Ronald Miranda, Suspected Murderer, Finally Returns Home to Face the Music

The sad, strange saga of Ronald Miranda is finally drawing to an end.

Miranda bolted from Los Banos, California, in 1980 after allegedly killing a man he found sleeping with his estranged wife. His face was splashed on "FBI's Most Wanted" playing cards around the country, but Miranda successfully reinvented himself as Richard Gamble, the manager of a seafood restaurant in Florida City.

On Friday, however, Miranda was extradited to Merced County, California, to face the murder charge he dodged more than three decades ago.

"We've already been in contact with witnesses and family, at least the ones that are still around," says Tom MacKenzie of the Merced County Sheriff's Department. "They are grateful for this and looking forward to it going to trial."

Back in Florida City, things are a bit more acrimonious. Our initial article about Miranda/Gamble and a followup about who might have known about his past drew dozens of comments full of insults and counteraccusations.

Among the much-contested details: Was Miranda really a Vietnam veteran with multiple Purple Hearts? Or was he a pathological liar who stole someone's social security number? Was he "a great guy" or a "rude and obnoxious" drunk who waved his pistol around Captain's Restaurant while threatening to kill his waitresses?

Miranda's Merced County murder trial might finally answer some of those questions. In Miami-Dade, meanwhile, prosecutors have quashed assault charges stemming from Miranda's meltdown at Captain's Restaurant this past March.

For Merced County Sheriff Mark Pazin, the case is personal. He was a deputy 31 years ago when the murder shook the town of Los Banos.

"It was just a horrifying type of murder for a small community," he says. "For something like this to have occurred just mortified everyone." Pazin says Miranda is, in fact, a Vietnam vet, but refutes suggestions that the suspected killer suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

"I don't think that acronym was even known to people back then," he says. "Besides, there was enough time from when he was discharged from service until the incident, so you can't hang your hat on that as an excuse for gunning someone down."

The sheriff says he believes Miranda stayed in contact with family and friends in California during his time on the lam, but ruled out prosecuting anyone else.

"It would be difficult to prove [he had help]," Pazin says. "He's not going to point to anyone who may have helped him over the past three decades... And I'm OK with that."

Miranda's return to Merced County in handcuffs is a relief for Pazin, whose desk is littered with missing-person flyers of children thought to be dead. It's rare that a case is solved after a few years, let alone 31.

"To be on the run for three decades, it pretty much spanned my career," Pazin says. "For me, it provides satisfaction that he is facing justice."

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Michael E. Miller was a staff writer at Miami New Times for five years. His work for New Times won many national awards, including back-to-back-to-back Sigma Delta Chi medallions. He now covers local enterprise for the Washington Post.