Alleged Mastermind of Jailbreak, 2 Others Charged in Murder of Burbank Jeweler

Times Staff Writer

Three men, including an alleged master jewel thief and planner of a daring Orange County jailbreak last year, have been charged with the murder of a Burbank jeweler who was gunned down during a failed robbery in 1987, authorities said Tuesday.

The suspects--all in California jails or prisons--are accused of slaying T. W. Hamilton, 50, on July 9, 1987, in his jewelry store, Creme de Le Gem, on West Magnolia Boulevard.

The suspects were identified by Burbank police as Michael Douglas Taylor, 36, of Chicago; and Joe Ledezma, 25, and Thomas Estrada, 27, both of the Los Angeles area. Each was charged with murder and armed robbery, Sgt. Don Goldberg said.


Taylor is in the Orange County Jail and the other two suspects are in state prisons serving sentences for parole violations. Taylor allegedly masterminded a November escape from the Orange County Jail in which five inmates used bedsheets to climb down the side of the four-story building. Taylor was not captured until May.

Police said that when armed robbers entered the jewelry store, Hamilton pulled out his own gun and traded shots before he was fatally wounded. The robbers escaped without any merchandise, police said.

“Shortly after the robbery, detectives started focusing on Taylor,” said Goldberg. “That was based on a composite description of the suspect provided by witnesses and his known method of operation.”

However, Goldberg said, investigators did not have enough evidence to charge Taylor, although at the time Taylor was at large and suspected of as many as 50 armed robberies in the Los Angeles area, many of jewelry stores.

The break in the case came this year when Burbank investigators received help from Orange County sheriff’s deputies, FBI agents in Des Moines, Iowa, and Seattle police. Goldberg declined to reveal what evidence came from those agencies, but said each had been involved in investigations of Taylor’s activities.

Taylor was arrested last year in Orange County and was being held on seven counts of armed robbery when he escaped Nov. 20 from the jail in Santa Ana.


The breakout triggered a nationwide manhunt. One escapee was caught immediately, one surrendered a week later and two others were captured two weeks after that in Denver. Taylor traveled as far as Maine and eluded capture until May 20 when he was arrested in Rapid City, S.D., while trying to pawn diamonds believed stolen from a Chicago jewelry store.

Authorities said that during his six months of freedom Taylor was suspected of a cross-country crime spree that included robberies in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., Des Moines and Denver; and a kidnaping, rape and attempted murder in Albany, Calif.

Taylor was described by Goldberg and other investigators as a “big time” criminal with a reputation for boldness. Police who searched a home that Taylor had abandoned on Puget Sound in Washington, found of photograph of Taylor posing beside an FBI poster of wanted fugitives.