Montco detective in spotlight as ‘Gosnell’ opens
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.
Detective James Woods is portrayed in the film “Gosnell” by actor Dean Cain.
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.