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‘Blood All Over’: NY Detectives Hunt Down Killer Who Slashed Aspiring Broadway Dancer’s Throat
A hidden bloody hand print helped lead investigators to the man who brutally murdered Catherine Woods, a woman who moved to New York City to pursue Broadway dreams.
Growing up in Ohio, Catherine Woods wanted to dance on Broadway, and she trained to make that a reality. In 2008, at age 17, she left home and chased her dream to New York City.
Three years later, as she was making progress in her career, tragedy struck. On November 27, 2005, Woods’ roommate, David Haughn, called 911 to report that there was “blood all over” their Upper East Side walk-up apartment and Woods was unresponsive.
“She was stabbed approximately 15 times and also had deep lacerations to her neck,” Steven Goetz, a retired NYPD detective with the 19th precinct in Manhattan, told “New York Homicide,” airing Saturdays at 9/8c on Oxygen.
There were signs of a struggle in the small apartment. The mattress in the bedroom was on the floor, obstructing EMS' last-ditch efforts to help Woods. The mattress was leaned against a wall to make space.
“You could tell a lot of force was used,” said Thomas Ryan, a retired first-grade detective with the 19th precinct in Manhattan. “A lot of rage and aggression was against her.”
Detectives interviewed Haughn, 23, who was also from Ohio and had a long history with the victim. Their relationship went from friendship to romance to roommates. An aspiring rapper working as a doorman, he, like Woods, was trying to make ends meet. They agreed, out of necessity and familiarity, to continue to live together, officials said.
Investigators canvassed Woods’ neighbors. Some told police that they’d heard a commotion — escalating fighting and shouting — coming from her apartment.
Haughn became the initial focus of the investigation. During a lengthy interview that stretched out for hours, he steadfastly maintained his innocence. When pressed about what he did during the time of Catherine's murder, Haugn presented detectives with his timeline. Haughn said he had left the apartment for about 20 minutes so he could pick up his car and drive Woods to the club where she was working.
He claimed he also stopped to see his co-workers for a few minutes and the nearby building where he worked as a doorman, said Boyce. He was with his buddies when the crime supposedly happened.
Investigators questioned the timeline of when he was out of the apartment. In addition, at the crime scene, they found a bloody shoe print size 10 and a half that matched Haughn’s shoe size.
After being grilled for 20 hours and denying any guilt, Haughn told investigators that Woods was seeing another man, Paul Cortez.
Could jealousy have led Haughn to kill? Or were detectives looking at the wrong man? Haughn agreed to be photographed to capture any injuries on his body and fingerprinted. He also had nail scrapings taken to help with the investigation.
Detectives then questioned Cortez, 24, an aspiring actor and yoga teacher. He and Woods had been dating for a year. Asked about his whereabouts the day of the murder, Cortez said he’d been out shopping at a couple of supermarkets during the day and spent the evening watching football with friends before going home.
Cortez also told police that he’d tried to call Woods several times during the day and grew concerned when he couldn’t reach her. He said that Woods, who worked in a club to make money, had expressed concern about having a possible stalker. The man’s name was Joe, claimed Cortez.
After having his body checked for injuries that may have resulted during the crime, Cortez was released.
Investigators pressed on, determined to catch Woods’ killer. They tracked down a man named Joe, a patron of the club where Woods worked. The two had gone out on one date, and he called her to wish her a happy Thanksgiving. There was no evidence to suggest he was a stalker and detectives moved on.
As Woods’ family grieved, her vicious murder became the centerpiece of New York news. City tabloids were reporting that she was the victim of a deadly love triangle.
The crime scene unit returned to Woods’ apartment searching for physical evidence that had been overlooked. When they moved the mattress that had been leaned against the wall, they found a bloody handprint that was key to cracking the case. Haughn’s fingerprints, which he’d consented to give earlier, did not match the print on the wall.
Detectives had a problem: They couldn't compare the print to Cortez's because he had been allowed to leave the initial interrogation without giving them.
“After he left the 19th precinct his family hired an attorney and then we weren’t able to obtain his fingerprints,” said Goetz.
Investigators’ failure to obtain Cortez’s fingerprints forced them to seek other avenues for evidence. They circled back to the friends who’d watched football with him the evening of the crime. One expressed that watching football was out of character for Cortez. Had he chosen to do so in order to have a convenient alibi?
Another hole in Cortez’s excuse arose when detectives spoke with his fellow bandmates. Cortez never showed for rehearsal, which was unusual for him.
Investigators obtained a warrant for Cortez’s cell phone records, which would help pinpoint his whereabouts on November 27. Cortez lived 30 blocks away from Woods. The calls that he’d made to her that day were pinging from a tower just a block away from the crime scene.
His calls ceased after 6 p.m., the suspected time of the murder. That was a bright red flag. But without Cortez’s fingerprints to compare to those found at the scene, the case stalled.
Police needed a break, and it came when a woman who’d read about the murder stepped forward to report that Cortez had sexually assaulted her a year earlier. Cortez was arrested.
“I walked into the room where Paul was being held,” said Michael Aherne, a retired NYPD detective with the 19th precinct in Manhattan. “Paul had a look on his face like the Grim Reaper just walked through the door. I looked at him and said, ‘I’m here to print you.’”
Cortez’s fingerprint matched the print on the wall of the crime scene.
Detectives bolstered their case with more evidence. Cortez’s shoes, size 10 and a half Skechers, matched shoe prints at the murder site.
On December 19, 2005, Paul Cortez was arrested for the murder of Catherine Woods. On February 15, 2007, he was found guilty of second-degree murder and killing Woods by “slashing her throat,” reported The New York Times.
Cortez was given a sentence of 25 years to life. His motive for murder remains a mystery, investigators said.
For more on this case, including the OSU dance scholarship established in Woods’ name, watch “New York Homicide,”airing Saturdays at 9/8c on Oxygen or stream episodes here.