The Early Years
During the early fall of 2006, a 35-year-old polygamist, con man and published crime writer forced his way into a domestic violence shelter and murdered his estranged wife in cold blood. A month-long, nationwide manhunt followed, during which Crime Library reporter David Lohr exposed the killer’s secret online life. He was eventually found dead inside a houseboat on Fontana Lake, near Almond, N.C. The cause of his death remains a mystery.
John Raymond “Woody” Woodring
John Raymond “Woody” Woodring was born in Port Matilda, Pa., on July 2, 1971. According to his own account of his life, which he outlined in a book he published in 2005, Woodring’s father left his mother before he was born, and his mother gave custody of him at age 11 to his grandparents, Raymond and Irene Woodring.
Boo cover: The Convict Speaks
“After a couple of years of living a normal, happy life, Woody was faced with another heartbreaking situation,” reads an excerpt from his book, The Convict Speaks. “His grandfather died from Cancer right after Woody turned thirteen. This tragedy plus the abusive childhood that Woody had survived had caused him to come apart at the seams. Woody was arrested several times for underage drinking, assault, disorderly conduct, and only by the sake of a miracle, Woody was able to graduate from Tyrone Area High School in 1989.”
Following his graduation from high school, Woodring enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. Later in life, he would brag about his alleged participation in the Gulf War and the many medals he supposedly earned. However, those who knew him personally say he was anything but a model soldier.
According to Ben Walker, a man who trained with Woodring in Jacksonville, Fla., in the early 1990s, Woodring, then 20, had several altercations with the authorities, and served a short stint in a military jail for making a false ID.
“He stole another Marine’s ID card and laminated his photo on it to get access to the bars,” Walker said in an interview with Crime Library.
Not long thereafter, Woodring was involved in another incident at a strip club in Millington, Tenn.
“Woody was late coming to class one day, and when he arrived, he gave us this crazy story about how he took one of the strippers to a hotel room, and she pulled a gun on him demanding money after he did the deed,” Walker said. “The local police got involved and the hooker—I mean stripper—had a wad of money on her. The cop asked Woody if it was his money, and he said it was; so the cops handed over the money to Woody and sent him on his way. This was back in 1991, between July and December.”
Walker also had his own personal run-in with Woodring.
“I even got into a fight with Woody when we were both in Millington, TN, for training, before we went to Jacksonville. I think it was over a girl. I’m pretty sure that’s why we fought; but all I know was he was super drunk, and I was with a girl that he wanted to be with; and he went crazy.
“It wasn’t really much of a fight because he kept charging at me, and I would just keep pushing him down to the ground; but the thing about it was he just wouldn’t stop! This lasted for about 30 minutes, and then he finally cooled down, until he took a look at himself in a mirror and noticed that his face was all bloody from carpet burns. He got those from when I would throw him to the ground on the carpet.
“He went crazy again and kept yelling, ‘We’re not done until I do to you what you did to me.’ He once again charged at me, and I once again kept throwing him down to the ground for the next 30 minutes or so. The next day on base he was telling me how sorry he was, and he was back to normal.”
In 1992, Woodring married Lisa Maria Fisher from Cullowhee, N.C. According to their 1997 divorce decree, Woodring and Lisa had one child together. It is also stated in the paperwork that Lisa was entitled to the “return of her maiden name, Lisa M. Fisher.”
John Raymond “Woody” Woodring
Before the ink was dry on his divorce papers, Woodring had married his second wife at the Qualla Boundary Cherokee Reservation, where she was a tribal member. In September 1997, just one month after the couple was married, his wife filed for a restraining order. In a statement he made, filed with his wife’s restraining order request, Woodring said he pushed her around and threatened to hit her during an argument “over differences” on Sept. 16, 1997. Woodring said he stopped only after she started to cry.
There was also a letter in the court file Woodring had written to his wife, begging her forgiveness.
“There is a lot more for us to do together,” Woodring wrote. “Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas are coming up, and it sure would be nice to be back with my family. Remember Mingo Falls, the sound and the beauty of water running over the rocks, how peaceful it was? Our life can be like that, peaceful and beautiful. I miss being able to fall asleep beside you and waking up with you. Please come back into my life.”
Despite Woodring’s opposition, the restraining order was granted without delay and his wife abruptly left him.
Less than a month later, Woodring was arrested and charged with domestic violence. Woodring responded by taking out an advertisement in the Cherokee One Feather, a tribal newspaper. The ad, which included a photograph of the couple together, pleaded with Woodring’s wife to come back and make the marriage work. The courts ruled his advertisement violated the restraining order, and Woodring was charged with contempt of court.
According to the Cherokee Indian Police Department reports, Woodring’s violent behavior began to escalate; on March 1, 1998, he went to the home where his wife was staying, forced her onto a bed and punched her in the face. Since the assault occurred on a reservation, police charged him with a federal crime. He spent three days in jail before making bond. Less than three hours after his release, Woodring violated the restraining order again and went back to his wife’s house. According to federal court records, he sneaked in a window, yanked the telephone cord out of the wall and threatened his wife, claiming he had a gun hidden in the woods. His wife somehow managed to escape and called the police from a neighbor’s house. Four months later, her suit for divorce was granted. Court records indicate no further contact between the couple.
As a result of his crimes against his second wife, Woodring was sentenced to three months in a federal detention facility. He later wrote about the experience in his book, The Convict Speaks.
Western Carolina University
“It is that experience that opened his eyes. Woody found himself living with murderers, thieves, rapists and other violent people. He began to wonder why people like himself and others committed such crimes. He wanted to know what fueled the behavior and he began to become interested in gaining that knowledge.
Bonnie Lynn Mertz Woodring
“After being released from the Ashville Detention Facility in 1999, Woody was accepted at Southwestern Community College in the program of Human Services and Substance Abuse Counseling. Woody excelled at his studies and he graduated with two associate’s degrees, before transferring to Western Carolina University, where Woody met an instructor in whom he would come to admire and respect; Dr. Peter Nieckarz. Dr. Nieckarz is extremely experienced in the area of deviant behavior and after a lot of input from Dr. Nieckarz, Woody began to become interested in this subject as well.”
Woodring waited a little over a year before marrying his third wife, Jody Anissa Sutton on July 3, 1999. Woodring lied on the marriage license and stated it was his second marriage. According to an Internet post he later made to a family tree website, Woodring had two children with Jody.
“My name is John Raymond Woodring…I was hoping to update some of your information. I married Jody Annissa Sutton…I have two sons…”
It remains unclear how Woodring’s third marriage fared. However, given his past behaviors, it likely mimicked his previous marriages. Court documents show that Jody was granted a divorce in November 2005; some six months later, Woodring would marry his fourth wife, 48-year-old Bonnie Lynn Mertz.
Woody Meets Bonnie
Woodring and Bonnie first met during the winter of 2004, at a country and western concert in Tennessee. The two hit it off well, and afterwards, they went to a bar and talked over drinks. Woodring was charming, and Bonnie quickly took a liking to him. She knew nothing of his lengthy criminal record, which by now included arrests for domestic violence, possession of marijuana, simple assault, trespassing, forgery, theft, and disorderly conduct.
John and Bonnie Woodring
Over the course of the next few weeks, Woodring would call or visit Bonnie on a regular basis. She felt smothered at first. However, against her better judgment, she brushed those feelings aside and soon fell deeply in love with him. Just six weeks after their initial meeting, Woodring proposed marriage to Bonnie. Not ready to jump into a commitment, Bonnie told him she was not ready. Not yet anyway.
Eric Rudolph and Pamela Smart
Woodring did not let Bonnie’s rejection get him down, and he continued to see her on a regular basis. When the two were not indulging in their shared love of photography, Woodring divided his time between his studies at Western Carolina University and his fascination with true crime. Woodring had a lengthy criminal past of his own, and he had spent time in both civilian and military jails. He could relate to inmates, and he eventually began to correspond with some of America’s most notorious criminals. His favorites were Eric Rudolph, David “Son of Sam” Berkowitz and seductress Pamela Smart. Woodring’s hobby became an obsession, and he eventually decided to write a book about his correspondences.
Within his manuscript, Woodring included unedited transcripts of the letters he received, along with a description of the crimes each person committed. Woodring also provided details about his own life and crimes. In one chapter, he wrote that he would often research crimes on TV by watching “Lifetime, CourtTV, A&E, and several others.”
Woodring sent off copies of his completed manuscript to several publishing houses, certain someone would jump on the chance to publish it. However, the poorly written manuscript was rejected every time.
The Convict Speaks
Woodring soon learned Bonnie was receiving a large sum of money from a divorce settlement, in excess of one hundred thousand dollars. Woodring was probably too embarrassed to admit he would have to pay to have his book published, so he approached Bonnie and asked her if he could borrow $30,000 to start a mobile mechanic business. Ever the con man, Woodring was able to spin his idea in a way that made sense to Bonnie, so she rolled the dice and lent him the money, with the understanding that he would have to pay it back.
Woodring took the money he borrowed from Bonnie and started a business called Professional Publishing Services. The website, which is no longer online, was registered to Lisa Fisher.
Woodring self-published The Convict Speaks in February 2005. According to an editorial review on Amazon.com, the book “offers a first time intimate look into several true crime stories that have had movies made from them. The author removes the Hollywood spin from the stories and allows the reader to hear the story from the perpetrators of the actual crime and their co-conspirators.”
John “Woody” Woodring
On March 10, 2005, Derek Hodges, a reporter for the Sylva Herald, spoke with Woodring about his book. During the interview, Woodring said he was a veteran of the Gulf War and the victim of a “very rough childhood.” He also described several run-ins with the law, including a DUI and a brief jail stay for an assault. It was during that jail term that Woodring claimed to have developed an interest in criminal behavior. “When I was in jail, I got curious about why people do the things they do,” he said. Woodring said that upon his release from jail, he entered college and his fascination with criminals turned into an obsession with true crime. That obsession led him to begin corresponding with the criminals he read about. “I wanted to know what the real story was, without the Hollywood spin on it,” he said. “There’s always a few out there who are just wired wrong, but most of the people I talked to had rough childhoods…prison really changes a person.”
In May 2005, Woodring graduated from Western Carolina University. That month was especially busy for Woodring, as Bonnie finally agreed to marry him. Their small wedding was held in Gatlinburg, Tenn., on May 20, 2005. Afterwards, the newlyweds celebrated their union in Hawaii.
Bounty Hunter Duane “Dog” Chapman
During their Hawaii honeymoon, Woodring went to see world-renowned bounty hunter Duane “Dog” Chapman. Unfortunately for Woodring, Chapman was out of town at the time. Nonetheless, always ready to self-promote, Woodring made sure to leave an autographed copy of his book with Chapman’s secretary.
In July of 2005, several of Bonnie’s family members came for a visit. For reasons that remain unclear, Woodring assaulted a male family member by choking him and then head-butted a female family member. The Sylva Police Department was called to the scene, but the incident never resulted in an arrest.
John “Woody” Woodring
While Bonnie worked as a nurse at a local hospital, Woodring decided to enroll in college classes at Western Carolina University to earn a master’s degree in counseling. He told Bonnie he planned on starting his own business after he graduated and that they could run it together. Shortly after enrolling, he began working part-time as a graduate teaching assistant at WCU.
Sylvia Police Department
Woodring maintained several Internet websites in his spare time. On his main website, Woodringincorporated.com, the entry page was titled: “Integrity Means Success. Welcome to my personal website!” Text taken from the website read in part:
“I appreciate you stopping by! I have been really lucky in life to be where I am today! I used to think that life wasn’t fair to me, but I realize now that life is what you make it. Life doesn’t meet anyone half way and I can attest to that! Life gives us what we need! Not always what we want, but what we need!
“I have went back and forth on this site trying to decide to what to write and what to put up here and I still don’t know. I enjoy looking back at where I have been and then looking forward to see where I want to end up. I have been lucky in life. I’m not dead, or in prison. I sure had a ticket to both of those places. I still make mistakes but today I am a better person.
“I have people who respect me and who would help me at the drop of a hat. I have a wonderful wife, and children who put up with my nonsense. I don’t let things get to me like they used to and I owe that to my self-growth. I look back at all of the wrong that I have done and each time I learned a valuable lesson. However, I was a very slow learner! VERY SLOW.
“My wife Bonnie taught me something that I live by and that I take very seriously. Life is really short and we just shouldn’t take things for granted. Each day I still wish I had a mom and a dad with and sisters and brothers but those dream can never come true and I accept that. I am lucky and thankful to have what I do have!
“Through my eyes I have seen some wonderful things and I have felt some great feelings. I have seen a sunset in Hawaii, and I have felt my heart flutter as I watched the flag blow at Pearl Harbor. I have felt the love that my wife has for me, standing under a waterfall committing myself forever. Although things will never be perfect, I know I am a good person despite what others may decide to say.”
Woody the Con Man
Woodring and Bonnie’s life together was seemingly blissful, and with nothing but blue skies on the horizon, the couple decided to take another step forward and purchase a home together.
John and Bonnie Woodring
According to a deed of trust dated September 8, 2005, Woodring and Bonnie borrowed one hundred forty thousand dollars from a state employee’s credit union to purchase a single story house located at 621 Kitchens Branch Road in Sylva, North Carolina. Woodring and Bonnie moved into the home with Bonnie’s 13-year-old son and two of Woodring’s sons.
Not long after moving into the home, Bonnie found legal documents detailing Woodring’s marriage to Jody Anissa Sutton, which prompted Bonnie to pay a visit to the county courthouse, during which she found out Woodring had never legally divorced Jody. Bonnie was understandably angry and demanded an explanation. Woodring, always capable of coming up with a quick excuse, told Bonnie he thought the marriage had been annulled years ago. He expressed just as much shock as she did and assured her he would file for a speedy divorce.
Woodring and Jody were legally divorced on November 21, 2005. Three months later, he wed Bonnie again. However, this time around was not quite as magical as the first, and the couple opted to have the ceremony conducted before a justice of the peace.
Following their second wedding, things began to take a turn for the worse. Bonnie discovered Woodring was stealing money from her, forging checks and opening secret bank accounts. He was even diverting some of Bonnie’s direct deposits from child support to those hidden accounts. During this time, Bonnie also became suspicious that Woodring was cheating on her. She discovered he had a profile on MySpace and noticed some of the people on his “friends list” were swingers. In addition to his Internet activities, she also discovered he had nude photos of himself on his computer. The relationship rapidly declined, and court records show Woodring was pulled over and arrested for DUI in the weeks following their second marriage ceremony.
The downward spiral continued; on March 29, 2006, Woodring was arrested for forgery and common law robbery, which in the state of North Carolina is defined as “the taking and carrying away personal property of another from his person or presence.” Woodring had allegedly stolen a check from an elderly woman’s mailbox and cashed it after forging her name.
As spring turned to summer, Bonnie went through her own metamorphosis and began acting like a different person. According to friends, the change was so drastic, they suspected she was on drugs. In reality, Bonnie was being abused both physically and mentally. Woodring limited Bonnie’s contact with friends and family members and controlled nearly every aspect of her life.
While Bonnie desperately wanted to escape the marriage, she was afraid of Woodring and began suffering from severe bouts of depression. She was angry with herself for ignoring her gut feeling and angry she had remarried Woodring, who had, by now, ruined her credit and depleted her entire savings. When they had started out, Bonnie had hoped Woodring would begin to contribute something to their bank account, but his only interest was in draining it. Bonnie’s money published his book, purchased his two boats and paid for his 2002 Corvette. Bonnie had nothing, and Woodring had everything.
On June 9, 2006, Bonnie finally decided to stand up for herself and filed a complaint for a domestic violence protective order. Within the complaint, she wrote:
“From the beginning our relationship has been rocky, riddled with jealous rages, intimidation, pushing me down, threatening to kill me if I ever left him anytime we fought over the last year. [He] degrades and cusses at me and my child. Last July [he] assaulted my daughter and her boyfriend visiting from Texas. I am very afraid for myself and my child. He is an ex-marine and very strong. Yesterday he was screaming and cussing at children and cussed at me. Children were crying and scared. Approx 2 weeks ago [he] purposely bruised son’s arm ‘play fighting.’”
Jackson County District Court Judge Danny Davis
After reviewing Bonnie’s complaint, Jackson County District Court Judge Danny Davis ruled Bonnie “failed to prove grounds of ex parte relief” and her petition was denied.
Bonnie’s attempt at getting a restraining order forced Woodring to temporarily change his tactics. Rather then belittle Bonnie, he took some of the blame upon himself and said he was “no good” for her and that maybe he should “kill himself” or crash his Corvette. He even suggested he might take his boat out, overdose on pills and then sink it. In the end, Bonnie stayed out of fear, not out of pity.
Things boiled over once more on September 13, 2006. On that day, Woodring again lost his temper and attacked Bonnie. The following text is taken from her second complaint for a domestic violence protective order:
“I have been in this relationship for 1½ years and over the last several months have tried to work on getting out of this abusive relationship including filing [a] restraining order before, which was denied. This man has previously been convicted of assault on other wives. Three weeks ago when I attempted to leave he choked me twice and ripped off my necklace and tried to remove my ring. He comes to my work and harasses me, even today, and keeps tabs on where I am 24/7. It has taken me three weeks to safely plan how and when to leave. He uses his strength, build and Marine ways to intimidate me and my son. He has also choked my son…
“Three days ago Woody put his foot on [redacted] face while he was lying on the ground. Woody states he was ‘playing’ but [redacted] was crying. It was obvious that this was upsetting [redacted]. I spoke to Woody that this was not playing and hurt [redacted]. Woody states he is such a [illegible] baby and ‘momasboy’. Woody thinks the ‘rough housing’ is normal but [it] is distressing to my son. Concerned for [my] child’s safety, this distress caused me to lose my position at work and [I] had to transfer to another department. He also threatens to kill me if I ever left him.”
Following Bonnie’s second petition, the court finally granted the order. It read in part:
“No contact includes any defendant-initiated contact, direct or indirect, by means such as telephone, personal contact, Email, pager, gift-giving or telefacsimile machine.”
In addition to the court order, a hearing was set for September 19, 2006. Relieved, Bonnie and her son went to stay at a local domestic violence shelter.
Battered Womans’ Shelter
When Bonnie got word that Woodring was served with the restraining order, she waited until he left their house and then went inside to grab some of her things. As she was packing, Woodring kicked the door in and threw her on the ground. As he began choking her, Bonnie’s 13-year-old son ran next door to a neighbor’s house. Woodring was aware the cops would be coming soon, so he jumped into his truck, smashed through the garage doors and fled the scene. The neighbor’s 911 call was recorded:
OPERATOR: Jackson County 911. Do you have an emergency?
CALLER: Yes, um, our neighbors, the Woodrings, up here on Kitchens Branch…
CALLER: His son, her son, is down here saying someone is beating his mother. You need to get somebody up here.
By the time officers from the Sylva Police Department arrived, Woodring was long gone. He had choked Bonnie so badly that she required medical attention. An arrest warrant was quickly drawn up, and an APB was put out on Woodring’s vehicle. A short time later, Woodring was pulled over by the police. However, he somehow managed to escape on foot.
A few days after the choking incident, on Sunday, September 17, 2006, Bonnie sent out the following email to a close family member:
“New news! I left woody, got a restaining order, he violated it by showing up at the house, tried to kill me by choking me, couldnt talk or swallow for 4 days (was in the ER). He commited a felony doing this, not sure right now about moving, as I have alot to settle and press charges and fix the house. He crashed his truck into the garage. We have been in the shelter to keep safe. [Redacted] saw it all and called the law from the neighbors. I have no phone except work [redacted] and this new email account right now. Will keep you posted. I am fine, I am strong do not worry about me too much…”
According to a source close to the investigation, Woodring called the Sylva Police Department on September 17 and agreed to turn himself in the following day. However, emails Crime Library reporter David Lohr later uncovered, which were exchanged between Woodring and Bonnie, suggest he had no plans of facing the charges and give an in-depth glimpse into Woodring’s troubled mind.
Talk To Me, Part 1
In his first email, sent at 7:55 a.m. on September 17, Woodring responded to an argument he had previously had with Bonnie, during which she had accused him of being a narcissist. This email read in part:
John “Woody” Woodring
“This is what you believe I am? ‘Behavior or a fantasy of grandiosity, a lack of empathy and a need to be admired by others…’ I am not this, I have empathy and I don’t look at myself as handsome and unresistable [sic] and I don’t believe I am special by any means. Bonnie, I love you, I am just a guy who fu—ed up. I am loving, caring, compassionate and I go out of my way to make you happy. Please forgive me.”
The next email was sent five minutes later. In it, he mentions an eBay address having something to do with his recent behavior. It was later revealed that Bonnie had been looking into his online accounts and had discovered via eBay that Woodring had rented an apartment.
“I was just thinking about something. You know in the last two years all of the places that we have been. Florida, Hawaii, Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina. Bonnie please don’t let what I have done throw this away. I love you so very much and I am willing to do whatever it takes to prove to you that I mean this. I thought I was doing well. I really did. It was the ebay [sic] address that triggered this! It had to be!”
Woodring waited nearly three hours before sending another communication, at 12:34 p.m., which contained only three words: “I Love you.” A little over an hour later, he sent another message, apologizing for damaging the garage.
“I had two people come out yesterday to fix the garage where I rear-ended it. The wall is back in place, they took the garage door down where I parked. It was rotted anyway as I recall. It needs the trim put back on and a support block, but it is up and you don’t have to get insurance to pay for it. I am sorry I did that and I am sorry I hurt you. I love you so much. I can’t believe all of this has happened. Please forgive me.”
A little over an hour later, Woodring sent Bonnie another email, stating he sold their pet “Mia” for $150.00. Why he did so, other than the intention of hurting Bonnie, is unknown. Less than an hour after that, Woodring sent another email, letting Bonnie know he had put a check in the mailbox for her. He again apologized for his behavior and said, “I don’t ever want to hurt you in any way, whether money or otherwise.”
Bonnie never replied to Woodring on September 17. According to a source close to the investigation, she knew Woodring was accessing her email, and because of this, she opened another account. Afterwards, she sent out a few emails, letting people know she was safe. Woodring had not found out about Bonnie’s new email account, and the following day, he redoubled his efforts. At 10:12 a.m. on September 18, 2006, he wrote:
“Bonnie, you do know we had something wonderful don’t you? I have heard most of this stuff is coming from [redacted]. I am not sure the motive, maybe being friends with [redacted] and others who know my past, but nonetheless cant you let my past just die? I Love you Bonnie Lynn Woodring!”
Talk To Me, Part 2
Bonnie sent back only one reply, at 1:19 p.m., regarding the money Woodring had mentioned the previous day:
“Have someone drop monies off at the front desk… not you.”
John “Woody” Woodring
The message was short and to the point. Nonetheless, Woodring continued to flood Bonnie’s inbox with messages, and over the course of the next five hours, he kept himself busy. He ordered flowers for Bonnie and had them delivered to her employer along with a video message for her, which he posted on their website under the title “I am sorry Bonnie.” The video showed photos of the two honeymooning in Hawaii and was set to music with lyrics including “I’m sorry that I hurt you.”
In addition to the video, Woodring sent a text message to his wife, which read: “Bonnie, I am so very sorry for everything that has happened. You mean more to me than anything in this world. I know some things can be taken back, but I will do anything for a chance to turn things around.”
Woodring then fired off another email to Bonnie at 3:40 p.m., begging her to talk to him.
“Bonnie, I love you, please talk to me about where we or I went wrong. I love you so very much! Please just watch what I made you on the website. I am so sorry for what I have done. You should know that I don’t want to be that person. The thing is that I was not even angry at you. I was just hurt that you were pushing me away again and I just didn’t know why… I miss you so very much! Please talk to me.”
Three minutes later:
“I promise to give you the time you need, but please just talk to me this way? I love you and I think deep down you have to know that we truly had something special that few couples have.”
Five minutes later:
“I want you to know that I am not going to bother face to face anymore. I miss you and I want to talk but I want you to feel safe doing it. Would you please talk through email? I can’t say I am sorry enough for what has happened. I love you Bonnie Woodring.”
Perhaps finally realizing his emails were not having the desired impact, Woodring logged into Bonnie’s Yahoo account and sent her an email from her own address. Regardless of his intent, it was just plain creepy:
“Bonnie Please call your husband today on his cell phone. I wish I could be that inner voice and that place inside you that knows that I love you so very very much!”
Woodring waited a half-hour before sending another message, in which he told Bonnie that she would be receiving flowers from him. His subsequent emails became increasingly desperate. At 6:13 p.m., he pleaded:
“Bonnie, I have tried everything just to get you to talk to me just a little bit. I know that what I did really scared you and I am sure you have some strong emotions right now. I love you so very much and you are all I can think about. I mean Bonnie, I waited my whole life for a special person to come along like you. Please do let my f—k up ruin our life. I know you know that I am not that person. I am loving, and gentle. I am missing so much of the small stuff. I really miss washing your hair and just laying on your lap. Please talk to me honey!”
Not long after sending this email, Woodring was notified by the florist that Bonnie had refused the delivery of his flowers. Enraged that she had refused his “gesture of love,” he wrote her another email, complaining about the money he had wasted on the gift, but beseeching her forgiveness.
“You just cost us $100.00,” he wrote. “I understand you being angry, but please let me try!”
Bonnie did not reply. Still fuming over the lack of response, Woodring sent a final email to Bonnie, timestamped 9:04 p.m.
“Bonnie, I wanted to email you this last time. I just spoke with mother and I need you to know something. I do not blame you at all for how you feel. I don’t blame you at all! I will not be trying anymore. I have left you a letter and I will be out of your life forever. I hope you find peace with that. I never wanted this to happen. I have heard some things that you told my mom I had done and I would like you to know that you are getting what people want you to hear.
John “Woody” Woodring showing tattoo
“I never cheated on you and I never had any girlfriends while we were married. I think you need to also realize that you didn’t have to leave this time. I was towing the line! I really was. However, you will get a letter of last wishes from me and I just hope that after I am gone we could meet again because you are my soul mate and I truly believe that. I don’t expect you to call my cell, but it will be the last chance you have to talk to me. I hope one day you will forgive me and it might take me leaving to do just that. I love you. Your tattoo on your chest spells it for me. My eternity didn’t mean to you what it meant to me. Love Woody.”
Less than ten minutes later, Woodring stole a neighbor’s car, along with a 12-gauge shotgun, and drove the four miles to the domestic violence shelter where Bonnie was staying with her son.
Upon arriving at the “safe haven” for women, Woodring grabbed the shotgun and forced his way inside, assaulting a female shelter employee by pushing her to the ground. Fearing for the woman’s safety, Bonnie ran out from her hiding place and interposed herself between Woodring and the woman. Words were exchanged, and Woodring aimed the shotgun at Bonnie. According to witnesses, he yelled, “You don’t want to die, but you’re gonna,” and then shot Bonnie in the chest at point-blank range. Woodring then fled the shelter in the stolen car as Bonnie’s 13-year-old son rushed from his hiding place and cradled his mother in his arms as she took her last breaths.
Following the shooting, investigators were unable to locate Woodring, so they issued a nationwide alert. Ten law enforcement agencies in North Carolina, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, Texas and Pennsylvania, all places where Woodring had known connections, were put on alert.
When investigators with the Sylva Police Detective searched Woodring’s home, they discovered a notebook with a letter to Bonnie, a computer printout of directions and a paper with notations about Eric Rudolph, the Olympic Park bomber who had managed to evade the FBI for more than five years.
Roughly one week later, an off-duty sheriff’s deputy discovered the stolen 2006 Honda Civic Woodring had been driving parked at a Greyhound bus terminal in Knoxville, Tenn. According to eyewitness accounts, the vehicle had been in the parking lot for about three days. Surveillance cameras at the terminal were unable to provide investigators with any clues, and none of the station’s employees could say, with any certainty, whether or not Woodring had purchased a ticket. The station did not keep a passenger list, and travelers were not required to show identification when purchasing tickets. Realizing Woodring could have traveled anywhere in the United States, authorities charged Woodring with unlawful flight to avoid prosecution and enlisted the help of the FBI, causing Woodring to be placed on their list of “Most Wanted” fugitives.
On September 25, 2006, Bonnie Woodring’s family said their last goodbyes during her burial at Woodlands Forest North Cemetery in Houston, Texas. Her mother, four daughters, son, and two granddaughters were present. “We were so afraid for her,” Christina Stojanik, one of Bonnie’s daughters, told The Asheville Citizen-Times. “But you just don’t expect the worst.”
As the hunt for Woodring gained momentum on land, Crime Library reporter David Lohr began following the trail Woodring had left on the Internet. Lohr dug up volumes of information of various Internet accounts, which he was able to provide to the FBI to assist them in their investigation. Lohr also uncovered several personal ads Woodring had placed on various websites, presumably for the purpose of either replacing Bonnie or engaging in an extramarital affair.
One of the first personal ads Lohr found was placed on Yahoo.com. In it, Woodring described himself as a “romantic” who was looking for a “special someone.”
“I am a young man looking for a special woman to get to know and see where things go,” Woodring wrote. “I enjoy the outdoors, so on nice days you can find me swiming [sic] and boating at the lake.
“I am not a judgmental person, and I accept people for who they are. I would like to find someone who is outgoing and who is not afraid to live life at the fullest! If I sound interesting, drop me a line.”
Shortly after publishing an article about Woodring’s secret online life, Lohr was contacted by a woman who identified herself as “Tammy” and claimed to have met Woodring through the adult personals website Adultfriendfinder.com, which describes itself as “the world’s largest sex personals site.” Tammy said she could not remember the screen name Woodring used, but she did say that in his ad there was a photo of a naked woman bent over a bed. Allegedly, standing directly behind her in this photo was a smiling Woody Woodring, naked and fully erect. Tammy said the woman in the photo appeared to be in her early 20s. She also said Woodring told her that the young woman in the photo was one of his students. Tammy said Woodring had told her he was looking for sex online, because his wife was “boring and would not put out.” Woodring allegedly told her he liked redheads and older women.
Tammy described in detail how Woodring enjoyed masturbating on his webcam for her and how he would send her nude photos of himself. When asked where Woodring would take the women he met online, Tammy said he liked to meet them at a hotel not far from the college where he worked. She said if he were comfortable with a woman, he would sneak her into his house while Bonnie was at work.
Using the information provided by Tammy, Lohr was able to locate Woodring’s profile at Adultfriendfinder.com. In it, he wrote: “I’m married, looking for some fun side action. I really like redheads.”
Though the profile itself is not very informative, it did corroborate Tammy’s statements that Woodring was prowling for sex on through the Internet. Not long after finding this profile, Lohr also found a profile Woodring had placed on the BDSM (bondage, discipline, sadism & masochism) website Collarme.com, an “Alternative Lifestyles Community.” According to Woodring’s BDSM profile, his last visit had been on April 12, 2006. Under the headline “I am in for anything,” Woodring described himself as a “dominant Male” who was “actively seeking” a submissive woman, a switch woman or a dominant transsexual.
In an effort to come up with an accurate profile of Woodring, Lohr contacted criminal profiler Dr. Deborah Schurman-Kauflin, an expert criminal profiler who has studied and investigated serial killers for over 20 years. Dr. Schurman-Kauflin, best known for profiling the elusive BTK serial killer, agreed to provide the Crime Library with a profile of Woodring, based upon both published and non-published facts provided to her.
Dr. Deborah Schurman-Kauflin
“Woodring clearly has an obsession with the most deviant, violent offenders,” Dr. Schurman-Kauflin said. “His escalating pattern of violence, coupled with his compelling desire to appear as an expert himself, make him extremely dangerous. From examining his background, it is clear that Woodring desperately wanted to look like he was a nice guy who was in control. At the same time, his life was spiraling downward.
“He likely was drawn to serial killers due to his own dark, internal desires. Simply, he was playing a dangerous game of delving into the minds of the most horrible offenders and then presenting himself as an authority to feel superior. Very often, those who have deviant desires seek out those who are like-minded. This allowed him to be close to that with which he was comfortable. By writing about the killers, he could live vicariously through them and at the same time give out hints of what was truly lurking in his psyche.
“There is a definite duality in him. He wanted others to view him as worthwhile and educated, but inside, it is very likely that he was spinning out of control. Writing public pleas to his estranged love interest was not actually what it appeared to be. This was another way to victimize the female and humiliate her. It was a way to make her respond to him on his terms. You see this pattern in his life; thus it is very likely that you will see this behavior in the future.
“He will not surrender on someone else’s terms… He sees himself as special, and he will want others to see him that way as well [but] he will overestimate his abilities, and that will lead to his apprehension.”
During the hunt for Woodring, his family members declined to speak with Crime Library. However, a source close to the family described him as a “textbook narcissist” who had no respect for authority. When asked what his intentions could be, the source said the family would not be surprised if Woodring decided to take revenge on those he perceived as wronging him in the past. “He [Woodring] won’t commit suicide,” the source said. “He thinks too much of himself.” When asked where he might be heading, the source speculated, “He’s not worried about going into hiding, because he thinks he is smarter then the common criminal and he’s not worried about getting caught.”
End Of The Line
The hunt for John Raymond “Woody” Woodring came to an abrupt end on November 1, 2006, when his body was found aboard a houseboat on Fontana Lake, near Almond, N.C. The owners of the houseboat, Mark Leopard and Mike Megrath, were about to prepare the vessel for the winter when they stumbled upon Woodring’s lifeless body.
The incident that brought about his death is believed to have occurred less than 24 hours before the initial discovery. A photo of Bonnie was reportedly in Woodring’s hand, and a .38-caliber handgun was found at his side. Authorities later learned that the handgun was stolen from inside another houseboat at the lake. A handwritten note was also found near Woodring’s body. In the note, he allegedly apologized for killing his wife and says he wants to join her in heaven.
According to Almond area residents, investigators had been scouring the area on and off for about two weeks after a stolen Tennessee church bus was found abandoned in the area. After the discovery of Woodring’s body, several residents noticed food and other miscellaneous items missing from their own boats. It is believed Woodring was using these items to survive during his brief stay in the area.
Bonnie’s family members expressed great relief upon learning of the discovery. David Lohr spoke with one of Bonnie’s daughters the day of the discovery, and she was elated at the news. “It is crazy, but we don’t care how he was found,” she said. “We’re just glad it is over.” A sister of Bonnie’s echoed this sentiment. “I’m not scared anymore,” she said. “I’m so glad it is over…I am going to celebrate with friends and margaritas.”
A representative for Woodring’s family, who wished to remain anonymous, also spoke about the discovery and Woodring’s troubled life.
“Johnny didn’t start out like this,” the representative said. “He wasn’t always this way. There was a lot of trouble with Johnny in recent years, but as a child and growing up, Johnny was a bright, sweet-natured person. As years went by, though, things did begin to go wrong with Johnny.
“But there was a side to him that was good. As of yet, no one has printed that. No one has paid much attention to the idea that there may have been a mental imbalance at play here. The family wishes that things had turned out differently, and that Johnny could have gotten some help before things went so terribly wrong… He was a different person, not a bad person… There were just no winners here, David. The whole thing is incredibly sad from start to finish.”
In March 2007, Bonnie’s daughter, Michelle Stojanik, filed a lawsuit against the shelter on behalf of her mother’s estate. She has also become an advocate of sorts for the safety of abused and battered women. It is her hope that local governments will now force domestic violence shelters to abide by stricter rules and more thorough safety regulations.
According to documents filed with the North Carolina Superior Court, the suit alleges that the shelter, REACH of Jackson County, was negligent and failed to provide adequate security for the premises.
REACH shelter sign
“As a result, the willful, wanton, reckless, grossly negligent and/or negligent acts of defendant [REACH] permitted a condition to exist on the property which posed an unreasonable risk of harm to people like Bonnie Woodring.”
In the weeks following Bonnie’s murder, many residents complained that the shelter’s location was common knowledge to most people in the area. The Citizen-Times also published an article about the shelter’s panic buttons. Former employees of the shelter reported that the buttons were known to malfunction, and on some occasions, did not work at all. These and other issues were addressed in the court documents pertaining to Stojanik’s suit.
“The conditions that posed an unreasonable risk of harm included, but are not limited to, failing to provide adequate security, failing to provide adequate lighting, failing to monitor and maintain a secure environment, failing to provide necessary safeguards to permit tenants to live in safety, failing to have in place mechanisms and procedures that would have made the premises reasonably safe, failing to properly secure and monitor the shelter, and other facts and circumstances.”
According to Michelle, Bonnie’s family members remain heartbroken by their loss, and they feel Bonnie’s death could have been prevented if the shelter had taken the proper precautions. On the advice of her attorney, Michelle cannot discuss the particulars of the suit.
“It is a process, but we have gotten to the point to where we are angry,” Michelle said in an interview with Crime Library. “I am just doing what I think my mom would want me to do, and hopefully I can help save another woman’s life. Filing the documents is just a process. I’m sure it is probably going to take awhile. To me, it is black and white, but you know how the legal system goes.”
While she never intended to become an advocate for the rights of domestic violence victims, Michelle said she sees herself falling into that role.
“People are still calling me,” she said. “ABC just did a report last week; they want me to go to the studio in a couple of months to discuss some of these issues. I am surprised. Anytime they talk about domestic violence or the statistics, they always mention my mom. If anything, her case and her situation may have helped save someone else.”
Michelle also discussed her 13-year-old brother and how he has been coping with the emotional trauma of their mother’s murder.
“I was able to talk to him a couple of weeks ago. I wanted to wait because with him being 13, I didn’t know if he was ready to talk about it or not, but he did a little bit. He is going to move here, so we are very happy about that. I think it would be really good for him to be with us. There are four of us girls, and he doesn’t have his mom anymore. Him and mom were like two peas in a pod, so I think it’s really good that he is coming here, and we are pretty excited about that.”
When the police department finally released Bonnie’s house to the family, Michelle was among the first people permitted to enter it. Even in death, Woodring’s narcissism was ever-present. According to Michelle, he had pictures of himself all over the house. Michelle found the entire environment “weird.”
According to Michelle, a representative for Woodring’s family came at a later date and picked up his possessions.
“They wanted his tools. I don’t know what else they got. I wasn’t told. I had an auction and sold everything else. The house went to foreclosure. There’s nothing really in the estate. It is odd how she had so much money, and there is nothing left.”
Bonnie’s family is suing for more than $75,000 in damages, for Bonnie’s lost income and the physical pain, mental anguish and discomfort her death caused the family. They also want to be reimbursed for funeral and other related expenses.
When asked about the lawsuit, David Moore, president of the REACH board, told the Citizen-Times the lawsuit is without merit.
REACH Shelter Sign
“I think everyone will see that the organization did all it could possibly do to protect Bonnie Woodring and has no liability,” Moore said.
The results of Woodring’s autopsy were not released until May 2007, six months after he had been found dead.
“The cause of death in this case ended up being unable to be determined,” Dr. Cynthia Gardner, the pathologist who performed Woodring’s autopsy, said in an interview with Crime Library. “He had moderate decomposition and severe coronary artery disease. Full toxicology tests were conducted, and all that was found were trace amounts of Valium.”
According to Dr. Gardner, Woodring’s coronary artery disease was so severe that it alone could have been the cause of death, but she felt she could not list that as the official cause.
“In light of the circumstances, the [possibility of] suicide, and the case background, I signed it undetermined. There was no trauma whatsoever to the body. What could have happened is he could have ingested something that did not get picked up in any of our screens, but we did very broad screening, so it would have been something very unusual. The reason everything took so long was because we kept going back to the toxicology tests, because that is where we thought the answer was going to be. We pretty much exhausted everything we could do.”
The NCSBI has yet to close Woodring’s case, and it still refuses to divulge any of the details surrounding Woodring’s death or the suicide note he left behind.
“The bureau has been investigating the death of Mr. Woodring and the death of his wife,” Noelle Talley, a spokeswoman for the bureau, said in a telephone interview with Crime Library. “This is an ongoing investigation, and our practice is we do not comment on details for ongoing investigations.”
Bonnie’s daughter, Michelle Stojanik, first learned of the autopsy results when Crime Library contacted her for comment.
“It’s so weird that you called,” Michelle said. “I was just working on some of my mom’s stuff. Somebody just printed all of your articles from the Internet and made a large binder for us, so I was in the process of making copies for all us kids.”
Regarding Woodring’s autopsy, Michelle said: “Undetermined? Why didn’t he die of heart disease before he killed my mom?”
In regard to Woodring, Michelle said she harbors no anger that he was never brought before a court of law to answer for his crimes.
“It helps us sleep at night, Michelle said.” It’s sad to say, you know, but I think even all my sisters would agree were glad he’s not here.”
In a way, Woodring’s death made for a fitting end to the story. He was a coward in life, and he took the coward’s way out.