It was 3 a.m. when the car roared into the long driveway at 13343 Johnson Rd. A short man in his mid-30s with shaggy, dark hair and a Fu Manchu mustache slammed the driver side door and strode to the house. Lights flickered on in neighbors' homes as he struggled to unlock the door with one hand. In the other, he clutched a shotgun.
He burst inside and violently threw a woman to the floor. She screamed. Next he walked into the living room and found 45-year-old Mitch Arambel. A single blast rung the small house like a bell. Moments later, Arambel was dead and the man gone.
The next morning, the small town of Los Banos, California, awoke to news of the murder. The only suspect was 33-year-old Ronald Miranda, a local bartender who had lived at the house until a messy separation from his wife a few months before.
A few days later, Miranda called police and agreed to turn himself in.
But he never showed. That was November 1980.
"He just disappeared," says Tom MacKenzie of the Merced County Sheriff's Department. "We had no idea what happened to him."
Thirty-one years later and 3,000 miles away, cops nabbed Miranda earlier this month after a dustup at a seedy Florida City restaurant. Few criminals have evaded authorities for so long, particularly those whom the FBI has listed among its most wanted. His capture and the sparse available facts of his underground life reinforce South Florida's reputation both as an outlaw haven and a mecca for shoddy law enforcement.
Miranda grew up in Los Banos, worked as a young man in the best restaurant in town, and got married, authorities say. Soon, though, his wife complained of domestic abuse and they separated. Six months later, on Friday, November 14, 1980, he drank at a bar until early the next day. Then he grabbed the pump-action shotgun and drove to their house on the edge of town. After he kicked in the door, his wife tried to grab the gun. Then he shot Arambel in the living room just as the man turned to run.
Police searched for Miranda after the murder. No one — except for him, of course — knows where he was for at least a decade.
Around 1991, he turned up in Kendall, calling himself Richard Gamble — a name weirdly similar to the star of the '60s television show The Fugitive, Richard Kimble.
William Bowers is the owner of Captain's Tavern Seafood Market and Restaurant, a busy and well-known eatery on South Dixie Highway near Kendall Drive. He recalls hiring Gamble/Miranda to work in the market.
Even back then, Captain's Tavern was a neighborhood institution, the best place for cheap fish and good conversation. "He was a fish cutter and a damn good one," Bowers says, adding that the then-44-year-old also held down a job at the Riviera Country Club in Coral Gables. "He was the hardest-working man I ever had."
Soon Gamble met Bridget Hyman, a tiny woman several years his junior who already had a shock of snow-white hair and spectacles. Her husband had just died. He introduced himself as a Vietnam War veteran from out West with three purple hearts and a Silver Star. In winter 1995, Gamble moved into her Pinecrest home. Around the same time, a set of trading cards describing the FBI's most wanted criminals was issued. Miranda was number 55. Apparently no one noticed the resemblance to Gamble.
"He was always a good man to me," says Hyman, an overly polite woman who looks like Sophia from The Golden Girls. Gamble, she says, never told her about his past in California. "He helped me emotionally after my husband passed away."
The pair lived together on and off for ten years. Gamble did well at the restaurant, and Bowers promoted him to waiter. Gamble drank, but mostly after work, and stayed out of trouble with the law. "He was pretty nice — you know, an average guy," remembers Dale, a Captain's Tavern employee who also knew nothing of his co-worker's past. "He was quite the golfer and sure knew his wines well."
Around 2006, Gamble was given even more responsibility. Bowers hired him to manage Captain's Restaurant, a smaller, shabbier version sandwiched between Krome Avenue and South Dixie Highway in Florida City.
Hyman followed, eventually moving into a tiny white trailer with rusty axles that Gamble paid $350 per month to park in spot G-14 of the Florida City Camp Site & RV Park. He kept to himself among the park's eclectic mix of Canadian tourists, Cuban refugees, and washed-out Anglos.
Gamble's ruse almost came to an end two years ago, however. On May 13, 2009, Miami-Dade Police Officer Phillip Hall pulled him over just outside Florida City for driving his Captain's Seafood van without the proper markings. Gamble didn't have a driver's license on him, but the cop believed him when he gave his fake name, said he was born in Brownsville, Minnesota — a real town on the Mississippi River — and listed a nonexistent local address. After giving a right thumbprint and promising to appear in court for the misdemeanor, he was allowed free.
On June 30, perhaps fearing that authorities would discover his violent past, he didn't show up for a hearing. A warrant was issued for his arrest. But two months later, Miami-Dade County Court Judge Cristina Miranda learned a court summons had never reached "Gamble." Rather than inquire about the false address, she set aside the warrant and dropped the charge.
Customers at Captain's knew Gamble only as the restaurant's helpful GM: a man who spent 12 hours a day at the eatery and enjoyed nothing more than a Dolphins game and a bottle of wine. "Richard has always been so kind to us," says Sharon Seipp, a legal secretary from Kendall who eats regularly at the restaurant. "Sometimes I would call and request a conch sandwich ahead of time," she says. "Richard would always have it ready for us."
But recently, it seems the stress of evading police for so long finally got to Gamble. Restaurant employees say he began drinking before it opened every morning and was an angry-drunk by day's end. Sometimes he made strange, menacing references to Vietnam, even showing what he said were battle scars. Occasionally he pointed a finger at his waitresses as if squeezing off a round.
On March 23, according to court records, waitress Rebecca Inman watched her boss whip out a pistol, open the chamber, and slowly count the bullets inside. Then he counted the number of employees in the restaurant and announced, "I have enough to go around."
On April 4, Inman and several other employees pulled Gamble aside. They claimed to have seen Hyman steal from the cash register. Gamble was furious. "You are an asshole and a liar," he shouted at Inman, according to court documents.
The next day, Inman and two other waitresses were in the kitchen around 9 p.m. when he patted the pistol in his pocket, pointed his finger, and threatened to kill them. Inman and waitress Ruth Di Pasqua tried to leave, but the manager followed them out the door.
"I am going to put a bullet in Ruth's head. I have one with her name on it," Gamble warned, according to court records. "If I am fired, I am not going out without a bang. I am not leaving without shooting this place up. It will be like Vietnam." According to a police report, Gamble also pulled his gun that night on 18-year-old busboy Josvany Carrillo, asked him if he'd ever been shot, and began to laugh.
The terrified employees drove to the Florida City Police Department. When cops arrested Gamble the following afternoon, they found three weapons stashed in his tiny trailer home a mile from the restaurant: the black pistol, another handgun, and a shotgun.
Gamble was out on bond the next day. But on April 8, an FBI fingerprint database identified him as the only suspect in the murder of Mitch Arambel in Los Banos, California.
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Two days after his restaurant meltdown, Miranda was arrested for good. A squad car full of cops wearing bulletproof vests screeched to a halt in front of his trailer. Miranda was alone and calm when he answered the door.
"I'm glad it's finally over," he said as Florida City Police detectives handcuffed him.
No one in Gamble/Miranda's family would say much about his capture. His aunt Inez Baty said only, "It was tragic for the family," before hanging up. And his victim's granddaughter told a California newspaper the arrest meant "closure" for her family.
"There's no question he made a mistake," admits Bowers, Gamble's former boss. "But we all make mistakes. He shot a man that he caught in bed with his wife. I think a lot of other people would do the same thing... That doesn't make him an evil man."