When convicted murderer Michael Woodmansee was quietly sent down from Massachussetts to Cranston to begin the final phase of his incarceration last week, the news of his return quickly sparked a whirlwind of emotional response that has captivated the state. But to the family of his victim, the outcries have stirred up emotions that had been long since buried.
“They say that time heals wounds, but never completely. And it doesn’t take much to open up that wound,” remarked Peter Schofield, Sr. on Monday afternoon, a day after the Providence Journal reported that Michael Woodmansee, confessed killer of his nephew Jason Foreman in 1975, was back in Rhode Island.
Woodmansee was transferred from a prison in Massachusetts to the Adult Correctional Institutes in Cranston last week, and could be released as early as August due to good behavior rules that shaved almost 12 years off his 40-year sentence.
The report has drawn furious reaction from the victim’s family and from countless Rhode Islanders, who have protested his release in virtually any way they can: From John Foreman’s incendiary interview on WPRO Monday afternoon to a Facebook group entitled “Protest the release of Convicted Child Killer Michael Woodmansee,” which boasts more than 1,300 members after its creation less than two days ago. An even larger, similarly named Facebook event claims nearly 10,000 guests in protest of Woodmansee's release. Within the walls of these pages come raw emotion: frustration, rage and comments from citizens with a desire to protect future children.
But the flurry of traffic, both online and off, has come like a meteor strike to the family of Jason Foreman as they struggle to deal with the upwelling of long-interred emotions regarding the man they thought they would never have to face again. The news has impacted the community itself, which had placed their thoughts of the gruesome murder far away, guarded like Woodmansee’s diary, which to this day remains sealed within the South Kingstown Police Department, according to the Providence Journal’s report.
Like the derelict house on Schaeffer Street, the death of Jason Foreman has faded from the limelight with years of neglect and the urge to forget. But it has not disappeared.
“This is a man who committed the most heinous crime that has ever occurred in our area, and got away with it for seven years until he tried to do it again,” said state Rep. Teresa Tanzi in a release issued Tuesday. Her own daughter turns five next month, and she lives just blocks from the Woodmansee home.
“Crimes against children are in a category by themselves, and parents like myself look at what he did — and tried to do again to another boy — and we are all asking ourselves what can be done? I can assure you we are looking at every possible angle to protect our community and others from Michael Woodmansee ever being able to offend again. The crime this man committed still haunts our community.”
While the news made headlines nationwide this week, Jason Foreman's family has struggled into damage control mode as they digest the reaction. Schofield stated he has successfully argued several times to take the image of his nephew Jason off the internet whenever possible over the past few days.
“It just infuriates you," Schofield said, recalling witnessing Woodmansee in the Washington County courtroom. "The man had no remorse ... he never said I’m sorry. He just shut up and stood there. And that’s the sad thing.”
Schofield, former military man, was stationed at Fort Dix in 1975 when he was called back home to help search for Jason. “I received a phone call Monday morning, probably Sunday morning around 7:30 or 8, my wife said the FBI was on the property. I asked her why and she explained. In the meantime they had searched my home, the attic and everywhere else. We lived on High Street upstairs above Jason’s grandad.”
With permission, Schofield was transferred back to South Kingstown and served out his two weeks under then Detective Ronald Hawksley as they searched for Jason. “There were high emotions among the family, to start with,” Schofield said. “It’s a feeling that’s hard to describe when you have a total loss of something. My wife and I used to babysit when John and Joice had to do something. We were aunt and uncle but also close members of the family and it’s been that way for years.”
When Woodmansee attacked Dale Sherman in 1982, Schofield was on active duty again, this time attached to a Marine Safety Office in Boston.
“My wife got a hold of me and she was in tears. It was a very stressful time, a very saddened time. I keep thinking about it constantly, and I have since that time. It's something you don’t forget. It’s something that stays with you for the rest of your life.”
While corrections officials are considering trying to have Woodmansee, now 52, involuntarily committed to a secure psychiatric facility if he is deemed mentally ill, Tanzi is exploring legislative possibilities to help protect the public from him, according to the release.
She said she has been in discussion with the General Assembly’s legal staff, which will be working with the Attorney General’s office and the Department of Corrections to research existing legal strategies, as well as reviewing laws that can be strengthened to protect the public from Woodmansee and killers like him, especially if they are released back into neighborhoods.
“Since we’ve heard the news, it’s been a stressful time,” Schofield said of the past week. “We haven’t been able to sleep. Trying to run damage control on people claiming to say ‘I knew Jason in kindergarten.’ He never went to kindergarten. People need to realize, you’re not in it for the glory … when we had the funeral for Jason, half the town turned out. That’s great support, but these people claiming to do all these things, it doesn’t help, it just makes everything worse.”
Schofield gave credit to the South Kingstown Police Department, everyone from the officers working under Chief Clinton Salisbury in 1975 through those who worked under Chief Vincent Vespia in 1982 when the case was broken open. Schofield championed Hawksley, the individual who he said did the most and who traveled all over the United States looking for Jason.
He added that the good behavior rules allowing Woodmansee’s release don’t make sense. “I’m infuriated that they come up with these good time days. Truthfully, how do I feel? Would you let Hannibal Lecter out of Jail? Would you like to see Charles Manson around again? Would you feel comfortable having Jeffrey Dahmer, this type of sick individual on the loose again? No, nobody would.”
Even if Woodmansee were to be released, the outpouring of emotion in South Kingstown and elsewhere could make life difficult for such an individual, perhaps even dangerous. The South County Independent reported Monday that Police Chief Vincent Vespia would be concerned for Woodmansee’s safety if he decided to reside in South Kingstown again.
“I don’t know how he’s going to survive once he gets out into the community,” Schofield said. “Technology has evolved … it’s on everybody’s mind. I would think that some people have compassion and would say he should go about and live.
“I just hope he’s smart enough to realize it. I hope people don’t take me out of context here. I’ve tried to be a fair person, but he’s created a lot of harm to my family and I have a lot of ill feeling about him. Personally, I don’t know what I’d do if I saw him.”