When Bonnie Woodward’s seventeen-year-old stepdaughter disappeared in the summer of 2010, she was determined to ensure the girl’s safety. Her attempts to protect her stepdaughter would ultimately lead to her disappearance. Bonnie Woodward left work at Eunice Smith Nursing Home on June 25th, 2010. When she failed to return home by the following morning, her boyfriend reported her missing. The truth about Bonnie’s disappearance shocked everyone in the Alton, Illinois community.
Bonnie Louise Gray was born June 27th, 1962, in Wood River, Illinois. Bonnie would have two children, Joseph and Jennifer, and raised them as a single mother. She became a nurse to support her children, working at Eunice Smith nursing home for twenty-seven years. She was a dedicated mother, sister, daughter, aunt, and caregiver. She married John Douglas Woodward in 1998. When she married her husband, she became a stepmother to his two children. Those who were close to Bonnie describe her as an excellent and dedicated mother.
Just two years after she married John, he died suddenly and tragically on July 24th, 2000. His cause of death is reported as a cerebral hemorrhage, meaning bleeding on the brain. After their father’s death, the children were placed in Bonnie’s care. She was now a single mother of four children including her stepdaughter, Heather. Heather was eight years old at the time of her father’s death and grew up in Bonnie’s care.
Bonnie was described as a responsible and organized parent who believed in raising responsible children. She expected her children to follow rules and do their chores. When Heather became a teenager, she started to rebel against Bonnie. She didn’t like Bonnie’s rules and wanted to do as she pleased. She resented her stepmother and the rules that she enforced in her home. This led Heather to leave home at seventeen years old, seeking freedom.
On June 10th, 2010, Heather left Bonnie’s home, becoming a runaway. She went to live with her teacher. She allegedly told her teacher that she had an abusive home life, gaining the teacher’s sympathy. When police came looking for Heather on June 17th, her teacher claimed that Heather had left her home. She said she was not aware of Heather’s whereabouts and refused to cooperate in the investigation. She was facing charges for harboring a runaway, but she still refused to cooperate.
Bonnie was genuinely upset about her daughter disappearing and concerned for her safety. She was desperate to find Heather and ensure her safety. Bonnie worked her shift at Eunice Smith nursing home on June 25th, 2010. Immediately following her shift, co-workers saw Bonnie talking with a man in a car. According to reports, the conversation appeared amicable with no indications of suspicious activity. Bonnie left her truck, with the driver’s side door unlocked and window down, in the parking lot of the nursing home and left with the man.
Bonnie’s boyfriend initially believed that Bonnie may have gone out for drinks with coworkers after her shift, so he went to sleep. When Bonnie failed to return home but the next morning, her boyfriend called police to report her missing. She also failed to show up at work, something she had never done in twenty-seven years of service to the nursing home. Her colleagues realized that her truck was still parked in the parking lot. Police found no indications of where Bonnie went from inspecting her vehicle.
Police immediately realized that both forty-seven-year-old Bonnie and her teenaged stepdaughter went missing within three weeks of each other. They believed that this could not possibly be a coincidence. Perhaps if they could find Heather, they would find Bonnie. Police also had to consider, however, the possibility Bonnie left on her own. There is no crime against an adult disappearing voluntarily. Bonnie’s family did not believe she would have left on her own. She was a dedicated mother who cared for a special needs son.
On July 3rd, one day after her eighteenth birthday, Heather Woodward walked into the Alton Public Library and identified herself as a missing person. Police brought Heather in for questioning. Heather may have been eighteen, but she behaved more like a little girl during the interrogation. She was tearfully clutching a teddy bear as police questioned her about her whereabouts over the previous weeks.
Heather explained that on June 17th, she went to live with Roger and Monica Carroll. Most sources say that Heather became acquainted with Roger and Monica through church. However, at least one source states that the teacher Heather was staying with was good friends with the Carroll family, suggesting she arranged for Heather to go to their home (Hillig, 2010). Another source states that Heather was dating the Carroll’s son, Nathan (Belleville News Democrat, 2018). Heather denied knowing what happened to Bonnie but said she may have voluntarily disappeared to get Heather to come home (On the Case with Paula Zahn, 2021).
Heather said that Bonnie could be mean sometimes, but her family adamantly denies that allegation. Those who knew Bonnie said she was a funny, loving, amazing person with a huge heart. Her family says she would feed you if you were hungry and help you anyway, she could. She was a loving soul with a generous spirit. That description is a far cry from how Heather portrayed her stepmother. That being said, Heather was an angsty teenager who didn’t want to follow rules. She certainly would not be the first teenager to exaggerate her home life experience.
Investigators found fingerprints on the outside of Bonnie’s truck. This could be a totally incidental finding and not related to her disappearance, but police decided to life them anyway. When they learned Heather had been staying with Roger and Monica Carroll, they brought the two in for questioning. Roger was very cooperative but denied knowing anything about the disappearance of Bonnie Woodward. Monica provided no helpful information either, except to say that her family was visiting relatives out of town at the time Bonnie went missing.
Time went on as Bonnie remained missing. There was no bank activity, including her routine of cashing her paycheck on payday. There was no social media activity, cell phone activity, or contact with family. Bonnie was a dedicated mother and would have never left her children without even checking in. Numerous leads were followed up on and a search was completed of the Carroll’s property. Despite all efforts, the investigators came up empty.
Days turned into months and months turned into years. Bonnie remained missing as her family desperately sought answers. Not knowing the whereabouts of your family member is a special kind of torture. One can’t grieve a loss and move on because there is a small sliver of hope, but as time goes by the realization that the missing person is never coming back becomes clear. Bonnie’s family never gave up and created a Facebook page dedicated to finding Bonnie.
Eight years later, in April of 2018, police were notified that Roger Carroll had been arrested after a domestic dispute. To simplify his actions as a “domestic dispute”, however, is not entirely fair to his wife Monica. Roger viciously assaulted his wife, trapping her in a room of their Jerseyville home. He assaulted her by punching her, pushing her down, and using a taser on her several times. According to Monica, Roger told her that he “was a monster” (Schmidt, 2020). She went on to say, “he told me he would kill for me. He told me he used to be able to control his anger, but not anymore” (Schmidt, 2020).
Following the arrest of Roger for the brutal attack on his wife, police decided to question his wife and son, Nathan, once more. They were hoping that the two would be more forthcoming about what they knew about the day Bonnie was last seen. They did know more. Nathan, now in his twenties, was no longer a scared sixteen-year-old boy protecting his father. He told the police everything.
Nathan said that his family did go to see family in Goreville, Illinois that weekend. However, after Roger and Heather took a long walk by themselves, Roger told Nathan that the two of them had to leave early. On the drive back to Jerseyville, Roger explained that Bonnie was “a bad person” and “she needed to be taken care of”. Nathan said that instead of going home they drove to the Alton, Illinois nursing home Bonnie worked at. Upon seeing her truck, Roger commented, “Good, she’s working today”.
When Bonnie exited the building after her shift, Roger was waiting for her. He approached the woman and explained that he knew where Heather was. He told her that Heather was willing to talk to Bonnie, but Bonnie had to come with him. Bonnie was eager to speak with Heather and willingly got in the car with Roger. She must have been so relieved and excited to see her stepdaughter, but it was all just a trap.
Nathan said that upon returning to the family’s Jerseyville home, his father left with a gun. When his father returned soon after, he heard gunshots. He said he saw Bonnie’s lifeless body lying on the ground, still in her scrubs. At that time, his father demanded he help him build a burn pit in which Bonnie’s body was placed. Nathan testified that his father burned her remains over and over until there was little left of Bonnie. At that point, the boy said his father forced him to help him carry the remains to a creek, throwing what was left of Bonnie’s body into the water.
Police searched the Jerseyville property again, this time with Nathan’s assistance. The spot where Nathan said Bonnie was shot was thoroughly searched after almost eight years. Police found a 9mm projectile and shell casing in the ground. Nathan showed them the gun, one of several found in the home, and identified it was the one used to kill Bonnie. In the area where the burn pile was, police found several bone fragments and a key. The key and bone fragments could not be positively identified as belonging to Bonnie, but police believed it to be her only remains.
Nathan said that his father gave him Bonnie’s cell phone and told him to smash it. He admitted to following his father’s directions, smashing the phone and putting it on the fire. One of Bonnie’s co-workers was able to positively identify Roger Carroll as the man that Bonnie was talking to in the parking lot after work. His fingerprints, as mentioned earlier, were also found on her truck. Roger Carroll denied being in Alton that day or ever being in or near Bonnie Woodward’s vehicle. That was clearly a lie.
On April 12th, 2018, Roger Carroll was charged with the murder of Bonnie Woodward. Monica and Nathan were both granted immunity in exchange for their testimony. Monica was able to confirm that Roger and Nathan left Goreville early and the existence of a huge fire on her property the day she and Heather returned from Goreville. Roger was also charged with unlawful restraint and domestic battery with bodily harm for his attack on Monica. Monica promptly filed for divorce.
Roger Carroll went to trial in 2020. The witnesses for the prosecution including his estranged wife, son, and Heather Woodward. Monica testified that her soon-to-be ex-husband was abusive and threatened to kill her. She gave testimony regarding her attack and comments Roger made about being a monster. Monica’s mother testified that while visiting her Goreville home, Roger and Heather took an hour long walk together. Upon returning from his walk alone with the girl, Roger promptly left with Nathan. The defense attacked Monica Carroll’s testimony, citing a motive to lie. Monica and Roger were in the midst of divorce and Monica stood to gain nearly $800,000 in assets if Roger was convicted. The prosecutor objected and the judge barred the defense from continuing this line of questioning.
Heather Woodward testified that she was living with Bonnie but was unhappy with the situation. She said she left to live with a teacher, but Roger Carroll asked her to come live with him until see turned eighteen a few weeks later. Heather said she knew him from church and agreed to go. Upon arriving at the Carroll home, Roger instructed her not to tell police where she had been, made her follow his rules, and instructed her not to use her cell phone or the computer. She denied knowing anything about Bonnie’s death.
Nathan Carroll testified as the star witness against his father. He testified that his father told him Bonnie was “mean and aggressive and abusive” towards Heather. He said that his father told him Bonnie “needed to go away and never come back”. He testified that he tried to talk his father out of it unsuccessfully. Nathan said that his father had become aware of Bonnie’s work schedule through questioning Heather about her routine. He returned home, waiting for the woman to get off work. He left with a loaded gun.
Nathan repeated his story as told earlier to police. He saw Bonnie lying on the ground lifeless. His father used a tractor to move the woman to the burn pit with Nathan’s assistance. Nathan smashed her cell phone and added it to the fire. After burning her remains for several days, Nathan and his father scooped up her remains with the tractor and dumped Bonnie in the creek nearby. Nathan admitted lying when police originally questioned him, citing a need to protect his father. Nathan said that family members were threatening him for testifying against his father.
Nathan was asked about his father’s past. Had he killed animals before? Nathan said yes, his father had killed two dogs on their property before. When asked why he may have killed them, the defense objected, and the questioning was stopped. The defense attacked Nathan’s testimony on cross examination, suggesting that his account of the murder was a convenient recovered memory after his father and mother’s marriage deteriorated. In response Nathan said “I spent eight years trying to not think about this… trying to go on and be normal and forget it… and in the past two years… my goal is to remember everything I can… and someone will say somethin’ someone will bring up a topic and then it just unrolls from there. I remember more and more information… and over these past few years I cannot think about the details all the time. I write it down… Is hard it in the meetings with the prosecutor and then I still have to try and function. So, yes my memory does get better as I’m remembering more things and more unravels… but after I tell people and I know it’s documented I try and forget it again… and it’s hard cause I think about it on a nightly basis” (Illinois V. Roger Carroll).
The defense asked for a mistrial, citing that the notes Nathan referred to were not given to the defense in the discovery phase of trial. However, the prosecutor clarified that the notes were collected by Nathan’s attorney, not the prosecutor. Furthermore, the defense had access to Nathan’s journals through discovery. The request for mistrial was denied.
Co-workers testified that Bonnie’s truck remained in the parking lot of the nursing home overnight on June 25th, 2010. One co-worker identified Roger Carroll as the man she saw speaking to Bonnie in the parking lot after her shift. Her family and friends testified that she was a dedicated mother and nurse who would not have abandoned her entire family and job of twenty-seven years willingly.
Matt Davis, an Illinois State Police forensic anthropologist and expert in human remains, also testified regarding the bone fragments taken from the Jerseyville property. He testified that under examination and testing of DNA, two of the fragments did not belong to Bonnie Woodward (Schmidt, 2020). Other fragments were too small and severely burned, so DNA could not be extracted. The expert did testify that these remains were consistent with human remains that were not completely cremated. While not conclusively tied to Bonnie, they may be her remains.
A research botanist for the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service testified that he examined samples from a tree located near the burn pile Nathan said was used to cremate Bonnie’s remains. He analyzed the rings of the tree samples and said the samples “clearly experienced a traumatic event during the wood growth season of 2010” (Illinois V. Roger Carroll). The damage to the rings from the year 2010 indicated that there had, in fact, been a fire affecting the growth of the tree during the summer months.
The defense made numerous claims to explain the evidence against Roger. One such claim is that the numerous bone fragments were found because the property was an ancient Native American burial ground. They presented an expert who claimed Native Americans sometimes used cremation. However, the prosecution pointed out that a key and button that were also found were inconsistent with this theory.
After three and half hours of deliberation, the jury found Roger Carroll was found guilty of first-degree murder. Additionally, the jury found that Roger was guilty of discharging a firearm causing death, which gave grounds for an enhanced sentence. Roger Carroll, prior to sentencing, immediately appealed the decision citing ineffective assistance of counsel. He said that the brief testimony regarding him killing dogs was unfairly prejudicial. His motion for a new trial was dismissed. Roger Carrol was sentenced to forty years for murder and an additional twenty-five years for discharging the firearm. His total sentence was sixty-five years in prison. Roger Carroll is set to go to trial in September of 2022 for the charges pertaining to the attack on his wife.
Monica and Roger are now divorced. Heather Woodward, now an adult, has remained under the radar since testifying against Roger Carroll. Many people believe that Heather played a role in Bonnie’s death either directly or indirectly, but Heather has never faced any charges related to Bonnie’s murder. What happened on that hour long walk alone with Roger Carroll remains a mystery. Did she conspire with Roger to kill her mother? Did Roger take advantage of a young, confused teenage girl? Did Roger think he was protecting Heather, or did he have a more sinister motive? We can only speculate.
Bonnie Woodward was a loving and dedicated mother, sister, friend, girlfriend, aunt, and nurse. Her family and friends continue to grieve their enormous loss every day. While grateful for answers, those who love Bonnie wish they had her remains to give a proper burial. She left behind a legacy of love and will be forever missed.
Hillig, T. (2010) 3 are charged with helping teen vanish. St. Louis Post Dispatach. 27 Jul 2010
The Belleville News Democrat (2018). Murder. 25 Apr 2018
The Belleville News Democrat (1998). Marriages. 31 May 1998
On The Case with Paula Zahn (2021) A Complicated Relationship. Season 22 Episode 2. Available on Peacock