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Saturday, July 2, 2022

The Haily Owens Murder Case

     In February 2014 ten-year-old Haily Owens was a fourth grade student at Westport Elementary School in Springfield Missouri, a town in the southwestern part of the state. At four-thirty on the afternoon of Tuesday February 18, 2014, Haily, after visiting a school friend walked along West Lombart Street on her way home. A few blocks from her house on Page Street a witness saw a man in his forties with long, stringy gray hair, driving a gold 2008 Ford Ranger pickup truck, pull alongside the unaccompanied child.

     When the five-foot tall ninety-pound grade schooler ignored the man in the truck he drove away. But minutes later he returned to the girl. This time the man jumped out of the truck, grabbed the child, forced her into the cab through the driver's side door and sped off. The witness called 911 and provided the dispatcher with the license plate number to the abductor's truck.

     Through the truck's registration information and the witness' description of the driver, investigators identified the kidnapper as 45-year-old Craig Wood. Forty minutes following Haily Owen's abduction police officers had Wood's house on East Stanford Street under surveillance.

     At seven-thirty that night the authorities issued an Amber alert for Missouri, Kansas, and Oklahoma.

     Forty-five minutes after the Amber alert, three hours into the police surveillance of the suspect's home, Craig Wood pulled up to the house in the gold 2008 Ford Ranger. Haily Owens was not in the truck. Police seized the vehicle and transported Mr. Wood to the Springfield Police Department. When confronted by detectives the suspect refused to speak other than to demand an attorney.

     What kind of person would abduct a ten-year-old girl in broad daylight in front of at least one witness? Who is this man? In 1990 Craig Michael Wood pleaded guilty in Springfield to possession of a controlled substance. After he completed a court-ordered drug counseling program the judge suspended his sentence. In 2001 he was convicted of illegal taking of wildlife, a misdemeanor offense. (Hunting or fishing without a license.)

     In 1998, Craig Wood, an amateur bluegrass musician, became a teacher's aide and middle school football coach at the Pleasant View School in Springfield. He also worked as a substitute teacher in the school district. In 2013 he earned a salary of $17,000 a year.

     Wood had no children and had never been married. His parents were wealthy and raised show horses.

     Later on the night of the abduction police officers executed a search warrant at the suspect's house. Officers worked at the dwelling well into the early morning hours of the next day. During the search they found, in Wood's basement, Haily Owen's body. She had been stuffed into a trash bag and placed into a plastic container.

     The school girl had been shot in the back of the head. Crime scene investigators also noted ligature marks on her wrists that suggest she had been tied up. Wood's basement floor was still damp from bleach used to clean up physical evidence from the murder.

     At the Wood residence police officers found a three-ring binder containing pornographic photographs of young children. From the dwelling searchers also seized cameras, thirty video recordings, a handwritten journal, a spent .22-caliber shell casing and the hat Haily Owens had been wearing when abducted.

     Charged with first-degree murder, kidnapping and armed criminal action, officers booked Craig Wood into the Greene County Jail. At the suspect's arraignment his public defender's office attorney, Chris Hatley, announced that his client intended to plead not guilty to all charges. At the hearing, assistant prosecutor Todd Myers challenged Wood's use of a public defender, noting that police officers found evidence of a $1 million trust fund in the suspect's name. "I think he can afford his own attorney," Myers said. The judge denied Craig Wood bail.

     In October 2016, Craig Wood, in order to avoid the death penalty, pleaded guilty to murdering Haily Owens. A Greene County Missouri judge, in February 2017, sentenced Craig Wood to life in prison without the possibility of parole. 

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