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Where's Patty? Decades later, question remains
His mother and stepfather, the boy said, had drowned his little stepsister in the bathtub and buried her in the backyard.
It was the first hint that something terrible, even murderous, had happened to little Patricia Ann Wood, who lived with her father, stepmother and three stepsiblings in the Swanzey area in the 1970s - until she vanished without a trace.
Cpl. Mike Miles was the trooper assigned to investigate Patty Wood's disappearance. Retired since 1998, he said his memory of the case isn't what it used to be.
Patty was born on Oct. 12, 1972, in South Carolina; her birth mother gave up custody to John Wood when Patty was a baby. The little girl came to live with Wood, his wife and his wife's three children from her marriage to Stan Woodman.
"The story concocted down here when the girl was missing for a long period of time was always that she was with the mother," Miles recalled. "And the mother ... had been told a story by John and Judith that she had been killed in a car accident. So the mother never made any inquiries about the daughter because she thought that she had passed away."
Police did order the back yard dug up at the home where the Woods had lived in 1975, but they found nothing.
"There are old mine shafts up in there. Whether they had gone up there to see if maybe we'd found something, we don't know that. We never talked to them again."
Woodman even asked Judith Wood about Patty once, and she told him Patty had gone to live with her birth mother. "I had no reason not to believe it," he said.
Miles recalled when he interviewed the three older kids about Patty, "They talked about her being the one who was always being disciplined - more so by Judith than by John."
There was no doubt in his mind, Miles said: "She was lying."
"It was late when we talked to her, and the next day they were dead."
He heard the report on the scanner on his way in to work. "They were found in their car. They had hooked up a hose to the exhaust pipe and were sitting in the front seat with the car running."
After the suicides, local reporters began looking into Patty's disappearance; they turned up disturbing evidence of abuse.
And apparently, despite concerns voiced by doctors to child welfare officials, the state stopped monitoring the family.
If he had it to do over, he would have gone to the authorities the first time Keith told his story, he said. "And yes, I do feel guilty about it."
"I walked in that house, and there was Patty sitting in a high chair," he recalled. "This kid was the most unhappy, forlorn-looking kid that I've ever seen in my life, and my heart went out to that poor baby."
Judith Wood could be violent, Woodman said; when they were married, she came after him once with a butcher knife.
Later, he said, "I got to thinking about how the night before, they had driven by. And I said, 'My God, they could have taken all of us with them.'"
But he said his kids were "devastated" by everything that happened back then, and the scars remain. "It was such a scary time, and I still feel badly for my children, I really do."
At the Cold Case Unit's office in Concord, cardboard boxes are labeled with the names of the missing and murdered. Maura Murray, Patrick Merrill, Carrie Moss, Luella Blakeslee: All have boxes bearing their names.
If it happened today, police say, it might be different. With 24/7 cable TV news, a missing child gets noticed.
"I'd like to think that the system doesn't allow these kids to fall through the cracks anymore," Miles said.
"She should have some dignity in where she ends up at the end of life. She shouldn't just be in a hole, somewhere no one knows anything about."
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