Rash of Rolex Holdups Seen in Valley, Westside


Rolex holdups by gun-toting thieves apparently attracted by the expensive watches have flared anew, with more than 50 such robberies on the Westside and in the San Fernando Valley in the past several months.

The latest outbreak--similar to a rash of such thefts about a year ago and in previous years--occurred Tuesday when a Rolex was taken at gunpoint from a man who had just parked his Jaguar near the Veterans Administration building in Westwood.

The Los Angeles Police Department’s elite Robbery Homicide unit has taken over the investigation of the holdups, which had been concentrated in the West Los Angeles area but last month spilled into the Valley.


Nearly half of the 40 Westside robberies were committed in West Los Angeles, with others occurring in Culver City and Santa Monica, Lt. Frank Spangler said Tuesday.

Another 11 robberies have been reported in the West Valley Division since August, with two others occurring in the Van Nuys and Devonshire divisions, Det. Robert Johansen said. In the latest Valley theft, armed bandits pistol-whipped a 55-year-old Woodland Hills man on Dec. 23 outside a Ventura Boulevard office building before stealing his Rolex and another from his co-worker. Together, the watches were valued at $28,000.

So far, there have been no arrests in connection with any of the robberies. But Spangler said he suspects that the crimes may turn out to be the work of a loosely organized group of thieves who work in pairs, but switch partners.

Rolexes range in price from about $1,750 for a steel watch to as much as $50,000 for a gold president model with a diamond pave bracelet and case. Police say most of the models stolen in the West Valley were worth between $10,000 and $20,000 apiece.

“It’s a hard life of crime to give up because they’re making pretty good money,” Johansen said.

Investigators suspect that bandits look for potential victims at expensive restaurants or even at pricey grocery stores. They also appear to seek out well-dressed drivers of luxury cars and pull up next to them, looking for a Rolex on their wrists. Many of the Valley victims were apparently chosen as they drove along Ventura Boulevard in a Mercedes-Benz.


The thieves frequently follow victims to their next destination--which is often a home, a business or restaurant--and rob them at gunpoint of their watches as they get out of their cars.

To avoid becoming a victim, police advise that Rolex owners should be aware of what is going on around them and pay extra attention to anyone driving near them or following them.

“If you suspect somebody’s tailing you, take an alternate travel path to see if they follow and if they do, drive to a police station or call the police on your cell phone,” Spangler said.

But police advise those caught off guard to give up the watch to avoid injury. Spangler said several victims in West Los Angeles were injured only after they hesitated to hand over their Rolexes.

The latest series of robberies recall a rash of similar holdups on the Westside in the late 1980s and early 1990s that alarmed Rolex wearers and climaxed with the slaying of one owner outside his West Los Angeles home during a fight with a gunman. That outbreak ended after police arrested several suspects.

Rolex thefts reappeared as a crime problem in the winter of 1994, when about two dozen of the watches were stolen at gunpoint in West Los Angeles and the Valley.


Johansen said investigators are trying to track down some of the criminals who were arrested and jailed following the first rash of Rolex thefts. Some of those robbers, Johansen said, have since been released from prison.