Katherine Woods murder was a big shock for New York City. Many people paid attention to the case.
The case serves as a haunting reminder of the devastating consequences of jealousy and the unpredictable nature of human actions.
As the family and friends of Katherine Woods continue to mourn her loss, the memory of her life and the quest for justice live on.
For further details about this case, including information on the OSU dance scholarship established in Woods’ name, watch “New York Homicide,” airing Saturdays at 9/8c on Oxygen or stream episodes on the Oxygen app.
The case of Katherine Woods murder
At 17, Catherine Woods bravely left her Ohio home to travel to New York City to pursue her ambition of performing on Broadway.
She started this incredible journey in 2008 with a heart full of hope and determination. On November 27, 2005, Catherine’s roommate, David Haughn, dialed 911 in distress.
Over the phone, he shared the horrifying and devastating sight he had encountered in their Upper East Side apartment, a scene tainted with blood and Catherine’s lifeless body.
A gruesome discovery
Upon arriving at the crime scene, authorities found a chilling scene of violence.
As retired NYPD detective Steven Goetz revealed, Catherine Woods had been stabbed approximately 15 times, and her neck bore deep lacerations.
Signs of a struggle were evident in the small apartment, with the mattress in the bedroom positioned on the floor, obstructing the efforts of emergency medical services.
Retired first-grade detective Thomas Ryan described the force used in the attack as an indication of intense rage and aggression directed towards Catherine.
The roommate’s history
David Haughn, a 23-year-old aspiring rapper, and doorman, had a lengthy history with Katherine Woods.
Their relationship had evolved from friendship to romance and eventually to being roommates.
Both struggling to make ends meet, they continued living together out of necessity and familiarity.
Investigators immediately interviewed Haughn, who staunchly denied any involvement in the murder.
However, suspicions were raised when a bloody shoe print matching Haughn’s size ten and a half-shoes was discovered at the crime scene.
The initial focus of the investigators
Due to his connection with Katherine and the presence of the bloody shoe print, David Haughn became the primary focus of the investigation.
During an extensive interview that spanned several hours, Haughn maintained his innocence, providing detectives with a timeline of his activities during Catherine’s murder.
He claimed to have left the apartment for approximately 20 minutes to pick up his car and drive Catherine to the club where she worked.
Haughn added that he stopped to see his co-workers and briefly visited the building where he worked as a doorman.
However, investigators raised doubts about the accuracy of his timeline. Furthermore, Haughn disclosed that Catherine was seeing another man, Paul Cortez.
The involvement of Paul Cortez
Paul Cortez, a 24-year-old yoga instructor and aspiring actor, dated Katherine Woods for a year.
When asked where he had been on the day of the murder, Cortez replied that he had gone grocery shopping all day at several stores and then watched football with friends in the evening before going home.
Cortez expressed concern about being unable to reach Catherine, citing her worries about a possible stalker named Joe.
Detectives pursued leads related to Joe but found no evidence linking him to the murder.
The search for evidence
An ambitious actor and yoga instructor named Paul Cortez, 24, dated Katherine Woods for a year.
When questioned about his whereabouts on the day of Katherine Woods murder, Cortez stated that he had spent the entire day food shopping at several places, followed by an evening of watching football with friends before returning home.
Surprisingly, the handprint did not match David Haughn’s fingerprints, which he had willingly provided earlier.
However, the investigators faced a setback when they realized they could not compare the handprint to Paul Cortez’s fingerprints.
After leaving the initial interrogation, Cortez and his family hired an attorney, preventing the retrieval of his fingerprints.
Alternative avenues for evidence
With the inability to obtain Cortez’s fingerprints, investigators explored alternative methods to strengthen their case.
They revisited the friends with whom Cortez had watched football on the night of the murder.
One friend noted that it was out of character for Cortez to engage in such activities, potentially indicating an attempt to create an alibi.
Further doubts arose when Cortez’s bandmates revealed that he had failed to attend rehearsal, something unusual for him.
In a pivotal move, investigators obtained a warrant for Cortez’s cell phone records, hoping to pinpoint his whereabouts on November 27.
The records showed that Cortez lived just 30 blocks from the crime scene, and his calls to Catherine that day were traced back to a tower near the apartment.
Alarmingly, his calls ceased after 6 p.m., coinciding with the estimated time of the murder. However, without Cortez’s fingerprints, the case reached a standstill.
A Break in the Katherine Woods murder case
A crucial breakthrough came when a woman, having read about the Katherine Woods murder, bravely came forward and reported that Paul Cortez had sexually assaulted her a year before Katherine’s murder.
This new development led to Cortez’s arrest, allowing investigators to obtain his fingerprints.
As retired NYPD detective Michael Aherne recounts, the moment he entered the room where Cortez was held, the accused wore a look of sheer terror.
Cortez’s fingerprint matched the print found on the apartment wall, and detectives further strengthened their case by confirming that his size ten and a half Skechers shoes matched the shoe prints at the crime scene.
The conviction and sentencing
Paul Cortez was taken into custody on December 19, 2005, and charged with killing Katherine Woods.
He was ultimately found guilty of second-degree murder on February 15, 2007, charged explicitly with “slashing her throat,” according to The New York Times.
Cortez received a 25-year to life sentence from the court. Despite the conviction, authorities can still not determine why the victim was killed.