"Brazen" Doesn't Even Begin to Describe the Brandon Woodard Shooting

Crime
A blog about murder, theft, and other wickedness.
Dec. 12 2012 4:54 PM

"Brazen" Doesn't Even Begin to Describe the Brandon Woodard Shooting

Brandon Woodard
Brandon Woodard (R) and his as-yet-unidentified killer.

New York Police Department

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On Monday afternoon, 31-year-old Brandon Woodard checked out of his room at a midtown Manhattan hotel, ambled down 58th Street, and was promptly shot in the head. Surveillance tapes reveal the gunman had been waiting for Woodard, and shot him intentionally; afterwards, the assailant hopped into a waiting car and fled the scene. This raises a lot of questions: Was Woodard lured out of his hotel room to his death? Why was he shot in the first place? And why would an assassin ever strike in broad daylight?

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“Reckless” barely begins to describe this shooting—it would’ve been only slightly more brazen if the killer would’ve announced his name and address over a bullhorn after taking the shot. Woodard was shot at 58th and 7th, and the NYPD suspects he was enticed there by design, as if the killers thought that was the perfect spot to murder someone.

It isn’t. 58th and 7th is right in the heart of midtown Manhattan, in an area crawling with pedestrians, tour buses, surveillance cameras, food bloggers, and other smartphone-equipped witnesses. There are few worse places to attempt a close-range execution. The spots I can think of off-hand: in the middle of Times Square, waiting in line to board Space Mountain, and at mid-field during the Super Bowl coin toss.

The gunman donned a hood before he shot Woodard, but otherwise did little to conceal his face, which is more-or-less visible in the surveillance video recorded at the scene. The getaway car headed south and then east, across Manhattan, a route that is almost guaranteed to be snarled with traffic. Perhaps I’m not thinking this through and there’s some hidden, genius insight that makes this crime a lot smarter than it first appears. But I really, really, really don’t think so. (If I’m missing something, let me know in the comments.)

And yet, the killer is still at large. Nobody tackled the gunman, or chased after his car, or beamed the license plate number to a cop’s smartphone. Instead, the getaway car just eased into traffic and headed toward the Midtown Tunnel, where the driver was later spotted paying a cash toll and disappearing into Queens.

The Woodard hit almost feels like an homage to the glory days of New York criminality—a time when, as I understand it, you couldn’t go three blocks without seeing a booby-trapped car explode in some poor sap’s face. In mid-20th century New York, people got assassinated in public all the time. In 1957, the mobster Albert Anastasia was shot and killed in a barber shop on 56th and 7th. In 1971, Mafia boss Joseph Colombo was shot in Columbus Circle during an Italian Unity Day rally. (He lingered as an invalid before finally dying in 1978.) In 1972, Joey Gallo was shot to death at Umberto’s in Little Italy, after a night on the town with Jerry Orbach. (Yes, that Jerry Orbach.)

Presumably there were other ways to get to these men—and to Woodard. The most obvious reason why people are killed in public is that someone or other—like, say, a vengeful Mafioso—wants to send the victim’s associates a very strong message. It’s not yet clear what sort of message the killers were trying to send to Woodard or his allies. But it’s probably safe to say the message has been received.

But the broad-daylight hit also sent a message to police. That message is, essentially, “Catch us if you can, suckers.” That’s a bad message to send to an enormous, technologically sophisticated police force, especially if your crime produced enough evidence to make it relatively easy to catch you. (The NYPD has already located the getaway car.) Cops don’t like being taunted, and shooting someone in the head in the middle of the day a block from where tourists rent horse-drawn carriages is a pretty good way to raise their ire. Even though they got away at the time, it’s only a matter of time before these guys get caught.

Justin Peters is a writer for Slate. He is working on a book about Aaron Swartz, copyright, and the rise of “free culture.” Email him at justintrevett@fastmail.fm.