General Crime

* Ramiro Espinoza talked with Hayward jeweler minutes before slaying

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About 35 minutes before he was gunned down in his Hayward jewelry store Thursday afternoon, Ramiro Espinoza bought a soda and chatted with an employee of a neighboring small business in the Mission Plaza shopping center on Tennyson Road. “He came in at 3:15 that day and we talked a little bit, about funny things,” said the employee, who asked not to be identified.

“He always came by. He spoke a little Chinese to me, I spoke a little Spanish to him.” No one reported hearing the shot from within Espinoza’s store minutes later, nor did anyone report seeing a suspect. The employee did hear the sirens from a fire department ambulance and came out to watch paramedics, who had moved the wounded Espinoza outside in front of the store, try in vain to revive him. “I saw him die,” the employee said.

“My God, it’s so sad. I felt so bad I could not sleep for a few days.” Espinoza’s murder, on a major street in Hayward, remains a mystery to Hayward police. Officers are trying to locate witnesses and potential evidence from video surveillance in the area, but don’t have anything significant yet, Lt. Roger Keener said Tuesday. “We are looking for any leads under a rock right now,” said Keener, who added that an autopsy on Espinoza’s body has been completed.

Although Espinoza advertised his business as a jewelry store, the products he sold included a mixture of western-style wear, perfumes, leather goods and custom-made belts, Keener said. Espinoza, 53, a father of three sons, also had a “cash for gold” side business, in which he offered money in exchange for weighted quantities of gold, but that was not his primary business, Keener said.

“The business was reasonably small as far as the storefront goes,” Keener said. “It was eclectic, a lot things in there. It’s not like his business was a cash for gold.” Absent any immediate leads, the police investigation will center on “victimology,” which involves compiling information about Espinoza’s personal life, such as if he had any complaints from customers, Keener said. According to the business information service Dunn & Bradstreet, Espinoza opened his business in 2000, employed two people and had $170,000 in annual sales.

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