HERRIN - Not a day passes that Sybil East doesn't think of her youngest daughter, Kathy Woodhouse, whose life was cut short 13 years ago by a killer while tending to her clerk duties at Fox's Laundry and Dry Cleaners in Herrin one Saturday morning in January 1992.
"Kathy and I were real close," said East, who recently turned 90. "I remember Kathy dropping me off at the house here the morning she was murdered. I asked her if she could come in for a cup of coffee, but she said people would be bringing their clothes into the shop soon and that she had to open the doors. It was just before 8.
"A little later, Joe (Kathy's husband) called me and asked me if I could get down to the shop - that something had happened. When I got there, I saw all these cops around and they wouldn't let me go inside. At that point, I knew there was something wrong. Joe's brother came by and took me to his house. Later, we found out what had happened."
What happened was that 20-year-old Paul E. Taylor, who recently moved back into his mother's home on the 900 block of South 16th Street in Herrin after spending the previous few years in a Louisiana juvenile detention center, entered the dry cleaning establishment, where he raped and murdered Woodhouse. His choice of weapons - a mop wringer, which he used to strike Woodhouse over the skull.
Woodhouse, 40, left behind her
husband and three children, Shelly, Nathan and Bethany.
"In the courtroom, I couldn't cry," East said. "I was just so angry. I wanted to kill him (Taylor). He was supposed to be in custody another year until he turned 21, but a judge let him out early and it cost my daughter her life. The sad thing is that Kathy had just told me that her boss was transferring her from the Herrin store to the Marion store on Monday, just two days after she was killed."
When contacted at his home Tuesday, Joe Woodhouse said he had made up his mind not to be interviewed by Court TV as he and his family are "trying to move forward with our lives."
Taylor was convicted of the crime and sentenced to death, but former Gov. George Ryan commuted his sentence three years ago and Taylor will serve the remainder of his days in prison.
The case is once again in the spotlight as Court TV is coming to Herrin in a few weeks to begin filming an episode of "Forensic Files," which will focus on how forensic evidence was used to gain a murder conviction against Taylor.
Herrin Police Chief Mark Brown made the announcement at Monday night's city council meeting.
"I had just started work as a detective," Brown said. "It was my first homicide case. In most homicides, there is usually some kind of relationship between the victim and the suspect, but not in this case. He (Taylor) was a stranger. It's the kind of thing you might expect to see happen in the bigger city, but not around here."
Brown said he remembers how tense business owners and residents were in the community after the incident until the killer was located and apprehended.
"We got phone calls galore," Brown said. "We also had a composite sketch which helped," he said. "And when we received information that Taylor had been released from a Louisiana detention center, we knew exactly where he lived here in town."
Brown said Taylor's DNA was found in his and the victim's clothing and other forensic evidence was found at Taylor's home, as well as at the crime scene.
"It was our first DNA case," Brown said. "Of course, we received a lot of help. There were officers here from the sheriff's department, state police, FBI, Carterville and Carbondale police departments. It was largely because of this case that the Williamson County Major Case Squad was formed. Everyone came together to help out."
"Forensic Files" is a pioneer in the field of fact-based, high-tech, dramatic storytelling. This series of television programs delves into the world of forensic science, profiling intriguing crimes, accidents and outbreaks of disease from around the world.
East said some of the anger she has felt toward Taylor is fading in her advanced years, but she still believes the death sentence was proper in his case.
"I know in my heart that he wanted to rape her and because she wouldn't let him willingly, he killed her. I believe that if you take a life, you should have your life taken away from you. The good news is that I have very fond memories of Kathy. I remember the times we had together. I remember how happy she was with Joe and her family, what a good mother and wife she was, and what a good Christian woman she was."