The Real Killer Signed the Guest Book at Her Funeral

'Texas Monthly' looks at the 1987 murder of Susan Woods, and how everyone assumed her husband did it
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 24, 2023 2:20 PM CDT
The Real Killer Signed the Guest Book at Her Funeral
A mug shot of Scott Hatley in 2006.   (Erath County (Texas) Sheriff's Office)

When 30-year-old Susan Woods was found in her bathtub in 1987 in Stephenville, Texas, the victim of a brutal rape and murder, "everyone in Stephenville knew who did it," writes Bryan Burrough at the Texas Monthly. That would be her husband, Michael Woods, a long-haired, motorcycle-riding non-local who never quite squared with the small-town vibe. The two had just had a nasty split, and Michael had left the state with her car as the divorce went through. The story details how Michael Woods lived under suspicion for two decades, with the fear of arrest and a long prison stretch hovering constantly over his head. He always insisted he was innocent, and his prints didn't match those at the crime scene, but he remained suspect No. 1.

It wasn't until 2006, when detective Don Miller made use of the FBI's new electronic database of fingerprints that police got a match and a new suspect: a man named Joseph Scott Hatley, an acquaintance of Susan's who had even gone to her funeral and signed the guest book. He escaped attention after the crime, at least partly because of the intense focus on Michael Woods. Hatley eventually confessed to killing Susan in what he calls a drunken fog. One chilling detail: The year after the murder, he brutally raped a teenage girl in a local park while warning her that he had killed before. Hatley, who served 11 years for the Woods murder, died at age 56 in 2021 in his RV after a cancer diagnosis. Papers he left behind detailed a tormented double life. The full story is a riveting read. (Or check out other longform stories.)

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