SALEM, OR — On June 26, 1981, in the very city where he was born and grew up — and then later raped and murdered without mercy — a Salem court convicted former Green Bay Packers wide receiver Randall Woodfield of being the notorious “I-5 Killer.”
Woodfield earned the nickname for committing atrocities along the northern portions of Interstate 5, a highway that runs the entirety of the United State’s west coast.
The other signature element of Woodfield’s modus operandi chillingly reconfigured his own past as a potential gridiron great: When he struck, Woodfield wore a strip of athletic tape over the bridge of his nose, in the popular style of the era’s pro footballers.
While Woodfield is now suspected of up to 44 slayings and countless other robberies and sexual assaults (including some involving children), he ultimately went down only for the murder and sodomy of Shari Hull, a woman he attacked after invading her workplace, and the attempted murder of Beth Wilmot, Hull’s coworker who he shot and left for dead during the same incident.
The judge made the jury’s guilty verdict count. He sentenced Woodfield to life plus 90 years. The following October, another trial added 35 years to Woodfield’s stretch. He’s resided within the confines of the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem ever since.
Born in 1950, Woodfield arrived at that final takedown after a lifetime of run-ins with the law. His rap sheet began with with an indecent exposure arrest while teenage Woodfield was a star wide receiver on his high school football team. He went on to attract NFL attention while playing for Portland State University.
Throughout his early 20s, even while training relentlessly to realize his dream of playing for the NFL, Woodfield got picked up three times for nuisance crimes such as public indecency and vandalism.
While those dust-ups, in retrospect, indicated far deeper problems, the Green Bay Packers overlooked them and drafted Woodfield for their 1974 roster. After a promising start, the team cut him before finalizing their lineup. Rumors have always proposed that some sort of untoward behavior prompted the Packers to drop Woodfield, but the front office has never officially commented.Woodfield stuck around Wisconsin, and played reasonably well for the semi-pro Manitowoc Chiefs. Regardless, the team fired him after one season.
While no arrests made it to the books, an anonymous cop later told Sports illustrated that Woodfield had flashed and peeped his way across the state, resulting in at least 10 complaints.
Enraged and humiliated by his own failures, Woodfield returned home to Oregon, where he unleashed that anger and self-loathing on an array of female victims.
Woodfield started with five reported robberies and sexual assaults. A man described as muscular and athletic pounced upon women with a knife, then forced them to perform oral sex. Afterward, he made off with their money.
A 1975 decoy sting captured Woodfield. He admitted to the crimes and said he suffered from sexual impulse control, blaming it, in part, on his use of steroids. He ended up doing four years.
In 1980, Woodfield’s fury escalated and his transgressions horribly kept pace.
Cherie Ayers, a high school classmate that Woodfield hooked up with at a reunion, turned up raped, stabbed, and bludgeoned to death in her apartment. Police brought in Woodfield, but he walked for lack of evidence.Two months later, someone shot Darcey Fix, 22, and Doug Altig, 24, execution-style inside the former’s home. Fix had previously dated one of Woodfield’s best friends.
Toward the end of 1980, a bearded man with “tape or a Band-aid” across his nose committed a succession of vicious robberies, at least one of which ended with a sexual assault. At the same time, a series of thefts and assaults exploded all over a short stretch of Interstate-5.
In February 1981, the wanted man known as “the I-5 Bandit” graduated to “I-5 Killer” following the murder of Donna Eckard, 37, and her daughter, Jannell Jarvis, 14.
Additional killings, kidnappings, rapes, and assaults of women took flight from there. Authorities officially warned women to use extreme caution around Interstate-5. The mayhem continued until early March.
Detective Dave Kominek of the Marion County Sheriff’s Office had kept his eye on the shockingly slippery Woodfield during the I-5 terror campaign and built a case against him.
Finally feeling confident he could get the warrants he needed, Kominek interrogated Woodfield on March 5 while officers searched the suspect’s apartment. A .32-caliber slug in Woodfield’s racquetball bag matched others found at the shooting of Shari Hull and Beth Wilmot. The cops had their man.
A public defender represented Woodfield in court, claiming mistaken identity. First time prosecutor Chris Van Dyke (son of TV funnyman Dick Van Dyke) went in armed with overwhelming evidence, including eyewitness testimony. The jury took three-and-a-half hours to convict.
Initially, primitive DNA evidence techniques failed to connect Woodfield to a multitude of crimes. Since his conviction, DNA has linked him to numerous cold cases, and he remains a suspect in at least 44 murders, all committed in 1980 and 1981.
Now 66, Woodfield reportedly remains an active fan of professional football.
Main photo: Randall Woodfield [Marion County Sheriff’s Office]