Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Ninja Murder Case

A Ninja Assassin

Before O.J. Simpson was accused of murdering his ex-wife and her friend in "The Trial of the Century" and before Lyle and Erik Menendez killed their parents in a hail of gunfire, the West Los Angeles area was home to the Yom Kippur ninja murder case.

Like its notorious counterparts that followed a decade later, the ninja case involved the upper echelon of society, a family tree with some unpleasant secrets and enough sensationalism to keep the media busy for months to come.

It happened on Sept. 25, 1985 — Yom Kippur, of all days, Judaism's most solemn holy day of fast and atonement; worshippers customarily break their fast and come together for a celebratory meal at nightfall. Retired couple Gerald and Vera Woodman had attended a family dinner that night at the house of Vera's sister, and they were returning home. As he had done so many times before, Gerald used his code to open the security gate to the basement parking garage of his luxury Brentwood condominium. It was 10:30 p.m.

Garage entrance
Garage entrance

He eased his beige Mercedes-Benz 450 SL into his regular parking space, shut off the engine and opened the door. Suddenly someone appeared behind the car and fired one shot into Gerald's head, immediately behind his left ear. In terror, Vera opened the car door to flee, but the gunman shot her too, three times in the upper body.

Autopsy report showing Gerald's wounds
Autopsy report showing Gerald's wounds

The killer used a .357 Magnum, which thundered like a cannon throughout the enclosed garage.

"It had to have sounded like World War III when that went off in the subterranean garage," said retired Los Angeles police Detective Jack Holder, who was on duty that night and arrived at the scene shortly after the shooting.

One of the upstairs neighbors happened to be outside and was looking out his balcony when the shooting occurred. He reported to police that he saw a man dressed in a black hooded, ninja-style costume run out of the garage, jump over the hedge surrounding the property and escape into an alley behind the property.

Hedge near the house
Hedge near the house

The witness ran to the garage to see what had happened. He saw Gerald slumped over the steering wheel and Vera sprawled half out of the car. She had died instantly; Gerald clung to life by a thread.


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