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Acted Correctly, Police Say, Despite 3 Deaths : Sheriff’s Marksman Killed One Hostage in Beverly Hills Siege

Times Staff Writer

Despite the deaths of three hostages in the bloody, 13 1/2-hour siege of a posh Rodeo Drive jewelry store, Beverly Hills Police Chief Marvin Iannone said Tuesday that police acted appropriately in attempting to wait out the gunman.

“I look at the whole situation in retrospect and I wouldn’t have done anything differently,” Iannone told a crowded press conference.

One hostage, store manager Hugh Skinner, was accidently killed by a sheriff’s sharpshooter when suspect Steven Livaditis, 22, tried to slip out a side door of the exclusive Van Cleef & Arpels jewelry store late Monday night.

2 Bodies Found in Store

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The bodies of two others--saleswoman Ann Heilperin and security guard William Richard Smith-- were found inside the store. Both were lying face down with their hands bound and both had been killed execution-style, police said.

Two other hostages--saleswoman Carol Lambert and Robert Taylor--were hospitalized after the tense standoff came to an end.

During the day, the suspect had indicated by telephone that he had killed as many as three of his five captives. But police maintained during that period that they believed that Livaditis was bluffing, because of contradictory statements he made to them.

Defending the police action, Iannone said Livaditis made “many threats. . . . He threatened to kill. He said he had killed. . . . He was very lighthearted about it. The hostages handled it very lightly. In fact, we were all convinced, including the psychologists, that he had not harmed anyone in there subsequent to our arrival.

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“We knew that had we attempted entry at that point, he very likely would have killed all the hostages.”

Iannone told reporters that officers believed that Livaditis might wait through the night and surrender himself in the morning.

“He indicated that if there were any hint of any assault, that he would first kill the hostages and then he would use any energy he had left to shoot it out with assaulting police officers and deputies,” Iannone said.

The police chief said that even if it had been known that a hostage had been harmed, police would not have acted differently. Beverly Hills police, under Iannone’s command, were in charge of the operation.

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Tight Security

Like other jewelry stores in the area, Van Cleef & Arpels, at 300 N. Rodeo Drive, maintained tight security. In addition to a security gate at the front door, it has closed-circuit television to monitor access routes and bulletproof windows and doors.

“We were confronted with the reality that this suspect had gone into a virtually impregnable building,” Iannone said. “Here is a classical case where a premises’ security was used against us.”

Los Angeles County Sheriff Sherman Block, whose special weapons teams were called in to assist Beverly Hills police, said, however, that “very probably” deputies would have wanted to enter the building if authorities had known that a hostage inside had been murdered. In this instance, he said, Beverly Hills police had the authority to make that decision.

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“Once there is knowledge a hostage has in fact been killed, then the assumption could be made that one or more hostages will be killed and tactical operations would usually be some sort of forced entry,” Block said.

But, the sheriff added, with “his admissions and denials . . . a forced entry into that kind of location would have been very risky and could have resulted in the death of all the hostages, and that’s why we figured time was on our side.”

Not Typical Actions

Block also said the manner in which the two captives inside the store were killed was not typical of hostage situations.

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“For a hostage taker to kill a hostage and then not make that very clearly known and fully visible to law enforcement is highly unusual,” the sheriff said. “Usually a hostage is killed to make a point.”

As Livaditis and the surviving captives, who were all store employees, left the building at about 11:30 p.m., members of a sheriff’s special weapons team lobbed “flash-bang” grenades in their direction to try to stop them. The force of the two grenades, designed to momentarily stun a suspect, apparently lifted a jeweler’s display-case blanket draped over the four high enough for police to get a look at who was underneath, Block said.

The suspect used the three hostages, who were bound together by heavy tape, as a shield in his attempt to flee the store. He apparently was headed toward a parking lot where some of the employees kept their cars.

The sheriff’s marksman, perched atop a nearby building, fired when a spotter working with him saw Livaditis allegedly pointing something shiny, possibly a gun, at one of the hostages, the sheriff said. The decision on whether to shoot is left up to the marksman in such cases, he said.

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Heard ‘Threat to Kill’

Block also said the marksman was close enough to hear “some threat to kill these people.” The marksman was not identified by officials.

The fatal bullet, which apparently sliced through Skinner’s body, has not been recovered, investigators said.

Block said the suspect’s gun was fully loaded when it was recovered outside the store. It was later learned that Livaditis had a substantial supply of ammunition when he entered the store. A knife also was found.

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Livaditis, burned on his hands and face by the grenades, was taken to the Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center jail ward, where he was booked for investigation of multiple murder and robbery. Formal charges are tentatively scheduled to be filed against him in Beverly Hills Municipal Court on Thursday.

Livaditis, from Las Vegas, is a convicted burglar who was also being sought by the FBI in the armed robbery of a Las Vegas jewelry store in February, authorities said.

In a telephone call to television station KTLA at mid-afternoon Monday, he allegedly identified himself as the gunman and told station personnel that he had killed the store’s security guard. Giving his name as “John,” one of several aliases authorities said Livaditis has used, the caller claimed that he stabbed a man named Smith for talking back to him.

“Mr. Smith’s body is right here, lying a few feet away . . . dead for several hours,” the caller said.

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Two of the hostages, both of whom were later killed, verified his accounts in telephone calls to news agencies during Monday’s ordeal.

The bodies of Smith, 54, and Heilperin, 40, were found on the first floor of the jewelry store.

Iannone said Smith apparently had been stabbed to death around 10:15 a.m., only moments after the gunman entered the store and took his hostages. Heilperin, he said, had been shot in the back of the head, late in the afternoon.

Fired Into Wall

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The chief said the suspect told them at one point that he accidentally fired a shot into the wall, but deputies stationed near the location reported hearing no gunfire.

Skinner, 64, had managed the store for two decades.

Lambert, 42, of Culver City, who was burned on her face and chest by the fiery grenades, was in stable condition in the burn unit at Brotman Memorial Hospital. Her doctor said she may require skin grafts and may suffer some permanent scarring.

After complaining of chest pains, Taylor, 60, the store’s shipping clerk, was being treated in the coronary observation unit at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. On Monday, Taylor’s son had said his father was a diabetic.

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Both survivors and members of their families declined to talk to reporters Tuesday.

The Las Vegas jewelry store robbery that police believe Livaditis carried out occurred Feb. 2 at a Zales store in a large shopping center about two miles from the Strip.

Confronted Employees

The robber--dressed in a gray suit, the same color that police said Livaditis wore on Monday--entered the store shortly after it opened, and confronted the two employees on duty with a revolver.

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Within an hour, he had fled with an estimated $250,000 in merchandise, leaving the workers bound in a back room.

Police said the victims identified Livaditis as the robber after being shown a photograph of him. The FBI later obtained a federal warrant for his arrest as a fugitive.

According to Nevada authorities, Livaditis’ first major brush with the law occurred in September, 1984, when he was arrested by Las Vegas Metropolitan Police on suspicion of stealing $22,000 worth of equipment from a computer store and attempting to resell it. He served a brief jail term and was given five years’ probation last June, but failed to regularly check in with probation officials and was placed in an “absconder” status in February.

Carries Attache Case

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Arriving at the Van Cleef & Arpels jewelry store shortly after 10 a.m. Monday, Livaditis, carrying an attache case, was apparently let into the locked building by one of the employees.

Iannone said the well-dressed robber was admitted “under the pretext of being a customer.”

Once inside, police said he opened his case, which contained a nickel-plated .357 magnum revolver, rolls of heavy tape, cord, ammunition, a survival knife and a switch-blade.

About 10 employees managed to escape from the store as the drama began to unfold.

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“I heard him screaming at everyone to get on the floor,” said a bookkeeper after making her way out safely.

Beverly Hills officers quickly responded when a silent alarm was tripped. Meanwhile, one employee managed to dial the 911 emergency number. Within minutes, as many as 80 police officers and sheriff’s deputies, many armed with automatic weapons, converged on the area.

Caught by Surprise

Officers said the gunman was apparently caught by surprise when police appeared so quickly.

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Authorities said he made only two demands during the day, asking that food be delivered and that a television news crew be sent to interview him.

Late in the afternoon, a bag containing bread, bologna and cold drinks was left outside the store’s front door, but Livaditis never picked it up. Police denied his request for television cameras from KTLA Channel 5.

“I believe that had we allowed Channel 5 to go in there, he very well could have taken them (the TV crew) hostage,” Iannone explained. “It very likely could have meant he had two or three more hostages.”

Police said they do not know when Livaditis arrived in Los Angeles from Las Vegas. But according to his application for a Hollywood apartment, Livaditis rented apartment 113 at 7070 Franklin Avenue on March 8.

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Delinquent in his rent, he voluntarily left the apartment last month to avoid being evicted, assistant manager Louise Anderson said Tuesday.

‘Real Scummy Friends’

Saying that Livaditis did not mingle much with other tenants, Anderson added that he was a “night person,” who had “real scummy friends.

“He has a lot of them, a girl, too,” she said. “When night came, he went out.”

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A former neighbor who asked not to be identified, said she would “only pass him in the corridors now and then. To be honest, he was unfriendly. He was always with someone else and they spoke Greek together.”

Beverly Hills traffic officers stopped Livaditis at 320 N. Rodeo Drive, adjacent to the Van Cleef & Arpels store, on May 19. The officers said he had made abrupt lane changes, nearly causing two collisions, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Elden S. Fox, head of the Beverly Hills office.

Fox declined to say whether or not authorities believe, in hindsight, that the suspect was casing the jewelry store at the time. He said Livaditis has used at least five aliases.

“In all likelihood,it will be special circumstances, including both robbery and multiple murder,” Fox said of charges to be introduced at Thursday’s arraignment. Special circumstances allegations would make the charges potential death penalty offenses.

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Autopsies on the three dead hostages were scheduled for today.

Staff writers Jerry Belcher, Edward J. Boyer, Scott Harris, David Holley, Tracey Kaplan, Terry Pristin, Kenneth Reich and Ted Vollmer contributed to this article


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