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Ex-County Jail Fugitive Charged With Murder in Jeweler’s Holdup

Times Staff Writer

Three men, including an alleged master jewel thief who planned 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 three--all in California jails or prisons--are suspected of slaying T.W. Hamilton, 50, on July 9, 1987, in his jewelry store, Creme de Le Gem, on West Magnolia Boulevard.

They 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, Burbank Police Sgt. Don Goldberg said.

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

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

“Shortly after the robbery, detectives started focusing on Taylor,” Goldberg said. “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 police in Seattle. Goldberg declined to reveal what evidence came from those agencies but said each had been involved in investigations of Taylor’s activities.

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Taylor was arrested last year in Orange County and was being held on seven counts of armed robbery when he and four others 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 afterward 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, Iowa, and Denver, and a kidnap, rape and attempted murder in Albany, Calif., in the Berkeley area.

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


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