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Cold case solved 51 years after Moab woman was strangled in bar

Posted at 11:01 AM, Jun 28, 2024

MOAB, Utah — Just over 51 years ago, a Moab woman was strangled to death in her bar. For decades, the case has been unsolved but now, investigators say they know who killed Ann Hammer Woodward.

WATCH: Logan police solve 1965 cold case murder of 17-year-old girl

On March 2, 1973, Woodward, a mother of four, was was robbed, assaulted, and strangled to death with the leg of her pants, at her bar, Woody's, after closing.

Leslie Woodward Estes was 18 years old when her mom was killed.

“There's no closure for me,” said Estes. “It's still going to go on. She's still going to be gone tomorrow, and my grandkid, my children have never seen her and don't ever know what a wonderful grandmother she would have been.”

In an announcement Friday, the Moab Police Department said they identified the Woodward's killer as Douglas Keith Chudomelka.

"Ann Woodward found herself alone at a bar with an unknown male," said Moab Police Chief Lex Bell. "That man would end up robbing her, assaulting her and brutally murdering her by strangling her with the leg of her own pants."

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Photos and gravesite of Douglas Keith Chudomelka.

Chudomelka was born and died in 2002 in Nebraska, but had a brief time in Moab as he worked in the mine, officials said.

Det. Jeremy Drexler with the Moab Police Department oversaw the case when it was reopened and said Chudomelka had a criminal history that expanded decades through several states.

"If he was alive today, I would be asking Grand County District Attorney Stephen Stocks for an arrest warrant for Douglas K. Chudomelka for the crime of first-degree murder for his actions on March 2, 1973."

Drexler said 29 pieces of evidence were collected in 1973 after the murder including ashtrays, fingernails, hair, fingerprints and salt shakers.

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Woody's, the bar where Ann Hammer Woodward was killed on March 2, 1973.

Though Chudomelka was named as a possible suspect early on, there was never enough evidence to move forward in the case.

Shortly after Drexler joined the Moab team, new fingerprints were discovered and boxes of evidence were found in storage, which included the clothes Woodward was wearing at the time of her death.

Additional tests were done on the clothes, where teams did swabs from the waistband, inside and outside of the pant legs and the buttons on the shirt.

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In May 2024, the results came back, positively identifying the DNA on the clothes as belonging to Chudomelka, Drexler said.

He detailed that Chudomelka's DNA was found on all the buttons of the shirt, as well as the inside of the pants, which could have only happened if the pants were taken off Woodward.

Additionally, tests were done on items found in the bar, which confirmed Chudomelka's presence at the facility the night Woodward was murdered.

"Had he not passed, we would have filed criminal information against him," said Grand County Attorney Steven Stocks. "I hope today brings some closure to the family. I truly believe if this case would have been presented to the jury, he would have been found guilty beyond reasonable doubt for the murder of Ann Woodward."

Two other items are currently being tested in relationship to the cold case, Drexler said. After the results come back, Chudomelka's DNA will be entered into CODIS.

Drexler said Chudomelka "traveled extensively" and had a history in Alabama, California, Nebraska and Iowa. After his time in Moab, he became a truck driver.

"[There's a] good possibility that if he's done other crimes nobody knows about, then his case will come forward," Drexler remarked.

Estes couldn’t believe the Drexler's dedication.

“He's a really good guy,” she said. “He said he would have gone and exhumed a body if he would have had to, and he would have, and how he went to, visited all the graves. It was personal to him.”

Estes’s own father was the first suspect in this case, and although she never believed he killed her mother, those rumors can finally be laid to rest.

“He was larger than life, and it just, it broke our, it broke his heart, but it broke our family, like the splinter never was healed,” she said. “It never really did even begin to heal.”