When the residents of Dunn County, Wisconsin woke up on the morning of February 15, 1974, none of them expected to hear about a murder in their area, but they did.
About mid-morning, police were notified that a body had been found in a ditch along a dead-end road. When they arrived, authorities found the remains of a young woman wearing denim pants and a maroon sweater. She was still warm, indicating that she hadn’t been dead for long.
The man who had called the authorities said that he had seen a man standing outside of a gold or gold-orange colored compact car parked in the area. While the car was long gone, police did take measurements of tire tracks found in the snow at the scene. He was also able to give a detailed description of the suspect to a police sketch artist.
They also found a stocking cap with a few hairs left inside of it. Outside of that, there was very little to go on.
The young woman was identified as 25-year-old Mary Schlais, a graduate student at the University of Minnesota. She was an attractive, intelligent young woman who spoke multiple languages. Mary loved to travel, and usually got around by hitchhiking. Her roommate told police that Mary had left that morning to attend an art festival in Chicago, Illinois. She had planned on going to Madison, Wisconsin, first, and then down to Chicago.
An autopsy revealed that she had been stabbed fifteen times, and she had not died quietly. Her face and body were covered in bruises, and her hands had numerous defensive wounds.
Her family and friends were horrified. How could this have happened? More importantly, who could have done such a thing?
Police worked tirelessly to answer that very question. They pursued every available lead, questioned every suspect. They compared the hair samples to numerous people, but never found a match. They couldn’t find the gold-orange car that their witness had seen, in spite of its distinctive color.
The killer had vanished into the wind, and the case soon went cold.
In 2009, thirty-five years after Mary’s death, police decided to utilize new technology in the case.
Forensic technology had come a long way from where it had been in 1974, especially in the area of DNA testing. Breakthroughs in DNA science had forever changed the face of police investigations, and Dunn County officials were hopeful that it could do something to reveal Mary’s killer.
Mary Schlais’ body was exhumed and examined for DNA evidence. Thankfully, some was found and was entered for comparison into existing DNA databases across the nation.
Of the two profiles that matched and couldn’t be ruled out, one of them immediately caught law enforcement’s eye. They knew that name. With a cold feeling in the hollow of their stomach, they began look into a soft-spoken man named Randy.
His name was Randall, but everyone called him Randy. That had started before he was born, and now that he was older Randy hated his nickname. It was something that you called a little kid. He preferred Randall.
. Now that was a man’s name, something that commanded respect and authority. When Randall talked, people listened. When Randy told you something, you laughed politely and patted the little man on the head.
Regardless of what he wanted, the nickname stuck, and he remained Randy
He resented it, just like how he resented being pushed around by his sisters. At least, that’s how he saw it.
Randy had two older sisters who were always allowed to do everything that he was not, at least in his mind. His mother gently explained to him that they were older, so they could be trusted to do more. While there were younger siblings all over the world being told the same thing, Randy truly resented it, hated it.
Randy’s father, a manager for the Pacific Northwest Bell Telephone Company, often worked long hours and was frequently out of the house. In Randy’s mind, it left him alone in a house ruled by women. He was subjugated by his sisters, deliberately held back from doing things while they could do whatever they wanted.
Because his father was at work so much, Randy’s mother was the default disciplinarian in the home. In that role, she ultimately decided what was wrong and right, acceptable and unacceptable. To Randy, it seemed that no matter how much he tried, he was never able to truly achieve the standard that she was setting for him.
But in Randy’s mind, he lived in a world dominated by women who were either allowed to do things that he wasn’t, or they set a standard that was always too high and unrealistic to achieve. And he resented it. He hated it.
The irony was that as much as he hated his perceived subjugation, Randy adored his mother. While he felt that he couldn’t ever reach the lofty standards that she had set for him, he still wanted more than anything else in the world to please her and gain her approval. Every time he was punished for something, however, Randy’s feeling that he could never live up to his mother’s expectations of him were reinforced.
Gradually, Randy’s entire self-image became intertwined with women’s perception of him. He needed their approval, he needed to be loved and adored by them. At the same time, he resented and hated how they could do exactly as they wanted while controlling him.
Of course, outwardly Randy gave very few indications of any of these feelings.
He was quiet and soft-spoken. He was always kind, gentle, polite, and respectful toward other people, outside of a few outbursts with his parents or sisters. Randy did well in school, and had lots of friends.
Although his father worked long hours, the family was solid and stable. His parents loved and respected each other, and they loved their children. Randy and his father did a lot of things together, and had a good relationship.
Randy started going through puberty early. His emerging sexual feelings began to mix with his perception of women. In the early and middle years of the 1960’s, a lot of people didn’t talk about sex, either publicly or privately. Even if Randy had wanted to talk to someone about his emerging desires, he had no one to talk to. Or at least, he didn’t feel like he could talk about it. So, he kept it private, hidden away from everyone else.
When he hit junior high, Randy really started to show a lot of athletic promise. He excelled at every sport that he competed in, quickly becoming one of the most outstanding athletes in the Oregon towns of Otter Rock and Newport. Everyone felt that he was destined for great things, both on the field and off.
But there was something wrong inside Randy. He had needs and desires that he couldn’t tell anyone else about. While there were probably a lot of young men who felt that way all over the country, Randy’s desires were darker. It wasn’t long before he began to explore them outside of adolescent daydreams and fantasies.
As early as junior high school, Randy began to expose himself to random women in public.
For him, it wasn’t just the thrill of being discovered doing something wrong that he enjoyed. Randy was excited by the surprised and shocked look on a woman’s face as he stood there, manhood exposed to her. On a different level, he felt that he was getting back at his mother and all the other women who sought to control him.
When he was exposing himself, he was doing something that he wanted to do. He was in control.
There were many times that Randy wasn’t content showing himself to just one woman. He would show himself to multiple women around Newport, running from place to place both to find new women and to avoid being caught. But Newport isn’t a large place, and it was only a matter of time before someone recognized him or caught him outright.
But when he finally was, nothing too severe happened. His parents took him to a therapist, who believed that Randy was just exploring his budding sexuality. The incident was ignored and then largely forgotten. Because he was only a juvenile at the time, Randy’s record was expunged when he turned eighteen.
Years later, detectives said that the police in Newport deliberately turned a blind eye to the behavior. Randy was their star athlete. He was going to make their town a household name in athletic circles, because that would be the hometown of a world-class ball player.
Randy continued to be an outstanding individual through high school. He was an academic standout, especially in mathematics. He had a large circle of friends, and dated the most popular girls. Most importantly, he was an all-star athlete who wanted, more than anything, to play professional football.
After graduating in 1969, Randy enrolled in Treasure Valley Community College, where they eagerly accepted him into their football program.
While he was only able to manage a C+ grade average, Randy’s athletic prowess was as phenomenal as it ever was. Before long, he was appointed to be the captain of the varsity football team. Randy even got a new girlfriend, a young woman named Sharon McNeill.
He was crazy about Sharon, and his roommate, an old friend from high school, didn’t think that he’d ever seen Randy so attached to a girl before. Unfortunately, Sharon wasn’t as interested, and soon broke up with him.
A short time later, someone broke into the McNeill home where Sharon lived with her parents and vandalized her bedroom. The only thing that was taken was a stuffed animal that Randy had given to Sharon as a gift.
Randy was immediately considered a prime suspect, and police charged him with vandalism. Due to a lack of any physical evidence, however, he was found not guilty and set free. After a year, Randy dropped out of Treasure Valley and went back home.
Over the next few years, he worked different blue-collar jobs. But Randy still wanted to play in the NFL, and he knew that he was losing time. If he didn’t make a professional team by the time that he was thirty, then his dream would be over.
In 1971, he enrolled in classes at Portland State University. There was a better chance to be scouted out by the pros there than there ever was at Treasure Valley.
Granted, scouts didn’t really look too hard at smaller colleges like PSU, but even a slight chance was a better one than he had working at home. Besides, Randy had kept himself in great shape, and after looking at his high school record and watching him play, the football coaches were more than happy to put him on the team. Once again, he excelled athletically but rode solidly in the middle of the pack academically.
Randy also started exposing himself to random women again. Eventually he was caught and arrested for indecent exposure in Washington state in the summer of 1972. While he was convicted, Randy was given a suspended sentence.
Back on campus, he maintained a carefully-cultivated image of perfection. He was good-looking, charming, and soft spoken with a deep voice. By all appearances, Randy was what every young man should aspire to be. Most of the people who saw him on campus, however, were completely unaware that he was still exposing himself to random women in his spare time.
He continued to be arrested periodically for indecent exposure, but was never made to serve any jail time or do any counseling. As far as anyone could tell, his coaches at Portland State were never aware of any of his arrests.
In 1973, Randy finally got his wish: scouts from the Green Bay Packers had come to PSU looking for prospective players. Better yet, they were interested in him specifically as a wide receiver.
Ron Stratten, the head coach, had just taken charge of the team. He was eager to boost the football program, and there were few better ways to do that than by getting one of his players drafted in the NFL. When the Green Bay scouts asked him about Randy, he gave them an honest assessment, explaining that although he was fast, he also didn’t like to get hit.
The Packers drafted Randy for their 1974 season. He had finally achieved his goal.
While Randy began to prepare for his NFL career, Mary Schlais was in Minnesota, working towards her master’s degree while developing a promising career as an artist.
Recently she had heard about an art festival in Chicago, and decided that she would hitchhike her way down there to see it for herself.
Decades later, law enforcement officials determined that Randy was driving toward Wisconsin during that same period of time.
Mary stood along the roadside, bracing herself against the chill February weather. She had been born and raised in the frigid climate of Minnesota, and was no stranger to it. Besides, her sweater and jacket kept her warm enough.
At 25-years-old, Mary was an experienced hitchhiker, having done it all over the United States and Europe. She’d no doubt heard the stories of people getting robbed and murdered, but she hadn’t ever seen it. While it’s quite possible that Mary had at least one or two run-ins with strange or sketchy people, she’d never had a bad enough experience to make her stop hitchhiking.
It was February 15, 1974. There was an art festival going on in Chicago, and she wanted to go.
Her plan was to hitchhike to Madison, Wisconsin, and then down to Illinois. When she was done at the festival, she’d just hitchhike her way back home to Minneapolis. It was a fairly straight forward trip, and Mary didn’t expect any trouble.
Taking a piece of cardboard, she’d carefully written the word “Madison” on it in large block letters. She’d said goodbye to her roommate earlier that morning, grabbed her sign, and left her Minneapolis apartment. From there, she headed down to I-94 to start her journey.
Three hours later, Mary Schlais was found stabbed to death in a snowy ditch in rural Dunn County, Wisconsin.
What happened during that time is open to speculation. While relatively little is known, an eyewitness saw a gold-orange compact car near where Mary’s body was discovered. Some of Randy’s friends during that time remember him driving a car like that during the time that he drove out to Wisconsin to play with the Green Bay Packers.
The same eyewitness also worked with a police sketch artist to make a composite drawing that resembled Randy.
It would take years for police to even suspect that Randy was ever even in Dunn County around the time of Mary’s murder, let alone make him a compelling suspect.
Was it possible that as Mary stood alongside of the road that cold morning, clutching her homemade sign, that a orange-gold colored car pulled over to the shoulder of the road in front of her?
Perhaps the man inside was young, well-muscled and handsome. He had a dark complexion, and his hair and mustache were carefully groomed. When he smiled at her, Mary just couldn’t help but smile back at him.
They talked a little, his voice deep and soft. It fit well with his appearance.
“My name’s Randy,” he said.
Had Randy, the soon-to-be professional football player, murdered Mary Schlais?
While law enforcement officials started their investigation, Randy signed his contract with the Green Bay Packers. For him, the next few months must have seemed like a dream. He got to train and play with a professional team, receiving personal guidance from coaches that he never thought that he’d meet.
However, the dream came to an abrupt end in August when he was cut from the team before their official season had even begun.
The official reason was that the Packers were focusing on a running game that year, and Randy’s skill set just didn’t match what they needed. Police would later suspect other reasons might have contributed to their decision.
Disappointed but undaunted, he started to play for the Manitowoc Chiefs, a semi-professional team in Wisconsin. Despite performing well, Randy was dropped after a single season. While the Chiefs never gave any reason publicly, detectives later discovered that during that time, Randy had been picked up for public exposure numerous times. Rumor also suggested this was the same reason the Packers dropped him, although the team has never publicly commented on the matter.
Randy was at a loss. All he had ever wanted to do was play professional football. Now, at only 24, he didn’t know what to do, so he returned to Portland. Randy drifted from job to job and seemed to be more interested in complaining about how he had been screwed by the Green Bay Packers and reminiscing about his glory days.
Before, exposing himself had seemed to give Randy some kind of release, a way to manage his stress. But now, after his dreams were shattered, his anger turned into hatred. It was going to take something more to excite him now.
In 1975, several women were attacked by an unknown man around the Duniway Park area in Portland. The man snuck up on them from behind and held them at knifepoint. He then exposed himself, forced them to give him oral sex, and then stole their purses or wallets.
In March, Annette Jolin, a female policewoman, volunteered as a decoy to lure the suspect out. The plan worked almost too well.
One night, Jolin was held at knifepoint by a man who had taken her almost completely by surprise. He demanded her money, then ran away after touching her breasts. Jolin’s fellow police officers, ready to intervene at a moment’s notice, had seen the whole thing happen and were waiting for the suspect.
The man was shocked at the sight of them, and was just as surprised to discover that he had just robbed one of them. The young, good-looking man didn’t resist, and surrendered quickly and completely to their authority. When they asked who he was, Randy didn’t even try to lie. He told them exactly who he was.
Randy was tried and convicted of armed robbery. He was sentenced to ten years at the Oregon State Penitentiary. However, Randy was paroled in 1979 after serving about four years. Shortly after, Randall Woodfield began to give full vent to his darkest fantasies and desires.
Between his release and his next arrest in 1981, Randall Woodfield would terrorize a stretch of highway through Oregon and Washington, committing several robberies, rapes, and murders before finally being arrested and sentenced to a life sentence plus 90 years in Oregon.
He would become known as one of the most horrific criminals in United States history, a monster known to many as the I-5 Killer.
After Dunn County police ran the DNA evidence collected from Mary Schlais’ remains, Woodfield would be one of two suspects that they couldn’t rule out.
Based on his past crimes, it certainly wouldn’t be out of character for him to have murdered Mary in 1974.
Had he picked her up along I-94, made some kind of advances toward her, then flew into a rage and stabbed her to death after Mary rejected him?
While Dunn County detectives couldn’t rule out Randall Woodfield as a suspect, that didn’t necessarily mean that he was the murderer. While the eyewitness in 1974 described a man that resembled Woodfield, it could have been someone else that looked like him.
Some of Woodfield’s friends at the time remembered him driving a gold colored compact car. However, after some consideration, they began to think that the car might have been green instead.
Randall ‘Randy’ Woodfield has never confessed to any of his crimes during the four decades he has spent behind bars.
DNA evidence has linked him conclusively to at least five unsolved murders. He was strongly suspected of many others.
Locked in prison with virtually no chance of ever being paroled, many district attorneys chose to not pursue any case against him. They had little doubt that Woodfield was their culprit, and might have even informally told the victims’ families that. There wasn’t any reason to spend taxpayer dollars to secure a conviction when the murderer was already more than likely going to die in a prison cell already.
As of 2020, the murder of Mary Schlais is still officially unsolved. While we can’t be certain who committed such a terrible crime that February morning four decades ago, we can be sure to remember the life that Mary led, and the wonderful future that was stolen from such a vibrant young woman.
If that person was Randall Woodfield, we can also rest assured that he will more than likely never leave prison alive.
Olson, Aaron. DNA Analysis could solve cold case mystery. The Chippewa Herald, 2/4/2009 (updated 2/4/2011)
Collin, Liz. Could a Serial Killer And Former Green Bay Packer Be Responsible For This Cold Case? http://www.minnesota.cbslocal.com
Rule, Ann. The I-5 Killer. New York; Berkley, 1984