Mendocino County Sheriff's Office Case# 73-38347
(Automated Case # 08-2354)
DOB: 17 May 1954, in Wyoming
White female, 5 feet tall, 100 pounds, blue eyes.


Barbara Jean Stroud was the only child of older parents. In 1971, the family moved from San Jose CA to Willits CA because they thought a small town was a safer place to live.

Barbara Jean had been an honor student in San Jose, and was an honor student at Willits high school. Her proud father bought her a 1965 blue Ford Mustang convertible. After graduation, she took a gap year off before going off to college. She did this to help her parents run the Ridgewood restaurant and motel complex south of town. She also worked at Little Lake Industries, a Willits manufactory.


On 7 January 1973, Barbara Jean and her boyfriend went to the movies in Willits. Afterwards, she drove him to his home with his family in the unincorporated suburb of Brooktrails. According to various accounts, she dropped him off at 11 or 11:30 PM. She had to retrace her path on Sherwood Road to return to Willits; once there, she would have to transit town on 2 miles of Main Street as part of her return to Ridgewood Summit on Hwy 101. (Note: Hwy 101 doubles as Main Street in Willits, although that will change in about two months when the new freeway bypass opens.)

However, about midnight, a deputy who had been dispatched to the next town north of Willits noticed Barbara Jean's empty car on the roadside about 2 miles north of Willits on Hwy 101. After his Laytonville call, the deputy retraced his route.He checked out the abandoned Mustang. He found some of Barbara Jean's belongings in the car. A routine check showed the car was not wanted or reported stolen.

At about 2 AM, Barbara Jean's parents called Mendocino County Sheriff's Office dispatch to report her missing. Sheriff's personnel returned to the car. Green paint and a dent on the Mustang's driver's door showed it had been sideswiped, as though it had been forced off the road. Its doors were locked, and the key in the ignition. Barbara Jean's coat, shoes, and purse were inside. However, the convertible top had been slashed open.

An unsuccessful search was conducted for the missing girl. However, she would be accidentally found by a road repair crew on 10 January 1973. The petite girl's naked body had been discarded over a fence along Schow Road, not too far north of where her car had been found. About 100 yards away was a small green cottage, with a green pickup truck parked in the driveway.

Meanwhile, the small town grapevine was buzzing with news. Despite attempts by the miscreants to silence the chatter, informants began giving names to police. Six men, ranging in age from early 20s to late 30s, were taken into custody: Philip Wood, Dennis Weeks, Harold Harrington, Randy Rowan, and brothers Milton and Larry Philips. Two of them knew Barbara Jean from being co-workers with her at Little Lake Industries; other suspects may also have known her.

Philip Wood turned state's witness in exchange for immunity from prosecution. He told a tale that largely precluded him from blame. According to Wood, Barbara Jean had locked herself in her car after being forced off the road. The other five suspects had hauled her from her car after cutting the top and unlocking the vehicle. They had abducted her in a pickup truck. He followed the green truck out of town. Wood said he could hear BarbaraJean screaming as her clothing was flung out of the speeding truck,but he did not see her raped or murdered. The cottage near her body? The green truck? They belonged to one of the suspects. Investigators had found Barbara Jean's discarded clothing in several locations, buttressing Wood's tale.

This testimony seemed likely to seal the fate of Wood's five co-defendants. They were charged with murder, accessories to murder, conspiracy to kidnap, kidnapping, conspiracy to rape, and rape. However, the Mendocino County investigators had injected Wood with sodium amytal—so-called “truth serum”--in an attempt to aid his memory. The judge hearing the case ruled this illegal, and barred Wood's testimony.

The case collapsed. The defendants walked free.

Subsequently, Philip Wood and Harold Harrington died of alcohol and drug abuse. In 1989, in Montana, Milton Philips shot his brother Larry to death. Milton Philips later died of liver cancer.


In 2008, Mendocino County DetectiveAndy Whiteaker reinvestigated the case. He found that Dennis Weeks,one of the men who had been Barbara Jean's coworker, was still alive in South Dakota. Randy Rowan was also still alive, living in Oklahoma. The detective reinterviewed people who knew the six suspects. Several of the interviewees said suspects had told them of the homicide. However, Whiteaker was unable to determine which of the suspects had actually raped and/or murdered Barbara Jean.

Whiteaker also submitted old evidence in the case for DNA testing and other forensic analysis. This included fingerprints lifted from the Mustang, Barbara Jean's clothing, and the rope believed to have been the murder weapon.

Barbara Jean Stroud's murder is still an open investigation. If you have any tips, call Detective Andrew Whiteaker on the MCSO Tipline, 707-234-2100. He may also be contacted via email to MCSO Investigative Services at, or at 951 Low Gap Road, Ukiah CA 95482.


Mendocino County Sheriff's Office website listing

Willits News, 19 September 2008

Santa Rosa Press Democrat, 2 October 2008

Anderson Valley Advertiser, 15 October 2008