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The Herrin Dry Cleaning Murder: The Kathy Woodhouse Story

On the cold winter morning of January 18th, 1992, emergency dispatch received a 911 call from a man in Herrin, Illinois. He said there had been a rape and murder at Fox Dry Cleaning in Herrin. At first, the operator believed the call may be a prank, since heinous crimes were rare in the area. However, that theory was quickly abandoned when they arrived at Fox Dry Cleaning. They found the lifeless body of forty-year-old Kathy Woodhouse.

Kathy East was born in 1951 in Herrin and remained in the small Southern Illinois town through out her entire life. She married Joseph Woodhouse in 1973. The couple had three children and lived a quiet life in rural Southern Illinois. Kathy worked at Fox’s Dry Cleaning in Herrin but was scheduled to be transferred to the Marion location the week after she was murdered.


Kathy (right) appeared to have been beat over the head with a mop ringer found near the body. She was found in the back room of the building and had been sexually assaulted. Unfortunately, fluids from the scene were determined to be from a non-secretor, meaning the fluids could not provide the perpetrator’s blood type. (DNA testing was not yet widely available) A piece of a pair of pantyhose found outside the building and was collected as evidence. Additionally, a check was written for $14 and found on the counter of the establishment. Call tracing showed the 911 call came from a payphone a few blocks from the dry cleaner. The receiver was dusted, and a fingerprint was found, but it didn’t match anyone in the system.

The writer of the check was tracked down and she gave a chilling account of the morning of the murder. She arrived at the cleaners to get her laundry but said no one was there. She found her laundry and wrote a check, planning to leave it on the counter as payment. She said that as she was leaving, a man came from the back room and asked if she needed help. She explained that she was just getting her dry cleaning and left the building. She gave a description of the man: About six feet tall, over 200 pounds, and aged 30-35. She did not know who he was.

A tip came in soon. Apparently, a twenty-five-year-old construction worker had called Kathy at the dry cleaner’s the week before and asked her what kind of nail polish she wore on her toes. The man denied having anything to do with the murder but admitted to making the calls. Luckily for him, he had an alibi that checked out.

Another tip came in anonymously, suggesting police check out a local man named Paul Taylor. Paul Taylor did not fit the eyewitness description as he was only twenty years old and thin. Paul worked for a local fast-food establishment for which Fox’s Dry Cleaning laundered the employee’s unforms. Paul had a substantial criminal background, even for his very young age.

Paul Taylor was born in 1971 and raised primarily by his mother. His father left he family when Paul was two. His stepfather allegedly abused the boy physically, often hitting him. Paul was allegedly bullied through out school because he was poor. At a very young age, he started to run away and get into trouble. When he was a young teenager, he found himself in a detention center for juveniles in Louisiana after vandalizing vehicles.

At age fourteen, Paul entered a woman’s restroom in Baton Rouge and approached a woman drying her hands. The woman was attending a conference for work and was horrified when the teenager pulled a knife on her and forced her into a stall. He forced her by knife point to undress. She stated the boy tried to rape her but was not able to. Under threats of death, he had her redress and follow him out to a nearby field. There, he again forced her to undress and attempted to rape her. Fortunately, she was able to escape and notified police.

Two weeks later, Paul Taylor was arrested for trespassing in the same women’s bathroom. His victim identified him as her attacker. To the shock of many, given the horrendous nature of this crime, Paul Taylor was tried as a juvenile. He was found guilty and sentenced to “juvenile life”, meaning he would be remanded to the custody of the Louisiana Department of Juvenile Corrections until age twenty-one.

When Paul was twenty years old, he petitioned for early release. His mother, now living in Illinois, agreed he could live with her. According to psychologists who followed him during his incarceration, he had made “maximum progress” (ForensicFilesNow, 2020). He had a job lined up and parole officers in Illinois agreed to keep an eye on him. Paul Taylor was granted early release in 1991.

When authorities went to the fast-food restaurant, they were told Paul Taylor had just quit and was planning to move back to Louisiana. Fortunately, they were able to track him down before he left. Under his bed, in his mother’s home, they found a pair of panty hose missing one leg. The missing portion matched up with the piece of hosiery found at the scene. Forensic specialists were able to determine the two pieces of hosiery both contained similar amounts of titanium oxide, similar knit patterns, and both were dyed the identical color. Additionally, his palm print matched a print found on a trash bag near the body.

Paul entered the dry-cleaning store shortly after it opened wearing a piece of hosiery over his face. He forced Kathy into the back room, assaulted her, and then beat her in the head with the mop ringer. He then made the 911 call. Under questioning, Paul admitted to the murder and robbing Kathy of $3. He later admitted to sexually assaulting her. He was arrested and charged with the heinous crime. This case demonstrates the unreliability of eye witness descriptions.



During trial, family members of Paul Taylor (above) explained that he was obsessed with Charles Manson and produced several letters in which he discussed Manson. He apparently idolized the man. He also sent many threatening letters to a woman he wanted to be romantically involved with, in which he also mentioned Manson.

The defense presented a psychologist who said Paul Taylor suffered alcohol abuse, depression, anti-social personality disorder, and schizotypal personality. The psychologist also stated, however, that Paul Taylor knew right from wrong. He just didn’t care. Paul Taylor was found guilty and sentenced to death for the murder.

In 2003, Illinois Governor George Ryan commuted all death row inmates’ sentences. Paul Taylor was resentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Kathy’s family sued the State of Louisiana, citing the fact that they failed to keep Paul Taylor incarcerated until he was twenty-one. His early released allowed him the opportunity to rape and murder Kathy Woodhouse just months after his release. Paul Taylor currently resides Illinois River Correctional Center.



(Above: Paul Taylor present day)

References

Forensic Files (2005) A Clean Getaway; Season 10, Episode 22; Retrieved at: Medical Detectives (Forensic Files) - Season 10, Episode 22 - A Clean Getaway - YouTube

ForensicFilesNow (2020) Paul Taylor’s Murder of Kathy Woodhouse; Retrieved at: Paul Taylor’s Murder of Kathy Woodhouse – Forensic Files Now

People V. Taylor (1995) The People of the State of Illinois V. Paul Taylor; Retrieved at: People v. Taylor :: 1995 :: Supreme Court of Illinois Decisions :: Illinois Case Law :: Illinois Law :: US Law :: Justia

Homan, J. (2005) Woodhouse murder case subject of Court TV series; The Southern Illinoisan; 11 May 2005; Retrieved at: 11 May 2005, Page 1 - Southern Illinoisan at Newspapers.com

FindAGrave (Accessed 2021) Kathy Ann East Woodhouse; Retrieved from: Kathy Ann East Woodhouse (1951-1992) - Find A Grave Memorial

IDOC (2021) Paul Taylor; Retrieved at: https://www2.illinois.gov/IDOC/OFFENDER/Pages/InmateSearch.aspx

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