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The "COOL" Killer in the FLASHY FORD

THE KILLER was a cool customer. No one in the sizable crowd who witnessed his departure from the jewelry store on Lakeshore Avenue in Oakland, California, early on the afternoon of April 5, 1983, would dispute that.

Twenly-three-year-old Stephen Mitcham was one of two suspects in the bold daytime heist on a busy Oakland street
Twenly-three-year-old Stephen Mitcham was one of two suspects in the bold daytime heist on a busy Oakland street

"Oakland detectives' blood chilled when they heard how the coldhearted gunman calmly blasted the jeweler and the clerk, nonchalantly lifted some choice pieces off "ice" and eased on down the road to make his getaway. They pulled out all the stops to pick up his trail so they could put him in the law's deep freeze for life"

Perhaps he was not physically cool as he stepped out of the flashy Ford Falcon which had parked in front of the icecream store on Trestle Glen shortly after one o'clock. Anyone wearing a down-filled ski jacket in Oakland, even on a damp day in April, would be a little warm, particularly if the zipper was closed to his throat and the hood pulled up and drawn tightly around his face. Whatever portion of the pint-sized killer's face was not hidden by the jacket was effectively masked by a pair of dark glasses.

It was the tightly closed and hooded jacket, and the dark glasses, which worried Rose Miller, the 20-year-old clerk who was in the jewelry store when the killer entered. The man had rounded the corner from Trestle Glen to Lakeshore at a casual gait, ambled down the street to the jewelry store and entered.

The clerk was more than a little worried when the small man in the maroon ski jacket approached her 79-year-old employer, James Ormond, a veteran jeweler. The hood, the dark glasses and the tightly closed coat just didn't look right.

There was no hesitation at all in the little man as he entered the store. He sized up the situation with one quick glance, decided who was the employer and who the employe, and approached Ormond. The jeweler asked, in the same courteous manner he had used for decades, if he could assist the newcomer.

"I'm gonna be getting married," the little man in the ski jacket replied. "I'd like to look at some wedding and engagement rings."

The jeweler nodded and announced he would go to the rear of the store and find some rings for the young man to inspect. As he moved, at a gait slowed by almost eight decades, to the rear of the room. Miss Miller watched the man in the ski jacket.

He just didn't look right, the young woman decided. It seemed to her that the newcomer might just as well have been wearing a mask as the hood and dark glasses. What small portion of his face was still visible was barely so. She decided that discretion was the better part of the valor and began easing toward the door, intending to leave and summon help.

As the young woman moved— inconspicuously, she hoped—toward the door, the young man followed her movements with his eyes. She paused, pretending to adjust a display. As she was about to move on. the man in the ski jacket approached.

Miss Miller will never be exactly sure of what he said then. It was either, "Hi, how are you?" or "How are you doing today?" or words to that effect. But she will never forget what happened next.

Without saying another word the man in the ski jacket removed a small pistol from his pocket and shot her in the face.

When the bullet entered her cheek. Rose Miller fell to the floor instantly. As she landed she was amazed to discover that not only was she alive, but that, despite the blinding pain in her right sinus, she was fully conscious and in full control of her senses—so much so, in fact, that she remembered the one chance she had to make sure she would stay alive was to pretend she was dead.

The single gunshot, although not particularly loud, coming from, as it did. a small-caliber weapon, brought an instant reaction from James Ormond. He put down the ring samples he had selected and hurried to the young woman's assistance. His progress was blocked by the gun-bearing man in the ski jacket.

Despite his 79 years, James Ormond struggled with the younger man. Lying on the floor, her eyes closed and doing her best not to move. Rose Miller heard the struggle. It ended, inevitably, with gunfire.

The young woman heard the little weapon speak once, then again and finally a third time. James Ormond slumped to the floor, a bullet in his arm, another in his stomach and a third in his head.

What followed is still totally incredible in the minds of the people who saw it happen. Gunshots at mid-day in the Lakeshore shopping area were not about to go unnoticed. The proprietor of the shop next to Ormond's, a middle-aged man who felt an obligation to keep an eye on his aging neighbor, was probably the first person to be aroused. He stopped what he was doing and rushed to the jewelry store. He arrived just in time to see the gunman walk deliberately past the bodies of his victims to the front door, close it and turn the dead bolt, effectively locking the entrance.

Next, as a growing crowd gathered outside the store and watched through the big windows, the gunman turned back to the cabinet which Ormond had opened to choose wedding sets for his approval. He walked past his victims without glancing at them, though he had every reason to believe they both were dead.

Carefully, the little man in the ski jacket began selecting the jewelry he wanted to steal, concentrating on wedding sets. He chose large stones with the best quality diamonds his limited lapidary knowledge of gems would allow him to select. Working methodically, the little man filled a jeweler's bag with his loot and walked deliberately back to the front door.

Upon reaching [he door, he unlocked it and stepped outside into the crowd which, by then, had grown to about 100. Holding the menacing little gun, which, as far as the bystanders knew, had already killed two people, in front of him, he moved deliberately through them.

A single man blocked his way. The little killer raised the gun.

"Get out of the way, or I'll blow your head off!" he ordered.

The man obligingly stepped to one side as the little man moved on. He walked, at an easy pace, toward Trestle Glen, where his companion in the Ford Falcon, who had heard the shots, was ready. The Falcon had moved from its position in front of the ice-cream store by then, crossed Lakeshore and turned back to pick up his partner.

As the little killer reached Trestle Glen, for the first time he showed some sign of being in a hurry. He started to run. The Falcon swooped down the street, stopped beside him and the little man jumped into the back seat. Several people who had seen him loot the jewelry store had followed him on foot at a safe distance. They all saw him enter the Falcon and watched it move away along Trestle Glen until it was out of sight.

While some members of the sizable crowd of people who had witnessed either the end of the robbery, or the killer's flight, followed him to Trestle Glen, others found telephones and alerted police and ambulance crews.

Informed of the shooting. Lieutenant Terrence Green of the Oakland Police Department's Homicide Detail assigned Detective Sergeant Frank Mellot and Detective Sergeant Jim Hahn to the investigation.

As the investigators arrived at the jewelry store, paramedics were loading the shooting victims into their ambulance. Miss Miller, although painfully wounded, was still conscious. Ormond, the elderly jeweler, was in critical condition.

Inside the store there was little evidence of the violent crime that had been committed. There was some blood on the floor where Rose Miller had fallen, but relatively little. The same was true at the spot where Ormond had fallen. Although the elderly man had been hit three times, once in the stomach, there was only a small amount of blood where he had hit the floor. Neither was there any sign of back splatter when the slugs hit home. Obviously the killer had used an exceptionally small-caliber bullet and low-powered charge.

Evidence Technicians Rob Stewart and Rick Mahanay arrived and began processing the scene. After photographing the area, they launched a minute search for fingerprints. The detectives theorized that the killer's unhurried actions indicated he was a veteran thief whose fingerprints were sure to be on file.

While the technicians worked over what seemed to be endless glass surfaces in the store. Sergeants Mellot and Hahn began searching for witnesses. The people provided what to the detectives was a pleasant surprise.

The common inner-city syndrome involving crimes and witnesses was missing on Lakeshore Boulevard. Instead of drifting off and disappearing, the people who had seen the incident in the jewelry store were more than ready to talk.

Outraged by the behavior of the gunman, who had seemed to be completely unconcerned after shooting, and apparently killing, two people, the witnesses wanted to talk. For the first time in his memory, Sergeant Mellot had too many witnesses immediately available.

By the time the little bandit had been finally picked up by the Ford on Trestle Glen, the sergeant estimates that about 100 people saw him. Practically all of them wanted to tell their story to the investigators.

"Most of the murder investigations conducted in Oakland are just the opposite," Sergeant Mellot recalled. "'We're not used to an awful, lot of cooperation. These people were anxious to cooperate. They actually came forward and offered information. Color or race had no bearing on their feelings. Black and white, they came forward. Everybody was very anxious to help all they could."

There was, in fact, such a profusion of witnesses that Sergeants Mellot and Hahn found themselves conducting a screening process and asking the people with the most information to come to headquarters for further questioning.

"A murder investigation is a little like putting together the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle," Sergeant Mellot explained. "You get little bits of information and you try to match them with other fragments of information until you are able to put together the whole picture.

"In this case, there were a lot of people with tiny bits of information and some with larger pieces. We collected as many of the small morsels as we could at the murder scene, took the people's names and address and then asked the people with more to say to come in foi questioning. There just weren't the facilities there on the street to do the jot properly."

There were, in fact, so many witnesses jammed into the Oakland Police Department's Homicide Detail that afternoon that it was impossible for Sergeant Mellot, to whom the case was primarily assigned, to interview them all. Instead, he assigned other members of the detail to interrogate certain people until the entire unit was working on the case.

Conducting their own specialized interviews were Sergeants Dan Murray and Bob Conners. who began putting together composite pictures of the suspects from the victims' descriptions.

Among the first witnesses Sergeant Mellot interviewed was the jeweler's next-door neighbor, a shop-owner who felt an obligation to protect, as best he could, his elderly friend.

The storekeeper had. he told Sergeant Murray, been informed over the telephone that "something strange was going on over at Ormond's!" A businessman across the street had heard or seen something and called him.
As soon as he put down the telephone, the storekeeper ran outside and to the door of the jewelry shop. It was locked. Looking inside, he could see the little bandit calmly going through the drawers of a cabinet in a safe at the rear of the room. It was. Sergeant Mellot later discovered, the same safe the jeweler had opened to find wedding rings sets to show his customer."

A crowd had begun to gather by then and people peered in the windows of the shop, puzzled at first, then angered when they realized what they were seeing. There were, however, some moments of indecision before anyone thought of calling for the police. Someone had thought of breaking in, but another bystander pointed out the man at the safe was obviously armed and whoever entered would probably join the jeweler and his clerk on the floor.

Before the police were called, the killer, working methodically, but fast, had finished ransacking the cabinet and headed toward the door. As he left, he passed close to several people who got a good look at him. A woman, who had stopped by the window of a nearby television store, told the detectives that the killer was exceptionally small, hardly more than five feet tall. She described the ski jacket as being maroon with the hood pulled tight around the bandit's face. He was wearing sunglasses and she remembered he was walking with a limp.

The next door storekeeper also remembered the maroon jacket and the small size of the killer. He also said he believed that the bandit was limping slightly.

Almost everybody among the people who had gathered outside the jewelry shop remembered the bandit as being very small and wearing the ski jacket. Some called the jacket brown, some reddish-brown, but they were all in the same color range. Some witnesses remembered his sunglasses and others did not. Only a few remembered the limp.

A man who had been driving along Lakeshore at the time of the robbery, had a rare view of both killer and his transportation. Having finished lunch with his lady friend, he was returning her to her job at a bank located about a block from a jewelry store.

As he approached Trestle Glen, the witness explained, he turned on the street and found himself behind an ancient, but beautifully kept. Ford Falcon. As he drove slowly, in fairly heavy traffic, to the bank, he saw a small man in a maroon ski jacket jump into the back seat of the Falcon. A lew feet farther along, he told the investigators, the Falcon had been blocked by a parked truck and forced to stop for a few seconds. During that interval, he said, he had a good look at both the driver of the Falcon and his passenger. After dropping his lady friend off at the bank, the witness said he had passed the jewelry store and learned about the robbery.

The witness said that the Falcon was in flawless condition and meticulously groomed. He remembered it as being brown and white but he was not sure about the combination of colors.

Another witness, an employe of a public utility, had also seen the car and his evidence proved invaluable. Just 21 years old, he was. in the words of Sergeant Mellot, "exactly at the age when he was conscious of every car around him."

The Falcon, he remembered, was painted brown on top, white through the center portion of the body, and brown on the bottom. There were, he recalled, several European automobile-club emblems attached to its front grill and bumper. It was, he added, a 1968 model.

Like the young man returning his lady friend from lunch, he had seen the little man in the maroon jacket get into the rear seat of the Falcon. But unlike him, the utility employe had witnessed the killer's flight from the jewelry store and his retreat to Trestle Glen. The young man had followed at a safe distance.

Because the utility worker's description of the Falcon had been so detailed, the investigators ordered that it be broadcast and distributed to patrol officers.

Before they had finished interviewing the witnesses, members of the Homicide Detail were informed that Ormond. the elderly jeweler, had been pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital. The young clerk. Rose Miller, they were told, would not only live, but was in good condition.
The next morning the information regarding the Falcon began to pay off. Patrol Officers Steve Allen and Walt Ludwig, who were experts in that single phase of Oakland culture, approached Sergeant Mellot. They informed him that the Ford which had been described as the gelaway car in the Ormond murder could possibly belong to a member of a group of automobile enthusiasts known to them as The Falcon Gang."

Although Officers Allen and Ludwig believed that the group was occupied with other, small-time extra-legal activities, the gang professed to be dedicated to the preservation and display of Ford Falcons, which were kept in what they called "cherry condition."
Then were, Officer Allen said, at least two cars owned by members of The Falcon Gang which answered the description of the one involved in the Ormond murder, lie told Sergeant Mellot he could get the license numbers of both cars so their owners could be identified.

To this Officer Ludwig added that he knew a man who fit the description of Ormond's killer perfectly. He was. the officer said, exactly the right height, about 5 feet 2 inches tall. "I think he could stand some investigation." he suggested. "His name is Benny Silkwood."

Officer Allen consulted his files and produced three license numbers for Sergeant Mellot, who promptly ran a routine check of the owners' names through the California Department of Motor Vehicles. The state bureau promptly supplied the names of three Ford Falcon owners—Alfred Ransom, Hphraim Jones and Louis Hammond.

A computer check was also run on the name Benny Silkwood. The investigators received the surprising news that he was dead and had been for some time.

Officer Ludwig insisted that Silkwood had been stopped by Oakland police since the listed date of his death. At his insistance. Sergeant Mellot ran a further probe of the name Silkwood in the computer. That instrument insisted Silkwood was dead but did reveal that his name had been listed in arrest records since his reported demise. Further probing by the machine revealed that the man who had used the name was actually Stephen Mitcham, a 23-year-old transient who had been associated peripherally with "The Falcon Gang."

Sergeant Mellot began assembling photographs of members of1 The Falcon Gang." concentrating on the three young men who owned cars similar to the one described by witnesses near the murder scene. With them they included photographs of Stephen Milcham. the 23-year-old transient.
On Thursday morning, before the photo lineups were fully prepared. Sergeant Mellot was contacted by a woman who announced that she intended to remain anonymous and that she would not, under any circumstances, allow her identity to be used, nor would she testify.

Promised immunity, she informed the detective that two young men were parading through a housing project in East Oakland, bragging about a holdup and murder they had just committed. They were also, she said, selling the jewelry and trading some of it for narcotics.

With the photo lines completed, one was shown to Rose Miller, the clerk in Ormond's store who had been wounded during the robbery. She immediately selected the picture of Stephen Mitcham as the gunman who had robbed the store, shot her and murdered the aging jeweler.

Witnesses at the murder scene, and others who had seen the killer as he moved along Lakeshore toward Trestle Glen, were contacted and shown the lineup. All of them selected Mitcham's photograph from the lineup. Some were positive in their selections, others tentative.

Because the driver of the getaway car had been waiting for the killer on Trestle Glen, around the corner from the Lakeshore Avenue jewelery shop, very few of the witnesses had seen him. Of these, the two prime witnesses were the young man who had been returning his lady friend to the bank, and the young utility company employe.

Each was shown photographic lineups containing pictures of Hammond, Ransom and Jones in one set and Mitcham in the other. Both of them, without hesitation, selected Hammond as the driver of the Falcon.

Sergeant Mellot asked the patrol division to make contact with Hammond's Falcon if possible, stop it and take pictures of it. Patrol officers spotted the car, stopped it and took photographs. When shown the pictures, the utility employe promptly identified the automobile as the one he had seen on Trestle Glen the day of the murder. He was positive that he had seen Hammond driving it and Mitcham climbing into the back seat.

Satisfied with this information that Mitcham and Hammon were their prime suspects. Sergeant Mellot asked for arrest and search warrants for the two men. Both were issued, but, unfortunately, Hammond, when stopped by the patrol officers, had given them a phony address. Sergeants Mellot and Hahn, when they arrived at the building, found someone else living there who had never heard of the young man. "There wasn't any evidence at that place. The search stopped before it was started," Mellot recalls.

By Friday morning, the Lakeshore Merchants Association had offered a reward of $10,000 for evidence leading to the arrest and conviction of the man who had murdered James Ormond and wounded his clerk. News of the reward was published in the Oakland press and broadcast by the electronic media. The response was hardly overwhelming. The killer was said to have offered the stolen gems to some people for sale or trade but only one came forward, he. however, proved to be a key witness.

At midmorning on Friday. Sergeant Mellot was contacted by a young man who said he believed he had purchased one of the stolen wedding-ring sets from Stephen Mitcham.

After some preliminary questioning, the detective took a tape-recorded statement from the youth. He told Sergeant Mellot that, in the beginning, Mitcham had bragged to him that he had shot the old man at the jewelry store.

"1 didn't believe him," the witness told Mellot. "I just thought this guy is full of it and he's just telling one more story."

The young man went on to say that Mitcham did have several wedding-ring sets with him and that he purchased one of them, which bore a price tag of $950. for $250. Shortly after leaving Mitcham. he had given the ring'to his fiance.

Not until the following day. when he read about the murder in the newspapers, had the young man realized Mitcham had been telling the truth. After two days of agonizing, and having read about the $10,000 reward, he decided to tell his fiance about his suspicions. She had promptly returned the rings and said she wanted no part of them. He had then immediately gone to the police.

The witness told Sergeant Mellot that he understood Louis Hammond was also mixed up in the robbery, although he did not know the exact degree of his involvement. All he was sure of was what he had heard from Mitcham who, he said, was inclined to embroider the truth. Sergeant Mellot used a contingency fund to pay the young man the $250 he had paid for the ring and promised to look into his eligibility as far as the reward was concerned.

Next, with the help of Sergeant Hahn and Officers Ludwig and Allen, he contacted members of The Falcon Gang and procured the address of a female relative of Hammond's with whom he was, gang members said, living at the moment.

The investigators contacted the relative and were told that Hammond did live there but was not at home. She added he would probably be at either another relative's home on Sequoia Road, in the Oakland hills, or his girlfriend's house. In neither case did she know the exact address.

Patrol officers began to search the general vicinity of the girlfriend's house while Sergeants Mellot and Hahn. followed by Officer Mike Henson in another patrolcar. went to Sequoia Road in search of the relative.

Neither the investigators nor the patrolman had any idea what address Hammond might be visiting on Sequoia Road. They did know, however, that Hammond would probably be driving his flashy Falcon. When they reached Sequoia Road. Officer Henson spotted the Ford almost immediately.

"How he managed to see it, I'll never know," Sergeant Mellot recalls. "It was parked down a driveway and-sort of behind a garage. Most people would not have seen it in a hundred years. But. somehow. Mike managed to see it."

The detectives and Officer Henson approached the house and were greeted by the second relative of Hammond's. He took them inside where they found Hammond talking on the telephone. The first relative, who had told the officers where he might be, had called Hammond to warn him about the impending visit by police officers!

Hammond was arrested without incident. He insisted that he had no part of the robbery. Instead, he said, he had decided he wanted some ice cream and stopped in front of the store to purchase some. Micham, he said, he left at that point.

Having finished his ice cream, he said, he was just driving off when he saw Mitcham running down the street. The running man, Hammond said, had jumped into his car without any invitation. Next, Hammond said, Mitcham had told him about the robbery and shooting and given him some of the rings. The suspect said he had kept them for a couple of days and then threw them away. The story did not jibe with the account given to the invjestigators by the woman and the young man who had purchased the ring set from Mitcham.

A bulletin was issued to the patrol division requesting the arrest of Mitcham for the murder of James Ormond. No address was available. "The man was essentially a transient," Sergeant Mellot explained.

That evening, the same man who had returned the suspect ring set he had purchased from Mitcham to the investigator saw the little man at a party in East Oakland. He called Sergeant Mellot, who requested help from the patrol division. Within minutes, patrol officers, lead by Lieutenant Doug Krathwohl. visited the home where the party was reported in progress and arrested Mitcham.

Mitcham flatly refused to give the police a statement, but there were too many people who could identify him as the bandit who shot Ormond and Miss Williams, and two who could positively identify Hammond as driver of the getaway car. Both men were charged with the murder of James Ormond and the robbery of the jewelry store. Hammond was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to from 25 years to life in prison.

On May 12, 1984, Stephen Mitcham was found guilty of the murder of Ormond with special circumstances, the shooting of the clerk. Rose Miller, and the robbery. The jury recommended that he be sentenced to die in San Quentin's gas chamber.

Superior Court Judge Stanley Golde set final sentencing for a later date.

Rose Miller, Benny Silkwood. Alfred Ransom and Ephraim Jones are not the real names of the persons so named in the foregoing story. Fictitious names havebeen used because there is ho reason for public interest in the identities of these persons.

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