Review: The I-5 Killer by Ann Rule

cover of The I-5 KillerThe I-5 Killer by Ann Rule
Berkley Books (January 2022) 
295 pages; paperback $10.99; e-book $8.99;
Reviewed by Haley Newlin

He had it all: eye-catching good looks, an impressive educational transcript, and a reputation as a star athlete. But, like most criminals, that wasn’t enough for NFL draftee Randall (Randy) Woodfield, aka “The I-5 Killer.”

On a spring night in Portland, Oregon, Woodfield stalked the dark streets, hungry for an unsuspecting woman. Woodfield could already visualize her shock. He even thought that the woman might be honored by his attack because of his athletic build and strong jawline — what he knew to be “handsome features.”

He grabbed the woman and held a knife to her throat. Woodfield felt her pulse beneath the blade. His body surged with what was, to him, the pleasure of all pleasures, a helpless woman in his grasp.

Ann Rule captures this scene and the several others that followed on Woodfield’s reign of terror on the I-5 Freeway with the style of a docu-drama.

First, Rule puts readers in the story, unweaving Woodfield’s robberies and killings and his introduction to crime — exhibitionism.

Woodfield’s exhibitionism began when he was in high school. Psychologists, Rule details, believe this stemmed from his feelings of inadequacy in his parents’ eyes.

He found some relief from that personal grief by excelling in football. Woodfield’s parents came to each of his high school games.

But still, he struggled with a need for power and hit the streets in search of further gratification, discovering a far more disturbing indulgence — exposing himself to women. Woodfield later said the thrill of victimizing women was “orgasmic.”

Of course, someone eventually turned in the teen to the police.

Because of Woodfield’s presence in the town as a star football player and good grades, police let him off with a warning. Rule dissects how this repetition of wicked acts gone without reprimand laid the framework for Woodfield’s grandiose sense of superiority over women, psychologists, and especially law enforcement. He felt untouchable.

And thus, a sexual sadist was born.

Traveling the west coast, along the I-5, in his gold Volkswagen bug, mastering a simple yet effective disguise, Woodfield murdered women, children, and men from Washington to California.

Rule excelled in creating a harrowing narrative, but I would’ve liked to see more on the why behind Woodfield’s modus operandi and victim profile. I understand that Rule was far closer to the Bundy case (The Stranger Beside Me), which allowed an alternate passage into the mind of the Campus Killer, but this read still felt too psychologically bare.

However, I always appreciate Rule’s dissection of the often bizarre and twisted letters serial killers like Woodfield write in prison. Through the spring and early summer of 1984, Woodfield wrote Diane Downs — who shot her three children and drove them in a blood-splattered car to the hospital.

Rule refers to the relationship as a “match made in hell.”

Through letters such as these, and victim and law enforcement recounts of Woodfield’s heinous crimes, Rule conjures a nail-biting, fascinating story of a less publicized serial killer and how the I-5 became a hunting ground for a cold killer and the multiple trials that followed.

Decades later, Woodfield still claims, “I am no woman killer.”

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