In the 1974 NFL Draft, the Green Bay Packers took a late-round flyer on a wide receiver out of Portland State named Randy Woodfield. After a few years, Woodfield made a name for himself – for all the wrong reasons.
Each year, hundreds of late-round draft picks and undrafted free agents look to latch on in the National Football League. Though underestimated, undersized or just plain unknown, several of these individuals carve out a solid career in the league, while a select few become household names.
In the 1970s, one former Green Bay Packers draft pick reached that elusive level of nationwide notoriety. However, his fame didn’t come on the gridiron.
It came from something far more gruesome.
Flash back to early 1974. The Packers are coming off a 5-7-2 record and third-place finish in the NFC Central after an unexpected division title in ’72. Head coach and general manager Dan Devine, knowing his seat may be heating up, goes into that year’s draft focused on adding some spark to one of the league’s worst offenses.
As expected, Green Bay uses their first four picks on offensive skill position players in running backs Barty Smith and Don Woods plus wide receivers Steve Odom and Ken Payne. Devine and the front office progress their way through the draft, finding a mid-round gem in running back Eric Torkelson and taking a shot on an offensive lineman from Pittsburgh named Dave Wannstedt.
By the time the 17th and final round rolled around, Devine and the Packers decided to go for Portland State wide receiver Randy Woodfield. Despite not having much of a scouting report on him, Woodfield led the Vikings in receptions and receiving yards his senior year and showed the traits (good route runner, good hands) that help late-round receivers stick around in the NFL.
Some extra scouting, though, could have alerted the Packers to troubling tendencies.
In high school, Woodfield was caught exposing himself to females on a bridge in his hometown of Otter Rock, Oregon. At Treasure Valley Community College, he was arrested after allegedly breaking into an ex-girlfriend’s home, though those charges were dropped due to a lack of evidence). Upon transferring to PSU, Woodfield was convicted twice of indecent exposure, though he was arrested several other times on similar charges.
Back at training camp, Woodfield was doing his best to catch on with the team. He survived the first round of cuts and was on the roster through the team’s first three preseason games, though he did not record any stats.
“I’m pretty excited,” Woodfield said in an interview with the Green Bay Press-Gazette. “I’m just really thankful for the opportunity.”
His opportunity, though, was cut short on Aug. 19 when the Packers released him under uncertain circumstances – some reports indicate a charge of public indecency was the catalyst. Woodfield stayed in Wisconsin that year and played for the semi-pro Manitowoc Chiefs of the Central States Football League, helping the team reach the CSFL’s title game that year.
Despite being a big contributor to the team, Woodfield was cut by the Chiefs for off-field concerns. Despite no public arrest records, reports indicate he was involved in multiple indecent exposure incidents across Wisconsin.
Woodfield returned to the Pacific Northwest and bounced from job to job for a few years, but his run-ins with the police continued. Following a series of attacks on women throughout the Portland area in 1975, he was caught by police. He was charged and found guilty of robbery and released from prison a few years later, citing self-control issues he speculated came from steroid use.
Out of prison, his behavior slowly became more erratic, taking excessive pride in his physical image and sending naked photos of himself to women. In 1979, he submitted an image of himself to Playgirl magazine for inclusion into a future issue.
Shortly thereafter, the true horror began.
On Oct. 11, 1980, a 29-year-old woman named Cherie Ayers was found raped, beaten and stabbed in her apartment in Portland. Given how the former high school classmates had recently reconnected, Woodfield became a suspect. Interviews and body fluid tests from the crime scene, though, seemed to distance him from the crime and he was let go.
Less than two months later, 22-year old Darcey Fix and 24-year-old Doug Altig were found murdered execution-style. Woodfield had a distant connection with Fix, but police ultimately let him go, citing a lack of solid evidence.
In mid-December, three businesses in three different cities – Vancouver, Wash.; Eugene, Oregon; and Albany, Oregon – all reported attacks from a man with a beard, while a 25-year-old waitress in Seattle reported a man with a similar description forcing her to commit sexual acts.
One month later, two 20-year-olds in Shari Hull and Lisa Garcia were found sexually assaulted and shot at an office building in Keizer, Oregon. Though Hull perished from her wounds, Garcia survived by faking her death and called the police once Woodfield was gone.
The hunt was on for the “I-5 Killer,” but the rampage continued.
In February, 37-year-old Donna Eckard and her daughter, 14-year-old Jannell Jarvis were found dead in their Mountain Gate, Calif., home, while women in both Redding, Calif., and Yreka, Calif., both reported being kidnapped and raped that same week. Days later, 18-year-old Julie Reitz was shot and killed at her home in Beaverton, Oregon.
At this point, authorities honed in on Woodfield as a suspect, given his connection to several of the victims and his previous history of misconduct toward women. Additionally, descriptions of the assailant in each case were strikingly similar – young and muscled with varying degrees of facial hair – and the same .32 bullets were found at each place. But two things ultimately brought Woodfield down: Garcia’s testimony and a record of calling cards being used at pay phones near the crime scenes.
In March, Woodfield was arrested and charges ranging from murder to armed robbery flooded in from multiple locations in Oregon and Washington. Armloads of evidence and an unconvincing defense ultimately resulted in his conviction on all counts following just 3.5 hours of jury deliberation.
Woodfield was sentenced to life in prison plus 90 years. Another case in Oregon added more years to his sentence, while many other cases connecting him to the crime didn’t progress to the courts. In the years since, DNA evidence and other advances in crime investigation technology have connected him to even more cases, some even beyond the Pacific Northwest.
All told, Woodfield has been connected to at least 29 violent crimes – and potentially even more – between Oct. 10, 1980, and Feb. 25, 1981. Unfortunately, many of these cases either never went to court (due to a lack of further evidence or minimal change to his current life sentence) or are unresolved.
Today, Woodfield sits in the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem, living out in final years behind bars.