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Wood’s October 27, 2006, burial service at Memory Gardens Cemetery in Arlington Heights
The ensuing homicide investigation was equally haphazard. Several witnesses whom Wood saw or called in the days leading up to his murder were never questioned. And although the flooding problems at Maywood’s police station were well known, officers allowed evidence in Wood’s case, including a cell phone, to get wet. (Officials insist that the material was not badly damaged.)
Meanwhile, Elvia Williams, who had been Maywood’s police chief for only a few months when Wood was killed, made a decision that, according to current and former police officials, complicated and perhaps encumbered the investigation: She asked for help from the West Suburban Major Crimes Task Force (known as WESTAF), a consortium of detectives and other specialists from police departments in the western suburbs.
Some Maywood officers were angered by the outside interference (Maywood isn’t part of WESTAF) from a group they thought had little knowledge of the local bad guys. And the WESTAF members—well aware of the history of corruption and brutality on the Maywood force—did not fully trust the local cops. One former WESTAF member even suggests that the Maywood cops held back relevant information.
A major disagreement between the two sides eventually erupted. Maywood police had questioned a reputed member of the Latin Kings street gang whose family lived close to the shooting scene and had once rented an apartment to Wood, and whom Wood had arrested on a gun charge in 2005. The man fingered as Wood’s killer the alleged gang member whose girlfriend (now wife) Wood had called just before his death.
The Maywood cops figured they may have cracked the case. But the WESTAF side—which included Cook County prosecutors—believed the snitch wasn’t credible, sources say.
Meantime, WESTAF had its sights on another suspect: Terry Gilford, the driver of the Grand Prix that Wood had been looking up just before he was killed. Gilford was a felon and a known troublemaker in Maywood, according to police records and interviews. He had once tussled with Wood during a traffic stop, recalls Dwayne Wheeler, a former Maywood police sergeant.
But Gilford had an alibi, albeit an embarrassing one: At the time of the shooting, he says, “I just so happened to be cheating on my wife.” His mistress lived near the murder scene, which he says explains why the Grand Prix was there. Still, Gilford remained a “person of interest” for months. The intense focus on him angered some on the Maywood police force who believed that WESTAF had the wrong guy.
While the investigation was petering out, Helene still hoped that the $100,000 reward offered by a community bank for information leading to Wood’s killer would bring results. A reward so large would be awfully hard for one of Maywood’s street thugs to resist, say police sources. But as the months passed, the reward went unclaimed—lending credence to a theory held by some of Wood’s family members and others that he was murdered not by a thug but by a fellow cop.
Before his death, Helene says, Wood was being pressured to change his account of an incident in which a suspect was beaten by officers. As Helene tells it, Wood walked in on the aftermath of the beating and the other officers feared he would turn them in. Helene also says that Wood had a falling-out with an officer he suspected of shaking down drug dealers. The officer told Wood it was all an undercover ruse—a story her husband didn’t believe. The officer, she adds, “made it sound like it was a misunderstanding. [But] if Tom believed in something, he absolutely would not back down.”
It’s unclear how much focus investigators put on the possibility that Wood was killed by—or at the behest of—a fellow Maywood cop. Asked whether a police officer could have been involved, Curry, Maywood’s police chief, dismissed the suggestion. A former village official called it “innuendo.”
So was it a coincidence that Wood took out that life insurance policy weeks before his murder? And there’s another troubling detail: a break-in at the Wood home months after Wood’s death. The thief stole two computer hard drives and nothing else. Curry confirmed that the theft was reported but said he has no details.
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Helene Wood in her living room in June
Helene may be left hanging, but Maywood has in many ways moved on. Within the past few years, Maywood’s police chief began taking down the reward posters, even though our investigation shows the $100,000 reward was still available. (See “What happened with the reward money in the Tom Wood case?). At presstime, nobody on the police force was assigned full-time to Wood’s case.
Curry strongly disagrees with the idea that the Maywood police don’t want to solve Wood’s murder. “It’s a cold case, but it’s still active,” he says. “I’m hopeful that it will come to resolution.” (The office of the Cook County state’s attorney, which oversees the cold case unit now assisting Maywood police, refused interview requests.)
For Helene, being hopeful doesn’t cut it. She is now hiring a psychic detective from Pennsylvania who purports to use a sixth sense to solve crimes. Helene knows this will sound strange to some people, but she doesn’t care. The way she sees it, if the police can’t or won’t provide answers, she’ll try to get them herself—however she can. She says, “If they can kill a police officer, where are their limits?”
Robert Herguth is the editor of investigations at the Better Government Association.
Dane Placko is an investigative reporter for FOX Chicago. See his story on the station’s website.
Photography: (Helene Wood) Nathan Kirkman; Photographer Assistant: (Helene Wood) Brett Bulthuis; (burial) courtesy of Wood Family