The Killing of Karen Wood | Yankee Classic
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Excerpt from “The Killing of Karen Wood,” Yankee Magazine November 1989
On the morning of November 15, 1988, Dr. Kevin Wood had rarely felt better. He was up early, showered and changed, anxious to get to his new job. He gave Karen, his wife of 13 years, a kiss and a hug and gathered his baby twin daughters — pink-cheeked, blond-haired, blue-eyed bundles named Laura and Lindsey — into his arms, and covered them with little kisses. He left then, driving in his brown Honda Civic down the quiet road in Hermon, Maine, where they had moved only recently from Iowa. It was only ten or 15 minutes to the Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor where he had begun work in July. He was 36 years old, tall and lean and blond, his face edged in a red beard with a white swath down the side. He had told friends and family that this new position, working with children with psychological problems, was “the perfect job.”
That afternoon, Karen was smoothing sheets of wallpaper to the walls of her brand-new kitchen, which she had told friends back home was the “kitchen of her dreams.” Karen felt as Kevin did: coming here to Maine was the culmination of many efforts, and everything she did for this house, for the babies, for Kevin, she did with a radiant glow that even the most casual acquaintance picked up on. The paper was deep blue with tiny white flowers, a pattern she had spent a great deal of time selecting. Laura and Lindsey had only just taken their first steps, so progress was slow as she watched them move about unsteadily and measured for the next piece of wallpaper.
No one can say why, but some time after 3:00 P.M., she laid down her tools and put the babies behind the child gates in the living room. Outside, bright sun shone through bare trees, but the air was Halloween-crisp, so she put on her dark blue jacket and pulled on a pair of white mittens before stepping out the glass door to the deck that overlooked their acre and a half of scrubby woods. She went down the steps and through the fenced-in dog kennel that extended 100 feet beyond the deck. She opened the gate and stepped out.
In the clearing, some 63 yards from Karen, Donald Rogerson, a hunter well known in Bangor sporting circles, raised the barrel of his 30.06, a very high-powered deer rifle with a four-power sight, took aim, and fired. He lowered the gun, pumped another round into the chamber, and once again pulled the trigger.
Across the street, Cheryl Hamlin was sitting in her living room. She heard the shots, too close, way too close. Then she heard cries and a voice: “Help me, help me, dear God, please help me!” She grabbed the phone and dialed the sheriff. As she spoke, she watched out the window. A man in blaze orange pounded on the Woods’ front door where inside the babies’ cries swelled out.
Toward the end of the day, Kevin was called to the emergency room to see a young girl who had threatened suicide. He spent some time with her and decided, somewhat reluctantly, not to admit her. He spoke gently to her and then returned to his office where there was a call waiting for him from the emergency room. His first thought was that something had happened to the girl he had just left. Instead it was a man from the sheriff’s department who told him that there had been a hunting accident and that his son had been shot. Kevin doesn’t have a son, so he told the man there was some mistake, but the man insisted that Kevin come home. He did.
Listening to his car radio on the way, he heard a news report of a hunter who had been shot in Hermon. He felt confused, and yet when he turned down his road, seeing the crowd of police cars, TV trucks, news reporters, and game wardens, and the yellow police tape drawn around his property still did not convey to him what had happened: Karen was dead. Her body, pierced through the chest by one of Rogerson’s bullets, lay in the backyard, covered by the brown and beige blanket of a neighbor.
During the next hours, as the brilliant afternoon turned to night, events swirled around Kevin with nightmarish unreality. Within an hour or so Donald Rogerson was arrested for manslaughter and taken to the Bangor jail. Because her death was related to hunting, game wardens rather than police handled the investigation, and young uniformed wardens, it seemed like an entire squadron of them, swarmed through Kevin’s backyard. They worked intensely around the crime scene, some of them down on their hands and knees, scouring the leaf-covered earth. When darkness closed in, they switched on flashlights and continued. It was 7:00 P.M. before the medical examiner could get there from Augusta, even later before the hearse came to take Karen’s body away.
Inside the house, neighbors and rescue workers tried to comfort the babies, who cried and cried for their mother. Night turned to day. Kevin did not sleep and neither, it seemed, did the wardens. Kevin turned away reporters. He could not talk, he could not imagine talking.
The next day Kevin, in numb disbelief, carried out the sorrowful task of following Karen’s body home to Binghamton, New York, where they had been born six months apart, where they went to high school together, where they fell in love, where they married. Before Kevin left, Gary Sargent, the warden in charge of the investigation, assured him that all this, gathering of evidence was being done in preparation for the trial, which would surely follow this ungodly event. Over the next several days, the wardens took extensive measurements, photographs, videotapes, and even pictures from the air. They cut down the tree Karen had stood beside when she was shot and took away the trunk in which was lodged the other bullet.
Three weeks after the shooting, Kevin returned to Bangor from Binghamton where he had stayed with his parents following the funeral. He left the twins in the care of their four doting grandparents until he felt settled enough to bring them back to the house at Treadwell Acres. While he’d been gone, he had read none of the newspapers, which had throbbed almost daily with the news and opinions about Karen’s death. Because the investigation was still underway, few facts about the shooting could be released. In the write-ups there were few details about Kevin or Karen, nothing about the funeral, and only a brief obituary for Karen. The focus was on the hunter.
More than one front-page story featured tearful apologies from Rogerson, who, it was headlined, was a scoutmaster in Bangor. “A most wonderful kind of person,” one of the Woods’ neighbors was quoted as saying. One report opened by setting the scene at the supermarket where Rogerson is the produce manager. It described customers lining up to shake the hunter’s hand and make offers of prayers and support, as if he were somehow the victim. While Kevin had been silent, Donald Rogerson had talked, and graphic details of his experience emerged. “I almost fainted when I came up on her,” he told one reporter. “I…messed my pants.”
What didn’t emerge were the details that mattered: what he was shooting at, how long he’d been in the woods, how many shots he fired, whether or not there were deer seen nearby. One warden excited much comment by saying Rogerson may have mistaken her white mittens for the tail of a deer, overlooking the fact that Rogerson was hunting for buck and needed to identify the head, not the tail, of the deer before shooting. What Rogerson did say, over and over, was how sorry he was, to almost anyone who would listen. He didn’t know he was so close to houses; he thought he was shooting at a deer, he said.