UPDATE 1: thanks to one of my readers I can now post a real picture of Daniel and add his full name: Daniel Kenneth Wood. This picture on the left comes from the 1959-1960 Pennell Institute high school yearbook. His former classmates made a memorial page in what would have been his senior year.
UPDATE 2: thanks to another reader we now have an answer to one of my questions. “Gray Center is what the locals call a notorious intersection in Gray, Maine. Six different roads meet at two traffic lights. It’s a giant mess and always has been. I believe there have always been a couple of gas stations and small restaurants/lunch counters there, so Danny very well could have called from a pay phone in town. A bypass was built 10-15 years ago just to help people get around it, but it hasn’t really helped the traffic.”
The remains of Daniel K. Wood, Jr. (12) were found in the Androscoggin River, Auburn, Maine. Whoever murdered Daniel tried to dispose of his body by throwing it in the river.
This case is a real brainteaser. Upon reading I just had more questions. There isn’t a lot online to find answers. Most is from Maine State Police.
The Case and the Call
On July 7, 1954, Danny Wood (12) left his home in South Gray, Maine, to visit a friend. He took his fishing gear. This friend lived just one mile down route 100. Whether he ever arrived at that friend’s house, is unclear. The Lewiston Daily Sun (links below) reports that later in the day, Danny called his mom from Gray Center. He said he was going to earn money instead. He would get 50 cents per hour going from door to door with a sales rep in Lewiston. His mom told him to be careful. He told her not to worry. He would be back for dinner. He never came back to her.
- What was Danny’s middle name? On his grave it is just a “K” but I’d like to know his full name. If you know his middle name or if you have a picture I may use please contact me so we can update Danny’s post. SEE UPDATE ABOVE
- Did Danny arrive at his friend’s house, yes or no? If yes, when did they decide to cancel the fishing plans? Did the friend know about a change of plans?
- If Danny never arrived at his friend’s house did that family call his mom to check where he was?
- Assume that Danny never arrived at his friend’s house. Is it possible that he met a sales rep along the way? Is it possible that they both went to Gray Center? Did Danny call his friend’s house from there too? Had Danny done anything like this before (canceling and calling home with new plans)?
- Is Gray Center just downtown, does it refer to a visitor’s center, a YMCA-type center, a community center? How familiar was Danny with Gray Center? SEE UPDATE ABOVE
- What was the sales rep selling?
- Who reported Danny missing and at what time?
- I read online that the call home to work instead of going fishing just might have been a lie to cover for something else such as hanging out with other friends. It is possible but I don’t buy it. Here’s the mistake: Danny told his mom he would earn 50 cents per hour selling goods with the sales rep. That means that if he later came home he would have to have something to show for. Did Danny get pocket-money? Did he have any money with him when he left? The easy explanation is that Danny didn’t think this through as he was a twelve-year-old child. But then why the change of plans?
- Open Google Maps. Search for Gary and Lewiston. The distance is about 18 miles per car and would take more than 5 hours to walk. So how was Danny going to Lewiston? Do we have reports from people on I-95 who spotted a man with a child in the car?
The Scene and the Search for Daniel K. Wood, Jr.
The search for Danny spread to sixteen states. Then on July 16, 1954, two fishermen found his remains in the Little Androscoggin River at Auburn, Maine. Danny’s body was nude. Someone beat him to death. His skull had seven wounds ranging from 1 to 4 inches.
The first autopsy mentioned a sex crime. A second autopsy indicated that it was impossible to prove sexual assault as the body had been in the water too long.
The papers say that authorities never found the murder weapon. Does that mean Danny was beaten to death with an object? Police also never found the original crime scene. Where Danny’s remains were found is just the spot where his body floated towards but most likely not where he passed away or where he was beaten.
Danny had a shoestring tied around one of his wrist. There is the possibility that his wrists were tied before the beating. Danny could have been restrained and forced to walk with the attacker. But it can also mean that the attacker bound or intended to bind his wrists after Danny was dead. The paper (sources below) mentioned the wrists were “laced together during the fatal beating.” How do you know that for sure? Any imprints of the skin being tied together might have been gone due to decomposition in the river.
- I wonder whether the medical examiner said something about the method of beating. Fists, an object, pistol-whipping, beaten with a branch or a stone?
- The common assumption is that Danny’s wrists were tightly bound together during the beating. However, we cannot know that for sure. Did both wrists show signs of bondage and underlying skin trauma?
- We could have three crime scene: where he was found, where he was beaten, and where he died.
Clothes and Clues
Most of Danny’s clothes were found at the end of a secluded lane three-quarters of a mile away from the spot where Danny was found. The paper says they were carefully buried beneath rocks. It mentions that Danny’s belt and glasses were found on “a second visit to the same spot.” They had been “carefully tossed up into the branches of a tree.”
- I wish we knew exactly what pieces of clothing we have and what is missing.
- About being carefully buried: were the clothes folded or dumped in a hole dug for that purpose? It matters as some have concluded that folding clothes shows emotional attachment to the victim. I disagree. It can be an obsessive compulsive act or even a ritual to finish what you have started.
- Just because something was carefully buried doesn’t mean that what was buried was carefully placed there. Someone could throw in the clothes, stomp on it, and then carefully bury everything. This is about crime detection, not emotional attachment to the victim.
- If we still have the clothes we could check for prints (e.g. tires, shoes, etc.) dust, pollen, and touch DNA. This calls for the M-Vac and of course, it could tell us whether we do indeed have multiple crime scenes (see my earlier remarks) and where they might be depending on dust/pollen.
- I disagree with what was said about the belt and the glasses. You don’t carefully toss glasses up a tree. They are too expensive and the lenses can scratch too easily. I have seen comments online noting that’s what kids do when they take off their glasses to go swimming, etc. I disagree. They may take off their glasses depending on their eyesight but not if they cannot find a safe, sturdy spot. A tree branch is not a safe spot. I wonder how bad Danny’s eyesight was without his glasses.
- I think someone threw the glasses and the belt up the tree but had intended to keep them as a souvenir. This explains why they were not found the first time. They may even have used the belt to restrain or beat Danny. Did his body show any trauma that might fit the width of his belt?
Authorities checked Herman Barmore a.k.a. Charles Fisher as a suspect. I read up what I could find. Problem here is that his method of killing was different. He shot his young victims and from what I read, Danny was not shot but beaten to death.
In the winter of 2003, the Wood family (and others in Gray) received letters with complaints about the Maine Police. The letters were partly rhyming and written by someone called Ronald Ridge. Ridge claimed he was molested as a child. His attacker lived close to the Wood Family near Route 100. Ridge’s suggestion is that man might be involved in Danny’s murder. Who that attacker might be, whether this man is still in Gray, and if he’s still alive, is unclear. Because of the content of these letters Maine State Police did review Danny’s case. However, I have not found any new updates in the public domain.
The Wood Family
Danny’s parents have passed away. They had five children. Danny’s younger brother, Richard, still lives in the Gray family home. Richard was just three years old when Danny died. He remembers that at home everyone called Danny “Junior” and that he helped their father in the saw mill in their backyard. Richard remembers that while “taking a break” Danny would come up close to the windows “to make faces at him through the window to make him laugh.”
Older sister Carol was fourteen at the time of her brother’s murder. “My parents aged so much, you could almost see the life drain out of their bodies.” Carol notes that their father would not talk about Danny much. “He was the one that had to identify the body. They had to get a dentist to identify the work that had been done on his teeth.” Carol still has a note Danny sent to her just before he disappeared. In that note he asked if she knew where a favorite key chain was.
One curious bit of information: authorities took one of Danny’s mother’s dresses for testing. Also, the parents had to take lie detector tests on a new polygraph machine that the Auburn police had acquired just for this investigation.
- Which dress was taken, why, and what kind of test was performed on the dress? What were the results? Why the lie detector tests? Did they family have a history of not getting along with Danny? Was it done as part of a routine elimination process? Who else was tested in the family?
Danny’s murder was the first to make police hold a public round-table broadcast on television to advance the case. I found a reference that said Auburn Police Chief Alton Savage believed the Michigan killer was the most likely suspect. If I understand correctly, the man commonly referred to as the Michigan Killer is John Norman Collins. Problem here is that Collins targeted college women and was active between 1967-1969. Also, Collins was born in 1947. At the time of Danny’s death, he was seven years old. I think that is too young.
Maine State Police Lt. Brian McDonough said he assigned a detective to review the Auburn Police Department’s files in Danny’s case and to take the physical evidence to the state crime laboratory. So what evidence was preserved? There are no further mentions about testing in the public domain.
If you have any information that can help the Maine State Police in the case of Daniel K. Wood, Jr. please contact their Major Crimes Unit-South at 1-800-228-0857 or (207)657-3030.
Rest in peace Danny K. Wood.
Ludington Daily News – Nov 23, 1957
The Lewiston Daily Sun – Jul 22, 1964
The Owosso Argus-Press – Jul 30, 1966
Portland Press Herald Monday, April 7, 2003 via Google group