Police investigating the 1985 execution-style murders of a Brentwood couple found explosives and weapons stored in a barbershop beneath the 52-story, twin-tower Arco Plaza on Thursday, forcing evacuation of a three-level underground shopping concourse and closing streets in the heart of downtown.
Detectives from the Los Angeles Police Department's robbery-homicide division were executing a search warrant at M'Lords Ltd. barbershop at about 11:30 a.m. when they found a cylindrical explosive device, four guns and an undetermined number of blasting caps, police spokesman Lt. Dan Cooke said.
Within minutes, an estimated 1,200 workers and shoppers were ushered from the square-block underground complex and the Police Department bomb squad was called in. No one was injured during the evacuation that some workers described as "extremely orderly." No arrests were made, and the explosives were removed by a pair of bomb units about two hours later.
Below North Tower
Detectives serving the search warrant at the barbershop in a section of the shopping concourse below the north tower would not say who directed them toward the shop.
"As part of the continuing investigation regarding the Gerald and Vera Woodman homicides . . . information led us to the barbershop here," said Detective Richard Crotsley. "We were searching for some shoes and had information there were some weapons here."
Crotsley said the two automatic weapons and two handguns found at the scene were "partially" what detectives had hoped to find. Detectives would not say whose shoes they were trying to locate and, in fact, none were discovered in the boxes of clothing that still stood on the floor of the barbershop hours later.
The weapons recovered were not used in the slaying of the Woodmans, Crotsley said. He would not comment, however, on the possibility that they may have been used in other crimes.
In the highly publicized September, 1985, murders, authorities contend that the Woodman's sons, Neil, 42, and Stewart, 36, ordered their parents killed to collect on a $500,000 insurance policy.
Killed in Garage
Gerald Woodman, 67, and his 66-year-old wife were gunned down in the underground garage of their Brentwood condominium after a post-Yom Kippur dinner. Prosecutors have alleged that the brothers arranged the killings to save a failing family plastics business and because they had "bitter animosity toward their parents."
The brothers were ordered to stand trial on murder and conspiracy charges last June. Three other men, accused hired killers Steven M. Homick, Robert T. Homick and Anthony J. Majoy, face similar charges. A sixth man, Michael Lee Dominguez, pleaded guilty last May to two counts of first-degree murder.
Crotsley said he did not believe Thursday's find would affect the case against the five, nor would he comment on whether it would lead to additional arrests.
Detectives said the explosives apparently were not set to go off.
The materials, said Police Capt. Rick Batson, were in a "relatively safe condition. We don't know that it ever was fused. But the fixings were there."
Shortly after the explosives were removed by bomb experts to what authorities called a "safe location," yellow police tapes crossing streets in the 5th and Flower area were taken down and the heavily traveled thoroughfares were reopened to traffic. Workers were streaming back into the offices by 2:30 p.m.
"I was downstairs deciding where to eat when they told us to leave the building," said Mitch Desser, a computer worker for City National Bank. "They told us to evacuate as quickly as possible, and we almost went into a run. But then cooler heads prevailed and we just got out."
'Lock Up and Go Outside'
Mel Katz, who owns the print shop next to the barbershop on the concourse's B-level, said he was told to "lock up and go outside" at about 12:15 p.m.
"I just saw a bunch of security guards go in there," he said, pointing to the brick-floored barbershop. "And I got out."
"It was very orderly," added dental worker Marcy Stephens, who also works on the B-level. "I mean we were in a dental office where we had patients and things. And we just got out. It went very well, very well."
The investigation of the explosives is being handled by the Police Department's criminal conspiracy section.
Staff writers Terry Pristin and Boris Yaro contributed to this story.