Western Michigan students students help solve 35-year-old cold case

This was the first case put in front of the students - and it ended in an arrest.
This was the first case put in front of the students - and it ended in an arrest.
Published: Mar. 31, 2022 at 5:44 AM EDT
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KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WILX) - A group of students at Western Michigan University helped solve a 1987 murder mystery.

It’s a part of the school’s Cold Case Program, where students provide a fresh set of eyes to review hundreds of files and evidence. This was the first case put in front of the Kalamazoo students and it ended in an arrest.

Patrick Gilham, now 67, was in court this week and has been charged with a murder that happened 35 years ago.

He is accused of breaking into Roxanne Wood’s Home in Niles Township, Michigan on Feb. 20, 1987, and cutting her throat. She was found by her husband, Terry.

Niles Township is about 15 miles north of South Bend, Indiana.

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WMU senior McKenzie Stommen worked alongside Michigan State Police to help solve the cold case.

“We could just let the detectives know that ‘hey there was this piece of information that you guys might want to look back into’ or ‘there’s more that could be done with this,’” Stommen said. “The evidence that did break this case was just another piece of information like that.”

Police say DNA evidence from a cigarette outside Gilham’s South Bend home matched DNA evidence found on wood’s body. After Gilham was identified as a suspect, undercover units surveilled him extensively, and he was interviewed on two separate occasions. He was ultimately arrested for open murder on an arrest warrant issued by the Berrien County Prosecutor’s Office.

Gilham pleaded no contest to second-degree murder and agreed to be sentenced to 23 years in prison.

“I would call it highly successful in that the first case that we worked together, we were able to, as a group, make an arrest on a case that had been cold for 35 years,” says Detective First Lieutenant Chuck Christensen.

Over the span of eight months, Dr. Ashlyn Kuersten, director of the Cold Case Program, estimates doctoral students Ashley Chlebek and Carl Huber put in about 1,200 hours of work over eight months on Wood’s case, organizing several boxes of files that had been amassed during the investigation over the years.

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