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Calif. Gunmen Release All Hostages

July 17, 2000

ROLLING HILLS ESTATES, Calif. (AP) _ The two middle-aged men dressed in business suits claimed to be police detectives as they entered Morgan’s Jewelers.

First they pulled out badges. Then they pulled out handguns.

Thus began a nearly 18-hour ordeal that ended peacefully Sunday. So peacefully that the six hostages reported being treated remarkably well considering the circumstances.

``The first hostage released came out and said, ’These are the nicest guys. I don’t want to press charges, really, these are just the nicest guys,‴ said Russ Varon, owner of the Morgan’s and brother of one hostage.

When one hostage complained of a kink in her neck, Varon said one gunman said, ``You know, I used to do some chiropractic work, let me give you a neck rub.″

Robert James Miller, 47, of Los Angeles, and Matthew Lou Ross, 48, of Michigan, were booked for investigation of robbery. Each has ``extensive criminal records″ and was being held on $1 million bail each, according to Los Angeles County sheriff’s Sgt. Norine Plett

Plett said the possibility that the suspects could face mandatory life sentences under ``three strikes″ laws may have led to the extended standoff.

The ordeal began about 5:20 p.m. Saturday when the gunmen robbed the store inside the Peninsula Center strip mall in Rolling Hills Estates, about 30 miles southwest of downtown Los Angeles.

The well-dressed men were allowed into the secure area of the store after claiming to be police detectives and displaying badges, sheriff’s officials said.

Employees activated a silent alarm when it became clear the men were robbing the store. The gunmen stepped out of the store, then walked back in when they saw arriving sheriff’s deputies.

Nearly 100 deputies surrounded the store as negotiators communicated via telephone with the gunmen. The robbers each carried multiple handguns, but authorities did not release details of the weapons.

The six hostages were all either owners or employees of the store, Sheriff’s Cmdr. Bill McSweeney said.

Shopper Bob Dunbar said deputies initially told people in the mall to duck for cover inside shops and then told them to evacuate.

``They yelled ‘Get down! Get away!’ It was scary,″ Dunbar said.

Although the men surrendered peacefully, deputies fearing a violent showdown with the gunmen evacuated the streets facing the mall and its parking lot.

The first hostage, a woman, was released Sunday sometime after 3 a.m. A second hostage, a man, was released after 6 a.m.

Another woman was released about three hours later, exiting the store with her hands raised over her head. The last of the hostages, two men and a woman, exited the shop with the gunmen about 11 a.m.,

McSweeney, who supervised law enforcement at the scene, said the gunmen finally surrendered because of ``excellent negotiators and exhaustion.″

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