TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WOOD) — More than 30 years after she helped kill at least five elderly women in a West Michigan nursing home, serial killer Catherine Wood walked out of prison on Thursday.
Wood, now 57, walked out of the federal prison in Tallahassee, released over the objections of her victims’ relatives. They fear she'll kill again.
Conditions of Wood's parole show she won't be returning to West Michigan to live, at least for now. Instead, WOOD has learned the Alpine Manor Nursing Home killer will live with her sister in Fort Mill, South Carolina, a city of 17,000 people just outside Charlotte, North Carolina.
"I'm glad she's not coming back here, but on the other side of the coin, I sympathize with the people that are going to be living around her, wherever she goes," said John Engman, son-in-law of victim Mae Mason.
He helped lead the fight against Wood's release.
"If I was a neighbor, I would want to definitely know that we have a serial killer living next door," Engman said.
In 1987, Wood and Gwendolyn Graham killed at least five patients — and possibly as many as a dozen — at the Alpine Manor Nursing Home, where the women were nurse’s aides. They did it for fun and to bind their love.
The Michigan Parole Board had denied Wood's release eight times before, finding she was a potential danger and wasn't remorseful, but that changed in September 2018. Victims’ family members tried to stop it, but a Kent County judge ruled in October 2019 that she should be released.
Retired Walker Police Department Sgt. Roger Kaliniak, who helped investigate the murders at Alpine Manor in 1987, said he fears Wood could kill again.
"She's a serial killer and she could do it again, and most of them do," Kaliniak said.
Wood spent most of her adult life in the Federal Correctional Institution in Tallahassee, kept separate from Graham, her accomplice, who is serving life without parole in Michigan.
Wood testified against Graham, saying Graham suffocated the victims with washcloths as she acted as a lookout.
But investigators said they believe Wood was more involved and there could have been as many as a dozen victims.
"I believe that Cathy Wood was the mastermind, she was the one that was pulling strings on Gwendolyn Graham," Kaliniak, the retired detective said. "Gwendolyn Graham handled the dirty work and Cathy Wood was the brains behind it. "
The pair at first tried to spell 'MURDER' with their victims' initials.
Graham was ultimately convicted of first-degree murder in the deaths of Mae Mason, 79, Edith Cook, 98; Marguerite Chambers, 60; Myrtle Luce, 95; and Belle Burkhard, 74. The victims all suffered from dementia or Alzheimer's disease.
Under the terms of a plea agreement, Wood pleaded to second-degree murder in Chambers’ death and was sentenced to 20 to 40 years in prison.
Kaliniak's partner in the investigation, retired Detective Sgt. Tom Freeman, said he believes Wood has earned her freedom in exchange for her testimony against Graham.
"If it wasn't for that deal, Gwen Graham would probably have been loose today," Freeman said.
He said he doesn't believe Wood is a threat.
"It's a horrific crime that these two people were involved in, and I think that both of them should be in prison forever," Kaliniak said.
"My fear is that she will find some old person, old people, incorporate herself into their family, take their property, take their lives and move on and do it again," said Engman, the son-in-law of a victim.
The South Carolina parole board said Wood's parole will keep her from caring for the elderly, for children and for vulnerable adults. But those conditions end when her parole ends in June 2021.