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Gwendolyn Gail GRAHAM





Classification: Serial killer
Characteristics: Nurse's aide - Killed patients in a lover's pact with another woman
Number of victims: 5
Date of murders: January-April 1987
Date of arrest: December 1988
Date of birth: August 6, 1963
Victims profile: Elderly female patients
Method of murder: Smothering
Location: Kent County, Michigan, USA
Status: Sentenced to life in prison without parole on November 3, 1989
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Gwendolyn Graham & Catherine May Wood (1987) were a 24-year old and 25-year old lesbian couple from Grand Rapids, Michigan who achieved sexual thrills in killing 5 elderly female patients at the nursing home they worked at. They would smother their victims together and make love shortly thereafter to relive the thrill and enhance their lovemaking. Wood was a massive 450-pound woman who intensely loved the more dominant and sexually experimentative Graham. When Graham left to take a new job in Texas, Wood broke down and confessed to authorities. Graham received a penalty of life imprisonment and Wood got 20 years in prison.


Gwendolyn Graham & Catherine May Wood

Nurses Gwendolyn Graham and Catherine Wood were not only co-workers at the Alpine Manor Nursing Home in Walker, Michigan, but lesbian lovers who's sexual appetite went into overdrive at the thought of murder. Together they killed six elderly females that resided at the home and on more than one occasion made love as they washed the body of thier victim in preperation for burial.

Wood eventually told her ex-husband about the killings, perhaps because she was afraid of what Graham would to to the children in her charge at her new job, or more likely because Graham had taken on a new girlfriend. The man immediately informed police who charged Graham with six counts of murder and anointed Wood the prosecutions star witness. Predictably, Wood managed to put the bulk of the blame on her twisted ex-lover.

Graham went to trial in 1988 and Wood told the court of her role as lookout when Graham suffocated the helpless women. When the trial was over it was no contest and Graham was easily convicted on all counts and sentenced to life without the possiblity for parole. For her part Wood recieved a sentence of 20-40 years.


Gwendolyn Graham (born August 6, 1963) and Cathy Wood (born 1962) are American serial killers who killed five elderly women in Grand Rapids, Michigan in the 1980s. They committed their crimes in the Alpine Manor nursing home, where they both worked as nurse's aides.


The two women met at the Alpine Manor nursing home where Graham was a nurse's aide and Wood was her supervisor. They quickly became friends and then lovers in 1986. They practiced sexual asphyxia to achieve a better orgasm. Graham began to talk about committing murder as a sexual game.

Posting Wood as a lookout, Graham attempted to kill a few elderly women. However, the women were able enough to fight back. In January 1987, Graham entered the room of a woman who had Alzheimer's disease; the woman was too incapacitated to fight back, and thus became the pair's first victim. The woman's death appeared to be natural, so an autopsy was never performed.

Over the next few months, four more Alpine Manor patients were murdered. Many of the victims, whose ages ranged from 65 to 97, were incapacitated and suffered from Alzheimer's disease. Graham and Wood turned the selection of victims into a game, choosing victims whose initials collectively spelled M-U-R-D-E-R. Graham took souvenirs from the victims, keeping them to relive the deaths. Both women openly bragged about smothering six victims to their coworkers, with Graham even showing off her souvenirs, but no one believed them.

The couple broke up when Wood refused to actively kill a patient to prove her love to Graham. Wood transferred to another shift. Graham moved to Texas with another woman and began work in a hospital taking care of infants.

The murder investigation began in 1988 after Wood’s ex-husband, whom she had told about the murders, went to the police. Her ex-husband told the police in October 1988, which led them to investigate further. The first victim was exhumed on November 30, 1988 almost a year after her burial. The coffin was then taken to Kent County Morgue for examination. Eight possible victims were identified, but police ended up pursuing five.

In the end there was enough evidence to warrant the arrest of Wood and Graham. In December 1989, Graham was arrested in her hometown of Tyler, Texas; however, she maintained their claims were made as a joke to scare their co-workers.

During the trial, Wood plea-bargained her way to a reduced sentence, claiming that it was Graham who planned and carried out the killings while she served as a lookout or distracted supervisors. On November 3, 1989, Graham was found guilty of five counts of murder and one count of conspiracy to commit murder, and the court gave her five life sentences. She resides in the Huron Valley Complex (for female offenders). Wood was charged with one count of second-degree murder and one count of conspiracy to commit second-degree murder. She was sentenced to 20 years on each count and has been eligible for parole since March 2, 2005. Wood is currently incarcerated in the minimum security Federal Correctional Institution in Tallahassee, Florida, she is expected to be released on June 6, 2021.

Several of the families sued the owners of Alpine Manor for hiring "dangerous and unbalanced employees". Alpine Manor has since gone out of business, but the building now houses a nursing home called "Sanctuary at Saint Mary's".


The case was the basis of the 1992 true crime novel Forever and Five Days by Lowell Cauffiel.

Graham and Wood were featured in two episodes of the TV series The Serial Killers in which they were interviewed about their relationship and crimes.


Graham, Gwendolyn Gail and Wood, Catherine May

The deaths at Alpine Manor started as a game. At first, the killers planned to choose their victims alphabetically, with their initials spelling MURDER as a private joke on the police. 

As luck would have it, though, the aging women first selected still had too much fight left in them, and the plotters had to shift their strategy. No matter. In the end, they still found easy prey to satisfy their taste for death. 

Born in 1963, Gwen Graham was a California native who grew up in Tyler, Texas. She was quiet and respectful to her teachers, but she always had a sad look on her face. 

In later years, she claimed the sadness was occasioned by her fathers sexual attentions, but the charge--which he denies--was never proved in court. Moving to Michigan in 1986, Graham found work as a nurses aide at the Alpine Manor Nursing Home in Walker, a Grand Rapids suburb. Grahams immediate superior at Alpine Manor was 24-year-old Cathy Wood. Wed as a teenager, Wood had ballooned up to 450 pounds when her seven-year marriage broke up, leaving her alone and friendless in Grand Rapids. 

Hired at Alpine Manor in July 1985, she was soon promoted to supervisor of nurses aides, but her social life remained a vacuum until she met Gwen Graham on the job. Their friendship swiftly crossed the line into a lesbian affair, Wood dieting the pounds away and relishing the social whirl of gay bars, parties, and casual sex. Her chief devotion was to Graham, though, and by late 1986 the two women had pledged undying love for one another, come what may. 

Gwen broached the subject of premeditated murder that October, but her lover thought we were just playing. During sex, Gwen got a kick from tying Cathy down and choking her or covering her face with a pillow until she trembled on the verge of blacking out. If Cathy had complaints about the game, she kept them to her-self. 

By slow degrees, she learned that pain and pleasure may be flip-sides of the same exciting coin. The homicides at Alpine Manor spanned a three-month period, from January to the early part of April 1987. Gwens first plan, the MURDER game, fell through when her selected targets put up such a fight that she was forced to let them live. Despite her bungled efforts, there were no complaints on file. Both Wood and Graham earned exemplary reports from their superiors and were well liked by patients on the ward. In the future, Gwen decided, she would only pick on women who were too far gone for self-defense. 

Her lover was the lookout, standing by where she could watch the murder and the nurses station all at once, diverting any member of the staff who strayed too close while Graham snuffed her chosen victim with a washcloth pressed across the nose and mouth. Sometimes the sheer excitement of the killing was too much, and they retired immediately to an empty room for sex while memories were fresh. In several cases, Gwen kept souvenirs--an anklet or a handkerchief, a broach, a set of dentures. Murder is a risky business, but the lethal lovers seemed to thrive on danger, boasting of their body count to colleagues who dismissed the comments as sick jokes. 

At least three nurses aides saw the shelf of souvenirs in the house Wood shared with Graham, but none took the gloating tales of murder seriously ... yet. By April 1987, the honeymoon was over for Wood and Graham. Cathy balked at personally killing anyone to prove her love, and she was shortly rescued by her transfer to a different shift. By that time, Gwen was spending time with Heather Barager, another lesbian, who ultimately joined her for a trip back home to Texas, leaving Cathy in the lurch. 

Come August, Cathy spilled the story to her former husband, but Ken Wood stalled another fourteen months before he called police. Gwen Graham, meanwhile, had gone to work at Mother Frances Hospital in Tyler, keeping in touch with Cathy on the telephone. Grand Rapids police were skeptical of Ken Woods story at first. Some forty patients had died at Alpine Manor in the first quarter of 1987, all listed as natural deaths, but on reflection eight cases seemed to stand out. 

Three of those were finally eliminated by detectives, leaving a victim list that included 60-year-old Marguerite Chambers, 89-year-old Edith Cole, 95-year-old Myrtle Luce, 79-year-old Mae Mason, and 74-year-old Belle Burkhard. In no case was there any scientific evidence murder of, but Ken Woods statement and the second thoughts of staffers at the home were strong enough to make a case.

Both women were arrested in December 1988, Wood held without bond in Grand Rapids on charges of killing victims Cook and Chambers. In Texas, where rumors of the Michigan investigation had already cost Gwen her job, a $1 million bond was sufficient to keep her in jail. A brief extradition fight grew tedious, and Graham soon waived the legalities, returning to face charges on her own volition. 

The Alpine Manor staff was overwhelmed by the arrests, though some remembered Gwen as unpredictable, remarking casually on Grahams quick temper. Former nurses aides like Deborah Kidder, Nancy Harris, Lisa Lynch, Dawn Male and Russell Thatcher reevaluated those sick jokes and souvenirs they had managed to ignore while lives were on the line. At trial, four would testify against Gwen Graham for the prosecution, with Cathy Wood emerging as the states star witness overnight. A September 1989 guilty plea to charges of second-degree murder spared Wood from life imprisonment, earning her a sentence of twenty to forty years. In return for that relative leniency, she took the stand against Gwen three months later, thereby sealing her ex-lovers fate.Aside from the five victims murdered, said Cathy, Gwen had tried to suffocate at least five others who survived.

Woods ultimate confession to her husband had been prompted less by guilt than fear that Graham would continue killing in her new position at the Texas hospital, this time with infants as her chosen prey.

"When she was killing people at Alpine and I didnt do any-thing, Wood told the court, that was bad enough. But when she would call me and say how she wanted to smash a baby, I had to stop her somehow. I knew she was working in a hospital there. She said she wanted to take one of the babies and smash it up against a window. I had to do something. I didnt care about myself any more."

Grahams lawyer tried to portray Wood as a jealous, vindictive liar, setting his client up as a sacrificial lamb, but jurors disagreed. They deliberated for seven hours before convicting Gwen on five counts of first-degree murder and one count of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder. On November 2, 1989, Graham was sentenced to six terms of life imprisonment without possibility of parole.

Michael Newton - An Encyclopedia of Modern Serial Killers - Hunting Humans


Ex-Nursing Home Aide Gets Life Term in 5 Patient Killings

The New York Times

November 3, 1989

A former nursing home aide was sentenced to life in prison without parole today for smothering five patients in a lover's pact with another woman.

The 26-year-old defendant, Gwendolyn Graham, was convicted Sept. 20 of five counts of murder and one of conspiracy for killing severely incapacitated patients at the Alpine Manor Nursing Home in Walker in 1987.

Miss Graham's former co-worker and lover, Catherine Wood, who occasionally acted as a lookout for her, was sentenced last month to 20 to 40 years in prison for her part in the slayings.


A sexual game

By Katherine Ramsland

Gilbert's idea of excitement pales in comparison to the next team of caregivers. It was in Walker, Michigan in 1987 where a pair of lesbians made death a sexual game. Gwedolyn Gail Graham, 23, and Catherine May Wood, 24, worked together at the Alpine Manor Nursing Home. Graham was a nurse's aide and Wood was her immediate superior. Wood had divorced and gained an enormous amount of weight, so she was hungry for a friend. When she met Graham, they immediately hit it off and soon became lovers.

It was Graham who first broached the subject of murder. They practiced sexual asphyxia to achieve greater orgasms, so Wood later claimed she thought Graham was kidding. Yet the linked pain and pleasure of their sexual games became threaded with the idea of cruelty. Just talking about murder got them both excited.

They started killing patients in January and continued for three months, picking patients to kill whose initials would end up spelling "murder." Graham called this "the Murder Game." Posting Wood as sentry, she started with several elderly women, but they struggled so hard, she had to back off. Yet they did not register a complaint, and in fact, most of the patients liked these two women.

Then Graham went into the room of a woman suffering from Alzheimer's who would not be able to fight her off. She smothered the woman with a washcloth. In the weeks that followed, she moved on to another, and then another. There were times when the act of killing so excited her that she and Wood went to an unoccupied room for sex. Graham even took items off the victims — jewelry or dentures — to help her to relive what she had just done, and she found enormous emotional release in murder.

When they washed the bodies down as part of the postmortem routine, they grew even more excited.

Then they got bolder. They told colleagues what they were doing, because even the confessions added to their heightened sexual drive, but their accounts were dismissed as sick jokes. Graham showed three aides her shelf of souvenirs, and still no one stopped them.

Then Graham wanted Wood to take a more active role. To prove her love, she would have to kill one of the patients herself. Wood wasn't ready for this, so she got transferred to another shift.

Graham took up with another woman and then left Michigan to go work at a hospital in Texas taking care of infants. A terrified Wood confessed everything to her former husband, but it took him over a year to take action. Finally he called the police.

Of the 40 patients who had died in that three-month period, eight seemed suspicious enough for further investigation. Then they settled on five, and arrested both women. Wood turned state's witness against her former lover for a sentence of 20 to 40 years. She told them she'd come forward because of Graham's claim to her that she wanted to "take one of the babies and smash it up against a window."

To offer a mitigating circumstance, Graham said that her father had molested her, but this charge was never proven. Her lawyer also claimed that Wood came forward with lies just to get even with a lover who had left her. This was a set up.

The jury believed Wood. Graham was convicted on five counts of first-degree murder and one count of conspiracy to commit murder (although Wood had claimed that she'd tried to smother five more patients.) She got six life sentences, with no possibility of parole.

People, both male and female, who take advantage of vulnerable patients to feed their own needs are in some way depraved. They defy society's code of trust, and some of them are obviously sadistic. Whether it's because something terrible was once done to them or because they just needed to feel more powerful, they make people everywhere wary entrusting themselves to the healthcare system. Thus their damage is more profound than whatever they do to their victims. In a real way, society itself becomes their ultimate victim.



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