Into Thin Air: What happened to nine-year-old Michael J Woodward?

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FORT JACKSON, S.C. — Fort Jackson is a 53,000-acre U.S. Army Training Center named after President Andrew Jackson, originally from South Carolina. The post was established in 1917 to train men of the 30th and 81st Infantry Divisions and formerly called Camp Jackson. It is adjacent to Columbia, the state capital. 

The camp became a permanent Army garrison in 1940, and the name changed to Fort Jackson, the Sandboxx reported.

After World War II, it became a replacement training center until 1973, when it was appointed as a U.S. Army Training Center. 

The 1994 film, “Renaissance Man,” starring Gregory Hines, Danny Devito, and a young Mark Wahlberg, was filmed at Fort Jackson.

But in 1972, Fort Jackson was the scene of a disturbing event and a parent’s worst nightmare.

Michael J. Woodward was born on March 19, 1963. His father, Maj. Joe Woodward was stationed at Fort Jackson as the staff judge advocate.

According to the U.S Army’s website, judge advocates are “licensed attorneys qualified to represent the Army and Army Soldiers in military legal matters.”

The Woodward family resided in a home in the officers’ housing area of the post. On Sunday, April 23, 1972, Michael was playing outside while his father mowed the lawn. It was a lovely morning with the temperature around 60 degrees.

Sometime between 9 a.m. and noon, Michael vanished without a trace. He was last seen wearing brown striped pants and blue tennis shoes.

Michael was nine years old with blond hair, blue eyes, and protruding teeth. Shortly before his disappearance, he injured his left eye, which might have required surgical removal.

An extensive search for Michael included over 400 soldiers and volunteers on horseback. Authorities used jeeps, motorcycles, and three military helicopters during the hunt, but they found no clues to Michael’s whereabouts, and the case went cold for decades. 

The case allegedly attracted widespread media attention, but few details are available. In 2014, Fort Jackson officials announced they were reopening Michael’s case.

Patrick O’Connor, deputy director for emergency services, first came across Michael’s disappearance after hearing about it from two former investigators.

He spent the next five years reviewing the file in his spare time before receiving permission from commanders to reopen the case. Military Police Investigator Carlos Monday assisted O’Connor with the investigation.

O’Connor listed Michael’s case with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) and the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database, making it visible to law enforcement agencies nationwide.

Michael’s parents are now deceased, but he has an uncle who resides in Greer, S.C. O’Connor was able to get a DNA sample from him, while the NCMEC coordinated DNA testing with the sister who lives in Texas.

Investigators uploaded the DNA profile to the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System, commonly called CODIS. If the remains of a person are found that investigators believe might be Michael, they can test and compare them to the profile.

Monday and O’Connor said in 2014 they hoped that true crime television shows might be interested in Michael’s case or other cold cases they are also reviewing.

Michael Woodward is the only missing person in the history of Fort Jackson.

Anyone with information about Michael Woodward’s disappearance should call Fort Jackson Military Police at (803) 751-1418, NCMEC at (800) THE-LOST (843-5678), or Crimestoppers at (888) CRIME-SC (274-6372).

True Crime Diva’s Thoughts

I know this is a short one, but I plan to do many more to quickly get more content on the blog. 

Something feels off here. There is no time of disappearance other than between 9 a.m. and noon. How is it that Michael’s parents had no idea when they last saw him? I realize his father was mowing the lawn, but what about Michael’s mother?

I find it strange we do not have a narrower time frame when Michael’s family last saw him. It would not have taken Joe 3 hours to mow the yard, especially on the base where houses most likely sat close to one another, and the yards were probably small.

So, if Joe started at 9 a.m., and it took him, let’s say, an hour, you’ve got about two hours unaccounted for regarding his son’s whereabouts.

But I suppose Michael could have ventured off on his own to explore the base, and then something happened to him.

How come we know what color his pants and shoes are, but there is no mention of a shirt? Was he shirtless? 

The disappearance occurred on a military base, so whoever took/harmed Michael was likely in the military or visiting Fort Jackson at the time. 

We know the military loves covering up crimes, especially the Army. So, that could be what happened here. And it could also be why there is barely any mention of Michael on the internet. I realize the case is nearly 50 years old, but I can usually find information online through or other means. But not this time. Few details are available.

There’s plenty of coverage on Fort Jackson during 1972, but nothing on Michael. Strange, to say the least.


I also could not find the name of his mother and siblings (if any) or when both parents died.

1 comment

Sharon April 18, 2023 - 10:38 AM

Looking at his father. Military background and no mention of the mom, she’s quiet as a church mouse. Seems very textbook what happened, meathead abusive father went too far and probably the base helped him cover it up. RIP Michael you did not deserve what happened to you


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True Crime Diva

True Crime Diva

I've blogged true crime since 2010, happily taking up only a tiny corner of the internet. I'm not here for attention; I'm here to tell you their stories.

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