NEW YORK -- A single bullet. A nickel-plated gun. Two suspects, lying in wait in the light drizzle of a Monday afternoon in Midtown, stalking their victim for nearly 20 minutes.
The target soon came down the street, his eyes focused on a smartphone in that familiar modern pose. He appeared for a second to glimpse his hooded assailant, the police said, but, not recognizing him, turned around again.
The hooded gunman then fired a bullet into the back of the victim's head and, without apparent urgency or panic, stepped into a waiting car to blend into the midday traffic near Columbus Circle.
It seemed like a movie-script murder out of Hollywood, a mysterious targeted killing of a law school student visiting from Los Angeles that left detectives on two coasts scouring for evidence and a logical motive. On Tuesday, a better picture of the victim, Brandon Lincoln Woodard, began to emerge along with details about his final hours, deepening the intrigue over his murder.
The gun had been used before, in a 2009 shooting episode in Queens. Woodard had flown to New York only on Sunday, with plans to return to the West Coast the next day.
"He had a law school exam," said Christiane Roussell, a lawyer in Los Angeles who grew up with Woodard in Ladera Heights. The police said he had no return ticket.
Woodard, 31, was the scion of a successful family in California. His life had been a blend of achievement and puzzling setbacks
His relatives were entrepreneurs, lawyers and trailblazers; his grandfather, Leonard Woods, was a drag racer. Woodard's mother, Sandra K. McBeth, ran a once-successful mortgage business, and sent Woodard to private Episcopal schools in North Hollywood.
This summer, California authorities revoked her company's license to lend or service mortgages, citing violations of the state financial code.
He was a promising student who played varsity basketball in high school at Campbell Hall, and always dressed impeccably, his relatives and friends said. At the time, Woodard was in the local chapter of Jack & Jill of America -- a national, invitation-only society of middle- and upper-class black families. Those years, friends said, children from the club could be found poolside at parties at his family's home.
That background, as well as his gregarious nature, made him a fixture on the party and club scene in Los Angeles, his friends said. He drove a Range Rover in college at Loyola Marymount University, but, as one friend said, "his personality was his bling."
As a partyer and promoter, Woodard made himself a part of a world of expensive alcohol and private tables where, friends said, people with elite pedigrees rubbed elbows with stars and professional athletes -- as well as with a rougher crowd.
Several friends in Los Angeles said that in recent years he had been sliding into the darker side of club life.
"I know him as a good person," said Dennis Christopher White, 32, a friend of Woodard's for about 10 years, who met him playing basketball in Los Angeles. "He's like a brother or a cousin to me. He's very humble."
But as White married and pursued a career in government work, he saw less of Woodard, who continued his busy presence in the city's night-life scene.
"You never know who he meets," White said. "I didn't get a chance to know that part of him."
Woodard's mother, McBeth, 56, said she believed that all of his arrests came when he was a juvenile, but court records clearly indicated that he had more recent arrests and misdemeanor convictions.
In 2009, for example, Woodard was arrested on robbery charges in the Los Angeles suburb of Hermosa Beach after he struggled with a guard who tried to stop him from stealing several bottles of wine from a supermarket. The police said he fled in a car, hit two other cars, abandoned his car, hailed a cab and fled.
He had a court date in Los Angeles in January on a charge of cocaine possession.
Woodard had hosted several dozen guests at a party at his condo in Playa Vista on Saturday night to watch the boxing match between Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez. His last message on Facebook, posted from Los Angeles at 12:41 a.m. on Sunday after Marquez's surprising early-round knockout of Pacquiao: "The fix was in tonight."
He flew to New York and got a room at 6 Columbus, a hotel just blocks from the spot where he was killed. A friend in New York, who gave his name only as Earl, said Woodard had a girlfriend in the city, but added that his activities were often mysterious: ''He lived a little Batman-ish -- a little secretive."
Woodard had three telephones, two on him at the time of the shooting and another in his luggage, Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said. He said the police had not identified the plate number on the getaway vehicle, but said a similar looking sedan had been seen leaving Manhattan via the Queens-Midtown Tunnel at 2:15, roughly 20 minutes after the killing.
The gunshot left a single shell on the Midtown pavement.
Woodard's mother said that her son had planned to stay in New York City for two days to visit a friend. He asked her to pick him up at the Los Angeles International Airport at 5 p.m. Monday and she agreed to do so, she said.
"I don't know what happened," she said, speaking from her home in Los Angeles. "We don't know why anyone would harm him. We have no idea. He didn't have any enemies. Not one. He liked to tell jokes. He liked to have his friends over to entertain."
Woodard had checked out of his hotel about 45 minutes before he was killed, Kelly said in a news conference on Tuesday. It was possible, he added, that Woodard was lured out of the hotel.
A surveillance video captured the shooting and the getaway vehicle, a Lincoln MKX, but not its license plate.
"It was very brazen," Kelly said. "There were a lot of people in that general area. Obviously, a lot of cameras in New York City. So you could characterize it as either being brazen or being foolhardy. We'll see."
The police later matched the gun used to kill Woodard to a shooting on Nov. 22, 2009, at a residence in Queens, in which two men fired at least 12 shots, piercing windows and the siding of the house. There were seven people inside, but no one was injured, and there were no arrests, the police said.
There was no known motive for that shooting, just as in this case.
A cousin of Woodard's, Anthony Woodard, 50, said Brandon's mother had not been able to accept the fact that her son was dead.
"The only thing she keeps saying is, 'When is he coming home? When is my son coming home?' and we have to tell her, 'That's not going to happen.' She does not want to sleep until her son comes home."
He added, "This is far beyond anyone's imagination. That's her only child."