‘Rainbow Man’ Held in Hostage Drama : Crime: The suspect, arrested in a hotel room, has often been seen at sports events wearing colorful wig and carrying placards with biblical references.
A self-styled religious zealot with a history of grabbing the spotlight at major sporting events was arrested Tuesday after holding a maid hostage in a Los Angeles hotel room, where he plastered the windows with biblical verses, officials said.
The man held police at bay during the day with threats that he had a bomb. But when the standoff continued into the evening, officers used “flash-bang” grenades to stun the suspect and storm the seventh-floor room at the Hyatt Hotel next to Los Angeles International Airport.
The suspect suffered minor injuries in the ensuing scuffle, officers said. They said the 38-year-old housekeeper, Paula Madera, who had locked herself in the bathroom to get away from the suspect, was not injured. Police said a pistol and incendiary chemicals were found in the room when the arrest was made.
Officers said they decided to move in after the suspect threatened the hostage and said he would fire his pistol at planes landing at the airport.
Police said the man gave his name as Roland Stewart Smith but that his real name is Rollen Frederick Stewart.
A few hours after the incident, as the suspect was being driven away in an unmarked police car, reporters asked him why he had done it.
“To get the word out!” he shouted back with a smile.
Stewart, 47, has had an uncanny knack for getting his religious placards and tutti-frutti wig in the camera’s view at nationally televised sporting events. Because of his multicolored hair, he has been dubbed Rainbow Man, although at times he has called himself Rock ‘n’ Rollen Stewart.
Stewart has been a fugitive since May, 1991, when he was named in an arrest warrant accusing him of four stink bomb attacks in Orange County. The warrant, which set bail at $100,000, charges Stewart with setting off foul-smelling bombs at the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, at a Christian bookstore in that city, at the Trinity Broadcasting Network studios in Tustin and in the lobby of the Orange County Register newspaper building in Santa Ana.
Although Stewart’s last known residence was in Downey, investigators believe he has been living out of his car for the last several years.
Police said Tuesday’s incident began about 9:15 a.m. when Stewart apparently walked unnoticed into a vacant guest room, where he took Madera by surprise as she was cleaning. Officers said she immediately locked herself in the bathroom, and Stewart apparently started a small fire that attracted attention.
Guests reported hearing a popping sound. Firefighters who arrived on the scene smelled smoke.
In quick order, officials dispatched a SWAT team, bomb squad, more fire trucks and some patrol cars. About 400 guests were evacuated and sent to banquet rooms on the first and second floors of the 600-room, 12-story structure.
“It’s a little unnerving,” said Cecilia Kelley, a New Yorker staying at the hotel for a business seminar. “There was a high-speed chase yesterday on TV, now this. It’s like: ‘Welcome to L.A.’ ”
Meanwhile, in the seventh-floor guest room, the suspect posted four placards bearing biblical references in the windows, so they could be read from the ground below. One of them, containing an apocalyptic verse from the New Testament book of Peter, referred to the passage: “The heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat. . . .”
Police, who spoke to the man by telephone, would not elaborate on their conversations with him, except to say that he had mentioned unspecified gripes and grievances and warned that the world would end on Monday. They said that he made no demands but threatened all day to blow up the hotel.
Then, at about 5:45 p.m., Stewart threatened to harm his hostage and to begin shooting at planes that pass near the hotel as they land.
By that time, “the negotiation process was at a point where we believed the safety of the hostage was deteriorating quickly,” Officer Bill Frio, an LAPD spokesman, said.
Shortly before 6 p.m., the SWAT team stormed the room, using the grenades to disorient the suspect.
Frio said police found “the infamous wig he normally wears,” a high-caliber pistol, three days worth of food and Bibles, religious tracts and poetry.
Immmediately after the arrest, Stewart was taken to another guest room, where he was interrogated.
“He’s very talkative,” said Frio.
Guests in the lobby downstairs watched as Madera, dressed in her housekeeping uniform and seated in a wheelchair, was escorted out of the building by paramedics.
“She looked relatively calm to me, but she looked pretty exhausted,” said Duane Koberg, 50, of Seattle, who was visiting Los Angeles on business. “She just looked dazed.”
Stewart, a former rancher in Washington state where he raised black Angus cattle, is believed to have begun his religious crusade about a decade ago. In a 1982 interview with Golf Digest magazine, he was quoted as saying: “I was living on my ranch . . . and my life revolved around sex and drugs. I wasn’t happy, though, and one night I had a religious experience and was born again as a Christian.”
A frustrated actor, he quickly found that he could steal the scene at major sporting events by donning a rainbow-colored wig and carrying signs with biblical passages, mostly John 3:16. He became a regular fixture, shouldering his way into the camera’s view at Olympic Games, Super Bowls, World Series, NBA playoffs and most major golf tournaments.
Eventually, however, Stewart’s desire to spread the gospel took an ominous turn, according to Santa Ana police investigator Ferrell Buckles, who recently speculated that Stewart has come to consider himself the “anti-Christ” and “has gone the other way.”
In 1991, at the Masters Golf Tournament in Augustus, Ga., Stewart was detained by authorities after he allegedly set off a remote-controlled electronic air horn and several smoke bombs as Jack Nicklaus was about to putt on the 16th green. At the golf course, officers found copies of a newspaper article detailing the stink bomb incidents in Orange County. Stewart was released after tournament officials declined to press charges.
The year before, he was arrested on public disturbance charges at the American Music Awards in Los Angeles after he allegedly tried to throw skunk glands at the audience.
At the time, he said, he wanted to show the public that “God thinks this stinks.”
Times staff writer Eric Malnic contributed to this story.