After the murder, they stopped at Panera Bread. Sapien Edmonds thought there was blood on his hand and he wanted to wash it off, his co-defendant would later testify.
Edmonds said he had choked the old man and banged his head two times on the concrete floor. He untied the man’s shoes and pulled down his pants, to make it appear that he had tripped. He couldn’t find the keys, so he left the door unlocked. And he stole the man’s wallet. He didn’t know why he took the wallet, but he did.
The Oct. 13, 2012, murder of Arlington’s Mack Leon Wood Sr., 87, which had been under discussion in some way or another for almost six months, had not gone as planned.
Mack Leon Wood Jr., 49, is now serving life in prison after admitting he orchestrated his father’s killing. The two men he paid to carry out the crime are set to be sentenced — one in December, the other in January.
This account of the murder includes information from interviews with Wood Jr., members of his family and an Arlington County police detective, as well as a video of Wood Jr.’s police interrogation, court testimony and documents.
There was never really a concrete plan, Wood Jr. said. He met Jean Caleb Pierre in early 2012 when they were both working at a Richmond roofing firm. Pierre came from New York, where he said friends called him “Murder.”
Wood Jr. was a salesman, and he casually started selling his new friend on a lucrative idea.
The younger Wood, who was adopted, had never really gotten along with his father. He saw him as strict and stingy. He thought Wood Sr., who owned rental properties, viewed him more as a helper than a son.
Plus, Wood Jr. needed cash. Wood Sr. was terminally ill with colon cancer and living alone. He was also a multimillionaire.
Despite his nickname, Pierre said he wasn’t interested in killing anyone. Still, he and Wood Jr. batted cartoonish cruelties back and forth, both men said. Wood Sr. ate at McDonald’s twice a week; they would poison his hamburger. Neighbors sometimes left him food; they would leave him tainted banana bread. He still cleaned his own gutters; they would push him off the roof. They would suffocate him with a plastic bag and leave him outside to make it seem he died of heat stroke.
Four or five times Pierre drove from Richmond to Arlington with his friend, and they would talk about killing Wood Sr. Instead, they mowed Wood Sr.’s grass, cleaned the roof, tidied the house. Even as they plotted, Wood Jr. was trying to stay in his father’s good graces. Stay in the will. Play multiple angles.
But things were tight for Wood Jr. His ex-wife and son had moved to Tampa; his high-maintenance girlfriend in Richmond, the love of his life, didn’t want him to go. His construction work was slow. He still had child support to pay. Money would make it all easier.
He had approached his father about giving him cash from a payable-on-death account Mack Sr. had created — what was the difference? His father chewed him out. A neighbor of his father’s in Arlington told him he might be cut out of the will.
Finally, Pierre found someone who was willing to do more than fantasize about the killing: Sapien Edmonds.
It would not be a professional hit. None of the men had significant criminal records. Edmonds, a close friend of Pierre’s who a preliminary psychological evaluation found is borderline mentally disabled, had most recently been working at Starbucks.
The middleman who drove him to the site of the murder, Wood Jr. and attorneys for Edmonds have said, was in some ways the driving force behind it.
“Pierre is . . . the person who ultimately orchestrated this situation,” an attorney for Edmonds said in court, “someone who makes things happen.”
The missing wallet was one sign that Wood Sr. had not fallen to his death, but there were others. Neighbors and relatives told police Wood Sr. always locked the door. His son, who called 911 that morning, said the door had been unlocked. Wood lay headfirst, hands tucked underneath his body and legs crossed at the ankle.
“It just wasn’t fitting,” Detective Rosa Ortiz later testified.
An autopsy revealed fractures in Wood Sr.’s ribs, sternum, neck and spinal cord. There were bruises around his neck, suggesting he’d been strangled, and bleeding in his brain and chest — trauma too severe for a fall.
One clue emerged quickly. In July, Wood Sr. had reported an attempted break-in at his home. Someone had opened the door; he yelled from another room that he had a gun. The intruders ran, leaving a newly cut key in the door. Wood Sr. had been reluctant to call police, the officer who responded recalled, and was adamant about not pressing charges, because he suspected that a member of his family was involved.
“Lightning doesn’t strike twice,” Philip Mulvaney, the detective, said in an interview, “not in that area.”
Wood Sr. lived in the Old Glebe neighborhood of Arlington, a maze of quiet cul-de-sacs. When he moved there from North Carolina in the 1960s, Arlington was a sleepy suburb. A naval engineer married to a naval admiral’s secretary, Wood began buying real estate on the side. As Arlington grew rich, so did he.
Wood didn’t act like a multimillionaire. He once picked up a baseball cap from the street, cleaned it and wore it. Aside from trips to McDonald’s, he never ate out. Laura Kopack, his daughter, recalled him telling her one July that he was eating cranberry sauce she made for Thanksgiving and that it had a bit of a “twang,” but “it’s going down okay.”
He was conservative. He was disappointed in his two adopted children for getting divorced and for not living up to what he saw as their potential, and he wasn’t shy about saying so, his children said. He didn’t believe in cursing. He used a belt on his kids, the way his father had with him.
He never had a credit card, paid for everything but real estate in cash. He hated for anyone to ask him about or for money.
“I had a healthy respect for my father — you could almost say sometimes I was scared of him,” Kopack said. “I knew that there were boundaries and there were lines that you didn’t cross.”
In other ways, Wood Sr. was generous. He wrote long Christmas letters to family and friends. Neighbors knew they could always come to him for spare parts because he never threw anything away.
“I think if he had been as kind to the children as he was to the neighbors, he would have been more appreciated,” said Irene Burdetsky, who lived across the street from the Wood family for nearly a half-century. “He was mean to them, pretty mean.”
His wife, who died in 2008, was the gentler parent, Burdetsky said. Everyone, including his son, agrees that Wood Sr. was a devoted husband. When his wife was suffering from Alzheimer’s at the end of her life, he went to her nursing home twice a day, every day, to feed her. Once a staffer called Kopack and asked her to come right away. When she got there, her father was in the dining room with her mother, trying to get her to eat. The employees were upset because they couldn’t leave until he did.
He was a great landlord. He charged below-market rent as something of a life philosophy. He would be at tenants’ homes at all hours fixing the plumbing and wiring, his children said. They spent much of their childhood helping him out — cutting grass, trimming trees, cleaning roofs, painting walls.
Decades later, Wood Sr.’s daughter would remember those times fondly. His son would say they were part of the motivation for murder.
“If you’re 48 years old, and you’re struggling, and your father’s got millions and millions of dollars,” Wood Jr. said in an interview from the Arlington jail after pleading guilty to capital murder. “. . . I should have already been able to enjoy some of that money that I worked very hard for.”
Wood Jr. was not like his father. A good soccer player and a mediocre student, he left the Marines mid-service and never finished college. For eight years he lived “the California dream” in Los Angeles, then fell in love with the wrong Russian businessman’s wife and had to leave, quickly, he said. His high school girlfriend had just gotten divorced, so he moved back to Virginia. They married when she was six months pregnant and divorced two years later. He was never focused on a career, never wanted kids until he had one.
He liked taking his son on the trips his family never took when he was a kid — Cancun, the Dominican Republic. He liked to spend money. If he wanted a $300 pair of jeans, he would buy them. He would get his girlfriend anything she wanted.
Now he wanted to move to Tampa and didn’t have the savings to smooth the transition. He was depressed, even considered suicide. “If I couldn’t live the way I was living or better, then I didn’t really feel like I wanted to live at all,” he said.
Mack Jr. said he asked his father if his inheritance would go to his own son should he die. His father said no. That’s when he made up his mind about having his father murdered. “I would have done it before I killed myself,” he said.
Nine days after the murder, Wood Jr. withdrew $108,000 from his payable-on-death account. He eventually gave $25,000 each to Edmonds and Pierre, he said, including a used car he bought for Pierre. Days later, Wood Jr. was the only one to speak at his father’s funeral. He brought Pierre, who he said wanted to come to keep up appearances.
“I had to put on the mask,” Wood Jr. said. “Of course, I knew things.”
Wood Jr. still maintains that he didn’t know Edmonds and Pierre were planning to kill his father that October night. In July, the trio drove to Wood Sr.’s house and Pierre and Edmonds went to the door with a key Wood Jr. had copied; they were scared off by his father’s shouting.
Wood Jr. said that he told Pierre he was scared of Edmonds, who had brandished a gun in one meeting, and that he no longer wanted to work with him. But he never called it all off. After the murder, Pierre and Edmonds met Wood Jr. in Richmond and told him he had to go clean up the crime scene.
A traffic jam in Fredericksburg kept Wood Jr. from seeing the horror of what he set in motion until the following day.
“It was awful to see my dad that morning,” Wood Jr. later told detectives. “I mean, good or bad, whatever way he ever talked to me, he was still my dad.”
Kopack said her brother told her that detectives would be looking at both of them and that she would need a good alibi.
Her first thought: “My God, he killed my father.”
Another family member who suspected was Gene Wood, Wood Sr.’s brother, now deceased. Gene Wood’s son Alan recalls that his uncle often complained that his son was harassing him for money.
“The day that my cousin found him, he called my father. He was all upset, crying, and said he got there and saw that his father fell down the stairs,” Alan Wood said. “Right away when my father and I heard that, we immediately suspected him.”
Police also suspected Wood Jr. They knew he had withdrawn cash, gone to Tampa and bought a new BMW. They also knew he wasn’t there during the killing — he had to have had help.
On Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013, Mulvaney got a phone call. A police officer in Henrico County wanted to talk to him about an informant in a homicide investigation.
The informant, court records show, was Pierre’s wife.
Wood Jr. “was coming over to my house a lot, so she started asking questions,” Pierre later testified, “. . . and I eventually told her.”
Police arrested Edmonds and Pierre the next day. Two days later, Mulvaney called Kopack from the Tampa airport to tell her he had just arrested her brother. She fell to her knees, screaming.
“He’s a salesman,” Mulvaney recalled, “a people person, a talker.” The detectives told Wood Jr. they were staying in a hotel and hadn’t slept much; he offered them his apartment.
When Wood Jr. ultimately came clean, he tried to make a deal. He wanted “something I can live with,” he said in an interview. Maybe 20 years, he told police. He could get out, live with his son in Florida.
“Mack has lived an otherwise good life, admitted his role in the offense right after his arrest, and was willing to cooperate right away,” said his attorney, Chris Leibig.
It was too late. Police had his co-conspirators and an informant. Edmonds and Pierre were ultimately offered sentences capped at 45 and 35 years, respectively, in exchange for agreeing to testify against Wood Jr.
“I don’t have a leg to stand on now, because you don’t need me,” Wood Jr. told police.
With no one else left, Wood Jr. is selling himself to himself. He said he’s writing an autobiography. He’s been reading a lot — about middle-aged depression, about crimes similar to his and ones he believes are worse. He said he’s lived enough: He’s been to Aruba, he’s jumped out of a plane.He will try to see prison like a retirement home. His dyed-brown hair has already gone gray.
He’s comforted that his son is now using an education trust from his father’s will to attend a private military school in Florida. Tuition is $48,000 a year, and it’s all paid for.