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Late clue turned tennis umpire into homicide suspect

By Richard Winton and Harriet Ryan, Los Angeles Times –

LOS ANGELES — Summoned to a couple’s San Fernando Valley condominium last spring, police officers heard a sad but familiar tale.

The wife, an active 70-year-old, said she had come home from a tennis match to find her husband of five decades dead in his bed. He was 80, diabetic and suffered from high blood pressure, she told them.

Officers consoled the woman and arranged for the body to be sent to a funeral home.

But three days later, on the eve of his cremation, a perfunctory check at the mortuary triggered a series of stunning revelations: The man had been beaten to death, the murder weapon was a coffee cup from the kitchen, and the prime suspect was his widow, authorities say.

New details about how authorities came to believe the death of Alan Goodman was a homicide emerged Thursday, two days after the arrest of his wife, Lois, a prominent tennis umpire who was taken into custody in New York as she prepared to officiate at the U.S. Open.

Police who were called to the couple’s home April 17 found a blood trail leading to his body and severe wounds on his head. But officers accepted a theory advanced by his wife that he had fallen down the stairs before crawling into his bed.

“Some of the evidence matched her story,” Lt. David Storacker said.

She told officers that she had been at Pierce College for six hours when she returned home and “observed a broken coffee mug on the floor which was covered in blood,” according to an affidavit signed by a Los Angeles police detective.

“She discovered her husband laying in bed. He was covered in blood and did not appear to be breathing,” Detective Jeffrey Briscoe wrote.

Two paramedics pronounced Alan Goodman dead and told their police counterparts about an “oddly shaped cut to the right side of the head,” Briscoe wrote. “Firefighters advised officers that scene appeared suspicious and left the body undisturbed.”

But after learning of the octogenarian’s various medical maladies and consulting with the coroner’s office, police determined there was no crime and allowed Lois Goodman to transfer his body to a mortuary without an autopsy. It was at Heritage Crematory on April 20 that a coroner’s investigator, sent to sign the death certificate, noted the multiple cuts on Alan Goodman’s head and ears.

The “deep penetrating blunt force trauma … was consistent with being impacted with a sharp object,” Briscoe wrote.

His observations launched a homicide investigation. An autopsy revealed shards of the coffee cup in the wounds. A search warrant executed April 21 turned up blood throughout the home “inconsistent with accidental death,” Briscoe wrote. Stains on carpets, the refrigerator door, inside a linen closet and on the wall leading to the garage suggested “a mobile victim” who, police theorized, would have called for help.

They also found that Lois Goodman, married to her husband for nearly 50 years, was communicating on the Internet with another man. One e-mail described by Briscoe included cryptic remarks about her “terminating a relationship” and having “alternative sleeping arrangements,” though exactly what she meant remains unclear.

In addition to blood samples and the e-mail correspondence, officers seized documents about a living trust and the broken ceramic mug.

In Lois Goodman’s initial conversations with police, she “went out of her way to account for her time on the day of the deceased death” and had reactions “not typical of a grieving spouse,” Briscoe wrote.

When detectives questioned her after determining her husband’s death was a homicide, she gave conflicting accounts of what she had seen in the home, at one point describing the scene as “violent” and suggesting his body might have been “positioned,” Briscoe wrote.

Investigators continued working the case for four months. They presented it to prosecutors last week and then tracked Lois Goodman to New York, where she was set to officiate at Flushing Meadows. She was wearing a U.S. Open track suit when police took her into custody in a Manhattan hotel. Now jailed on Rikers Island, she is expected to appear in an L.A. court early next week. Her public defender told a judge she is eager to fight the charges.

The murder allegations shocked neighbors, one of whom, Adaline Handler, described Alan Goodman as a “nice little man.”

The first sign of trouble came a few months ago when police arrived with search warrants. “Bad news travels fast in this complex,” Handler said. “The police cars were very obvious.”

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