Thursday, March 18, 2010

Another Senseless Murder

Thomas Woodel brutally murdered Clifford and Bernice Moody

Snowbird Season
By Robert A. Waters

On December 31, 1996, Clifford Moody, 79, and his wife, Bernice, 74, were murdered in their Polk County, Florida home. The Moody’s were what Floridians call “snowbirds,” or seasonal visitors to the state. They came south in the winter and went back to their home in Kankakee, Illinois for the summer.

The couple owned two mobile homes at Outdoor Resorts of America on Lake Davenport, near Bartow. They lived in a house on Lot # 533 and rented out their second home which was next door.

Clifford Moody was in poor health. He had an enlarged heart, and had recently endured triple by-pass surgery. He’d had a knee replacement and walked with a decided limp. Even with his physical problems, Clifford was active. He loved to fish for bass and spent many hours on the lake. Bernice Moody, on the other hand, was the picture of health. She looked much younger than her age. She loved to garden, and her trailer was brilliant with flora, even in the winter.

On December 30, the weather was picture-perfect for visitors to the Sunshine State, with temperatures in the mid-70s and sunny skies. Clifford and Bernice worked all day on the second trailer they owned, getting it ready for a new renter. They were seen by many of the residents of the trailer park pressure-cleaning and making repairs.

At about 12:45 p.m. on the following day, New Year’s Eve, LaVern O’Connell arrived at the rental unit. He’d arranged to lease the home for three months. He knocked on the door but received no answer. Inching his way in through an unlocked door, O’Connell discovered the bodies of the couple.

Investigators from the Polk County Sheriff’s Office were called. Court documents state that Clifford lay “on the flat of his back in the kitchen/dining room area. His eyeglasses had been knocked off and were lying beside him, about two feet from his head. He was wearing a silver-colored chain with a cross on it, and a watch on his left arm. His underwear and trousers had been pulled down to his knees or ankles.” Clifford had been stabbed eight times. The coroner later ruled that his death was due to loss of blood.

Bernice was lying in the back bedroom. She’d been stabbed 58 times. She’d also been attacked with the lid of a toilet. It had broken into several pieces as she was slammed in the head with it. Bernice had defensive injuries and died, like her husband, due to loss of blood.

Deputies interviewed almost everyone at Outdoor Resorts, but got no real leads. Then they decided to check out the dumpsters in the park. “Among the items found,” stated one court document, “were Pizza Hut boxes, pieces of [a] porcelain toilet tank lid, a wallet containing identification and credit cards belonging to Clifford Moody, keys with a tag that said ‘Cliff’s keys,’ glasses, bloody socks, paperwork with the address of Lot 301, and paperwork bearing the name of...Thomas Woodel.”

Not surprisingly, Thomas Woodel lived in a trailer on Lot # 301.
His sister, Bobbi, owned the trailer and let Woodel live with her. They both worked at a nearby Pizza Hut.

Tommy Woodel had a difficult childhood. “Albert Davis, Thomas Woodel’s father, was deaf,” one document read. “He used to drink heavily, but stopped drinking so much 20 years ago. Thomas Woodel’s mother, Jackie, was also hard of hearing [and] drank a lot. She would go out and drink, and not return until late at night when the children were in bed; as a result, they never really got to talk with their mother. Jackie was an unfit mother, and Albert Woodel sometimes had to assume the roles of both mother and father. He and Jackie would get into fist fights after he found her in a bar. The kids would sometimes go and hide when their parents were fighting.”

The home was unstable, with many moves, and for a time, Thomas and Bobbi lived in a children’s home. Other times they lived with relatives. When Tommy was eight, his father moved out, causing more chaos. At eighteen, Woodel enlisted in the Navy but was dishonorably discharged after going AWOL. Tommy was a hard worker, but also an alcoholic. He was easy-going and his co-workers at Pizza Hut were astonished when they found out that he had murdered two people. His sister Bobbi said, “[Tommy’s] a very nice, loving person that gets misunderstood a lot because he has a hard time communicating. But violence doesn’t even come close to being anything near his personality.”

Unfortunately, the evidence for the brutal murders of two innocent people lay directly at the feet of Thomas Woodel. When he was interviewed, he quickly confessed, although he tried to make the murders seem like self-defense. After working at Pizza Hut on New Year’s Eve night, Woodel got off at around eleven o’clock that night. He drank several beers and started walking home. He said he saw Bernice Moody (whom he did not know) cleaning a window and asked her what time it was. According to his statement, she pulled out a knife and said, “You need to leave or I’m going to cut you.” He said he pushed her down but she got up and came at him with the knife. As he struggled with her, she “poked” herself.

He took the knife from her, he said, and held it out in a defensive posture. She tried to attack him again, but “ran into the knife.” She fell, then got up and attacked him again. The process was repeated over and over, Woodel said, with Bernice running into the knife several more times. She continued to struggle and Woodel took the lid of the toilet and struck her to subdue her. As they fought, they ended up in one of the bedrooms and both fell on the bed where Woodel cut Bernice’s throat.

It was one of the most unlikely stories the detectives had ever heard. Woodel then continued his account. At some point, he said, Clifford Moody heard the commotion and came to his wife’s aid. With his physical condition, he was no match for Woodel, and was stabbed to death. A court document read: “As Woodel was preparing to leave the trailer, he thought he would take Clifford Moody’s wallet. He could not get the wallet out of Moody’s pants, so he lowered the pants to the ankles in order to get it out.”

The crime seemed senseless, as so many do.

Woodel had served a prison sentence in Michigan for auto theft. He’d been released in April, and moved to Florida to live with his sister. She'd helped him get a job at Pizza Hut as a cook.

Woodel was tried and convicted of the first degree murder of both Clifford and Bernice Woodel. Jurors didn’t buy his “self-defense” version of the events and sentenced him to death.

Assistant State Attorney Paul Wallace acknowledged that Woodel had a difficult childhood. Then he added, “But what does that have to do with what he chose to do? It has nothing to do with what he chose to do. He was not lashing out at the people who harmed him.”

Woodel’s appeals are running out and he could be executed in the near future.


Unknown said...

As he should.

J.M. Waters said...

A senseless murder indeed! Too often our society bends to the stories of less than perfect childhoods to excuses these types of crimes. It is good to see that in this case, it would appear, justice will be served.

While the horrible childhood so many endure is a sad commentary on the state of the family in this should never be used to excuse such acts.

Great post!

brisbran said...

So my ????? is to all the ppl who think that to take his life for what he did is fair? Aint that an eye for eye..Thou shall not kill its a commandment passed down from the earliest of times so isnt this murder as well?
Its not going to bring these people back nor make anything better by killing this man......What he did was wrong and he deserves what is coming but death is not one of them. To me i think its wrong to kill anyone regardless of how or why its done but that does not give our government the right to inflict harm to another person they have family and loved ones who do love them and care for them like the family of their victims.

brisbran said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

I'm actually from the Kankakee area, and my parents knew the Moodys very well. They even stayed in the trailer that the Cliff and Bernice often rented. Lot 532. My parents have nothing but good things to say about them. From what I've been told, they were the nicest and sweetest people you could ever meet. My mom, being the homemaker that she is, did all the laundry, and cleaned the trailer up, cleaned the dishes, and everything. And when she and my dad got back home, to Illinois, Bernice called my mom to thank her. God bless their beautiful hearts and may they forever rest in peace.