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Brutal pizza shop attack detailed

Records describe the scary moments after gunmen entered the Loop Pizza Grill.

By TIM GRANT

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 8, 2000


CARROLLWOOD -- In the tense hours after a pizza driver was slain May 12 and the owner of another pizza restaurant was shot the next morning, the leads came quickly.

Matching .22-caliber shells at both crime scenes, a grainy surveillance tape and key interviews quickly got detectives moving on a trail that led to the arrest of Earl "E.J." Hinson and Harold Wolf within 48 hours of the murder.

Hinson, 21, and Wolf, 27, are charged with first-degree murder in the death of Windy City Pizza driver Eduardo Natal, 23, and accused of trying to kill Mike Robie, owner of the Loop Pizza Grill in Carrollwood.

Wolf also is charged with the attempted murder of Ana Arrambide, a 16-year-old Blake High School junior who was helping Robie open the store. Arrambide said Wolf put a gun to her head and pulled the trigger, but it did not fire.

Robie, who was hit in the face, thigh and chest -- a total of 10 times -- survived. Though neither he nor almost anyone else connected to the attack and the murder the night before is talking, records recently released by state prosecutors describe the scary moments of the Loop attack, and the solid work of the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office that led to the arrests.

Both defendants have pleaded innocent. Records show they gave incriminating statements to the police, though the transcripts of their statements have not been released.

The arrests calmed Carrollwood, but the friends, family and co-workers of those involved still wonder what spurred the violence.

"While it doesn't make it any easier to accept the murder or the senseless violence, there's some solace in knowing that they've been caught and will stand trial for the crimes," said Bill Henry, owner of Windy City Pizza.

According to police records, two men entered the Loop around 8 a.m., just as Robie and Arrambide were preparing the store for that Saturday's lunch business.

Someone put a gun to the back of Robie's head and demanded that he open the safe. Robie told investigators he decided to fall down and fake a heart attack, hoping the man would leave.

The ruse failed. When Robie went down, the gunman emptied his .38-caliber pistol at him. Then another gunman came to the door, fired a couple of shots from what police believe was a .22-caliber pistol and walked off.

A security camera caught the gunmen, but their faces could not be identified on the videotape.

Police showed it to Thomas McHale, a Loop co-owner, and he told police he recognized Hinson, a former employee, by the way he walked. McHale knew if it was Hinson, the other man had to be his inseparable best friend, Wolf. They both quit working for McHale at the same time, he said.

While deputies prepared the criminal report and warrant for Hinson's arrest, they became convinced that Friday night's homicide was connected to the Loop attack.

They discovered that Hinson used to live at the same address, 14037 Wolcott Drive, where Natal was found dead. No one at the address had ordered a pizza from Windy City that night, though a caller had requested it be delivered there.

Next, they found Natal's 1997 white Kia Sephia at the Bay Water apartment complex on W Waters Avenue, where Hinson's father lives.

A red pizza bag was on the Kia's roof. In a nearby garbage bin, deputies found a bloody latex glove and two Windy City Pizza boxes containing uneaten pizzas.

By 11 p.m. Saturday, detectives closed in on the house of Hinson's mother at 17705 Simms Road in Odessa. Records show Hinson tried to run out the back door, but he was arrested inside the house. Authorities said Hinson then made statements that implicated him and Wolf in the two shootings.

A few hours later, about 4 a.m. Sunday, deputies arrived at Wolf's house at 5404 Aragon Court in Carrollwood. He agreed to speak with them in a cruiser outside. Detective Mike Hurley wanted to know what Wolf and Hinson had been up to the previous night.

Wolf said they had seen Gladiator at the Veterans 24 the night of May 12, returned to Wolf's for the night, then went to Hinson's house on Saturday morning. Both men lived with their parents.

"Didn't you leave something out?" Hurley asked.

"I don't think so," Wolf replied.

"What about visiting Hinson's brother at West Shore Mall?"

"Yeah, we did go there, too," Wolf said.

When Wolf could think of nothing else he and Hinson did that day Hurley asked, "What about the robbery of the Windy City Pizza delivery boy?"

According to the records, Wolf then also made incriminating statements.

Officers searched Wolf's car and found a black hood with eye holes underneath a seat, but it was not taken into evidence.

In an earlier search of Hinson's room, they found a May 12 pay stub on which he had written the names and telephone numbers of gun shops he and Wolf visited that same day.

Donald Brown of Sonny's Gun Shop told detectives the two men came in that day and spent $43.82 for ammunition, including a box of .22 shells, the same kind found at the scene of Natal's slaying and the Loop robbery.

The records released by prosecutors link Hinson and Wolf to the crimes, yet there's little indication of motive. According to the documents, whoever killed Natal didn't take several hundred dollars in his pockets.

One hint came from Hinson's brother, Paul Hinson. He told investigators Wolf had hard feelings toward the owner of the Loop because he felt he had been cheated out of an opportunity to be manager of a new pizza restaurant.

Hinson and Wolf have worked for a variety of pizza shops in Tampa. They met years ago while working at the Loop Pizza Grill, before Robie or Arrambide were employed there. Neither victim said they knew the suspects.

Wolf worked at Windy City Pizza years before Natal started working there, and store owner Bill Henry said Wolf quit for another job at Vilazzo Pizza in Citrus Park Town Center.

At the time of their arrests, both were making pizzas at Newk's restaurant, near the Ice Palace downtown.

Co-workers said the pair worked there about two weeks and kept to themselves.

- Tim Grant can be reached by calling 226-3471 or via e-mail at grant@sptimes.com.

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