It’s a story that sounds like it belongs in This American Life. A young TV producer mysteriously vanishes while filming on the Gold Rush franchise for Discovery in the abandoned mines of Idaho County, ID. Nearly two years later, there remains not a shred of evidence about Terrence Woods’ whereabouts. Instead, in his absence, there is a grief-stricken family, a befuddled sheriff, and questions for a prolific UK production company ultimately co-owned by Discovery.
Woods was 27 when he went missing on October 5, 2018. Little has been written about his disappearance other than by local U.S. news outlets, but a social media campaign to unearth more information about the Maryland-born filmmaker has gained traction in recent weeks following the Black Lives Matter movement. Woods’ disappearance is being passionately discussed by TV freelancers in closed Facebook groups, while producer Raw TV has come under renewed pressure to provide answers and support for those who knew Woods in their quest for new leads.
Now, in an effort to shed light on an underreported mystery, Deadline has spoken with Woods’ family and friends, former colleagues, the local Idaho County sheriff, and asked Raw detailed questions about the incident. We have also seen email exchanges between Raw and Woods’ family from the time of his disappearance, as well as the producer’s recent correspondence, with an individual pressing the company for action.
Woods’ parents suspect that his vanishing act was triggered by the way he was treated on the shoot and they have questioned if Raw has given a full version of events. Raw strongly denies that Woods was mistreated. The company also pointed to how it actively supported Woods’ parents in the period after he went missing, played a vital role in the search-and-rescue efforts, and fully cooperated with the police investigation. “It is truly heartbreaking that Terrence has not been found, and we continue to hope that he will be,” it said. Sheriff Doug Giddings, who was responsible for the investigation, also said his officers uncovered no evidence to suggest any wrongdoing on the part of Raw.
Meanwhile, the U.S. television giant in the background of this entire story, Discovery, has commented on the Woods case for the first time. “This is a tragic situation. Our sympathies go out to his family and friends,” said a spokeswoman for the company, which as well as broadcasting Gold Rush co-owns Raw’s parent company All3Media with Liberty Global.
The story of Terrence Woods’ disappearance
Woods cut his teeth in the TV industry in the UK, where he lived for five years. He was known as a “completely reliable and intelligent man,” according to friends, and he collected credits on some high-profile British shows including ITV’s The Voice UK and BBC One’s Saving Africa’s Elephants: Hugh and the Ivory War. His work took him all over the world, and family and friends talk about him as being a kind and loving man who showed no signs that he was capable of what was to come.
“I met Terrence at an event which was part of the TV diversity scheme we were both on. He was always bubbly, passionate about his work and was on his way to a long successful career in TV,” recalled Rochelle Newman, a producer based in the UK.
Woods briefly worked as a researcher at Raw in London before he moved back into his father’s home in Maryland in 2018. His spell in the UK office landed him a contract working as a production assistant on a spinoff of perhaps Raw’s most-prized asset: its Discovery series Gold Rush. He would be filming in Penman Mine, an abandoned gold mine in the rugged countryside of Idaho County, for Gold Rush: Dave Turin’s Lost Mine, a new offshoot of the lucrative gold-digging franchise. The show premiered in 2019 on the Discovery Channel and a second season followed earlier this year.
But what should have been another notch in his growing résumé quickly took an unusual turn. On the morning of Woods’ disappearance, he texted his father to let him know he was cutting short his time on the shoot by a number of weeks. The reasons for this are unclear. He did not explain why to his father, according to the texts seen by Deadline, but told Raw in an email that he wanted to see his mother, Valerie Woods, back in Maryland because she had health issues. This was despite Valerie informing her son before he went missing that she did not require surgery, as originally feared.
Rochelle Newman“He was always bubbly, passionate about his work and was on his way to a long successful career in TV.”
In the early evening that same day, the shoot was progressing as planned in the uncertain terrain of Orogrande, when Woods shocked his colleagues by doing something completely unexpected. Without warning, the producer ditched his radio in the dirt and ran down the side of a steep cliff before disappearing into a forest, multiple witnesses told the Idaho County Sheriff’s Office. He has not been seen since.
Police mounted a comprehensive seven-day search of the area, said Giddings, while Raw provided assistance. Teams traversed the area on foot with dogs, while helicopter crews scoured the site from the sky. The search turned up next to nothing, with the only real clue being that Woods reached the road at the base of the cliff before his scent went cold. He did not stop by any of the nearby houses to call for help, the sheriff said. “It’s rough country and there are mine shafts up there. All kinds of things could have happened, but we searched for him,” he added.
Giddings said the two key witnesses were a local woman, who was providing transport for the shoot, and Simon Gee, an associate producer who was an important figure in the Gold Rush: Dave Turin’s Lost Mine shoot for Raw. Both described how Woods ran at some speed down the cliff, according to Giddings, with other members of the team chasing after him. Gee provided assistance with the efforts to locate Woods, having been trained in search-and-rescue.
An uneasy meeting between Woods’ parents and Raw
Woods’ family is skeptical about the witness’ version of events. “You say my 97-pound son ran down the cliff without tripping, falling, hurting himself. You don’t have a trace of his blood or piece of his clothing, and he ran like a hare and ran so fast, nobody could catch him,” his father, Terrence Woods Sr, told Deadline. Giddings admitted that it would have been a “difficult” physical feat because of the “really steep” terrain, but caveated this by saying that other members of the Raw team managed to follow after Woods unharmed.
In the days following his disappearance, Raw flew Woods Sr and Valerie from Maryland to Idaho, where they met with Gee and two other Raw executives at the Sheriff’s Office. According to Woods Sr and Giddings, it was not an easy discussion. Woods Sr vividly recalled a particular exchange in which Gee said Woods had been a “disappointment” to him and “didn’t live up to my expectations.” Valerie also remembered the exchange, and described Gee as “cold” in an interview with Fox 5 journalist Melanie Alnwick last year.
Raw’s position is that Gee did not say he had been disappointed in Woods at any point in his communications with the family. Gee did recall saying to Woods Sr that his son appeared distracted at times, but this was in order to establish whether it was out of character. Raw also acknowledged that Woods struggled with some tasks over his six days with the team, but he was offered support and his performance improved. Giddings did not recall the specifics from the meeting in his office, but said that the family was noticeably “upset.”
Woods Sr said what they heard from Raw raised questions about how his son was treated on the shoot. “Something happened of foul play and they’re trying to cover it up,” he told Deadline. Asked what he meant by “foul play,” he replied: “My son saw something, or heard something that he didn’t agree with, and he wanted to leave.”
Raw said the police found no evidence to support “speculative” concerns about foul play. Giddings added there was no evidence of any mistreatment. “They wanted to believe that the movie company was guilty of something and we couldn’t determine that the movie company was guilty of anything,” he said. The reality is, that without Woods’ version of events, we will never have a full picture of his experience.
Sheriff Doug Giddings“They wanted to believe that the movie company was guilty of something and we couldn’t determine that the movie company was guilty of anything.”
Alongside this theory were rumors about Woods’ state of mind during the Idaho County shoot. Indeed, it was explicitly noted on the 911 call log reporting his disappearance. “Terrence has been having a really hard time emotionally and had a mental breakdown earlier today,” a transcript of the log read. Giddings’ recollection was that the crew thought Woods was “a little bit weird,” though the aspersions have been upsetting for those who knew him.
His father was clear that Woods had “no mental problem, no health problem, no communication problem” when Deadline asked about the claims. “It doesn’t make sense when I hear people say that he struggled with his mental health or that he didn’t live up to expectations,” added friend Cassandra Hall-Alexander. “I spent six months on a TV production course with him and he always exceeded expectations and never ever showed signs of having any mental health problems.”
Giddings acknowledged that, at the very least, there appeared to be an uneasy dynamic between Woods and the rest of the crew. “My interpretation of what they said is that the kid was a little bit different. He came into the group late and there were questions about some of his behaviors, but nothing that was blown up as big as what they [the family] tried to make out of it,” he explained. “We determined that he wasn’t happy there and there were several people who weren’t happy with him.”
Woods may not have been alone in feeling like an outsider in the established Gold Rush world. A source, who has previously worked on a Gold Rush brand, described an atmosphere in which established members of the team were not particularly welcoming of newcomers. “By its nature, it’s quite a blokey show and that’s what they’re aiming for. It’s the kind of place where people sigh and say things like ‘it’s political correctness gone mad,'” the industry insider said of their experience.
Raw robustly defends “speculative” claims
For its part, Raw said Woods was a “well-liked and valued member of the production team and his disappearance deeply affected us all.” A spokeswoman added: “We have the deepest sympathy for Terrence’s family and friends. It is truly heartbreaking that Terrence has not been found, and we continue to hope that he will be. In such a tragic case there will inevitably be speculation about his disappearance, which is neither helpful or fair to Terrence, his family or the crew who worked so hard to try and help. The thorough police investigation has found no evidence to support any of the speculative claims, and this remains a tragedy.”
Raw’s cooperation with the police and its assistance with the search has not prevented the Woods family from feeling like they did not have the company’s full backing in the mission to find their son.
In the days following the incident, Valerie and Sam Maynard, Raw’s EVP of U.S. factual programming, exchanged emails about hiring a private detective. Valerie requested financial support, but Maynard declined on the grounds that it could muddy the waters of the police investigation. “Assistant Sheriff Gorges was clear to us that they remain the best avenue of investigation to try and find him,” Maynard wrote, adding: “We are genuinely mystified as to why Terrence chose to run off. We would like to reassure you that our people on the ground were highly experienced, professional and supportive of Terrence and worked around the clock to try and help in the search and rescue operation.” In a later email, Maynard confirmed that Woods had been paid in full for the work he had done.
The Woods family did eventually work with two private investigators, but the hired guns did not turn up significant new evidence. Woods Sr and Valerie said they have not heard from Raw in more than a year. Woods Sr said he has made a number of phone calls to Raw’s London office, which have not been returned. “They have not been helpful at all,” said Valerie. Raw’s position is that it was unaware of Woods Sr’s calls and that such contact is usually logged.
Pressure on the company has come from other sources as well. A person familiar with the case emailed CEO Joely Fether and other Raw executives on July 10, calling on it to donate to a fund to help find Woods. “To show that black lives do matter, the company could do something to help,” the individual said. Fether replied saying Raw put “a great deal of effort and resource” into finding Woods, and said she understood “how upsetting you have found this.” She did not commit to donating to a GoFundMe page.
Terrence Wood Sr“It eats me up every day. With death you get closure and you can heal, but with the unknown, you know nothing. All you can do is pray and have faith.”
“It is truly heartbreaking that Terrence has not been found, and we continue to hope that he will be,” Fether wrote. “The case remains open and we have been asked to refer all enquiries [sic] directly to the Sheriff’s Office.” Giddings stopped short of describing the case as “open,” but said his officers would investigate new leads should they emerge. “It’s more of a runaway case than it is a missing person… He’s still missing as far as we know, but we are not actively searching for him,” he added. “It’s just really weird and unexplainable.”
For some, the unexplained circumstances of Woods’ disappearance have been compounded by another missing person case on the same day, around 50 miles north of his last known location. Connie Johnson and her dog Ace vanished from a hunting camp in the Fog Mountain area of Idaho County. The dog was later found, but Johnson has not been seen since. Giddings said there was no connection between the cases and any suggestion to the contrary had been “thought up by those who were nowhere near the mountain or have any first-hand knowledge of the incident.”
At the heart of a tangled mystery, grieving friends and family
The vacuum of information has been torturously difficult for those closest to Woods. His disappearance has completely changed the lives of some and altered the course of others’. For all, it has been hard to accept.
“It doesn’t make sense,” said Cherlynn Andrew-Wilfred, who worked with Woods on The Voice. “In the 18 months I knew Terrence, we grew incredibly close. He was the little brother I never had. He confided in me. Terrence’s last contact with me was how he was looking forward to attending my wedding. Then he disappeared.”
Woods Sr was particularly raw in describing the absence of his child. “It eats me up every day. With death you get closure and you can heal, but with the unknown, you know nothing. All you can do is pray and have faith,” he explained over the phone from Maryland. He added that Woods’ room remains untouched from the day he took him to the airport to join the Gold Rush shoot. “The way he made his bed, the penny that’s on the floor that was in his room is still in the same place… I just sit in his room and sit on his bed and talk to him out loud.”
It’s an important reminder that, at the center of a tangled mystery linked to Discovery Channel’s highest-rated show of all time, are grieving parents desperately trying to find their son.