Friday, February 21, 2014

THE SMELL OF BLEACH


THE SMELL of bleach. That's what Springfield police officers kept coming back to as they recalled the night they arrested Craig Michael Wood and found a young girl's body in the basement of his home.

Simple and awful, that one thing they noticed the most, because to them it explained everything they needed to know about a crime that has gripped this city and the nation surrounding it. The stench of bleach told them their search for 10-year-old Hailey Owens was not going to end well.

Court documents in the first-degree murder case against Wood, 45, were made public on Friday. They are the first detailed accounts of what happened on Tuesday, Feb. 18. Here is what they say:

Hailey Owens was walking along West Lombard Street around 4:45 p.m. that day when a tall man in a tan Ford Ranger pickup truck drove past her, turned around and stopped near the girl in the denim shorts and pink short-sleeved shirt.

She was fiddling with her cell phone. A witness thinks she might have been texting.

The man in the truck asked Hailey: Do you know how to get to Springfield Street?

Hailey kept walking. Four more steps. Maybe five. The man called her back to the truck — "hey, come here a minute" — opened his door and grabbed her.

He "threw the girl over his lap into the passenger side of the truck," Officer Chris Barb wrote in his application for a search warrant. A witness described the violence this way: Hailey looked like a rag doll.

The truck sped away. Witnesses saw it turn south onto Golden Avenue, then east onto Grand Street. They were able to get the truck's license plate number.

No one saw Hailey Owens alive after that, except her killer.

===

IF THERE IS one consolation to this madness, it is the fact that there was no agonizing wait for answers. Armed with the license-plate number, police were quickly able to track down the owner of the truck. He lives in Ash Grove with his wife. He told police his son, Craig Wood — a teacher and football coach at Pleasant View Middle School — had the truck.

Around 8:30 p.m. — less than four hours after Hailey was taken — police drove up to a house at 1538 E. Stanford St. It has white siding and black shutters.

Sgt. Allen Neal watched as the pickup truck he was looking for pulled into the driveway on the west side of the house. He pulled in behind it.

Craig Wood got out of the truck. He was holding a roll of duct tape.

"Sgt. Neal asked Craig if he would be willing to come to police headquarters to be interviewed," Barb wrote. "Sgt. Neal advised Craig agreed to go to police headquarters but did not ask what he would be interviewed about or why he was contacted."

Detective Kevin Shipley did the interview. Wood told him he'd been at work until 3:15 p.m., went straight home, then took his dog for a walk and did some errands.

Shipley asked: So why did people see your truck on West Lombard, where a girl was grabbed?

I was driving around Missouri State and just west of campus, Wood told him, but I haven't been around any children.

Shipley noticed what looked like blood on Wood's T-shirt. Detectives took his clothes and noticed the smell of bleach. At 11:30 p.m. they booked Wood for kidnapping. Two hours later, at 1:28 a.m. Wednesday, a judge signed a search warrant for the house on East Stanford.

Allen Neal and Chris Barb went inside at 2:15 a.m.

They came in through the back door and "I smelled the odor commonly associated with bleach," Barb wrote. He saw a bottle of bleach and other cleaning products on the floor by the back door.

There were steps close by, leading to the basement. Neal and Barb saw some of the steps were wet. The smell of bleach grew stronger as they entered the basement.

"I observed a fan that was on the basement floor," Barb wrote. It was on, and blowing toward the stairs. Parts of the basement's concrete floor looked wet. Barb saw two more bottles of bleach.

In the northeast corner of the basement, the detectives found two large plastic storage containers, one on top of the other. Both were blue.

The search for Hailey Owens was over.

===

"SGT. NEAL opened the lid of the top container and we observed various papers and items inside," Barb wrote. "Sgt. Neal then placed the top container onto the floor and opened the lid on the bottom container."

They saw "what appeared to be a small body consistent with a child concealed within black plastic trash bags inside the container," Barb wrote. He and Neal went back upstairs and found more bleach bottles. There was a revolver in a holster in the living room. The bed had been stripped of sheets.

The deputy medical examiner found what looked like a bullet hole near the base of Hailey Owens' skull. Detectives later seized a spent .22-caliber casing on the basement floor.

There were marks on the girl's arms near her wrists, as if she'd been tied up.

A list of items police took from Craig Wood's home fills four handwritten pages:

– More than a dozen guns found in five rooms.

– A laptop computer and two video cameras.

– Twenty-six DVDs.

– "Stories written on notebook paper."

– A purple folder with "printed documents and pictures."

– A gray three-ring binder with printed images. Cops said they were "pornographic images of young children."

Wood reportedly stopped talking to police after they searched his home. He has a public defender, but the state said in court Friday that Wood has a million-dollar trust fund and can hire his own attorney.

No amount of money will buy Wood's freedom, for now. "Defendant is dangerous and there are no conditions of release which will protect the community," the assistant prosecutor, Todd Myers, wrote in his recommendation that Wood be held without bond. A judge made it so. Wood returns to court next month.

No comments: