WALKER, MI — Darkness fell hard upon the Alpine Manor nursing home in late 1986, specifically when Texas transplant Gwendolyn Gail Graham, 24, took a job at the facility alongside Catherine May Wood, 25.
In short order, the two nurses’ aides became fast friends, then lovers, and then “angels of death” who smothered the life out of at least five and possibly eight elderly women between January and April 1987.
The murders allegedly began as acts of supposed mercy, but soon became thrill killings and bonding components of a “love pact,” as each woman believed the crimes would prevent the other from leaving the relationship.
Sex figured into the slaughter, too, as Graham and Wood reportedly found making love alongside a fresh corpse enhanced the experience to ecstatic new heights.
Alas, all things — good, bad, and insanely evil — must pass. Upon getting busted in 1988, Graham and Wood instantly turned on one another, thereby undoing the couple’s romantic pledge to remain together “forever and five days.”
Shortly before meeting Gwen Graham, Cathy Wood had gotten divorced, bleached her hair blonde, and found herself open to all manner of new possibilities.
While Wood’s lifestyle and sexual orientation may have been in flux, Gwen Graham’s most certainly was not. Texas transplant Graham had long been an out-and-proud lesbian, and her bold aura of assured confidence reportedly attracted Wood to her new coworker in ways she previously hadn’t experienced. The resulting love affair proved immediately — and lethally — combustive.
Beyond the novelty of a first-time homosexual relationship, Wood said she threw herself into Graham’s BDSM lifestyle as well, submitting to variously violent acts of domination — up to and including “breath play” sessions wherein Graham would choke her to unconsciousness.
Wood later said she thought perhaps the rush Graham got from those acts inspired their discussions of smothering Alpine Manor residents. Whatever it was, the killings began on January 18, 1987.
While Wood stood lookout that particular night, Graham slipped into the room of Alzheimer’s sufferer and 12-year Alpine Manner resident Marguerite Chambers.
Once inside, Graham shoved one washcloth deep into Chambers’ nostrils while pressing another against the elderly woman’s mouth. Marguerite Chambers died flailing.
Immediately afterward, Graham summoned Wood into the room and they had sex next to Chambers’ lifeless remains. The sex-murder combo reportedly proved so intoxicating that they agreed on the spot to keep on doing it.
From there, for a minimum of four more times, Wood acted as a guard while Graham suffocated helpless old ladies. Victims ranged in age from 65 to 97.
After each kill — in addition to the couple’s post-mortem coitus — Graham supposedly pocketed souvenirs. And each time after a resident turned up dead, both women reportedly joked to coworkers about murdering them.
The sick joviality didn’t stop there. Wood and Graham tried to make a game of their serial slaughter by selecting victims whose initials would spell out “M-U-R-D-E-R.” That plan went awry when some of their targets proved too feisty to kill, forcing the pair to focus only on comatose or otherwise defenseless patients.
According to Wood, their passion soured after Graham insisted that they switch places. Wood said she was unwilling to “prove” her love by committing the actual physical act of homicide.
As a result, Wood and Graham broke up. The latter moved home to Texas, picked up a new girlfriend, and got a hospital job where she looked after infants!
In 1988, a supposedly despondent Wood confessed their crimes to her ex-husband. He immediately contacted the authorities. Investigators looked into eight recent Alpine Manor demises as possible murders. They collected enough evidence to act on five of them.
Police arrested both women in December 1989. Wood initially denied all accusations, then outpaced her ex-lover when it came time to strike a plea deal. She testified against Graham, claiming that the domineering woman pressured her into participating.
Graham, in turn, proclaimed that Wood orchestrated the murders as some sort of submissive “mind game.”
The courts ultimately leaned more toward Wood’s version of the fatal facts. As part of her plea bargain, Wood got 40 years and is expected to walk free in 2021. Graham is locked up for life without the possibility of parole.
Watch the all-new series premiere of Kiss of Death on Thursday, August 24 at 9/8c on Investigation Discovery!
Main photos: Gwendolyn Graham & Catherine May Wood/police handout [Kent County Sheriff’s Department]