This Is How Serial Killer James Wood Was Finally Caught

The heinous rape, murder, and dismemberment of an 11-year-old girl in Pocatello, Idaho, is as atrocious today as it was when it happened almost 30 years ago. The details of the crime are no less horrific, no less shocking, and no less heartbreaking for her grief-stricken family. Perhaps the only consolation is that the convicted serial killer died of a heart attack on death row in 2004 (via Deseret News), saving them from having to endure more appeals, more trial appearances, and more agony as they relive their daughter's brutal and torturous death.

Jeralee Underwood was collecting money on a newspaper route she shared with her older brother on a warm summer day in late June of 1993 when she suddenly vanished, Murderpedia reports. A frantic search for the missing girl ensued over the next few days. Pocatello police officers went door-to-door, conducted interviews, and set up roadblocks. But according to East Idaho News, the girl had disappeared without a trace. 

Serial killer James Edward Wood confesses to murder

In 2016, 23 years after Jeralee's violent death, her parents talked to reporter Nate Eaton with East Idaho News. Jeff and Joyce called their daughter "the perfect child" and told Eaton she was "kind, loving, smart and a friend to everyone she met." "She was a lot of fun," Jeff remembered. "She was always fairly outgoing, and she always liked to include everybody on things." 

But they also told Eaton about a sharp-eyed neighbor, who may be part of the reason police were able to arrest Wood, get a confession out of him, and find almost all of the young girl's body parts in the Snake River in Idaho Falls a week after the crime (via the East Idaho Times). Indeed, it was this tip a week after Jeralee's disappearance that finally broke the case and led to the arrest of serial killer James Edward Wood (via Deseret News). Wood confessed to raping and shooting Jeralee Underwood before dismembering her body.

A sharp-eyed neighbor saw the abduction

It seems a member of the Underwoods' church group came to their home and told them that a woman who lived a half-mile away had seen a man forcing the young girl into a vehicle. The parents called the police, immediately kicking off an intense search for Jeralee. The newspaper also reported that the 45-year-old Wood had recently moved to Pocatello and was eating with family members when the girl came to the door for the newspaper collection. Shortly after, he left, telling family he was going to buy alcohol but instead approached the girl. The neighbor's fast reaction and the police tip helped seal Wood's fate, preventing him from ever harming another unsuspecting person again.

The lead investigator in the case told Deseret News that Wood not only confessed to Jeralee's murder the night he was arrested, but he also admitted to another murder, numerous rapes, and attempted murders across six states. Jeralee's father told the East Idaho Times that investigators "could have pinned 30 murders on him across the country that have never been solved."