Sunday, August 4, 2013

Would It Be Easier for the Ghost Burglar to Operate Today?



At a recent book signing event I was asked, “Would it be easier for the Ghost Burglar to operate today, given all the information available on the internet and the sites where used items can be sold?” The answer is "No, just the opposite."  But, let me explain.

In the 1960s and 1970s, when Bernard Welch, the Ghost Burglar, was active, there were no personal computers, smart phones, national crime data base, security cameras or internet. Residential burglar alarm systems were rare and only found in the homes of the wealthy. There were few laws requiring identification for any transaction, and even credit cards were unusual. Most people paid for everything in cash or by personal check from a local bank. Personal communication was by mail through the US Postal system, or expensive, long distance telephone service. The national interstate highway system was just being constructed.

In essence, at that time, America was divided into regional areas, and most people didn't venture from their region. Within those regions, such as the Northeast, Middle Atlantic or Midwest, were numerous local jurisdictions with their own police departments. These police departments concentrated on local crime and there was infrequent communication among most agencies. That was the status of crime fighting until the advent FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC) in 1967. The NCIC was established to facilitate the flow of information among the numerous branches of law enforcement, but it took many years to become truly effective.

The Ghost Burglar’s operation was based on regional isolation. He stole in one region and sold in another,  sometimes half a continent away. Working alone and in secret, he used his common-law wife to front for him, so he personally would never be connected to anything. When he bought anything, it was always in cash. The only time he was vulnerable were the few minutes spent at the scene of the crime. He literally was a ghost, a man who did not exist, and that made him “invisible” as far as local police were concerned.

Could that happen again? No, not as he did it then. First, now there is the ubiquitous use of security cameras. It is almost impossible not to be on camera in today’s world. Think of store, bank, ATM’s, speed, red light, traffic and street security cameras. It is almost impossible to remain anonymous today. Add in the internet services that show action clips around the world within minutes of an incident and any regional activity can be beamed around the world practically in real time. That’s how the Boston Marathon Bombers were identified so quickly.

As to selling things online, a seller has to post photos of the items along with contact information. With victims monitoring such sites, I am sure most would recognize their property. Such information would make the investigator's life so much easier. An old police axiom is, “find the stolen goods, find the thief.” Today, a computer literate investigator can discover more information in an hour than in a day a generation ago.
The national security procedures implemented since 9/11 have made the criminal’s life even more of a challenge. It is much more difficult now to procure a valid driver’s license in each state. A valid, government issued, photo identification is necessary for just about everything now, including medical treatment and airline tickets. 


Still worried about your house being broken into by a professional thief? You should be more concerned with neighborhood kids skipping school. Residential burglary is frequently a juvenile crime and easier to deter by the use of standard locks and minimal alarm systems.

                                                                                                                  - James D. King





Still worried about your house being broken into by a professional thief? You should be more concerned with neighborhood kids skipping school. Residential burglary is frequently a juvenile crime and easier to deter by the use of standard locks and minimal alarm systems.
James D. King

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Observations on the Psychology of Bernard Welch



Bernard Welch en route to prison.
Reprinted with permission of the DC Public 
Library, Star Collection, © Washington Post.
One question I have often asked myself is. “What caused Bernard Welch to become what he was?”  The simple answer is that he was a sociopath, but a one word definition of behavior is not an explanation. From his actions and the statements of others, it can be deduced that he was intelligent, cunning, greedy, amoral, secretive, self important, violent, distrustful, a bully, a habitual liar, a criminal and a racist. He was an olio of much that was bad and little of what was good. Nowhere in his mental landscape was there a sign of sympathy, shame, remorse or real love.

From his criminal record, it seems obvious that Welch was driven by compulsion. The thousands of burglaries during his lifetime indicate that he was an over-achiever. While that might be laudable in the working world, in the world of crime, it eventually leads to defeat, as Al Capone learned in the 1930s. Over-achievers have a need to succeed for many reasons, including the need to prove their superiority to others. According to many psychologists, this compulsion is underlain by a person's belief that he, or she, really is inferior.

I believe Welch secretly believed he was inferior and that he probably turned to crime as an antidote for that powerful insecurity. He was a school dropout, and at best, a self-taught plumber destined for a second-rate life. He wanted more, but had no way to get there. The only thing he had ever been good at was stealing, so that was the way he went. Welch stated in a press interview that he enjoyed the “thrill” of a life of crime. Why? Was it because he was able to prove by stealing and rape that he was better, smarter and stronger than his victims?

It must have been in his early teens when Welch realized he was different from everybody else. Others would resist doing certain things they believed to be wrong. They were restrained by conscience, and it is evident that from an early age, he was not. It seemed there was nothing to hinder Welch from doing whatever he wanted, except the penalties of law – and that only mattered if he was caught.  

Of course, he was caught and incarcerated several times. He could have changed his course at any time, but he didn’t. In prison, he learned new criminal skills and refined old ones. He even received some degree of respect from fellow inmates, more than he garnered on the outside. He must have relished that.

Welch was quoted by the newspapers as saying, he intended ”to have it all,” meaning he could get whatever he wanted by criminal means. Did he believe he could go on forever and not get caught? Did he think he would be able to retire to a condo in Florida some day? That would never happen. He could never retire. He was what he was, addicted to life choices he was powerless to change. Intellectually, he had to understand his only retirement plan would be penal servitude. But something within his psyche must have overridden logic, obscuring the ultimate outcome of his criminal career. 

Deep within his core, Welch was so confidant in his ability to elude authorities that he had no real exit strategy.  To quote Paul Marturano, his 1975 fellow escapee, “He (Welch) has got confidence you wouldn’t believe. He figured that he could always get out…one way or another.”

It was that sort of hubris that eventually brought Bernard Welch to a humiliating downfall.
                                                                                                          
                                                                                                           — Jim King

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Searching for a Ghost

Professional burglars seldom make mistakes, such as leaving finger prints behind. So police detectives looking for them need to rely on predictable patterns of operation, sleuthing out informants, or recovering stolen property after it has been sold. Property recovery tends to be the most fruitful avenue because the stolen items can sometimes be traced back to the seller, who often is also the thief. 

Early in 1977, my assigned area was being hit hard with major home burglaries and I was stumped. Because of information supplied to me by the Richmond, Va., City Police, I believed the perpetrator was probably Bernard Welch, but had nothing that definitely tied him to the Washington, D.C., area. I assumed he must be working alone, because I couldn’t locate an informant who would rat him out. Also, the items he was stealing simply were not turning up in the District, at least not that I could find. I checked the usual legitimate places, including area pawn shops, auction galleries, and antique stores – all  with negative results. That left only “fences,” the people who knowingly bought stolen property.

Fences typically operate in the in the shadows of the criminal world. Discovering who they are is only part of the equation, proving that someone actually bought stolen goods is a more difficult issue. I knew the Ghost Burglar was pilfering gold, silver, antiques and Oriental rugs. I had also heard about  a man who owned an Oriental rug shop in Bethesda, MD.  It was said that this guy was a fence who bought hot Oriental rugs, antiques, silver and jewelry. That made me suspicious he might be a connection to the Ghost Burglar.

But I needed to find some point of law to use as leverage. If I could find that the rug shop owner was doing something wrong, I might be able to persuade him to give up the Ghost Burglar if he was one of the shop owner’s clients. With permission of the detective lieutenant, I requested $40 from police undercover funds for a small sting operation, hardly enough to do what I wanted. Still, it allowed me to go to an antique dealer I trusted and purchase a few pieces of old silver that looked like they could have been stolen from a residence. I bought six matching Russian silver dessert forks made in the late 1800s at wholesale, using the undercover money.

Then I sought help from Detective Dave Morton, who worked undercover. Because of his worn clothes, easy smile and laid back manner, he was the last person anyone would suspect of being a cop. Dave agreed to help me with my scheme. He went to the Oriental rug store to make contact with the shop owner. 

At first, the shop owner was wary of the shabbily dressed stranger, but he reluctantly agreed to look at the “goods” Dave had to offer. This was a time when the price of silver was rising because the Hunt Brothers of Texas were manipulating the international silver market. Thanks to Dave’s appearance and his own greed, the shop owner offered to purchase the Russian forks for less than I had paid for them. He also invited Dave to come back if he ever had more stuff like that to sell.

This outcome was encouraging, so I secured additional undercover funds to purchase more Russian silverware. After that, Detective Morton wore a concealed “wire” (recording device) when he visited the shop. After two more visits to the Oriental rug shop, the owner started bragging to Dave about some of the other items he had purchased from “walk-ins” to his shop. He displayed a pump shotgun, saying it had been stolen from a police cruiser and pointed out other items he had bought cheaply. The merchant even vaguely hinted at drugs being smuggled in rolled Oriental carpets imported from the Middle East.

Detective Morton and I researched reports for a stolen “police” shotgun. We had the make and model, but Dave was not able to copy the serial number without breaking cover. If we could locate a similar weapon taken from a police cruiser, that might be enough to get a search warrant and arrest the shop owner or receiving stolen property. This kind of outcome could give me the leverage needed to encourage this merchant to talk about his “walk in” clients. My hope was that one of those clients would turn out to be the mysterious Ghost Burglar. Unfortunately, no Washington area police department had reported a missing shotgun, so that door closed.   

Eventually, Dave and I determined that the rug man was a braggart who did not operate on a scale an active thief like the Ghost burglar would use. He appeared to be an opportunistic, small-time buyer of whatever property walked into his shop. He might suspect that the property was stolen, then offer to pay a low price and ask no questions. But none of this was against the law, so Dave and I decided to discontinue the investigation.

The Montgomery County Police Department lost a few dollars on my scheme, but did gain some worthwhile knowledge about the suspicious business practices of one of its local merchants. From this experience, I realized that, with the huge amount of property being stolen by the Ghost Burglar, it was unlikely he could unload it in the Washington area without the police noticing. The goods he was stealing had to be going out of state.

Thanks to the Richmond police, I had the name of Bernard Welch.  But I couldn’t connect him to the rash of burglaries in the District.  I was still chasing a ghost.
                                                                                                                     — James King

Friday, May 17, 2013

Author James King at Gaithersburg Book Festival

If you are in the Maryland/DC area, be sure to meet Ghost Burglar co-author James King at the Gaithersburg Book Festival on Saturday, May 18. Stop by and get the inside scoop on King's investigation into Bernard Welch and, if you ask nicely, maybe even get an autograph for your copy of Ghost Burglar!

King will be at the Maryland's Writer's Association (Montgomery County Chapter) tent, as well as the Novel Places Bookstore tent. The festival runs from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and is located on the Gaithersburg City Hall grounds.


Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Ghost Burglar Wins IPPY Award

Congratulations to Jack Burch and James King, winners of a 2013 Independent Publisher Book Award (IPPY)! Ghost Burglar received the bronze medal in the True Crime category. This is great national recognition for all their hard work!

*     *     *     *     *

From the Independent Publisher Book Awards website: "The Independent Publisher Book Awards were conceived in 1996 as a broad-based, unaffiliated awards program open to all members of the independent publishing industry. The awards are intended to bring increased recognition to the thousands of exemplary independent, university, and self-published titles produced each year, and reward those who exhibit the courage, innovation, and creativity to bring about change in the world of publishing."

Ghost Burglar Authors Interviewed on WPR Today



Do you have a question for Ghost Burglar authors Jack Burch and James King? Do you want to learn more about Bernard Welch's criminal activities? Then be sure to tune in to your local Wisconsin Public Radio station! Jack Burch and Jim King will be featured on At Issue today, May 7, between 3:00 and 4:00 p.m. CST.

Jack and Jim will discuss Ghost Burglar with host John Munson, as well as take questions from callers.

Not in Wisconsin? No worries! There are several ways to tune in.

1) Stream live WPR broadcasts on your computer.

2) Listen on any mobile device using the free WPR app (iPhone/iPad and Android).

3) Listen at TuneIn Radio online or download the free TuneIn app (iPhone/iPad and Android).

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Bernard Welch and Terrorism: The 2004 Verdict that Helped Cut Off Financing for Al Qaeda, Hamas, and Other Terrorist Organizations from U.S.-based Groups

In the 1970s, '80s, and '90s, terrorists were killing Americans in the Middle East. People were suing and winning large judgments against governments, such as Iran and Libya, whose sponsorship of terrorism and terrorist organizations, such as the Palestinian Liberation Organization and Hamas, had previously been ignored. The leaders in foreign lands seemed to have an immunity from the world’s courts, that is until a father and daughter legal team, Lewin and Lewin of Washington, D.C., reviewed the case of Halberstam vs. Hamilton.

In Halberstam vs. Hamilton, a case that went all the way up to the U.S. Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia in 1983, the court upheld a lower court decision that Linda Hamilton was, indeed, a co-conspirator and in a joint venture with her criminal lover, Bernard C. Welch. Though she was not at the scene of the murder of Dr. Michael Halberstam, it was determined she had knowledge of her partner's illegal activities, helped make those activities possible, and shared in the rewards.

This was the principle that Lewin and Lewin applied to their civil case, in which 17-year-old Brooklyn-born David Boim was murdered by Hamas in Israel, and his parents were suing. In this case, Lewin and Lewin named not only Hamas, but also its American-based support group. There were large donors, banks that held and transferred money around the world, and the financers who managed the funds. The people and organizations that gathered, controlled, and moved the donations claimed the money was going only to Middle East charities. The court found that these organizations had knowledge of what type of outfits the PLO and Hamas were and what the funds would really be used for.

This 2004 case, and the $156 million verdict, was the largest U.S. civil suit awarded that year. It dealt a crippling blow to terrorism supporters in America, drying up funds and support for Hamas and other terrorist organizations. This court decision is still being cited to combat the funding of terrorism. And it all happened because Elliot Jones Halberstam, “as the personal representative of the estate of Michael Halberstam, brought a wrongful death and survival action for damages on behalf of the estate, Michael Halberstam’s two children, and herself,” according to court documents.

The Story Behind This Significant Ghost Burglar Legal Decision

In late 1981, Elliot Jones Halberstam, individually and as administratrix of the Michael Halberstam estate, sued Bernard C. Welch and Linda Hamilton in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. During the trial, Ms. Hamilton testified that her common-law husband, Bernard Welch, had given her $1.1 million in 1978 and 1979, stating it came from his investments in stocks, real estate, and coins. She also testified that she filed income tax returns for everything he gave her and she believed their income came from legitimate sources. The tax filings were her attempt to prove that she had acted legally and was not a party to Welch’s crimes. The plaintiff produced a receipt for a $74,000 payment for gold and silver sold to a California refinery in April 1980 to illustrate the extent of the Welch-Hamilton operation.

On cross-examination, Ms. Hamilton stated all the money she was given by Welch had been spent or attached by the IRS. She said she was unemployed and her Virginia home had been foreclosed and stood vacant. Now she lived in a small rental house and had filed for public assistance but was rejected because she still owned a late-model Mercedes. She also stated that her Duluth, Minnesota, home was also foreclosed by the bank and remained unsold.

At the end of the civil trial, U.S. District Court Judge Aubrey E. Robinson Jr. ruled that the estate of Michael Halberstam should be awarded $5,715,188.05. He said the shooting of Dr. Halberstam was “deliberate, willful, unlawful, and malicious.” Of the $5.7 million, Elliot Halberstam was granted $123,488, the remainder was to go to Dr. Halberstam’s two teenage sons from his first marriage.

Bernard Welch failed to answer the civil charges and a default judgment was entered against him. Linda Hamilton was considered by the court as a “willing partner in his (Welch’s) activities." The court transcript reads that Hamilton “knew full well the purpose of his evening forays and the means by which she and Welch had risen from rags to riches in a relatively short period of time. She closed neither her eyes nor her pocketbook to the reality of the life she and Welch were living.” The judge also noted that after Welch smelted down the gold and silver, Linda typed the transmittal letters for the sales. “The conclusion is inescapable that she…was compliant, but neither dumb nor duped, so long as her personal comfort and fortune were assured. She was a willing partner in his criminal activities…. She had guilty knowledge and knowingly and willingly assisted in Welch’s burglary enterprise.” Hamilton was, therefore, “vicariously liable” for Dr. Halberstam’s murder. Between the IRS, this civil judgment, other judgments and liens, Linda Hamilton now owed almost $13.5 million.

Justice Antonin Scalia Was Among Appeal Court Judges Who Ruled on the Case

Antonin G. Scalia, the longest-serving 
Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, 
was among three judges to rule on the
appeal of this important case.
In 1982, Linda Hamilton appealed this decision, but Bernard Welch did not. He had been sentenced to serve 143 years in prison, so for him the point was moot.

In April 1983, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia affirmed the lower court’s decision. The three judges sitting for the civil trial appeal were the Honorable Antonin G. Scalia, who would become an Associate Supreme Court Justice, the Honorable Robert H. Bork, who would be a Reagan nominee for Associate Supreme Court Justice, and the Honorable Patricia M. Wald. In her Opinion for the Court, Chief Judge Wald stated that Linda Hamilton was civilly liable as a “joint venturer and co-conspirator” for the killing, even though she was not present at the crime. The murder of Michael Halberstam was “a natural and foreseeable consequence of the activity Hamilton helped Welch to undertake. It was not necessary that Hamilton knew Welch was committing burglaries. Rather when she assisted him, it was enough that she knew he was involved in some type of personal property crime at night...whether as a fence, burglar, or armed robber made no difference – because violence and killing is a foreseeable risk in any of these enterprises.”

Judge Wald’s opinion was well researched and damning of Linda Hamilton. “Hamilton’s invaluable service to the enterprise as banker, bookkeeper, record keeper, and secretary is substantiated by her own testimony. She performed these services in an unusual way under unusual circumstances for a long period of time and thereby helped launder the loot and direct attention away from Welch…. She gave not only her time and talents but also her name to accomplish that objective.”  The lower court’s ruling was based on the criminal court’s transcript and Linda’s own testimony. It detailed that she knew, or should have known, that over a period of five years, her co-habitatant, Welch, was involved in criminality. Judge Wald rendered an affirmation that everyone believed to be correct. “Hamilton’s continuous participation reflected her intent and desire to make the venture succeed. It was no passing fancy or impetuous act.”

Elliot Jones Halberstam did receive some justice, such as it was. It was not confinement, as it could have been, but the civil judgment, combined with the IRS levy, meant that Linda Hamilton and Bernard Welch would never profit from Dr. Michael Halberstam's murder. It also meant that Linda would have the Internal Revenue Service watching her and seizing any money she earned, a virtual imprisonment from which Linda Hamilton could never hope to escape and would dog her until the end of her life.

When she filed the suit, Elliot Jones Halberstam could not have foretold that the Halberstam vs. Hamilton decision would eventually lead to a ruling that made it harder for terrorist organizations to raise funds in the United States under the guise of “philanthropic” activities, but her late husband, Dr. Michael Halberstam, would have rejoiced at the outcome.

                                                                                  – Jim King and Jack Burch