Dateline set to air the murder of Stephenville resident Susan Woods on Feb. 12. Don’t miss it.


By SARA VANDEN BERGE


A murder mystery that went unsolved for almost two decades is set to air on Dateline NBC this month.


The mystery of who killed Susan Woods in Stephenville in 1987 kept police guessing for years, until the Stephenville Police Department reopened the cold case in 2006 and used new technology to identify a suspect and make an arrest.


That man was Joseph Scott Hatley, an acquaintance of Susan’s police never suspected.

I have covered that case for 15 years.

I broke the story when the case was first reopened and when an arrest was finally made.


I interviewed Hatley when he was brought back to the Erath County Jail and covered his guilty plea one week before his trial was set to begin.


I interviewed the detectives, Susan’s ex-husband who lived under a cloud of suspicion for 19 years, and Shannon, a former Stephenville resident who was beaten and raped by Hatley at a roadside park in Erath County.


Shannon (whose last name will not be released) identified Hatley as her attacker to police and reportedly told them that he had confessed to killing another woman (presumably Woods), but an Erath County grand jury declined to indict him, and he remained free for years after.


I covered the story of Hatley’s early release from prison in 2018 and local reaction to the news that he was, once again, a free man.


And a couple of months ago, I took part in an interview with NBC’s Dateline about the case, which is expected to air on Feb. 12.

The two-hour episode should be an interesting one.


The Dateline crew spent several days in Erath County interviewing the victim’s family and friends, detectives and others involved in the case.

I was interviewed by Natalie Morales at Bella Vita Ranch, and while my contribution to the storyline is pretty limited, others that many of you may know, will likely play a large part in the upcoming episode.


Retired investigators Don Miller, Donnie Hensley and Richard Pringle were interviewed extensively, along with Roy and Cindy Hayes, Michael Woods and Shannon.


I spoke with Shannon on Monday, when Dateline announced that the episode will air in just 11 days.


Shannon fled Stephenville after the grand jury no-billed her case and she has remained out of the public’s view until now.


She traveled back to Erath County for the first time in more than 20 years to take part in the interview and made a powerful decision to appear without a disguise.


“I’m not going to allow myself to be Scott’s victim any longer,” she told me. “He raped and beat me, but hiding makes me feel like I’m still his victim.”


She said coming back to the area where the assault took place brought back an unexpected flood of emotions.


“It was hard, but it was a good healing process,” Shannon said.

BACKGROUND


Susan’s body was discovered by her father in a bathtub inside her home in Stephenville on July 28, 1987.


The whodunit remained unsolved for more than 20 years – until former Lt. Don Miller reopened the cold case to re-examine old evidence using new technology.


A fingerprint led to Hatley’s arrest and he was sentenced to 30 years in prison in 2007 after pleading guilty one week before his trial was set to begin.


Hatley is now a free man after he was released from prison after serving only 11 years. He still lives in Texas.