Jose Luis Razo Jr. typified the all-American success story. Born in Mexico, he came to Southern California with his family and worked his way through high school, earning honors and praise as a top student and athlete. He was recruited by several Ivy League colleges and chose to play football at Harvard.
Now, police are calling him the "ski-mask bandit."
La Habra police arrested the 20-year-old college sophomore Monday on suspicion of eight armed robberies. He was booked into Orange County Jail, and bail was set at $150,000. As a result of his own statements, he is also suspected of holdups in Costa Mesa, Whittier and Miami.
The robberies, by a man wearing a ski-mask and brandishing a handgun, occurred from December, 1985, to June 28, 1987. Police said all were committed while Razo was on vacation from college.
Wednesday afternoon at the family's La Habra home, Razo's sister, Cecilia, 19, pulled photo albums and scrapbooks from living-room shelves and spoke softly but proudly about her older brother's accomplishments. The albums contained academic commendations and certificates from Servite High School in Anaheim--a private Catholic school--as well as newspaper clippings, a travel schedule from an expenses-paid visit to Dartmouth and letters of acceptance from Columbia, Princeton and Yale universities.
"He's always been a scholar, so he's been a great influence on the kids in the community," she said.
"He's been a leader. He's been fortunate and gifted enough to go to a good high school and college. He's always been quite humble, meek and quiet."
Razo was in Orange County for the summer and had planned to return to Harvard in the fall, she said.
Razo's brother, Albert, 17, said Jose inspired him to do his best.
"My brother used to tell me, 'I'm talented, but you're gifted,' " Albert said. " 'You got anything you want. You got the mind. You got the ability. You can use it.'
"He'd get mad at me when I messed up in school. My seventh-grade year, he told me I wasn't going to be nothing--they were going to look down on me at Servite."
Albert, wearing jeans and one of Jose's tank tops, said his brother had taught him how to quarterback, and as a high school freshman he became a punter for Servite's varsity football team.
But he said he had felt a great deal of pressure at Servite to match Jose's accomplishments and had transferred about seven months ago to La Habra High School, where he is a quarterback.
"I didn't know how he did it," Albert said of Jose's athletic accomplishments. "He was good. I used to wear his jerseys around, (saying) 'Yeah, he's my brother. He's awesome.' "
"I was shocked and surprised," said Richard Guthrie, director of La Habra Boys Club, where Razo has been a member since he was 7 years old.
"He's an exceptionally bright young man who shows all the promise in the world. He's been very active in our sports and leadership groups. Everyone knew he would be successful in life."
Guthrie said Razo came from a working-class family that moved to California in the late 1960s and now lives in a modest La Habra neighborhood.
Defensive captain of the football team and an all-league linebacker his senior year at Servite, Razo was heavily recruited by Ivy League colleges because of his athletic prowess and his academic accomplishments, plus his Hispanic background, Guthrie said.
A Harvard spokesman said Razo had completed his sophomore year and was a linebacker on the varsity football team. Servite High School officials declined to talk about the case.
La Habra Police Capt. Mike Burch said: "We have no idea why he might have done these things."
Burch said Razo had been a suspect in several La Habra holdups for more than a year but declined to elaborate.
Razo was arrested after calling police Monday afternoon to say he had information on the unsolved killing of a 9-year-old Santa Ana girl last month.
When Santa Ana police investigators questioned Razo, they found that he had no new information on the death of Patricia Lopez.
"Once they finished, we began talking with him about the robberies," Burch said.
"Much to our amazement, he began making statements that only the police, the victims or the robber could have known. We were convinced he was telling the truth, so we arrested him."
Permission for Search
On Tuesday, Razo gave police permission to search his bedroom at his family's home on South Mariana Street. Officers found no gun or ski mask, Burch said.
As Razo left the house with three police investigators and got into a patrol car, he told officers "I'll bet I can outrun all of you" and sprinted down the street still handcuffed, Burch said. Officers stopped him without injury three blocks away.
Burch said he had no idea why Razo was willing to discuss the robberies or why he may have committed them.
La Habra Police Detective Mike Moore said, "We don't know, but he may have just wanted to get it off his chest."
In addition to the eight armed robberies in La Habra, which netted $7,100, Razo told police that he had participated in holdups in Costa Mesa, Whittier and Miami, Burch said. He added that he had not yet confirmed independently that the robberies Razo had described in Whittier and Miami had occurred.
Razo had been arrested in La Habra once before, in the summer of 1986 on charges of grand theft, police said. But Moore said he did not know the outcome of that case.
He is to be arraigned today in North Orange County Municipal Court in Fullerton on charges of committing the La Habra robberies.