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Late on Saturday night, July 30, 2011, the home of Bill and Kay Wood of rural Norwalk, Iowa, was destroyed by fire. Around midnight and into early Sunday morning, five fire departments responded to 2698 Highway R-63 in Greenfield Township just south of Des Moines’ city limits and the Des Moines International Airport.
The fire extinguished, the couple were nowhere to be found. They’d last been seen midmorning Saturday at an auction house in Stuart, Iowa. An auction flyer depicted a number of pricey items — everything from old guns and diamonds to Indian artifacts and fancy furniture.
On Sunday, July 31, 2011, Bill and Kay’s red Chevrolet Silverado pickup turned up at a ritzy apartment complex in Kansas City, Missouri. Witnesses told detectives they’d seen the man with the pickup, and described him as being in his late 40s to early 60s with a slender build, short gray and white hair, and between 6 feet 2 inches and 6 feet 6 inches tall.
That same day, officials discovered a body amongst the charred remains of the couple’s home.
DCI agents began going door to door to question neighbors Monday morning, August 1, 2011, and Division of Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge Michael Motsinger announced Monday afternoon that the body found was burned too badly to be identified during an autopsy conducted that afternoon.
DNA testing would be done to see if the body was that of Bill or Kay Wood.
Motsinger also said the fire had been termed suspicious, something the community already suspected.
Two hundred miles south, authorities sought out the “person of interest” seen at the Kansas City apartment building. Bill and Kay’s relatives and a number of volunteers spent days searching the area surrounding the Wood’s home.
Prior to their marriage, Bill and Kay had both been widowed. They’d just celebrated their third wedding anniversary July 14 — only 16 days before Bill’s death and Kay’s disappearance.
Family members described them as deeply in love, often holding hands like teenagers.
They’d chosen to live in Bill’s home in rural Norwalk south of Des Moines, which quickly filled up with mementoes of each of their lives. Kay — who’d worked at Dahl’s grocery store on Fleur Drive — collected china dolls. Bill, a retired ironworker currently employed with J.W. Perry, Inc. in Des Moines, kept a 1940s gas pump in the front yard and also had a Model A Ford he drove in parades.
J.W. Perry General Manager Andrew Knott told KCCI that Wood’s co-workers were “somber,” and said the fact that Wood was about to turn 80 told a lot about him. “The fact that he’s still working at his age,” Knott said.
Co-workers had planned a surprise 80th birthday party for Bill, scheduled for the following weekend. Bill would have turned 80 years old August 5.
On Friday, August 19, 2011, the Iowa Department of Public Safety announced in a press release that the body found in the home had been positively identified as that of Bill Wood.
Autopsy reports showed Wood died of multiple gunshot wounds, though he was not shot in the head as an initial press release stated.
When DCI agents informed family members of their findings that Friday morning, Bill Wood’s brother Henry Wood told KCCI that everyone broke down.
“It’s one thing to think it, but it’s another when somebody comes out and says this is what happened,” Bill Wood said. Wood said it also hurt to hear his brother died in such a violent way.
“It really hurt to think, you know, somebody shot my brother,” he said in the KCCI interview. “Now we know that he was shot, I guess we find some comfort in that that would be better than burning. We hope it was quick. We hope it was painless.”
Wood said the family would never have closure until Kay was found.
In his comments to the press, DCI Agent Motsinger said officers working the investigation were continuing their efforts to locate her.
“We remain hopeful a suspect will be found and encourage anyone with information to contact DCI or the Warren County Sheriff’s Office,” Motsinger said.
Kay’s daughter Patty Shaw expressed the family’s lost hope after the DCI announced the findings.
“I think in our hearts we were hoping they were together just because you want that,” said Shaw. “If they’re going to go, you want them to be together.”
Three weeks after the fire, why questions continued to plague the couple’s family. They explored possible scenarios related to the Stuart auction.
“I think there is a really big chance that something happened in Stuart,” Henry Wood told KCCI in a story that aired Aug. 22. “Bill probably has some antiques that are very rare. He liked nice stuff. He probably had expensive stuff. If he found something he wanted, he bought it.”
The family wondered if Bill and Kay’s love for expensive antiques somehow may have contributed to Bill’s death and Kay’s disappearance.
“Just somebody there that may have seen that they bought something expensive or they could’ve even been talking to somebody and mentioned what they have,” Bill Wood’s sister, Carolyn Harkin, told KCCI. “It has to be a robbery of some sort.”
Family members went to the Stuart City Hall where they posted sketches of the man police said was seen walking away from the Wood’s pick-up in Kansas City. The Iowa DCI still didn’t know the man’s identity.
A month dragged on with many unanswered questions.
The couple’s families told KCCI on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2011 that they’re doing what they can to not get caught up in the rumors surrounding the case.
“We have to continue to be focused and as composed as we possibly can be so we can hear everything that’s happening, see everything that’s happening…so that if someone does call we don’t get caught up in that call,” said Kay’s daughter, Lisa Harris.
Harris said she and her siblings are determined to find their mother and bring her home, regardless of whether it is to get her medical attention or to give her a proper burial.
On Monday, Oct. 10, 2011, the Wood’s families held a press conference announcing a reward fund they’d established. They hope a reward might motivate someone to come forward with information. The fund consists of both cash donations and pledges payable upon conviction.
If you would like to donate, visit woodrewardfund.com.
James William “Bill” Wood, Sr., was born Aug. 5, 1931, in Spring Hill, Warren County, Iowa, to James F. and Grace L. (Williams) Wood.
He served as a Private Second Class with the US Army during the Korean War.
He died at his Norwalk, Iowa home Sunday, July 31, 2011, and his death ruled a homicide.
Funeral services were held at 10:30 a.m., Friday, August 26 at Overton Funeral Home in Indianola with burial following in the Webb Cemetery in rural Norwalk.
Those left to cherish his memory are his wife, Kay Wood; children, Mary (Steve) Garr of Bussey, IA, Jim (Dee) Wood of Marana, AZ, Doris (Ross) Allen of Libertyville, IA, Grace (Wes) Bonnett of Bussey, John (Tracie) Wood of Indianola, Melonie (Doug) Wood and Billy (Amee) Wood all of Des Moines; step-children, Mark Warywoda and Leann Warywoda both of Des Moines, Cathy (David) Neumann of Maine, Patty (Rod) Shaw of Des Moines, Rodney (Erica) Harris and David Harris both of Maine, Aleisa Harris of Des Moines and Mike Harrris of Spring Hill; 21 grandchildren; 21 great-grandchildren; two great great-grandchildren; siblings, Glen (Marcia) Wood, Bob (Vicki) Wood, Marie Wilkens, Zelda (Doug) Dyer, Howard (Linda) Wood, Carolyn (Mark) Harkin and Henry (Jan) Wood.
He was preceded in death by his wife, Marylyn Wood; parents, Jim and Grace Wood; sister, Rosemary Jones; and grandson, LeRoy Benge.
Visitation was held from 4 to 8 p.m. Thursday, August 25, at Overton Funeral Home in Indianola with family present from 6 to 8 p.m. Memorials may be given to Mercy Hospice.
*Obituary courtesy Overton Funeral Home
Anyone with information concerning Bill Wood’s unsolved homicide or Kaidena Wood’s disappearance is asked to call Det. Sgt. Mike Morrison at the Warren County Sheriff’s Office at (515) 961-1122, or Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation Special Agent Mike Rowe at (641) 342-6263.