Lethal Lovers: Sensational Case of Love and Murder

Last week’s case covered the case of Robert Bardo, the obsessive fan who stalked and killed promising young actress Rebecca Schaeffer. This week, we look at the crimes of Gwendolyn Graham and Catherine Wood, dubbed by the press as “The Lethal Lovers.” In 1988, this deadly pair murdered five elderly women in a Michigan nursing home.

Lethal Lovers

Gwendolyn Graham came to Michigan from Texas, while Cathy Wood, a native of Washington state, grew up in Comstock, Michigan. The pair met at the Alpine Manor nursing home in Walker, a suburb of Grand Rapids. At Alpine Manor, Graham worked as a nurse’s aide for the recently divorced Wood. The two soon became friends, and in 1986, they also became lovers.

In January 1987, Graham entered the room of a woman with Alzheimer’s and smothered her with a washcloth. Wood acted as the lookout. Wood later described the murders as part of a “love bond.” Each believed the secret of the murder bound the Lethal Lovers together; neither could leave the other.

The "Lethal Lovers," Gwendolyn Graham (L) and Cathy Wood (R) under arrest
The “Lethal Lovers,” Gwendolyn Graham (L) and Cathy Wood (R) under arrest

Over the next several months, four more residents of Alpine Manor between the ages of 65 and 97 died. None of the deaths appeared to be anything but natural, so authorities didn’t conduct any autopsies.

Lethal Lovers Unmasked

Despite the so-called “love bond,” the Lethal Lovers broke up. Graham began dating another female nurse’s aide and soon moved with her to Texas.

Gwendolyn Graham mugshot (Kent County, MI Sheriff's Department)
Gwendolyn Graham mugshot (Kent County, MI Sheriff’s Department)

Sometime in 1988, Wood told her ex-husband about the murders, and he contacted the police. Walker Police Department detectives conducted extensive interviews with Wood. Over time, she revealed details of the five murders.

Cathy Wood mugshot (Kent County, MI Sheriff's Department)
Cathy Wood mugshot (Kent County, MI Sheriff’s Department)

When the case went to trial, Graham faced five counts of murder and one count of conspiracy to commit murder. Wood negotiated a plea bargain and testified against Graham at trial. She testified Graham dominated their relationship and planned and carried out the murders. She also said Graham took souvenirs from the victims, although police didn’t uncover any evidence to support the claim. Graham’s new girlfriend also testified that Gwendolyn confessed to five killings.

Alpine Manor nursing home at the time of the "Lethal Lovers" murders
Alpine Manor nursing home at the time of the “Lethal Lovers” murders

Based on Wood’s and the new girlfriend’s testimony, a jury convicted Graham of all counts on November 3, 1989. The court gave her five life sentences with no possibility of parole. Cathy Wood pled guilty to one count of second-degree murder and one count of conspiracy to commit second-degree murder. She received a sentence of 20 years on each count.


Gwendolyn Graham resides (2022) in the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility in Ypsilanti, Michigan.

Cathy Wood served her sentence at the Federal Correctional Institution in Tallahassee, Florida. She made eight unsuccessful bids for parole before receiving her release in January 2020.

Several of the victims’ families sued the owners of Alpine Manor for hiring “dangerous and unbalanced employees.” Alpine Manor went out of business, but the facility now houses Sanctuary at Saint Mary’s nursing home.

You can read more about the Lethal Lovers case in Lowell Cauffiel’s 1992 book Forever and Five Days. Cauffiel disputes Wood’s version of the crimes and presents evidence Wood planned the first murder.

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