Straight from the cat’s mouth

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Straight from the cat’s mouth

In our line of work we occasionally get to spend time at seminars with some very accomplished criminals. Counterfeiters, embezzlers, and cat burglars, oh my! At a recent convention we had a chance to meet a cat burglar of some renown. And while never actually caught, he was very well known by the insurance and high-end jewelry industry. In our wide-ranging discussions we learned a great deal about how these burglars work.

As a jewel thief, the first thing you need is a target. The best targets were in Orange County, California, along the Dallas / Austin corridor, and on the east coast of southern Florida. Every so often he would drive though these different locations. He would visit high-end jewelry store parking lots and write down the plate numbers of the fancier cars, then work to trace those cars back to a residence. He would also pick up society magazines and see who was wearing what jewelry in the vanity photos. He also kept a very good calendar on for the different charity and social events, with a list of who would be in attendance at which events.

This detailed process of lead generation and record keeping allowed for the efficient vetting of potential targets. It also allowed for the assemblage, over the years, of an inventory of different pieces of jewelry for each of the socialites culled from the vanity photos in the society magazines.

Appearance at high-end jewelry stores prior to an event was a clue that a new bauble was being added to the collection, and that the previous baubles would be left at home during the event. It also allowed for the assessment of “lower events” where the target maybe present but not likely to wear any of the good stuff.

Additional vetting was done in person. He would crash society events as a well dressed, convivial, member. He actually became fairly well-known and even, much to the chagrin of all involved, ended up with no small number of photos in society publications.

The objective was to determine the value of the target, and what was to be expected at the residence while they were away at an event, including how much time the target would be gone. Finding the residences of the socialites was not difficult. County records were usually all that was needed.

Alarms at the home were always a problem, but since alarm companies love to put up signs and stickers, they knew what company was running and monitoring the alarms. Most alarm installers don’t bother to remove the factory default codes for the alarms, and he knew which firms were sloppy. For those alarm installers known to do their job correctly, and where it was a target of high desirability, he would trigger the alarm several times in the preceding weeks leading up to the event, and sometimes even as the target was leaving. Most of the time he would place powerful magnets by several of the window alarms just prior to the society event so the alarm would either go off or be unable to be set. The target always gave up on the alarm and left the residence un-alarmed.

Once the target was selected and calendared, the target would be studied as laboratory animals (or potential subjects for kidnapping) would be studied. All of the regular places, habits, friends, et cetera, would be cataloged. He would know more about the target than possibly even their spouse, so when the night came, nothing would happen by accident.

His selected entrance to a target home would be the most secluded, most expeditious, and closest to where the target’s jewelry might be hidden. He frequently would discover that most of the jewelry was kept unlocked in a jewelry box on a dresser, or in a locked drawer in a closet. Some was kept in safes, which were not secure since he would have several hours open it.

All good things come to an end. The pictures in the vanity publications were not only his shopping list, but also nearly lead to a rap sheet. An insurance investigator began to tie his appearance in town to the daring thefts. The first hint of danger was when he opened a locked drawer in a closet of one of his targets inAustin. It contained only a note. “Sorry, Hank, we are on to you.” That sent a cold shiver down his spine, and he ran and never went back toAustin. Then, four months later inSouth Florida, he found the same note in the safe of a target. “Sorry, Hank, we are on to you.” That was his last night of work.

He later learned that an insurance carrier had contacted all of the big clients tided to these society events and had instructed them to move all of their jewelry to a bank vault, and leave the note in place of the jewelry. The fact that the insurance company had his alias was a great shock.

So what were Hank’s suggestions to keep stuff safe? Simple, read the story and see what everyone was doing wrong. They had cut-rate security systems, if they had any at all. In most cases, if they were above the 10th floor and lived in a “secure building,” targets usually failed to lock their verandah doors or condo windows.

Next, keep good fakes in the jewelry box and safe. Secure the good stuff someplace other than in the bedroom, or the closet, or behind a painting. When traveling, bring one set of good jewelry to wear out. If you want more for day use, buy some good paste. Good enough to fool friends, but not so good that an expert could not spot it 20 feet away.

He also suggested quit showing up in society vanity papers – essentially advertising what they owned – but some things are just too much to ask.

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