer’s downfall came swiftly and without much drama. A persistent detective, Dave Kominek, led the investigation. He worked in the sheriff’s office of Marion County, Ore., where Hull had been murdered, and he had his suspect pegged early on. Woodfield had already served a prison sentence for preying on women. He was acquainted with multiple victims. He certainly knew his way around the I-5 corridor. And he matched the physical description provided by multiple witnesses. What’s more, Marion County detectives put together a pay-phone call log that showed Woodfield using calling cards within a few miles of various murders. The irony was rich: The son of a Pacific Northwest Bell employee would be done in partly by phone records.
After Lisa Garcia picked Woodfield’s photo out of a lineup, police interrogated him on March 5, 1981. They searched his residence—a room he had been renting from an unsuspecting family in Springfield, Ore.—and found telling evidence: the same brand of tape that had been used to bind victims . . . a .32 bullet in Woodfield’s racquetball bag. . . .
Four days later, police charged him with Hull’s murder, Garcia’s attempted murder and two counts of sodomy. Woodfield, employing a public defender, entered a plea of not guilty. By March 16, indictments were rolling in from various jurisdictions in Washington and Oregon, including multiple counts of murder, rape, sodomy, attempted kidnapping, armed robbery and possession of firearms by an ex-convict. The obligatory Oregonian headline: friends ‘utterly shocked’ by arrest of woodfield. But that wasn’t really the case. As one former PSU teammate puts it, “You just had a bad feeling about the guy, like there was something underneath his mask.” Says Carey, Woodfield’s quarterback, “I was surprised when some of this stuff started coming down, but on reflection, I thought, That does sort of add up.”
When Woodfield’s trial for the incident with Hull and Garcia began in the summer of 1981, it marked the first murder trial for an earnest, fledgling Marion County prosecutor named Chris Van Dyke (whose famous father, Dick, had recently finished up a run on The Carol Burnett Show). At the time, the prosecutor characterized the accused as “an arrogant, cold, unemotional individual . . . probably the coldest, most detached defendant I’ve ever seen.” By his own reckoning, Van Dyke had “armloads of evidence, overwhelming evidence.” And Woodfield’s defense was flimsy, predicated on mistaken identity. At one point the defendant’s lawyer went so far as to suggest that Garcia’s identification of Woodfield was influenced by a detective’s hypnosis.
When Woodfield eventually took the stand, he spoke softly, with his arms crossed, looking nothing like a star athlete or a handsome lothario. Here’s how Rule put it: “Randy Woodfield had been touted in the media as a massively muscled professional athlete. The man in person seemed strangely diminished, not a superman after all. . . . He looked, if anything, humbled—a predatory creature brought down and caged in mid-rampage.” Bizarrely, he admitted in court to having owned a .32 pistol but said that when he’d learned that as a parolee it was a violation to own a firearm, he threw the gun into a river.
Lisa Garcia, meanwhile, was the key witness, recalling the horrific night at the office building five months earlier. She maintained that the man she faced in the courtroom was the same man who, she alleged, shot her and killed her coworker. It took the jury 31⁄2 hours to reach its verdict.
On June 26, 1981, Randall Woodfield was convicted on all counts. With no death penalty option in Oregon, Woodfield, then 30, was sentenced to a prison term of life plus 90 years. That December, 35 more years were added to his sentence when a jury in Benton County, Ore., convicted him of sodomy and weapons charges tied to another attack in a restaurant bathroom.
District attorneys up and down the I-5 corridor had a decision to make. Even if they could secure a conviction, what would be the point? Woodfield was already almost certain to die in prison. Additional trials would drain their offices of time and resources and would put the victims’ families through an excruciating ordeal. Even in California—where Woodfield was accused of killing a mother and her daughter, and where the death penalty would have been an option—the local prosecutor eventually decided against pursuing Woodfield.
Still, the list of his victims has grown. In 2012, detectives in the Portland Police Bureau’s cold case unit, benefiting from new magnetic bead technology at the Oregon state police crime lab, announced they had matched Woodfield’s DNA to evidence from five victims: Fix, Jarvis, Eckard, Altig, and Reitz.
In July 2005, on account of similar DNA matches, Weatheroy, the former Portland lieutenant and cold case supervisor, interrogated Woodfield about his connection to the unsolved crimes. Out of the Oregon State Penitentiary for a day, sitting across from Weatheroy on the 13th floor of the justice building in downtown Portland, Woodfield was pleasant company. “I remember that his hair was perfect, feathered and combed; he had a perfectly even tan, nails manicured,” says Weatheroy. “He was very charismatic, which makes sense because he would lure victims and get them to let their guard down.” Woodfield, though, confessed to nothing.
Ultimately, as in other jurisdictions, authorities in Portland’s Multnomah County decided not to prosecute the murders of Altig, Ayers and Fix. They did, however, hold a press conference to make clear: In the unlikely event that Woodfield was ever granted a parole hearing, they would pursue these additional indictments.
Jim Lawrence, another detective in Portland’s cold case unit, is intimately familiar with the case of the I-5 Killer. A veteran detective who has interviewed the most hardened criminals, he is struck most by Woodfield’s utter lack of accountability or remorse—even decades later, even in the face of indisputable evidence. “If you’re talking about somebody moving toward some form of rehabilitation, they had to at some point acknowledge they are responsible for their own behaviors,” says Lawrence. “That is not Randy Woodfield.”
If Woodfield were, somehow, to be paroled tomorrow? “He would re-offend, there’s no doubt about it,” says Lawrence. “Even to this day, he is still a stone-cold killer.”
Psychologists will tell you it’s a fool’s errand, a gross oversimplification, that there’s no sense looking for one trigger or single event that can explain what internal misfire, what faulty circuitry, could have turned a man into a serial killer. And still, there’s a temptation, near irresistible, to plumb the psyche and fashion an answer to the elemental question we all have of serial killers: Why?
Ann Rule, who passed away last year at 83, long ago concluded that Woodfield killed women as a form of rebellion against his authoritarian mother and two older sisters. (While in prison, Woodfield sued Rule, unsuccessfully, for $12 million on grounds of libel.) Lawrence, the Portland detective, offers a different theory: “There had to be something that happened to him sexually in his formative teenage years that caused him to look at sexual activity as power fulfillment as opposed to an area of procreation and of intimacy.”
What about the sport Woodfield played so expertly? Football did this has become the quick-and-easy explanation for all sorts of antisocial acts, from slugging a fiancée in a casino elevator to running a dog-fighting ring. A sensationally violent sport breeds sensationally violent behavior. Special rules are conferred on star athletes, plumping senses of entitlement. The peculiar rhythms of the sport—one intense day followed by six days of recovery and preparation—are out of whack with the rest of society. Teams (and an image-obsessed league) have mastered the arts of willful blindness and damage control.
Asked about Woodfield in September, Bill Tobin, a longtime NFL exec who was Green Bay’s director of pro scouting in 1974, claimed not to recall Woodfield as a player, much less know that a former draft pick of his was a convicted killer. Yet Portland detectives maintain that the Packers quietly cut Woodfield in part because of off-field concerns. “I know that was a factor,” says Lawrence, “that he was caught exposing himself.”
But in the case of Randall Woodfield, it’s not merely an oversimplification to blame football; it’s at odds with the facts. If anything, football was a temporary source of salvation, delaying Woodfield’s horrific behavior. Survey the time line and it’s easy to make the case that football, beyond being a driving motivation for him, was also a distraction from a primal instinct that had, perhaps always, churned within. Only when football was no longer part of his life did he take a truly dark turn.
The Portland Police Department’s property room sits in an industrial pocket of town, right by the Willamette River. There is a section dedicated to the documents pertaining to Woodfield. Here lie copies of decades-old search warrants and affidavits, as well as a trove of relics from the Packers. Police searching Woodfield’s residence realized that he’d kept every correspondence bearing that green-and-yellow logo, every envelope with the return address of 1265 Lombardi Avenue, in Green Bay.
According to Rule, Woodfield even kept in his wallet a carbon copy of the airline tickets the Packers sent him back in June 1974. Woodfield, she wrote, “would carry the stack of personal letters and mimeographed sheets with him throughout his myriad changes of residence. . . . They were akin to messages from Hollywood to a would-be starlet. They were magic.” Once the magic went away, it was replaced by the sinister.
Woodfield is 65 now. Thirty-five years after his conviction, he sits in Oregon State Penitentiary, nestled among Douglas firs and the Cascades, located in Salem, fittingly, barely a mile from I-5. The Oregon Department of Corrections denied an interview request on the grounds that it “brings notoriety to the inmate—and this is already a high-profile individual—and doesn’t fall within the rehabilitation and correctional plan of the inmate.” Woodfield did not respond to letters or electronic correspondences from SI seeking comment.
This much we know, however: Woodfield is still a football fan. Prison guards recall that he loves to talk about the sport and still remembers his playing days, four decades ago, with striking specificity. Weatheroy, the detective, saw this firsthand. When Woodfield learned that Weatheroy’s son was a high school star in Portland who went on to play for Air Force, the inmate grew animated. “He loved talking about sports,” says Weatheroy. “His high school career, playing in college, his time with Green Bay. . . .” When the conversation turned to weightier topics, however, Woodfield clammed up, tried to change the subject and grew distant.
Woodfield did join MySpace in 2006, and his profile was as close as he’s ever come to taking ownership of his past. It also says plenty about how he still self-identifies: “I spend the remainder of my days in prison because I have committed a murder along with many other crimes. I once tried out for the Green Bay Packers. The only reason I didn’t make it is because the skills I had to offer they didn’t need at the time.”
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