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Detective C.T. Woody made a name for himself investigating some of Richmond's grisliest murders. Now he's passing along his skills and cleaning up the city, one corner at a time.

Urban Legend

Early one weekday morning, Richmond Police Detective Clarence T. Woody Jr. is sweeping a North Side neighborhood in his black, unmarked cruiser. Up and down tree-lined streets he rolls slowly, glancing at elderly folks toting groceries and boys on bikes most likely drug dealers. Making a sharp turn, he notices a bus stop corner crowded with people who are most likely not waiting for a bus. They notice him, too, because, by the time he circles the block, most of them have dispersed. A woman in a tight dress ducks into the corner store, and the men amble down the street. Three or four remain on the corner, and Woody boldly pulls right up and parks in front of them.

Across the street a junkie leans on a long stick, nodding out while standing up. "Look at him," Woody says. "He's high as a Georgia pie."

Woody pretends to talk on his radio for a minute, making sure the guys on the corner see him, then steps out of the car with walkie-talkie in hand and pops open the trunk, grabbing a video camera. As he joins the crowd on the sidewalk, they can't shuffle off fast enough, like he's wearing skunk-scented cologne.

"What you doin' Woody?" a man on a bike says as he wheels away. "Nothin' man, just seeing what's going on in the neighborhood," says Woody, scanning the street with his video camera that might as well be an Uzi. The last thing anybody around here wants is to appear on a Police Department home movie. Another guy, sitting on a wall "reading" a worn-out newspaper full of old news, quickly heads down the block. The junkie across the street has vanished.

Within three minutes, the only person left on the corner is a woman waiting for a bus. As Woody packs up his video camera, she thanks him for stopping. Chalk up another corner cleanup for Woody.

In January of 1997, Clarence "C.T." Woody was at the top of his game. Legendary for his ability to crack a homicide case or drug ring, his name was known by every criminal and every crime-fearing citizen from the West End to Blackwell. He'd been shot, and he'd had contracts out on his life. His track record read like a who's who of bad guys from Linwood Briley to the Newtowne Gang. But there were cases, still unsolved, that had brought him to tears. Prosecutors wondered how he kept it up, haunting bloody crime scenes and turning up tips and leads for nearly 30 years.

Then he got a call from Police Chief Jerry Oliver, and everything changed.

Three years later, Woody, 55, is the officer in charge of the Richmond Police Department's Community Intelligence Team (CIT), a posse of seven police officers dedicated to infiltrating neighborhoods, helping law-abiding citizens achieve some peace of mind and putting the heat on undesirable elements. It's a new gig for Woody, but it's a switch that just may have saved his life.

The kind of work Woody was doing as a homicide detective, says Oliver, "can wear a person out. They not only burn out, but they give out."

That's why, early in 1997, Chief Oliver made his move. Woody remembers the conversation. "He called me into his office and said, 'C.T., I've heard about you, Mr. Homicide and all that, and the time has come for you to leave homicide." Woody says he was shocked.

"I could see it on his face," Oliver confirms. "I told him, 'I'm gonna challenge you to do some other things, to be a trainer and a leader, more than a detective. I let him have free run of the department to pick his team. I think he would probably say it was the best thing that ever happened to him. The misery and the cruelty he saw inflicted on other people takes a toll. I like to think I made a great call."

The idea took some getting used to for Woody. But Woody now concedes that Oliver may have saved his life. While in homicide Woody says he survived by staying focused on the perpetrator and leaving the gory details at the scene. But a colleague and good friend had to retire not long ago because the stress proved overwhelming. "The victim part got to him."

"I met a whole lot of people, and I wouldn't trade it for nothing," Woody says of his career. "But Oliver's extremely smart. He's always thinking ahead."

C.T. Woody was born in Hanover County where he has lived for most of his life. "Yes, I'm a country boy," he says. One of six children of Gladys and Clarence T. Woody, Clarence Jr. was an athlete whose dream was to be a star baseball catcher. After graduating from John B. Gandy High School, he went to Kittrell Junior College in Henderson, N.C., before being drafted into the service. He trained in Florence, S.C., then did a brief stint in Vietnam. His brother was there, too, and the Army had a policy that kept siblings from serving in the same war zone. He was sent to Fairbanks, Alaska for 18 months, and there he lived through two earthquakes and played war games near the frigid Russian border. "I got out of there and back to Seattle and kissed the green grass."

(Stephen Salpukas / Style Weekly)
C.T. Woody
Back in Richmond, Woody attended college here and there, but did not earn a degree. He hopes to finish his law enforcement degree at Virginia Union University by next year. After working some odd jobs, he joined the Richmond Police Department in 1968.

"Growing up, we didn't like police. We called 'em 'the law' and got out of their way." He hadn't had any scrapes with cops, except for a speeding ticket or two, but he hadn't ever considered becoming one either until he saw an ad in the paper. "I told my mother I was going to be a policeman, and she said, 'You're going to be a what?'"

"I knew he'd be a good person to do with people because he's a feeling-hearted person," Gladys Woody says. She remembers thinking he might become a preacher because of his caring approach to people.

Nearly 33 years later, Woody is still a cop, one who has served under three administrations. He was one of the first black patrolmen hired by Chief Frank Duling, and he says Duling was "a man of his word, a disciplinarian." He says Duling's successor, Marty Tapscott, "took community policing to another level, but he let department heads take advantage of him."

Woody has gone from driving a patrol wagon in his early days, when the worst of it was shoplifting and numbers games, to working in narcotics, then homicide. He saw the influx of heroin in the early '70s - "junkies were not violent then" - and cocaine, "the business-man's drug," later that decade. Crack crept in in the '80s - "that's when crime shot right on up" - and the '90s brought in what Woody calls "a new breed of criminal. They don't mind dying. Life is an hour at a time. They got the jewelry and the money, and that's all they care about." This new animal threatens to borrow a buddy's car and "do a D.B." (drive-by shooting) on anyone who gets in the way. "It's a terrible world," he says. "There's stuff going on 24-7."

The crime du jour? Stealing cars to use as vehicles for committing crimes. "They don't drive anything that belongs to them." Woody says kids sign up for auto mechanic courses at the Richmond Technical Center and learn just enough about cars to steal them. Then they head out with drawings of mechanical systems in hand, drawings that get passed along to future car thieves.

Throughout his various cop incarnations, Woody has cultivated legendary respect from homeboys on the corner, prosecutors in the courtroom and even bad guys he's put behind bars. Young detectives working with him speak of him with awe. "C.T. showed me things about homicide investigation that can't be read in textbooks," says Detective David Burt, who worked with Woody for the first three years of his career in homicide. With a 6-foot-2-inch, 235-pound frame and a reputation known far and wide, C.T. Woody is larger than life.

Woody's first beat as a patrolman was Church Hill. There, he began the foundation for what has become the key to his extraordinary success: "I got to know people over there." He also did things a little differently and, by doing so, he earned trust. "If I had a warrant for somebody, and I knew he had a family and all, I'd call him up on the phone and tell him I had a warrant for him but I wasn't going to come to his house and serve it if he'd come downtown and turn himself in. They thought it was a joke, that I had some other warrants on them or something. But soon they trusted me. And that's when my name started traveling out."

Those early years when Woody was making a name for himself were tough on his young family. Much of the time he was working undercover out of town. "I really concentrated on my job the whole time," he says. Two divorces later, he understands the damage it did. Woody's four children, by his first wife, now range in age from 21 to 30. While he says he went to as many sports events as he could and was there on opening day of school to meet the teachers, he's aware that his children worried about their dad. Though his children didn't know that criminals occasionally had death contracts on their dad, one daughter became so obsessed with worry that he finally took her to watch him testify in court to show her he was OK. "She was the nervous one," he says.

Woody's third wife, Clara, may have gotten him at his most low-key. "She has shown me that there's life outside of all this. She's the best thing that ever happened to me. God moves in mysterious circles." Clara knew C.T. because they both worked for the city; she is executive director of the Richmond Retirement System. But they never really talked until the day in 1995 that they looked across a room in the John Marshall Courts Building at each other and noticed they were both wearing suits of the same shade of burgundy. The coincidence led to conversation. They were married exactly one year later.

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