The last time Eula Keyes and Mike Cooley saw Korey Kauffman he was leaving their Turlock home around 11 p.m. March 29, 2012 to look into some metal at a house nearby.
The couple never saw Kauffman again.
Kauffman’s case languished among the other stacks of missing person reports until August 2013 when his remains were unearthed by a group of hunters in Stanislaus National Forest.
Almost two years after he was last seen, law enforcement have arrested Robert Lee Woody, a 38-year-old man who hung out in the same neighborhood as Kauffman and had a known drug habit.
It’s possible additional arrests could be forthcoming as the investigation proceeds because the criminal complaint filed Tuesday against Woody list three others as yet unnamed co-conspirators in Kauffman’s death.
“Robert Woody is just a small fish,” said Kauffman’s father Tony Kauffman. “If this investigation goes like they promised, they are nowhere near finished. This will go high up the totem.”
Investigators took Woody into custody Tuesday and charged him with homicide in the death of Kauffman, as well as conspiracy to obstruct justice.
The criminal complaint alleges Woody killed Kauffman sometime around or on March 30. It also carries a special allegation that Woody lied in wait to kill Kauffman.
The second charge stems from allegations Woody conspired with three co-conspirators, identified in the criminal complaint as B, C, and D. It alleges Woody and co-conspirator B went and threatened a witness on behalf of co-conspirator C.
The criminal complaint also alleges co-conspirator B and D paid for Woody to leave the area to avoid being identified as a potential suspect. It also states all three co-conspirators agreed to pay Woody’s bail if he was arrested and that co-conspirator C would provide him with legal representation.
Woody is being kept in protective custody and is not listed among the Stanislaus County Jail inmates.
Kauffman made his money by recycling scrap metal, some of which was obtained by illegal means. Cooley said he and Kauffman were discussing stealing some metal pipes from a nearby property that night, but Cooley saw some people on the property and decided not to pursue it any further. Cooley theorizes Kauffman decided to go ahead with the theft and that he got caught and killed for the attempt.
“If I hadn’t had told him about it, he might still be alive,” Cooley said. “It haunts me every day. I wish it would have been me instead.”
Cooley says he was the individual threatened by the two co-conspirators, but could not give their names at this time.
“They told me I had better mind my own business and quit looking into things that didn’t concern me,” Cooley said.
The efforts to find and arrest Kauffman’s killer gained momentum in the last few weeks as investigators from multiple agencies served search warrants at various spots in Turlock and Ceres.
On Feb. 26, the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department Special Weapons and Tactics team served a search warrant at a home in the 1100 block of East Avenue, which is the last known address for Woody. On Monday plain clothes deputies and detectives served search warrants at the two Pop-N-Cork locations in Turlock and two homes in Ceres belonging to owners of the store, Baljit and Daljit Atwal.
Baljit Atwal said Woody had worked at the store’s East Avenue location in the past, but that had ended about a month ago.
“He started using drugs again and we stopped seeing him,” Baljit Atwal said. “I don’t know why they would be looking at our stores and homes for things related to him. We help a lot of people in this community and now they (investigators) are targeting us.”
Baljit Atwal said investigators took camera, cell phones, iPads, passports, and permitted guns from the stores and residences.
Earlier on in the investigation, Praveen Singh, a Modesto bail bondsman and investigator for defense attorney Frank Carson was identified by investigators as a “person of Interest in the case” Investigators believed Singh was concealing information about the murder. Singh was taken into custody on Nov. 27, 2013, on allegations of attempted shooting of an occupied dwelling, soliciting a shooting at an inhabited dwelling, and soliciting a robbery. Since then the charges have been reduced to two counts of soliciting a specified criminal act.
Woody has an extensive criminal background with convictions of possessing a switch blade knife, possession of a controlled substance, and auto theft peppering his record dating back to the mid 1990s. Woody has a pretrial hearing March 14.
For the family and friends of Kauffman, Tuesday’s arrest marks a very poignant turn in a case that has been haunting them for two years.
“He didn’t deserve to be thrown out like a piece of trash,” said Kauffman’s sister-in-law Sandra Stubblefield. “He was a good guy that did whatever he had to do to take care of the people he loved. I just want to see justice served for him.”