Los Angeles homicide detectives hunted Thursday for a motive and two suspects dressed in black martial arts-style clothing in the slaying of a Brentwood couple gunned down in their Mercedes-Benz late Wednesday as they returned home from a post-Yom Kippur supper with family.
While police were baffled as to why Gerald Abraham Woodman, 67, and his wife, Vera, 63, were slain in a hail of bullets, Lt. Ed Henderson of the Los Angeles police said it was possible that the gunmen had waited in an underground garage to ambush the Woodmans as they returned to their luxury condominium complex at 11939 Gorham Ave., a block from the Brentwood Country Club.
There was no evidence of robbery, “but we don’t know what was in the car,” Henderson said.
Detectives on Thursday showed witnesses pictures of karate garb--black cloaks, black pants and black slippers--used by “Ninja” warriors, Japanese martial arts experts trained to kill. “We’re asking people if this is what they’ve seen, " Henderson said. “We don’t have any thorough descriptions.”
Shortly after several shots were fired about 10:30 p.m. Wednesday, two men wearing what was described as black karate garb were seen fleeing the complex through an alley. One neighbor briefly chased the two men.
The gunmen apparently entered the gated garage by breaking through a side entrance. Neighbors said they heard four to seven shots.
Residents described their affluent neighborhood as safe, an area where people jog and walk dogs late into the evening, lending a sense of security that prompted them to dismiss robbery as a motive and to search for other reasons behind the double killing.
Marilyn Bihari, a neighbor, said: “I heard three shots altogether, then there was a beat, and another shot. It was clearly from a big-caliber gun. It made a very loud noise. It was just very clear that whoever did this wanted to make sure they did it right. You wouldn’t go out and do it this way unless you really meant business.”
Another neighbor, James Kaplan, said he was the third person to arrive at the scene of the shootings. When he arrived, Gerald Woodman was outside the driver’s seat of his beige Mercedes 450 SL, and Vera Woodman was lying outside the passenger’s seat.
“I heard five rounds when I was sitting in my room,” he said. “Robbery just doesn’t make sense in this case. As far as we know, nothing was taken and there was no screaming.”
Vera Woodman died at the scene. Gerald Woodman died a short time later at the UCLA Medical Center.
Woodman, the retired owner of a plastics manufacturing firm in the San Fernando Valley, was described as “jocular” and “charming.” Friends said the Woodmans, both natives of England, had many family ties in the Los Angeles area, but much information about the family remained sketchy.
The Woodmans were members of the Mogen David Congregation at 9717 W. Pico Blvd. Rabbi Abram Maron said the Woodmans are a very close-knit family, with four or five children.
“All the kids, after they were married, had homes in the same block; that’s how close they were,” Maron said. Vera Woodman has three sisters living in the Los Angeles area, Maron said.
Gerald Woodman would walk his Yorkshire terrier, “Tiger,” in the neighborhood.
“He just loved that little dog,” Jamie Monson said. “Every time he’d see me with my baby, he would make the same little joke, ‘Don’t you wish your baby is as cute as my Yorkie?’ ”
The Woodmans, who were retired, had moved into the 27-unit complex in February. The Woodmans were renting their residence for $1,550 a month, the manager said.
According to records of the state Department of Motor Vehicles, they had previously listed an address at an apartment on Roscomare Road and before that, had lived in a $1-million home in the 2700 block of Casiano Road in Casiano Estates near Bel-Air.
A former neighbor on Casiano Road, Cheryl Cureton, said the family was very religious.
Two of the Woodmans’ sons also went into the plastics business and started Manchester Products in the San Fernando Valley, which makes synthetic resin and ceiling light covers.
Neighbors in the Woodmans’ complex in Brentwood said that a series of car burglaries had prompted them to install a security gate. As part of the increased security, the parking garage also was equipped with a security video camera that had the murder scene within its scope.
But it was a dummy camera designed to deter--not detect.
Times staff writers Thomas Omestad and Boris Yaro contributed to this report.