Gwendolyn Graham & Catherine
May Wood (1987) were a 24-year old and 25-year old lesbian
couple from Grand Rapids, Michigan who achieved sexual thrills in
killing 5 elderly female patients at the nursing home they worked
at. They would smother their victims together and make love
shortly thereafter to relive the thrill and enhance their
lovemaking. Wood was a massive 450-pound woman who intensely loved
the more dominant and sexually experimentative Graham. When Graham
left to take a new job in Texas, Wood broke down and confessed to
authorities. Graham received a penalty of life imprisoment and
Wood got 20 years in prison.
Gwendolyn Graham & Catherine May Wood
Nurses Gwendolyn Graham and
Catherine Wood were not only co-workers at the Alpine Manor
Nursing Home in Walker, Michigan, but lesbian lovers who's sexual
appetite went into overdrive at the thought of murder. Together
they killed six elderly females that resided at the home and on
more than one occasion made love as they washed the body of thier
victim in preperation for burial.
Wood eventually told her
ex-husband about the killings, perhaps because she was afraid of
what Graham would to to the children in her charge at her new job,
or more likely because Graham had taken on a new girlfriend. The
man immediately informed police who charged Graham with six counts
of murder and anointed Wood the prosecutions star witness.
Predictably, Wood managed to put the bulk of the blame on her
Graham went to trial in 1988 and
Wood told the court of her role as lookout when Graham suffocated
the helpless women. When the trial was over it was no contest and
Graham was easily convicted on all counts and sentenced to life
without the possiblity for parole. For her part Wood recieved a
sentence of 20-40 years.
Gwendolyn Graham (born August 6, 1963)
and Cathy Wood (born 1962) are American serial killers who
killed five elderly women in Grand Rapids, Michigan in the 1980s.
They committed their crimes in the Alpine Manor nursing home,
where they both worked as nurse's aides.
The two women met at the Alpine Manor nursing
home where Graham was a nurse's aide and Wood was her supervisor.
They quickly became friends and then lovers in 1986. They
practiced sexual asphyxia to achieve a better orgasm. Graham began
to talk about committing murder as a sexual game.
Posting Wood as a lookout, Graham attempted to
kill a few elderly women. However, the women were able enough to
fight back. In January 1987, Graham entered the room of a woman
who had Alzheimer's disease; the woman was too incapacitated to
fight back, and thus became the pair's first victim. The woman's
death appeared to be natural, so an autopsy was never performed.
Over the next few months, four more Alpine
Manor patients were murdered. Many of the victims, whose ages
ranged from 65 to 97, were incapacitated and suffered from
Alzheimer's disease. Graham and Wood turned the selection of
victims into a game, choosing victims whose initials collectively
spelled M-U-R-D-E-R. Graham took souvenirs from the victims,
keeping them to relive the deaths. Both women openly bragged about
smothering six victims to their coworkers, with Graham even
showing off her souvenirs, but no one believed them.
The couple broke up when Wood refused to
actively kill a patient to prove her love to Graham. Wood
transferred to another shift. Graham moved to Texas with another
woman and began work in a hospital taking care of infants.
The murder investigation began in 1988 after
Wood’s ex-husband, whom she had told about the murders, went to
the police. Her ex-husband told the police in October 1988, which
led them to investigate further. The first victim was exhumed on
November 30, 1988 almost a year after her burial. The coffin was
then taken to Kent County Morgue for examination. Eight possible
victims were identified, but police ended up pursuing five.
In the end there was enough evidence to warrant
the arrest of Wood and Graham. In December 1989, Graham was
arrested in her hometown of Tyler, Texas; however, she maintained
their claims were made as a joke to scare their co-workers.
During the trial, Wood plea-bargained her way
to a reduced sentence, claiming that it was Graham who planned and
carried out the killings while she served as a lookout or
distracted supervisors. On November 3, 1989, Graham was found
guilty of five counts of murder and one count of conspiracy to
commit murder, and the court gave her five life sentences. She
resides in the Huron Valley Complex (for female offenders). Wood
was charged with one count of second-degree murder and one count
of conspiracy to commit second-degree murder. She was sentenced to
20 years on each count and has been eligible for parole since
March 2, 2005. Wood is currently incarcerated in the minimum
security Federal Correctional Institution in Tallahassee, Florida,
she is expected to be released on June 6, 2021.
Several of the families sued the owners of
Alpine Manor for hiring "dangerous and unbalanced employees".
Alpine Manor has since gone out of business, but the building now
houses a nursing home called "Sanctuary at Saint Mary's".
The case was the basis of the 1992 true crime
novel Forever and Five Days by Lowell Cauffiel.
Graham and Wood were featured in two episodes
of the TV series The Serial Killers in which they were
interviewed about their relationship and crimes.
Graham, Gwendolyn Gail and
Wood, Catherine May
The deaths at Alpine Manor
started as a game. At first, the killers planned to choose their
victims alphabetically, with their initials spelling MURDER as a
private joke on the police.
As luck would have it, though,
the aging women first selected still had too much fight left in
them, and the plotters had to shift their strategy. No matter. In
the end, they still found easy prey to satisfy their taste for
Born in 1963, Gwen Graham was a
California native who grew up in Tyler, Texas. She was quiet and
respectful to her teachers, but she always had a sad look on her
In later years, she claimed the
sadness was occasioned by her fathers sexual attentions, but the
charge--which he denies--was never proved in court. Moving to
Michigan in 1986, Graham found work as a nurses aide at the Alpine
Manor Nursing Home in Walker, a Grand Rapids suburb. Grahams
immediate superior at Alpine Manor was 24-year-old Cathy Wood. Wed
as a teenager, Wood had ballooned up to 450 pounds when her
seven-year marriage broke up, leaving her alone and friendless in
Hired at Alpine Manor in July
1985, she was soon promoted to supervisor of nurses aides, but her
social life remained a vacuum until she met Gwen Graham on the
job. Their friendship swiftly crossed the line into a lesbian
affair, Wood dieting the pounds away and relishing the social
whirl of gay bars, parties, and casual sex. Her chief devotion was
to Graham, though, and by late 1986 the two women had pledged
undying love for one another, come what may.
Gwen broached the subject of
premeditated murder that October, but her lover thought we were
just playing. During sex, Gwen got a kick from tying Cathy down
and choking her or covering her face with a pillow until she
trembled on the verge of blacking out. If Cathy had complaints
about the game, she kept them to her-self.
By slow degrees, she learned
that pain and pleasure may be flip-sides of the same exciting
coin. The homicides at Alpine Manor spanned a three-month period,
from January to the early part of April 1987. Gwens first plan,
the MURDER game, fell through when her selected targets put up
such a fight that she was forced to let them live. Despite her
bungled efforts, there were no complaints on file. Both Wood and
Graham earned exemplary reports from their superiors and were well
liked by patients on the ward. In the future, Gwen decided, she
would only pick on women who were too far gone for self-defense.
Her lover was the lookout,
standing by where she could watch the murder and the nurses
station all at once, diverting any member of the staff who strayed
too close while Graham snuffed her chosen victim with a washcloth
pressed across the nose and mouth. Sometimes the sheer excitement
of the killing was too much, and they retired immediately to an
empty room for sex while memories were fresh. In several cases,
Gwen kept souvenirs--an anklet or a handkerchief, a broach, a set
of dentures. Murder is a risky business, but the lethal lovers
seemed to thrive on danger, boasting of their body count to
colleagues who dismissed the comments as sick jokes.
At least three nurses aides saw
the shelf of souvenirs in the house Wood shared with Graham, but
none took the gloating tales of murder seriously ... yet. By April
1987, the honeymoon was over for Wood and Graham. Cathy balked at
personally killing anyone to prove her love, and she was shortly
rescued by her transfer to a different shift. By that time, Gwen
was spending time with Heather Barager, another lesbian, who
ultimately joined her for a trip back home to Texas, leaving Cathy
in the lurch.
Come August, Cathy spilled the
story to her former husband, but Ken Wood stalled another fourteen
months before he called police. Gwen Graham, meanwhile, had gone
to work at Mother Frances Hospital in Tyler, keeping in touch with
Cathy on the telephone. Grand Rapids police were skeptical of Ken
Woods story at first. Some forty patients had died at Alpine Manor
in the first quarter of 1987, all listed as natural deaths, but on
reflection eight cases seemed to stand out.
Three of those were finally
eliminated by detectives, leaving a victim list that included
60-year-old Marguerite Chambers, 89-year-old Edith Cole,
95-year-old Myrtle Luce, 79-year-old Mae Mason, and 74-year-old
Belle Burkhard. In no case was there any scientific evidence
murder of, but Ken Woods statement and the second thoughts of
staffers at the home were strong enough to make a case.
Both women were arrested in
December 1988, Wood held without bond in Grand Rapids on charges
of killing victims Cook and Chambers. In Texas, where rumors of
the Michigan investigation had already cost Gwen her job, a $1
million bond was sufficient to keep her in jail. A brief
extradition fight grew tedious, and Graham soon waived the
legalities, returning to face charges on her own volition.
The Alpine Manor staff was
overwhelmed by the arrests, though some remembered Gwen as
unpredictable, remarking casually on Grahams quick temper. Former
nurses aides like Deborah Kidder, Nancy Harris, Lisa Lynch, Dawn
Male and Russell Thatcher reevaluated those sick jokes and
souvenirs they had managed to ignore while lives were on the line.
At trial, four would testify against Gwen Graham for the
prosecution, with Cathy Wood emerging as the states star witness
overnight. A September 1989 guilty plea to charges of
second-degree murder spared Wood from life imprisonment, earning
her a sentence of twenty to forty years. In return for that
relative leniency, she took the stand against Gwen three months
later, thereby sealing her ex-lovers fate.Aside from the five
victims murdered, said Cathy, Gwen had tried to suffocate at least
five others who survived.
Woods ultimate confession to her
husband had been prompted less by guilt than fear that Graham
would continue killing in her new position at the Texas hospital,
this time with infants as her chosen prey.
"When she was killing people at
Alpine and I didnt do any-thing, Wood told the court, that was bad
enough. But when she would call me and say how she wanted to smash
a baby, I had to stop her somehow. I knew she was working in a
hospital there. She said she wanted to take one of the babies and
smash it up against a window. I had to do something. I didnt care
about myself any more."
Grahams lawyer tried to portray
Wood as a jealous, vindictive liar, setting his client up as a
sacrificial lamb, but jurors disagreed. They deliberated for seven
hours before convicting Gwen on five counts of first-degree murder
and one count of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder. On
November 2, 1989, Graham was sentenced to six terms of life
imprisonment without possibility of parole.
Newton - An Encyclopedia of Modern Serial Killers - Hunting Humans
Ex-Nursing Home Aide Gets Life Term in 5
The New York Times
November 3, 1989
A former nursing home aide was sentenced to
life in prison without parole today for smothering five patients
in a lover's pact with another woman.
The 26-year-old defendant, Gwendolyn Graham, was
convicted Sept. 20 of five counts of murder and one of conspiracy for
killing severely incapacitated patients at the Alpine Manor Nursing
Home in Walker in 1987.
Miss Graham's former co-worker and lover, Catherine
Wood, who occasionally acted as a lookout for her, was sentenced last
month to 20 to 40 years in prison for her part in the slayings.
A sexual game
By Katherine Ramsland
Gilbert's idea of excitement pales in comparison to
the next team of caregivers. It was in Walker, Michigan in 1987 where
a pair of lesbians made death a sexual game. Gwedolyn Gail Graham, 23,
and Catherine May Wood, 24, worked together at the Alpine Manor
Nursing Home. Graham was a nurse's aide and Wood was her immediate
superior. Wood had divorced and gained an enormous amount of weight,
so she was hungry for a friend. When she met Graham, they immediately
hit it off and soon became lovers.
It was Graham who first broached the subject of
murder. They practiced sexual asphyxia to achieve greater orgasms, so
Wood later claimed she thought Graham was kidding. Yet the linked pain
and pleasure of their sexual games became threaded with the idea of
cruelty. Just talking about murder got them both excited.
They started killing patients in January and
continued for three months, picking patients to kill whose initials
would end up spelling "murder." Graham called this "the Murder Game."
Posting Wood as sentry, she started with several elderly women, but
they struggled so hard, she had to back off. Yet they did not register
a complaint, and in fact, most of the patients liked these two women.
Then Graham went into the room of a woman suffering
from Alzheimer's who would not be able to fight her off. She smothered
the woman with a washcloth. In the weeks that followed, she moved on
to another, and then another. There were times when the act of killing
so excited her that she and Wood went to an unoccupied room for
sex. Graham even took items off the victims — jewelry or dentures — to
help her to relive what she had just done, and she found enormous
emotional release in murder.
When they washed the bodies down as part of the
postmortem routine, they grew even more excited.
Then they got bolder. They told colleagues what
they were doing, because even the confessions added to their
heightened sexual drive, but their accounts were dismissed as sick
jokes. Graham showed three aides her shelf of souvenirs, and still no
one stopped them.
Then Graham wanted Wood to take a more active
role. To prove her love, she would have to kill one of the patients
herself. Wood wasn't ready for this, so she got transferred to another
Graham took up with another woman and then left
Michigan to go work at a hospital in Texas taking care of infants. A
terrified Wood confessed everything to her former husband, but it took
him over a year to take action. Finally he called the police.
Of the 40 patients who had died in that three-month
period, eight seemed suspicious enough for further investigation. Then
they settled on five, and arrested both women. Wood turned state's
witness against her former lover for a sentence of 20 to 40 years. She
told them she'd come forward because of Graham's claim to her that she
wanted to "take one of the babies and smash it up against a window."
To offer a mitigating circumstance, Graham said
that her father had molested her, but this charge was never proven.
Her lawyer also claimed that Wood came forward with lies just to get
even with a lover who had left her. This was a set up.
The jury believed Wood. Graham was convicted on
five counts of first-degree murder and one count of conspiracy to
commit murder (although Wood had claimed that she'd tried to smother
five more patients.) She got six life sentences, with no possibility
People, both male and female, who take advantage of
vulnerable patients to feed their own needs are in some way
depraved. They defy society's code of trust, and some of them are
obviously sadistic. Whether it's because something terrible was once
done to them or because they just needed to feel more powerful, they
make people everywhere wary entrusting themselves to the healthcare
system. Thus their damage is more profound than whatever they do to
their victims. In a real way, society itself becomes their ultimate