Man Nabbed In Wyoming High-Speed Chase Had Been Recently Paroled After 1998 Rape

Travis Wood, the 47-year-old Utah man now in a Wyoming jail for leading police on an icy high-speed chase after Thanksgiving, was less than two months out on parole after kidnapping and reportedly raping a woman in 1998.

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Clair McFarland

January 04, 202411 min read

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Before he was arrested in an icy car chase outside Laramie with a missing woman Thanksgiving weekend, Travis Wood was the defendant in a rape and kidnapping case that grabbed national headlines. 

Police originally suspected Wood, 47, of trafficking a much-younger, 21-year-old woman who was with him at a truck stop in Laramie on Nov. 27. But the woman, Libby Lambson, later insisted she wasn’t trafficked, despite being in a national missing persons database.  

Laramie Police and Albany County Sheriff’s Office personnel arrested Wood that night after a car chase down closed, snowpacked roads. He faces up to 17 years in prison and thousands of dollars in fines if convicted on all the Wyoming state charges pending against him.  

But 25 years before the car chase, Wood attracted national attention in a bizarre rape and kidnapping case that ultimately led to a kidnapping conviction. He had been out of a Utah prison on parole for that conviction for one month when arrested in Wyoming.

‘Please Don’t Rape Me’ 

A 21-year-old customer service worker walked through a hushed parking lot to her car at 3 in the afternoon March 11, 1998. It was about the middle of her shift at the Holiday Inn reservation center in West Valley City, Utah.

The young woman, Stephanie Duke, was getting a radar detector for a co-worker, according to evidentiary documents obtained by Cowboy State Daily and earlier news stories featuring Duke.  

A skinny, tattooed male about her age stood in the parking lot. He had a teardrop and a swastika tattooed on his face, and he “creeped me out,” Duke told Cosmopolitan magazine in an interview six years later.  

Duke continued to her car, unlocked the passenger-side door and leaned over to unplug the radar detector. Suddenly, the man from the parking lot was right behind her, holding a gun in his hands and leering down at her, according Duke’s magazine interview.   

He told her to give him a ride. 

“I blurted out, ‘Please don’t rape me,’” Duke recalled in the Cosmo interview.   

She thought about screaming, but the parking lot was deserted. Duke slid over to the driver’s seat and started the car while the man got into the passenger side and started dictating to her where to drive.  

They rolled down an exit ramp that “looked unusual” to Duke, but the man told her to drive around — as if he were looking for someone, says the police report. At one point, he said he wanted to go see his girlfriend, then he said he “wanted to kill someone” who was in the Magna, Utah, area, says the 1998 police report in the case.  

The Cosmopolitan story depicts the man sitting there with the gun on his lap, pointed at Duke, as he claimed to have killed his girlfriend for cheating on him.  

He directed her several miles south, then east. They passed a lake and meandered down dirt roads until the dirt road ended. All the while, he reportedly talked of having been to prison until recently, and said he’d hurt Duke if she drove poorly and got them pulled over. 

Cute Deer And Bunnies 

The police report says the man alternated between threatening to kill Duke and acting like he was just kidding around.  

She tried timidly to reason with him, saying things like, “My family’s going to be worried about me.” 

The drive wore on for more than an hour, frazzling Duke’s nerves as her mind raced through escape options.  

When the dirt road ended, the man had Duke stop so they could watch deer in the area.  

“Oh, look at those sweet deer and cute bunnies,” Wood said, according to Duke’s Cosmopolitan interview.  

‘Some Sick Fantasy’

He slipped a thick-banded ring with a skull on it from his own finger and slid it onto Duke’s finger.  

“I felt like throwing up when he touched me,” Duke’s interview recounts.  

He had her put her hair up, then back down to see which way he liked it, and told her to take off her sweater and her shoes, the report says.  

Duke told Cosmopolitan she felt like she was part of “some sick fantasy.”  

The report says he fondled her and raped her.  

The Cosmopolitan story renders the reported rape in nauseating detail: “He told me to get on all fours and face the driver’s seat window. I felt like I was going to vomit. He was behind me, and with every motion, my head hit the car door. It was only 15 minutes, but it felt like forever. I willed myself not to cry. He hadn’t killed me yet, so there was still hope I might get out alive.”  

Reflecting on Duke’s later sexual assault exam, the case investigator noted later that it did appear she’d been sexually assaulted.  

‘Like This Was Just A Weird Meeting’ 

Duke was able to convince the man that she needed to head back to work before dark. She feigned interest in his family, his “gang,” his mom. She also pretended her vision was worsening in the fading light, according to Duke’s Cosmopolitan interview.  

His attitude shifted from threatening and brooding to affectionate. He chattered at Duke on the drive back. He was jumpy and his legs fidgeted. He kept repositioning the gun, at one point removing the bullets and handing it to her, the police report says.  

Sometimes he’d drift off to sleep briefly then snap awake: “Just checking to see if you try to take my gun from me,” the man reportedly said when he snapped awake.  

The report says the man “seemed to feel as if the two were friends and this was just a weird meeting story,” and that, “He was fondling her and hugging her and kissing her face as she was driving.” 

Duke told the man she would just run into her workplace to grab her things, and then she’d go with him again.  

He told her to tell her employer that she’d skipped out on work for three hours because she’d been helping a suicidal friend.

Instead, Duke walked back into work and told a friend that there was a man in her car with a gun who had raped her, and she had to call police. That was just after 7 p.m., more than three hours after the man first kidnapped Duke at gunpoint.  

Where’s My Sister? 

Meanwhile, Duke’s sister walked out to the parking lot and found Duke’s car, with a stranger in it.  

The sister also worked at the reservation center and was disturbed that her Duke had been missing for hours, and had oddly left behind her chapstick and purse. 

“Who are you?” asked Duke’s sister.  

“Are you looking for the girl who owns the car?” asked the man.  

“Ya, I am,” said the sister, again asking where Duke was.  

The man said his name was Travis, and he shook her hand.  

Travis, later identified as Travis Wood, said “the girl” was getting her things so they could leave again.  

The sister demanded to know where they’d been for the past three hours.  

“Driving around,” answered Wood, adding that he “needed” the girl to go with him that day or he was going to “BLOW UP,” says the report.  

Duke's sister asked how long Wood had known Duke.

“Long enough,” Wood reportedly answered, adding that the girl was “very beautiful.” 

“I need to go yell at my sister,” said Duke’s sister, before storming off.  

She tried to get back into the reservation center, but the door was locked. Eventually, the manager came to let her back inside.  

The manager later told police he locked the doors as a precaution after learning there was a man out there who’d raped his employee.  

‘My Heart Dropped’ 

Duke didn’t realize her sister had gone to confront Wood until a coworker said the sister was outside talking to “some guy” at Duke’s car.  

“My heart dropped,” Duke later recounted. She hyperventilated and started screaming for someone to get her – for anyone to rescue her sister.   

Just then, Duke’s sister marched back into the reservation center, and Duke threw her arms around her.  

“I was so relieved she was OK,” she told Cosmopolitan. 

A Car Chase 

Police arrived at 7:23. Coordinating with other agents, one officer parked in the well-lit parking lot and approached the maroon Ford Tempo with a shotgun in hand.  

The Ford’s windshield wipers flicked on.  

“I have movement in this vehicle,” the officer called out on his radio, then he yelled at Wood to turn the vehicle off.  

“He then popped up from lying down on the seat and put the vehicle in reverse,” says the report. The officer was directly behind the vehicle as it backed toward him. Bracing himself for the impact, the officer switched his shotgun off the “safety” setting and got ready to fire at the driver to make him quit coming at him. 

But Wood slammed the car in drive and squealed forward. Another agent chased Wood while the officer with the shotgun radioed out the vehicle’s description.  

The chase ended when Wood drove off the road and got stuck in a field.

 

‘Like a FREAK’ 

After Wood’s arrest, an investigator met with Wood at the West Valley Police Department for an interview. Agents were watching Wood constantly because he’d claimed to be suicidal, says the report.  

The investigator found Wood sitting, asleep on the couch, and had to call the man’s name repeatedly to wake him.  

Wood thrashed his feet as he woke, “as if he was trying to kick something,” the report says.  

He told the investigator he’d been “just walking around” that afternoon when he saw “the girl in the parking lot.”  

He couldn’t say how he knew her though he claimed to have seen her around, says the report.  

He described venting to the girl how suicidal he was, and he remembered going to look at deer with her.  

“He told me that she was very kind to him and accepted him as he was and did not look at him like a FREAK like other people did,” the investigator wrote later.  

The investigator asked Wood if he’d raped the girl.  

Wood grew upset at this question and denied it.   

He also reportedly said he'd done drugs two days prior, and that he liked to do cocaine and “speed” together. 

He said he fled the parking lot that night when he saw police because he wasn’t supposed to have the gun, says the report.  

A police lieutenant who later gave an interview to the Salt Lake Tribune marveled that Wood lingered in that parking lot while Duke called police.

"It's stupid rapist week," the lieutenant quipped.

Goodbye

Ultimately, Wood was convicted of aggravated kidnapping and sentenced to a term of between 15 years and life in prison.  

Duke told Cosmopolitan that she agreed to the plea bargain and the aggravated-kidnapping charge, rather than pursuing a rape charge as well, because authorities told her Wood would go away for a long time either way.  

At Wood’s sentencing hearing, their eyes met. He mouthed the words “f***ing bitch,” Duke later told the magazine.

She stood in court and urged the judge to level a harsh sentence against Wood.  

The Utah Department of Corrections confirmed to Cowboy State Daily that the Travis Wood who is now incarcerated in the Albany County Detention Center is the same Wood from the 1998 case.  

The Utah DOC lists Wood as a parolee. His most recent parole release started Oct. 10, 2023.  

He has failed parole multiple times, a DOC spokeswoman told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday.  

The Utah Board of Pardons and Parole decides which inmates should receive parole.  

Clair McFarland can be reached at Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com.

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Clair McFarland

Crime and Courts Reporter