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Dead Stripper was in Love Triangle

NY- The young stripper from Ohio slain in her upper East Side apartment may have been trapped in a deadly love triangle with her longtime boyfriend – and her dance partner at a local gym – sources said yesterday.

Meanwhile, it was revealed that someone on a cell phone called 21-year-old aspiring Broadway star Catherine Woods seven times in rapid succession minutes before her throat was cut Sunday, the sources said.

Woods was living with doorman David Haughn, a 23-year-old wanna-be rapper she began dating when they lived in Columbus – and to whom, his sister said, she was engaged.

But she was also dating an aspiring entertainer named Paul Cortez, 25, who literally swept Woods off her feet at a fitness center in her neighborhood.

“We’re not ruling it out,” a source said of the possible love triangle scenario. “It could just be a matter of which one was jealous.”

It wasn’t immediately clear who made the rapid-fire phone calls to Woods.

Cops arrived at the blood-soaked scene after a 911 call from Haughn, who said he had left the flat to get his car to drive her to a stripping gig.

Both Haughn and Cortez, of Spanish Harlem, were released by cops yesterday after being questioned at length. Neither has been charged with a crime. “Paul is a good kid with a lot of heart and soul,” said Cortez’s father, Manuel, who lives in Minnesota. “I just spoke to him over Thanksgiving. He sounded chipper and he wasn’t depressed.”

Cortez’s stepfather in the Bronx, Ducal Drake, said, “We’re in shock because it’s our son.” “This lady came over two years ago,” Drake said of Woods. “He was her boyfriend for a week.” In Columbus, Haughn’s sister Brittany, 19, revealed that her brother and Woods got engaged last Valentine’s Day.

“He took her up to the roof of their previous apartment, put a blanket down and spread rose petals out for her,” she said. “He had his keyboard and he played music for her under the stars all night. He said it was wonderful.”

Haughn’s stepmother said he and Woods had recently “broken up, but they were still kind of together.”

“She went to New York for her career, and he went for his career,” Janet Haughn, 49, said. “I know in my heart he didn’t do it. There’s no way.”

Woods began dancing at age 3 and inherited her musical talent from her father, who directs the marching band at Ohio State University. Drawn by the bright lights of Broadway, she moved to New York after graduating from high school.

“We hoped she would go to college,” said Mary Rose Bushroe, who runs the dance school Woods attended as a child.

Woods told her folks she just got a big break when an actor in a play being produced by the Second Stage Theater on W. 43rd St. came down with laryngitis and she took over the role. But Woods actually was making ends meet by dancing topless at clubs like Flash Dancers and Privilege.

It was at the Equinox gym on 85th St. and Lexington Ave. that Woods met Cortez, a slight but muscular yoga and Pilates instructor with chin-length hair who had recently graduated from Boston University’s drama school.

Lesly Donald, 36, a manager at Equinox, said Cortez started working at Equinox a few months ago and is now considered the best yoga instructor at the club – and an all-around good guy. “I refer people to him all the time,” Donald said. “He’s so thorough in the way he describes a workout program that people fall in love with him.”

A trainer at the club said Cortez and Woods seemed close at the gym.

“They would dance together in the studio,” he said. “They looked like partners training together. I think it was ballroom dancing.”

In recent days, however, members said Cortez seemed depressed and one co-worker saw him “crying at work over a girl.”

Cortez’s parents split up when he was a kid, and while his dad moved to Minnesota and remarried, he was raised by his mother in Throgs Neck, the Bronx. Manuel Cortez said his son was determined to make it as an actor and had recently begun singing with a band.

Manuel Cortez said his son never mentioned Woods and that in recent weeks he has communicated with him via E-mail.

“He was having some problems with his phone,” he said.

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