Despite remains, mystery shrouds man's disappearance
Ella Mae Woodard looked solemnly at a window in the front room of her Brazoria County home Sunday afternoon. The 88-year-old woman spent weeks sitting at that window after her husband, Robert, an Alzheimer's patient, disappeared more than four years ago.
She stared through the window, over the large pecan trees and past her winding dirt driveway, waiting and hoping for some trace of the man she spent 60 years devoted to. Together, the couple raised a dozen children.
"I just thought I'd see something," Woodard said softly Sunday. "Maybe somebody would be coming to tell me something."
Even after days of searching with helicopters and canines in the heavily wooded area around the couple's home yielded no information about her husband's whereabouts, Woodard continued to stare out the window.
"I just wanted my husband back," she said.
Eventually her children, saddened and worried about their mother, convinced her to cover the window with gold and burgundy drapes. While the tapestries blocked her view, Woodard never stopped wondering what happened to her husband.
On Saturday afternoon — after four long, frustrating years — she finally got some answers. Brazoria County Sheriff's Office investigators came to her door to inform her that they believed the skeletal remains of her husband had been discovered in the woods of the Nannie M. Stringfellow Wildlife Management Area, less than a mile from the couple's house.
A man hunting with his son came across the remains that morning and alerted authorities.
"When I received the phone call about skeletal remains, I immediately though of Mr. Woodard," said sheriff's office investigator Stephen Buchanan, who remembers being part of the initial search for the elderly man in cold, rainy weather in 2006.
Personal effects located nearby, including a walking cane, a pair of blue jeans and a wallet with Robert Woodard's Texas identification card, confirmed Buchanan's suspicions.
While a preliminary examination of the remains shows no signs of foul play, it is a mystery to Woodard's family and investigators how the elderly man ended up so deep in the woods.
Ella Mae Woodard remembers the day her husband went missing like it was yesterday.
The salt-and-pepper-haired woman recalls putting him in bed for a nap the morning of Nov. 29, before she went to do a couple loads of laundry. She took a five or 10 minute rest before going to wake him up to catch the rest of the Price is Right.
But Robert Woodard was no where to be found. While her husband suffered from the early stages of Alzheimer's and diabetes at the time of his disappearance, he had never wandered off before.
Robert Woodard had also undergone knee replacement surgery in both legs and walked with a cane.
It seems improbable to Ella Mae that her husband could have made it over the barb-wired fence into the woods behind the couple's home.
"He couldn't go walking very far," she said.
Reports of a car
In earlier reports by the Houston Chronicle, a neighbor recalled thinking he saw a blue or green car turn into Woodard's long driveway to pick up his neighbor.
Investigators told family members they never could identify the car.
The remains will be sent out for a forensic analysis, which hopefully will yield more answers, Buchanan said.
The discovery has at least allowed the Woodard family to move forward with their lives.
The couple's third oldest child, Gerald Woodard, 57, said he is happy to cherish the memories of his father, a lifelong Brazoria County resident who served in World War II.
The Prairie View A&M University graduate was also, a farmer, a teacher and a deacon at St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church.
Despite lingering questions, he said, the discovery of the remains has brought some closure to the family for the time being.
"Even if we don't know what happened," Gerald Woodard said, "we do know his remains have been found."
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