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Friday, July 19, 2013

Murder LA 000028

by James Cohen

There was a brief period in 1985 when the police were seeking a ninja. Well, a gunman garbed like a ninja.

Vera and Gerald Woodman
Gerald and Vera Woodman, a couple in their 60's, attended a family Yom Kippur dinner the night of September 25th, 1985. When they returned to their condominium complex in Bel Air, they were met in the garage by an assassin and fatally shot. Another resident checked on the gunfire and saw a man fleeing, which he described minutes later to police as being dressed like a ninja.

There had actually been another incident involving two ninja in the area a year before, who threatened Penny Marshall during a home invasion robbery. Those two were quickly eliminated as suspects, however.

There were immediate accusations against the two immediate family members who were absent from the dinner that night: the Woodmans' eldest sons, Neil and Stewart.

Gerald had started a successful plastic-manufacturing company and made his sons partners. Eventually the two brothers forced their parents and younger brother out of the business, sparking a bitter conflict that included Gerald starting a second plastic operation which Stewart claimed was for the sole purpose of driving both companies to bankruptcy. By the time of the murders the family members were estranged, with Neil hiring security to make sure his parents did not attend their grandson's bar mitzvah.

Neil and Stewart Woodman
The ninja turned out to be former LAPD officer Steven Homick, who was simply in dark clothing with a jacket hood obscuring his head. According to the FBI, Homick and his brothers were running a "murder-for-hire syndicate" between 1984 and 1986. The Woodmans were only two of at least six victims and by the time of Stewart and Neil's separate trials years later Homick had already been sentenced to death in Nevada for other killings.

Stewart was the first to be convicted for the murders of his parents in 1990. He made a deal to avoid the death penalty and testified against the others standing trial, including his brother, Homick, and others working for Homick who served as lookouts. Stewart was given witness protection within prison for his testimony and is presumably still serving his life sentence, Neil was convicted in 1996 and the death penalty was not pursued.

Steven Homick
Only Steven Homick received a death sentence for the murders, following his conviction in 1991. He recently appealed, claiming that the state charges constitute double jeopardy because he has already been tried federally for the crimes, but the California Supreme Court ruled against him in December 2012. It's not clear when either California or Nevada may actually execute him.

An extensive and illustrated run-down of the case can be found at Or you can try to find a copy of the 1993 made-for-TV movie from Stewart's wife's limited point of view, Bloodlines: Murder in the Family.