11.21.09 6:52 PM ET
Murder or Miscarriage?
Police believe restaurant mogul Josh Woodward killed his unborn child with a dangerous powder. Woodward’s friend, Gerald Posner, investigates the case that has LA and Miami abuzz.
Editor's Note: In an earlier version of this article, three sentences were copied from a Miami Herald blog post without attribution. The Daily Beast regrets the error.
The 8 Oz. Burger Bar is a favorite among Miami Beach locals. Its co-owner, Josh Woodward, who has launched, with celebrity chef Govind Armstrong, branches of it, as well as the more upscale Table 8, across the country, is well-known in South Florida, and a Facebook friend of mine. I happened to have had dinner there on October 25. When I got home, a text message was waiting from Miami Herald gossip columnist Lesley Abravanel, asking if I heard that Woodward had been arrested in Los Angeles on suspicion of murder.
Woodward was suspected of placing an “unspecified powder in the vaginal area of his girlfriend.” The “girlfriend” in question was not his fiancée.
The mild-mannered, likable Woodward, heir to a sizable family fortune, was one of the last people I would have expected to run into any kind of trouble. He was engaged to Miami writer and girl-about-town Suzy Buckley, and with his grandfather’s enormous yacht and plush lifestyle, he had a rolodex full of A-list names on both coasts. But I quickly discovered that Abravanel’s note was only the beginning of a story that seemed to get stranger with each new development.
As the Miami Herald reported, the 37-year-old Woodward was "being held on at the Wilshire Division jail in lieu of a $2 million bail on suspicion of murder for the death of an unborn child believed to be his. Police say the arrest happened after an investigation on Monday revealed 'suspicious circumstances of a miscarriage' that was reported on October 19. The fetus was estimated to be in its 13th week."
An L.A. police spokesman told me the case was “unusual.” Woodward, he said, was suspected of placing an “unspecified powder in the vaginal area of his girlfriend." The “girlfriend” in question was not his fiancée.
When I logged on to the Los Angeles Police department’s Web site, I saw the official notice. “Woodward is believed to have ties to Miami and Chicago. Anyone with information regarding this case is asked to call Wilshire Area Homicide Detectives.” To those of us who knew him, it was jaw-dropping that Woodward was being talked about as a common criminal.
Under California law, criminal suspects must be freed from jail if they are not formally charged within 48 hours. The detectives had planned to present a case to the prosecutors within that time, but it needed more investigation. Was he the father of the fetus? Was it 13 weeks old—that’s critical under California penal code as California's Supreme Court says a crime is considered fetal homicide at eight to 10 weeks gestation? Was he aware that any powder he used might be fatal to the fetus?
So instead of being charged, Woodward was freed two days after his arrest.
This week, the case took another bizarre turn. TMZ obtained an affidavit in which the pregnant woman says that Woodward repeatedly put his fingers into a plastic bag and then touched her vagina. She lost the fetus a few hours later. Then, she says, when she spotted a powder in her underwear, she called police. Police identified the powder as Misoprostol, used by medical professionals for the prevention of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug-induced gastric ulcers. It is also used to induce labor, but usually only in cases in which the mother is very late in delivering, at least 38 weeks into her pregnancy.
Turns out that after the woman reported the miscarriage, and the police identified the powder, they set up a sting operation. She invited Woodward to her house and told him that she was still pregnant. When he arrived, the police approached him outside her apartment. According to the affidavit, Woodward pulled out "a small piece of clear plastic with a white powdery substance" from his pocket and dropped it on the ground. The police arrested him and retrieved the powder.
“This is a very complicated case... that will require expert witnesses,'' said LAPD Deputy Chief Charlie Beck at a press conference. "It is a case that will require extensive scientific analysis of the substance."
The case has been transferred from the homicide division to the juvenile section. “Don’t read anything into that,” one detective told me, “it’s just because a fetus is involved, that’s the department to handle that type of case.” Lt. Vince Neglia of the juvenile division had no on the record comment. “We’re at the same stage we were a few weeks ago regarding the matter of the aborted fetus,” he told me.
Prosecutors are still studying the facts and haven’t decided how to proceed, although off the record prosecutors seem to be loath to bring murder charges unless the fetus is in the final trimester. The determining question might be whether the fetus could have survived alone, and at 13 weeks, that isn’t possible (20 weeks apparently is the youngest a baby has been born and survived). Still, Los Angeles police are working to gather more evidence. They are trying to find how Woodward obtained the Misoprostol, which requires a prescription. Some right-to-life activists are already buzzing that the Woodward case will be key in their effort to establish that all fetuses should be protected from harm by a murder charge.
I’d like to ask Woodward. But he’s in seclusion. He has kept a low profile since his arrest and has not given interviews (although one friend told me that the facts would eventually disclose that Woodward had been the target of a “gold digger” but offered no substantiation). What is certain is that he was cheating on his fiancée (that relationship is over) and that he’s closed his Facebook page. With the problems Woodward’s facing, I don’t expect it up and running any time soon.
Gerald Posner is The Daily Beast's chief investigative reporter. He's the award-winning author of 10 investigative nonfiction bestsellers, ranging from political assassinations, to Nazi war criminals, to 9/11, to terrorism. His latest book, Miami Babylon: Crime, Wealth and Power—A Dispatch from the Beach, was published in October. He lives in Miami Beach with his wife, the author Trisha Posner.