Boise (US), December 5
As days turned into years, Brett Woolley came to accept that his father’s murderer would never be found — and that his family’s private tragedy had become a Wild West legend, the kind of thing folks shared when they were a few too many drinks deep into the night.
Nearly 40 years ago, Dan Woolley was shot in the parking lot of a small-town bar. The shooter crossed the street to the town’s other tavern, ordered a drink and declared, “I just killed a man.” And then he disappeared, leaving no trace.
Until a sunny summer morning last year, when word came that the man who shot Dan Woolley was living in Texas under an assumed name.
Brett didn’t want to hear it. “I didn’t want him to be found. I was fine with it like it was,” he said that November, voice choked.
“It’s like it just happened yesterday, all over again.” And as the accused shooter’s story came to light — along with lurid rumours involving the pro rodeo circuit, and a reputed Las Vegas casino crime boss — it became clear that the legend of Dan Woolley’s death would only grow.
The town of Clayton sits smack in the middle of Idaho, nestled deep in a canyon alongside the Salmon River.
Today just seven people live in the town proper, though the village was in a veritable heyday when Brett Woolley was growing up in the early 1970s.
“I mean, Clayton had a Little League team. People probably wouldn’t believe that now,” said Alison Steen, Brett’s longtime girlfriend.
“Clayton Silver Mine was running and they employed about 75 people year round, you had the Forest Service, all the ranchers — it was a very viable little community.”
But a hardscrabble one. Many kids, like Brett, lived in homes with limited plumbing and worked from a young age to help support their families.
If Brett’s childhood living conditions were rough, his father’s were downright primitive.
No running water, no money to speak of — as a child, Dan Woolley would catch and milk the skittish range cattle for extra cash. He expected the same work ethic from his kids.
On September 22, 1980, Dan Woolley and his friends were working on the family’s property, building a garage. Brett was in the house, recovering from a motorcycle wreck. When his father asked if 19-year-old Brett wanted to head into town for a beer, he declined.
“I was feeling pretty puny because I’d never passed down a chance to go to town and get a beer with Dad, never. Those invites came maybe once a week,” he said.
“That’s always bothered me.”
Instead, Brett settled in with a dirt bike magazine while his mother puttered around the house. He was interrupted a few hours later by knock on the door. Then he heard his mother’s wail.
Brett went downstairs and heard the news.
“First thing I did, as quickly as I could because I was crippled, was I ran upstairs and grabbed the gun. They made me put it down; I was going to go to town.” “I’ve never …,” he said, stopping to draw a shuddering breath.
“Hearing my mother like that? They were getting ready for their 28th anniversary. Dad was 52.”— AP