Montco de­tec­tive in spot­light as ‘Gos­nell’ opens

The Mercury (Pottstown, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Carl Hessler Jr. chessler@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @mont­co­court­news on Twit­ter

NORRISTOWN >> His real-life work as a de­tec­tive draw­ing at­ten­tion in a reel-life drama on movie screens this week­end has thrust the name of Mont­gomery County De­tec­tive James Wood into the na­tional spot­light.

“Know­ing it’s a once-in-a-life­time hap­pen­ing for me, it was just awe­some,” Wood said on Fri­day as the film, “Gos­nell: The Trial of Amer­ica’s Big­gest Se­rial Killer” opened in the­aters.

Wood, then a Philadel­phia de­tec­tive, was the lead in­ves­ti­ga­tor in the case brought against Ker­mit Bar­ron Gos­nell, an abor­tion doc­tor con­victed of mur­der­ing three in­fants dur­ing at­tempted abor­tions, in­vol­un­tary man­slaugh­ter in con­nec­tion with the death of one woman dur­ing a botched abor­tion pro­ce­dure and nu­mer­ous counts of per­form­ing il­le­gal late-term abor­tions.

The film chron­i­cles the 2011 ar­rest and 2013 trial of Gos­nell who is serv­ing life prison terms at the State Cor­rec­tional In­sti­tu­tion at Hunt­ing­don in Hunt­ing­don County.

“This will be some­thing that I will never for­get,” Wood, who at­tended a pre­view of the film in Malvern three weeks ago, said about the in­ves­ti­ga­tion. “It was the most heinous crime I in­ves­ti­gated.”

Wood, who re­tired in 2011 af­ter spend­ing more than 25 years in Philadel­phia as a pa­trol of­fi­cer and nar­cotics de­tec­tive, was then hired as a de­tec­tive by then Mont-

gomery County Dis­trict At­tor­ney Risa Vetri Fer­man. Wood re­ceived per­mis­sion from his county bosses to con­sult with the au­thors of a book about the Gos­nell in­ves­ti­ga­tion and later with the film’s pro­duc­ers.

“I was lucky to be able to talk about it, to get the right story out,” Wood said.

Wood is por­trayed in the film by ac­tor Dean Cain, best known as TV’s “Su­per­man” dur­ing the 1990s.

“Wow! Well, that was per­fect cast­ing, the dash­ing good looks,” Fer­man, now a county judge, quipped when Wood in­formed her about the film’s pre­miere on Fri­day.

“I’ll never hear the end of it from my co-work­ers,” Wood laughed, adding he’s taken a lot of “good-na­tured rib­bing” from his fel­low de­tec­tives and rel­a­tives re­gard­ing his com­par­i­son to Cain.

Wood met Cain when he vis­ited the movie set dur­ing film­ing in Ok­la­homa City.

“I was very happy with the cast­ing,” Wood smiled.

While the film fo­cuses on him as the lead in­ves­ti­ga­tor, a hum­ble Wood said the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, ar­rest and con­vic­tion of Gos­nell was a col­lab­o­ra­tive ef­fort of de­tec­tives, FBI agents and prose­cu­tors. Many of the char­ac­ters in the film are com­pos­ites of oth­ers who par­tic­i­pated in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“Many other peo­ple de­serve credit,” Wood said. “It was a col­lab­o­ra­tive ef­fort of the law en­force­ment com­mu­nity that is re­spon­si­ble for Gos­nell’s im­pris­on­ment.”

Wood was pleased by what he saw on the big screen.

“I was very pleased with the out­come. I think they did an out­stand­ing job. It’s dra­ma­tized but the facts are clear from start to fin­ish, ex­plain­ing how this hap­pened,” Wood said.

“There are a lot of scenes that are pretty right on,” re­called Wood, in­clud­ing one which de­picts Gos­nell non­cha­lantly feed­ing clams to tur­tles in his of­fice fish tanks as de­tec­tives served a war­rant at Gos­nell’s Philadel­phia clinic. “This is our first meet­ing with Dr. Gos­nell. It was our en­trance into “The Twi­light Zone” you might say.”

As de­picted in the film, the Gos­nell in­ves­ti­ga­tion be­gan in 2009 when de­tec­tives be­gan look­ing at Gos­nell’s link to a scheme in­volv­ing the il­le­gal dis­pens­ing of pre­scrip­tions, in­clud­ing for oxy­codone. De­tec­tives also learned from in­for­mants and wit­nesses about the sus­pi­cious death of a fe­male pa­tient and un­san­i­tary con­di­tions and un­trained staff at the clinic, Wood re­called.

“I had no idea this drug in­ves­ti­ga­tion would lead to such a hor­rific crime,” Wood re­called.

When Wood and other de­tec­tives de­scended upon Gos­nell’s Philadel­phia clinic on Feb. 18, 2010, with a search war­rant they made a grue­some dis­cov­ery – fe­tuses con­nected to il­le­gal late-term abor­tions that were stored in a freezer.

“It will stick with me the rest of my life. I’ve seen a lot of crazy things be­ing in law en­force­ment for 34 years but noth­ing like this be­fore,” Wood said.

“We ul­ti­mately saw fe­tuses in the freezer. My head was spin­ning from the time I en­tered that place be­cause the smell in­side that place was God aw­ful. It smelled like death,” Wood vividly re­called.

De­tec­tives also ob­served jars con­tain­ing the skele­tal re­mains of the feet of ba­bies.

“Now that I know that he was a se­rial killer, I be­lieve that they were his tro­phies,” Wood said.

Wood doesn’t view the film as a state­ment about abor­tion.

“It’s a true crime drama. It’s about mur­der,” Wood said.

Wood hopes peo­ple in the Philadel­phia re­gion sup­port the film.

“This story needed to be told so noth­ing like this hap­pens again,” Wood said. “I’m very proud of this case and work­ing with ev­ery­body re­spon­si­ble for putting him away.”

“Gos­nell: The Trial of Amer­ica’s Big­gest Se­rial Killer” is show­ing lo­cally at the AMC Ply­mouth Meet­ing Mall, the Re­gal Oaks Sta­dium 24 in Up­per Prov­i­dence, the Re­gal War­ring­ton Cross­ing Sta­dium 22, the AMC Clas­sic Gran­ite Run Mall 8 and the AMC Franklin Mills Mall 14.

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO

De­tec­tive James Woods is por­trayed in the film “Gos­nell” by ac­tor Dean Cain.

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO

De­tec­tive James Woods, whose char­ac­ter is played by ac­tor Dean Cain, served as a con­sul­tant to the writ­ing of the “Gos­nell” film and was on set dur­ing pro­duc­tion giv­ing notes for au­then­tic­ity. He also has a cameo in the film.

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