To the naïve or gullible, prisoner Derek Wood might seem an intriguing Renaissance man, based on a new, aggrandizing self-portrait. Twenty-five years ago, he shot three McDonald’s restaurant workers in the head in a bungled robbery-turned-multiple-murder in Nova Scotia. Wood is 44 and still behind bars in Quebec and now says he loves great Baroque composers of the 17th century. He invokes famed physicist Erwin Schrodinger. Wood insists he’s “funny” and a “bibliophile” with a “fondness for recondite words.” Really, he may simply be a remorseless killer who concocted a more likeable – and less threatening – persona, given his eligibility in September to seek full parole.
Wood’s protestations of becoming a cultured man, a quarter century after he orchestrated the murders of three people, may also flow from loneliness. He has been in prison for 25 years and was turned down in 2015 when he sought parole that would have permitted him to leave prison and live in a halfway house. The parole board noted he shows signs of being a psychopath and has little or no insight into his monstrous actions. Now Wood has penned a pleading online advertisement (seen complete ad below) that appears on canadianinmatesconnect.com, a website for Canadian prisoners seeking companionship, primarily through penpals. Wood’s advertisement says he’s behind bars at the high-security Special Handling Unit, a section of the federal penitentiary in St. Anne des Plaines, Quebec. It is Canada’s highest-security prison unit, reserved for the most troublesome and dangerous convicts.
Wood says he’s interested in corresponding with women and acknowledges he’s serving life for “multiple 1st degree murders.” He describes himself as a “first-time offender” who is “never getting out (for reals!)” Corrections Canada says he’s eligible to seek full parole in September 2017.
In his ad, Wood says he “can speak to most people on most topics and levels and to available women on any topic, at any level (I read all the comics). Seriously though, it’s the person I’m into not their ability to use big fancy words.”
He says he does not “play well with mean-spirited predators.”
Wood claims, in his ad, that he has “no diseases or bad habits” and is “the most boring inmate ever.” It’s unlikely corrections staff who have had to deal with him would agree.
In 2006, Wood assaulted two correctional officers and in 1998 he assaulted a fellow prisoner with sharpened artist brushes and a toothbrush. Parole records describe him as “belligerent” and “disrespectful” toward prison staff.
He’s also been a legal pest, filing frequent court challenges.
When he lost an appeal against his classification as a maximum-security prisoner, he was ordered to pay $750 in court costs. He appealed the imposition of costs, complaining that he nets roughly $13 every two weeks from his prison job, so he is “indigent” and unable to pay. The Court of Appeal of New Brunswick said, effectively, too bad, pay up.
Wood’s penpal ad provides no details of the horrific slaughter he oversaw on May 7, 1992.
Wood, who was 18 at the time, and two accomplices – Freeman MacNeil, 23, and Darren Muise, 18, robbed the fast food outlet where Wood worked in Sydney River, a small suburb in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Four employees were shot, stabbed and bludgeoned. Three of the victims, Donna Warren, 22, Neil Burroughs, 29, and Jimmy Fagan, 27, died. The fourth, Arleen MacNeil, 20, was left permanently disabled.
Wood and his cohorts believed, wrongly, that tens of thousands of dollars were tucked inside the McDonald’s safe. The thieves made off with $2,017.27.
During a confession he gave police, Wood was asked why he shot Arleen MacNeil, 20, in the face. “I was scared,” Wood replied. “I can remember looking over at Darren and Freeman and they gave me looks like, ‘Come on, what are you waiting for?’ ”
The police officer asked where he shot her.
“I was about five feet away from her when I shot her. I just fired one shot at her.”
Wood was asked where he shot Burroughs. “I guess in the head,” he answered.
How many times was she shot? the police officer asked.
“I just shot him once.”
Wood said he thought Burroughs was kneeling when he shot him.
The interrogator asked Wood what happened to Warren after he forced her to open the restaurant safe.
“I shot her,” Wood answered.
“Where did you shoot her?”
“I shot her in the head.”
“Was she standing or what was she doing when she was shot?”
“She was standing.”
“Why did you have to shoot her?”
“I don’t know. I was just scared then.”
“How far away were you from her when you pulled the trigger?”
“I was close.”
Warren was shot twice in the head. Burroughs was shot three times, including once in the back of the head. His throat was cut and he was beaten with a shovel.
Wood was convicted of the first-degree murder of Warren and Burroughs. He was convicted of attempted murder of MacNeil. He also was convicted of robbery and unlawful confinement. He lost an appeal to the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal.
Freeman MacNeil (no relation to the victim MacNeil) was convicted of first-degree murder of Burroughs, second-degree murder of Fagan, armed robbery and unlawful confinement. Muise pleaded guilty to second-degree murder of Burroughs and armed robbery.
After Wood admitted to police that the robbery was his idea and that he shot three people at close range, he added a half-hearted apology.
“I’m sorry but there’s nothing I can do about it now,” Wood said.
He was asked how he felt after confessing.
“I feel better that I told.”
A screen capture of Wood’s penpal advertisement on the website canadianinmatesconnect.com: