Friday, December 21, 2012

Ghost Burglar Authors to be on WGN Radio

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Listen up, Ghost Burglar fans! Authors Jack Burch and James King will be interviewed by Paul Lisnek on WGN Radio (720 AM in Chicago) on Monday, December 24, at 9:00 a.m CST.

They will be discussing Ghost Burglar and how the recent escape from the Metropolitan Correctional Center compares with Welch's escape in 1985.

Not in the Chicago area? No worries! There are several ways to tune in.

Stream live WGN broadcasts on your computer.

Listen using the WGN app (iPhone/iPad and Android).

Listen at iHeartRadio online or download the app (iPhone/iPad and Android).

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

Book Signing at The Bookstore at Fitger's

Author Jack Burch will be signing copies of Ghost Burglar at The Bookstore at Fitger's tomorrow.  Stop by and pick up a great (and autographed!) book for everyone on your Christmas list!

Where: The Bookstore at Fitger's (600 East Superior Street, Duluth, Minnesota)
When: Saturday, December 22, 2012
Time: 1:30 to 3:00 p.m.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Ghost Burglar Makes the News

Thanks to an AP story about the recent prison break at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago, Ghost Burglar is finding itself in front of a national audience. The story, with a mention of Ghost Burglar and authors Jack Burch and James King, has been picked up by several national media outlets, including CBS News, ABC News, the Huffington Post, NPR, USA Today, and Yahoo, as well as local media from Boston and Miami to San Diego and Seattle.

It's great to get the word out and let people know they can finally read the incredible true story of the *original* MCC escapee, Bernard Welch.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Chicago MCC Jail Break: It Happened Again!

                                                Image by Joseph Lekas Photography
                              The Metropolitan Correctional Center in downtown Chicago.

Ghost Burglar details how Bernard Welch and Hugh Colomb managed to escape from the downtown Chicago Metropolitan Correctional Center in 1985. Now 27 years later, two other convicts, Joseph Banks and Kenneth Conley, did the same thing – and the similarities are eerie.
  • In 1985, Welch and Colomb were transferred to the MCC to testify about future prison escapes. Banks and Conley were also at the MCC to testify about future prison escapes.
  • In 1985, Welch and Colomb broke through the wall beside the bottom of a window using a weight lifting bar to make a hole. Banks and Conley did the same thing, although at this time the type of tool used is unknown.
  • In 1985, Welch and Colomb tied dozens of bedsheets together to make a rope, which they draped out the window hole. Banks and Conley did the same thing. It should be noted that Welch and Colomb did not use their bedsheet rope, probably because there was a heavy thunderstorm going on, and they felt the wet cloth knots might not hold in the downpour. Instead, they used a 75-foot-long electrical cord to climb down, leaving the bedsheet rope in place.
  • In 1985, Welch reportedly had a lot of money entrusted to his family in Rochester, New YorkHe traveled there to recover the buried hoard. Banks is thought to have $500,000 stashed somewhere from his earlier crimes. He and his cohort escaped from MCC and went immediately to Banks’s family home, allegedly to eat breakfast. Question: If you had just escaped from prison and knew every law enforcement officer in Chicago would be looking for you, would you go home for breakfast? You might if you were seeking clothes, weapons, or money.
  • In 1985, many people were paid off to assist in the escape of Welch and Colomb or to look the other way. Some of them were MCC employees. This was not established until weeks later, after an internal investigation that led to several indictments. In this most recent escape, it is not known what assistance Banks and Conley had on the outside or the inside. Of course it is still early on yet.
  • In 1985, Welch and Colomb knew that breaking through a reinforced concrete wall was a noisy activity. Their destructive efforts were covered with the help of several inmates. They also used smuggled hacksaw blades to cut through the steel reinforcement bars inside the wall. And they had managed to accumulate dozens of bedsheets somehow. In this recent escape, how did Banks and Conley hide the noise? Where did they secrete the dozens of bedsheets needed to rappel down the 10, 16, or 20 stories, depending on which report is true? Why was none of this noticed?
Perhaps the officials at MCC should read the chapter in Ghost Burglar that details Detective Sergeant William Rollins’s investigation into the escape of Bernard Welch and Hugh Colomb. They may find it instructive.

                                                                                     ― James King & Jack Burch

    Monday, November 5, 2012

    Buy the Book!

    Savage Press is pleased to announce that Ghost Burglar: The True Story of Bernard Welch--Master Thief, Ruthless Con Man, and Cold-Blooded Killer by Jack Burch and James King is now available!

    Halloween may be over, but you can still read a truly chilling tale with Ghost Burglar. Mark S. Rubin, St. Louis County Attorney, calls Ghost Burglar a "Tremendous read!" And John E. DeSanto, co-author of Will to Murder and Minnesota Sixth Judicial District Judge raves, "I couldn't put this book down until I had read every detail of the life of this master burglar, con man, and killer."

    Buy Ghost Burglar today! (And remember to lock your doors!)

    Wednesday, October 31, 2012

    Good Versus Evil


    Throughout human history there has been a ceaseless war between the forces of good and evil. I believe that Ghost Burglar represents a part of that eternal conflict. In the scale of world events, this story may seem minor, but it was significant to those involved, especially those who had the misfortune to encounter Bernard Welch.

    On the side of good was Dr. Halberstam. He is best described in an excerpt from the “Memorandum In Aid of Sentencing,” written by Assistant United States Attorneys Alexia Morrison and Jay B. Stephens. This memorandum was submitted to Judge Moultrie after Bernard Welch was found guilty of Dr. Halberstam’s murder:

    “Dr. Michael Halberstam derived his vitality and joy from saving and brightening the lives of others. In his role of physician, he was committed to bringing quality medical care and caring to all whom he could be of help. His conscious goal, to do more than merely reap the profits of his medical training and skill…In his role as citizen, Michael Halberstam had a keen sense of his own part in the community of man. Far from centering on his own wants and needs, he was quick to see the needs of others, even total strangers. Perhaps the best, most oft-cited example of this is his concern over the sufficiency of the playground facilities in his town, Washington, which manifested itself in his devoting precious free time to purchasing and hanging nets at basketball courts in public recreation areas. A singular activity and one of a man who cared about the quality of others lives.”

    In that same document Bernard Welch was characterized as a much different sort of man:

    “In contrast we have the man who took his (Halberstam’s) life—a man who did not even care about life itself for anyone else. This man has deprived not only family and friends, but has taken from society a skilled and caring physician, and from a troubled world the precious resource of love and humanity.”

    Both men devoted their lives to their chosen pursuits. One took the bright road of good by study, compassion, healing and sharing. The other traveled the dark road of evil through theft, rape, violence and selfishness. When those two roads crossed, Dr. Halberstam died, but even as he bled to death, the good doctor made one last contribution to society. He enabled the capture of Bernard Welch.

    This maybe a small example of the triumph of good over evil, but its meaning is great and should not be forgotten.

                                                                                                                           ― James King

    Monday, August 20, 2012

    What I Know Now

    A 1971 mugshot of Bernard C. Welch taken
    by New York State Police in Batavia, N.Y. 
    Six years ago all I knew about Bernard Welch was what I had read in the papers. Sure, I had researched his past criminal life when I was investigating the ghost burglaries. I had also helped process him when he was finally arrested and searched his house in Virginia. I had interviewed his common-law wife Linda, seen his children and saw him in court when he was tried for murder. But I did not know him.
    I did not know of his young life or of the criminal pattern that began to develop when he started shoplifting candy while he was still riding a bike. I knew nothing of the high school dropout, his alcoholic father or fantasizing mother. I never had heard of his trail of crime while he was a teen, his early marriage, his daughters, his houses, or his upstate New York crimes. No, I did not know these things; I did not need to. I knew enough for him to be charged in Montgomery County, Maryland, and I knew enough to exult when he was sent to prison for murder.
    My co-author, Jack Burch, has done a masterful job delving into Welch’s past. I learned of the dark soul Welch hid while he used others for his purposes. I learned of his desire for wealth, for success, for dominance, for recognition, all attained without regard for others. I discovered that, when he was very young, he chose the criminal path to achieve his desires. I learned he was clever, devious, daring and dangerous.
    I learned he was what is known as a sociopath, a person without the internal restraints of normal people. There was no thought within his mind about what was right or wrong, only what was good for him. I learned of the wretched life of poverty he had condemned his three children by Linda to live. He had hidden money he could have given them for food, for medicine, for needed operations, but he did not. The money remained in a hole in the ground until he needed it for his escape years later. To me, as a police officer, a human and a father, this one example of selfishness clearly defined Bernard Welch.
    Yes, I discovered many things about Bernard Welch. These past years of research, learning of his life, learning of his actions, and reading what others have said of him have been extraordinarily revealing; I know him now.
                                                                                                              – James King

    Friday, July 6, 2012

    A Meeting of Minds


     
    FBI poster, describing Bernard Welch and his criminal
    activities.  Circulated in 1976.
    
    In the summer of 2006, I received a call from Montgomery County Police Headquarters. A guy named Jack Burch was trying to locate me about a case I had investigated in 1980. I called the number he left. He was interested in the story of Bernard Welch, the Ghost Burglar and did I remember it?
    Did I remember? Of course I did, I told him, and I still had a cardboard box of notes and photos stacked somewhere in the basement. Mr. Burch was coming to the D.C. area soon. Would it be possible for us to meet and talk? He was thinking of writing a book about the case.
    I investigated the Ghost Burglar for five years and I can honestly say that it affected my life in many ways. The case was so intriguing, so unusual, so strange that I had always thought it was worthy of a book. In conversation with other investigators of the Ghost Burglar, I knew they also had similar thoughts. In the twenty-six years since Bernard Welch was arrested, none of us ever had put pen to paper. I assume, like me, everyday life had intervened.
    A couple weeks later, Jack Burch and I met and hit it off. I listened to his enthusiasm for the project and learned of his background in TV news and video production. I displayed a few wanted posters of Welch and notes from the investigation. A week later, Jack called me at home. He offered to write the book with me. We would be co-authors, sharing in the research and writing,
    I readily agreed. I knew I would never write such a book by myself. Jack, with his enthusiasm, provided the kick in the butt that I needed.  I thought the project would take a year. Six years later, we are still at it. Throughout that time, Jack has been the driving force, doing research, interviewing witnesses, finding unknown facts and following the twists and turns of the story to the end. I believe Jack would have made one crackerjack detective if he had gone into police work.
    Without Jack Burch, that box of notes, photos and wanted posters would still be in the basement under the Christmas decorations. The story of Bernard Welch, the Ghost Burglar, would have never been told.
                                                                                                               ―James King         

    Wednesday, June 27, 2012

    The Fork in the Road

    Jack Burch, circa 1978.
    Every newsie likes to know how a story ends.  And for years, there was one story that I just couldn't get out of my head. That's why when I finally had some time on my hands in 2006,  I contacted a public library in Northern Minnesota to follow up on a story that always left me wondering, "so then what happened?" It involved a big-ticket burglar who was discovered living a double life right in the midst of the good citizens of Duluth. The research librarian, Ellen Pioro, gave me some leads on  newspaper articles connecting the burglar to the murder of a prominent Washington, D.C., heart surgeon. They detailed the shooting of the doctor during a burglary and the shocking chase and capture of a murderer whose trail lead the police to this bucolic port city at the southern tip of Lake Superior. Career criminal Bernard Welch was clearly more than just a Duluth, Minnesota, cat burglar.

    I learned that Welch had been systematically burglarizing homes in Washington, D.C., and the surrounding communities for five years, all while he was an escaped convict on the run from a New York state prison. The murder trial garnered a lot of publicity on the East Coast and the D.C area because of the fame and character of a noted heart surgeon, Michael Halberstam, brother of Pulitzer Prize-winning author David Halberstam. But in the Twin Cities and national media, the whole story was never told because attention went to the larger stories of the shooting of John Lennon, and then an assassination attempt on president Ronald Reagan. One of the most interesting elements of the story that was covered was the almost incredible amount of stolen treasure Welch had stored in his million dollar home in a toney D.C. suburb when he was arrested. It reflected proceeds of just two months of theft, and still the dozens of boxes of high-end merchandise filled an entire 12 foot truck. Experts placed a retail value of the stolen goods between four and five million dollars. A partial listing of the items filled two-plus pages of the Washington Star newspaper.

    James King, December 1980.
    Clearly, the "Duluth cat burglar" story I had set out to investigate suddenly became a lot more interesting.  Wanting to know more, I traveled to Washington, D.C., later in 2006 to speak with Welch’s defense attorney, Sol Rosen, and a number of Welch’s neighbors. During that trip, I made it a point to visit Detective Jim King to see what light he could shed on a story that was looking much bigger than I originally realized. Right after the murder in December of 1980 and up through the 1981 trial, Jim King was the go-to guy for background and opinions on Welch and his criminal activities. Jim expressed an interest in working on the project, and I thought his background and insight into what made Welch tick could be invaluable. We forged a partnership and started working up a manuscript in 2007. I was fortunate. Detective King was a great choice because of his expertise in police and investigative work and insight into the psychology and motivation of this escaped convict millionaire, Bernard C. Welch, Jr.  Together, we were able to see a much bigger picture as we pieced together elements of a complicated and far-ranging story of a criminal whose activities strained the boundary of credibility. 

    Today in Duluth, a mention of Welch's name among the over-50 crowd still brings knowing nods or uncomfortable snickers. His neighbors and those he had business dealings with are still embarrassed to the point of refusing to talk about it. Those who should have been on to him run the gamut from jewelers to county attorneys, from furniture store owners to coin and antique dealers, realtors, stock brokers, postmasters and chiefs of police. In reflecting on how this all began, I can't but help thinking about the wisdom of that great philosopher, Yogi Berra, who recommended, "When you get to a fork in the road, take it."          
                                                                                               ― Jack Burch

    Monday, June 18, 2012

    Where Are All the 'Old' Cops?


    
    
    Have you ever wondered what happens to old cops? Whenever we think of police, we conjure up images of young, flat-stomached men and women in uniform stopping speeders, chasing crime-doers in high-speed chases, or walking a beat in a retail area. Police officers are seldom thought of as old, pot-bellied, or grandparents. But, of course, we age and do other things.
    The primary thing to remember is that police work is a young person’s job. One has to be in good physical shape, able to run and work nights, weekends, and holidays. Sometimes the hours are long. One does not break off an intensive investigation because it’s quitting time. The first 48 hours in a major investigation are the most important. Whether it is a murder, rape, missing child, or some other major incident, the primary investigator continues to work the case as long as humanly possible― or until it’s solved. I’ve known investigators who have worked 18, 24 and even 48 hours without going home. I’ve done a few of those stints myself.
    Police work can be hard, dirty and physically and mentally exhausting. For me, it started to take its toll by age 35. It took longer to recover from injuries received in a fight with a PCP user. Changing work shifts each week was like being in a constant state of jet lag. People telling lies, domestic abuse, child molestation, and other repulsive actions made me leery of anything anyone said. Decomposing bodies; drunken kids mangled in car accidents; telling parents their child, wife, husband or close relative was dead― all of these things are burdens carried in the back of an officer’s mind.
    To be an active street officer requires a young, agile person in mind and body, and that’s why most police retire after 20 or 25 years, if they can last that long. But to retire at age 45 or 50 is too young to stop working. Police retirements are not overly generous. Most officers have families who need food, clothes, orthodontists and college educations. So, retired cops go into other things. Due to contacts, training and experience, most go into security or investigative occupations. Some start businesses. I know of outstanding police officers who went into landscaping, home building, window blind manufacturing, and horse breeding, to name a few second careers. I asked one old cop why he started an auto repair shop. He said because it had nothing to do with police work.
    Every police officer eventually has to face the prospect of retirement and becoming a normal human being again. For some, it’s hard to leave behind the excitement, respect, or even the power of being a police officer.
    For others it is a relief.
                                                              ―James King

    Wednesday, May 30, 2012

    The Seekers

      
    
    Reprinted with permission of the DC Public Library, Star Collection, © Washington Post.
    January 31, 1981.  Loot recovered from Welch's Duluth, Minn., home was displayed at the Blue Plains Police Training Academy in Washington, D.C.  Robbery victims from the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia were invited to view and claim their property. 
    
    A month after the arrest of Bernard Welch, law enforcement learned how he had turned his stolen loot into cash.  Precious metals were melted and sent to refineries, the gems removed and sold separately;  coin collections were broken up and peddled to different dealers; antiques and collectibles went to auction houses to be resold; and fur coats were disposed of individually. In effect, stolen property had been spread across the country like strewing confetti in the wind.  The police advised the victims that, unless their homes were broken into from September to December of 1980, there was almost no hope of finding their stolen property.  Still they came; victims from as far back as five years ago arrived seeking their property.
    Much of the property that Welch stole held more than monetary value.  When he invaded homes, he took irreplaceable family heirlooms: silver baby spoons with a child’s tooth marks; precious paintings of ancestors;  flintlock rifles used by relatives generations ago;  grandmother’s wedding ring brought from the old country; and prized collections that had taken years to accumulate. These victims hoped to find what no amount of insurance money could compensate for.
    Reprinted with permission of the DC
    Public Library, Star Collection,
    © Washington Post.
    The line of victims started on the sidewalk outside the police building. They patiently waited for hours, clutching copies of police reports as their tickets of admission.  The victims were mostly well dressed and grey haired. They were the owners of the large homes in the good neighborhoods that Bernard Welch preyed upon.  They had worked a lifetime to accumulate the things that Welch took.  Had he only taken money, they would not be here, because money can be replaced.  But the Ghost Burglar had also stolen things of sentiment and memory.
    The dozens of police inside escorted each victim past the tables filled with thousands tagged items recovered from Bernard Welch’s homes in Duluth, Minn., and Great Falls, Va. The police officers understood why the seekers came and were patient.  Each victim had paid a heavy price for entry.
    The majority found nothing and left to bury the last hope of rediscovering their lost memories, memories that could not now be passed on to their children.
                                                                   ― James King

     
    
    

    Tuesday, May 22, 2012

    Silverbugs II: The Hunt Brothers and the 'Silver Express'

    
    Herbert and Bunker Hunt testifying before the U.S. Congress, 1981.
    Silver prices peaked from 1979-1980, thanks to the Hunt brothers.
    Bernard Welch, the Ghost Burglar, concentrated his efforts on stealing
    and smelting Sterling silver during this time.
     In late 1977, with a stagnant silver market draining their resources, the Hunt brothers tried attract the attention of various wealthy Arabs to interest them in getting onboard their “silver express.” Herbert and Bunker Hunt knew the sheiks and royal families of the Middle East had immense disposable income from their oil holdings. If the brothers could influence these super-rich to join the noble cause and purchase a few million ounces of silver bullion, the price would surely be pressed upward. The greed factor can affect even these wealthy people, and many were persuaded by the easy assurances from Bunker Hunt that their money would be doubled in a short period of time.

    In early 1979, the International Metals Investment Company (IMIC) was chartered in Bermuda. This outfit was backed by Arab money and also by Bunker and Herbert Hunt. The Hunt brothers proceeded to purchase contracts that called for the delivery 50 million ounces of silver in February and March of 1980. This added to the brothers' prior holdings of futures contracts for 75 million ounces, putting the value of their position at $1.2 billion dollars.     

    By September of 1979 the price of silver had surged to $12.54 per ounce.

    In mid-October, silver was at $17.50 and the Commodities Futures Trading Commission was hearing rumors that the Saudi government was acting in concert with the Hunt brothers to corner the silver market. At the end of December 1979, the commissioners figured that, at the rate the Hunt Brothers and Saudi investors were buying, they would own the entire world’s supply of deliverable silver by early 1982. On December 31st 1979, the price had surged to $32.00 per ounce. The Commodities Futures Trading Commission concluded that their only option was to enforce silver futures contract limits, and soon.

    The commission’s decision on silver futures contracts limits meant that the Hunts, and the other investors acting in concert with them, would be forced to reduce their contract holdings from 90 million ounces to 20 million by mid-February. By January 16, 1980 silver was at $48 an ounce. At this point, the Saudis, the Hunt Brothers, and various affiliated investors had futures contracts and actual physical silver holdings worth in excess of $10 billion.  On Friday January 18, the price of silver hit $50 an ounce for the first time in history. The following Monday, the Commodities Exchange in New York put into force a new rule that trading in silver could only be for liquidation. The bulls, the big buyers of silver like the Saudis, and the brothers Hunt were now placed in the position of only being allowed to sell. The only buyers left were those who had hedged and sold silver short or smaller new buyers of the contracts.

    This situation forced the price of futures contracts and silver down rapidly. In early February, the downturn in silver prices forced many of the big silver buyers to pay money back into the brokerage houses for the first time. They had been buying more and more silver with margin accounts, mainly based on the increase in value on their current holdings. The Hunt brothers and the Saudi investors were now facing substantial margin calls for the first time. If you include the International Metals Investment Company’s $500,000,000 indebtedness, at this point, Bunker and Herbert Hunt had loans outstanding for almost $1.5 billion dollars.

    The price of silver had slipped to the high teens by Wednesday, March 26th.  The next day at the commodities market was undoubtedly the worst in its history. At the end of the days’ trading, the price of silver dropped $3.65 per ounce to $16, a loss of 19 percent. Not only that, but just 20 days earlier, the price was $36 an ounce. This huge loss at the end of the unstoppable slide of silver prices earned this day of March 27, 1980, the dark title of “Silver Thursday.” The frantic manipulation, ending in the dumping of silver to pay off the margin calls, had a deleterious effect on all speculative markets, worldwide. The brokerage house handling the Hunt brothers’ activities was forced to liquidate large blocks of blue chip stocks the Hunts had placed with them as collateral. Unloading these stocks on the market at such a volatile time forced other stocks prices down, too.

    The Hunt brothers had to put virtually all their vast holdings up as security to pay off margin calls on the silver futures they still held that were coming due. Held as collateral were natural gas properties in the North Atlantic off Holland, and more than 100 oil and gas properties in The U.S. and Canada, from Louisiana to British Columbia. Other collateral included coal reserves in North Dakota and stock held in 39 South African gold mines. The Hunt brothers were also forbidden to trade commodities or other futures positions for any speculative purpose. Basically, everything they owned was secured against loans to pay off their debts. The Hunts were not forced to divest themselves of their remaining silver holdings immediately because that glut of silver would have had a dramatically negative effect on the silver commodities market. In the end, the Hunt brothers had to list every possession they had, even personal property, such as watches, cars, houses, fur coats, livestock, and racehorses. To Bunker and Herbert's chagrin, these listings became part of the public record and hit the pages of numerous local and national publications.      

    After all of the trials and lawsuits ended, Bunker Hunt’s comment about the self-inflicted financial misfortunes of the Hunt family was memorable, “A billion dollars isn’t what it used to be.”     
    – Jack Burch

     

    Wednesday, May 16, 2012

    She Made Him Who He Was

    While in prison, Bernard Welch attended the College of Criminal Knowledge.  From the old cons he learned that most of them had been tripped up by blabbing to others and these others had squealed to the cops.  After he escaped from the New York State prison, he never again confided his exploits to another person.  He operated alone and had no close friends; therefore, no one could betray him to the police.  He avoided criminal fences that might connect him to crimes and used only legitimate sources to sell his booty.  Unlike most career criminals, he seldom drank, did not smoke, use drugs or gamble.  In effect, Welch had limited his risk exposure to the few minutes he was in a home illegally.
    Linda Hamilton in the 1970s.
    But he still had a problem and it was a major one.  By the time he had figured everything out, he was on the run, a prison escapee and a wanted man. He used many aliases when selling his stolen goods to legitimate dealers and these dealers often asked for government issued identification.  In the modern world of paper trails, a valid ID was difficult to obtain.
    Bernard found a solution to his problem – women, single, lonely, honest and trusting.  He would find a woman and become intimately connected.  He used a succession of women to help him in his business of crime. They did not know what his business was, as he was a master at fabricating stories to cover his real life, that of an escapee and thief.
    Welch’s liaisons were temporary until he found Linda Hamilton.  Linda was perfect for his needs. She was a small town girl with secretarial skills, naive and trusting. She believed what Bernie told her. He was nice looking, intelligent and projected an air of intrigue that made him interesting, even exciting. She fell in love and Bernie had no mercy. He sucked her into his web until there was no escape.
    Linda enabled Bernie to be a prolific thief. She was the honest citizen front that he required to get to the next level of his endeavors.  He stayed in the background, conducting his nightly “business” while she handled the paperwork.  She provided him with a legitimate name by using a relative’s birth certificate. She opened the bank accounts, bought the cars, got the insurance, kept the books, filed the taxes, opened the investment portfolios, bought the houses, sent the melted gold and silver to refineries, lied about being married, bore his children and did whatever else was needed to make their life comfortable, respectable and wealthy.
    At some point, Linda must have suspected that her almost husband was a crook, but by then it was too late for her.  With three kids, her options were to continue to suspend reality and live day-to-day with Bernie, or return to Duluth with her children and live on welfare. She took what seemed the easy way out, continuing to be one-half of a criminal enterprise. 
    Without Linda, Bernard Welch would have been just another small-time thief, as he had been in New York and West Virginia.  Instead, she enabled this man, whom she did not know was also a rapist and murder, to become the most successful burglar in American history.   I believe it can truly be said that she helped make him what he was.
    – James King

    Wednesday, May 9, 2012

    Silverbugs I: The Lure of Gold and Silver

    The stock market crash of 1929, and the resultant Great Depression, caused financial panic and infectious distrust of paper currency. This led to widespread withdrawals of cash from banks, rampant bank failures, and feverish and incessant purchases of gold and silver bullion and coinage – hard currencies. In 1933, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed an executive order that made the ownership and possession of investment gold – including gold bars, ingots, or gold by the ounce – illegal for American citizens.

    Two Texas oilmen, the Hunt brothers, had become immensely rich from oil exploration and drilling worldwide in the 1950s and 1960s. The oldest brother, Nelson Bunker Hunt, was considered the richest man in the world as the 1970s approached. He was making nearly $40 million a year from his Libyan oil leases alone, at a time when a barrel of oil went for $3.50. (Yes, that's three dollars and fifty cents!) William Herbert Hunt and Nelson Bunker Hunt thought the world was a very financially unstable place in the early 1970s, made worse by turmoil in the Middle East, runaway inflation, and the Vietnam War. Since gold was still illegal as hard currency storage, the Hunts went after the next best thing, silver.

    The brothers began purchasing silver in 1970 as a hedge against inflation or more severe economic calamities. They were paying $1.50 an ounce, and from 1970 through 1973, amassed eight tons of the precious metal. The Hunt brothers' buying pressure doubled the price of silver, and their investment rose to $3 per ounce. Near the end of 1973, Bunker and Herbert Hunt decided to ramp up their purchases, and soon these two men possessed 55 million ounces of silver. This was about 10 percent of the world's supply, weighing in at 1,964 tons.   

    Bernard Welch ID photo from the Adirondack Correctional
    Treatment and Evaluation Center in New York
    Convicted burglar Bernard Welch was shipped out of Attica Prison in New York on November 13, 1973. He had survived the worst prison riot in the history of the United States a little more than two years earlier. Prison officials felt he was ready for a less severe environment at the Adirondack Correctional Treatment and Evaluation Center (ACTEC) in Dannemora, New York. Welch was due for a parole hearing in 1975. 

    By spring 1974, the price of silver rose to $6 per ounce. This increase was caused mainly by the persistent attempts of the Hunt brothers to corner the silver market. On August 14, President Gerald Ford signed a bill (Pub.L. 93-373) that ended the ban on gold ownership. Gold started a steady climb to $200 per ounce over the next two years.

    Bernard Welch had read newspaper accounts of the flood of buyers of gold coins and bullion in the prison library. Welch couldn't wait for a parole hearing in 1975 when he knew there were small fortunes of gold and silver in the hands of private owners right now, just waiting for the taking. On September 14, 1974, Bernard Welch, along with ACTEC prisoner Paul Marturano, broke out of the state prison at Dannemora. They soon stole some cash, a gun, and a car, then crashed through a police roadblock. This was the first escape ever from Dannemora, and Bernard Welch would not be back in police custody for more than six years.
    – Jack Burch

    Monday, April 30, 2012

    Living the Good Life

    Photo: Donna Firnhaber
    A 3,300-square-foot swimming room in Welch's Great Falls, Virginia,
    home. Welch was arrested for Dr. Michael Halberstam's murder
    before the pool was ever filled.  Ironically, Welch did not know
    how to swim.
    When Bernard Welch was arrested for murdering Dr. Michael Halberstam in 1980, one of the things that amazed investigators was his home. Police are accustomed to finding criminals living in roach-infested dumps. Welch's house was a long ranch-style home on a three-acre lot in a wealthy neighborhood. It had a three-car garage, a tennis court, and an almost completed full-size indoor swimming pool addition. How did an escaped convict living under an assumed name purchase a home in a such a prestigious neighborhood?
    The answer is that Welch's common-law wife, Linda Hamilton, was his shill. Everything that Welch legally bought was in her name. The home mortgage, insurance, bank accounts, investment portfolio, tax filings, and three new cars were all in the name of Miss Hamilton. Even his three young children bore her last name.
    How was this accomplished? Bernard Welch and Linda Hamilton had purchased a home in Duluth in 1978 and rented a house in Great Falls, both in her name, of course. When he accumulated enough cash, they found a home they liked in Great Falls that was for sale. Its price was $235,000. They put $10,000 down and paid $155,000 in cash, leaving a mortgage of $70,000. Linda qualified for the loan because she had a work history, she owned a home in Duluth, and she had been paying income taxes on the proceeds from Welch's "business." This money was laundered through Linda's bank account and was the source of the $155,000. 
     
    Photo: Donna Firnhaber
    Rear view of the Welch home on Chesapeake Drive.
    Over the five-year period that “Mr. and Mrs. Hamilton” shared together, this became their standard operating procedure for purchasing. Welch stole and turned his loot into cash through various means. His money went to Linda. She processed the cash through her bank accounts providing a legitimate front as the bookkeeper for their “business.” Linda Hamilton wrote the checks for the items that Welch desired, including the indoor pool addition.
    The house in Great Falls, Virginia, with its addition and furnishings, would cost about two million dollars today. Extraordinary, considering that neither Bernard Welch nor Linda Hamilton had a legitimate job.
    The bottom line is, without Linda Hamilton, Welch would have been a criminal on the run, driving a stolen car, living in rented rooms, and looking over his shoulder for the cops – exactly what happened to him when he escaped from the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago in 1985.
    – James King

    Monday, April 23, 2012

    Judging A Book By Its Cover

    When you browse through the bookstore, what grabs your attention? Unless you’re looking for a specific title, author, or genre, it’s probably a great book cover. The cover of Ghost Burglar is the work of Minneapolis art director, and a friend for many decades, Linda Siegel.

    Linda Siegel
    Cover Designer for
    Ghost Burglar
    After learning as much as she could about the life and escapades of Bernard Welch, Linda determined that his face just had to be on the cover. With that decided, her next challenge was finding a way to depict the essence of this man and his criminal life in a single piece of art. Linda worked from a mug shot of Welch taken when he was transferred from New York’s Attica Prison (he was there during the infamous riot) to the Adirondack Correctional Treatment and Evaluation Center in Dannemora, New York. (Welch went on to escape from that prison on September 2, 1974.)

    Experimenting with several different cover designs, Linda eventually incorporated a posterization effect to make Welch’s face appear ghostly. Then, she added an overlay graphic of blood and blood spatter to allude to Welch’s violent nature and the murder of Dr. Michael Halberstam. With these details nailed down, she experimented with the typography. The main title was enhanced by a drop shadow, bevel, and emboss effect and colored to match the blood. The subtitle type was chosen to recall the stories that old-time newspaper reporters pounded out on their manual typewriters while covering the police beat.

    A classically trained artist, Linda has spent the better part of thirty years as one of Minneapolis and St. Paul’s most skilled art directors. Her logo designs and commercial work have been contracted by the area's leading Fortune 100 companies, nonprofits, and startup firms. For more than twenty years, she owned a mid-sized design firm aptly named SHE Graphics. She has also been a principal in three virtual creative services companies and the founder of several other small companies. Her commercial design work can be viewed at shedesignsshewrites.com.

    Linda is a true Rennaissance woman. She paints, sculpts, is an accomplished gourmet cook, and creates stunning gardens. Her latest venture has taken her into the realm of interior design.

    Describing the Ghost Burglar project, Linda said, “I approach design with a business mind and an artist’s eye. Once I understand the rationale and creative challenge, I just instinctively know what will work. Based on the title and content of this book, I knew that I needed to create something ghostly and gory, almost other-worldly. I wanted to design a cover that would sell from the shelves, so I needed to make it strong enough to compel a consumer to pick up the book out of curiosity without even knowing the content.”

    Her instinct was right. The Ghost Burglar cover has captured plenty of attention, including earning a coveted spot in the spring announcement edition of Publisher’s Weekly, right below the latest book on O.J. Simpson. Thanks Linda.
    Jack Burch

    Monday, April 16, 2012

    What Took So Long?

    The question is why did it take almost four years to identify Bernard Welch?
    Silver trading reached worldwide
    highs in the late '70s and early '80s.
    In the mid-1970s the Hunt Brothers of Texas began to corner the silver market. The price of 100% pure, refined silver rose from $5 an ounce in 1975 to $49 an ounce in 1980. This caused entrepreneurs to open shops that bought the 92.5% sterling silver, as well as gold jewelry, with few questions asked.
    Burglary is a profit crime. Things stolen have to be sold. If you can’t sell it, you don’t steal it. Before the Hunt Brothers, there was little market for silver flatware and tea services. Once the price of silver began to rise and buyers appeared in vacant storefronts, the race was on. Every burglar with an IQ higher than 12 began stealing silver when he could find it. The choice was easy: $25 for a used color TV or $1,000 for a pillowcase full of silver. Police departments across the country became inundated with a tsunami of reported silver thefts.
    Bernard Welch stole silver and jewelry. His crimes blended in with the criminal pack. His MO went unnoticed amid the hundreds of similar cases that came in weekly. He also stopped work in the spring and did not return until fall. This totally flummoxed the detectives at first. Career criminals don’t take half a year off, unless they die or go to jail.
    Then we began to notice little things like cut telephone wires outside and missing antiques, oriental carpets, fur coats, old weapons, and collectibles. I was the self-appointed antique expert in Montgomery County, Maryland; therefore, these cases were brought to my attention.
    Being the “antique guy," I kept tabs on the antique shoplifters and burglars. It takes special knowledge to steal antiques. One has to know what to steal and where to sell it. There weren’t that many criminals with this knowledge, and I knew most of them in Montgomery County. As residential antique thefts mounted, I made it a point to know the rest in the Washington area. It took a couple of years for me to eliminate them all until only Bernard Welch was left.
    By 1979, I knew who the Ghost Burglar was, but not where he was.
                                                           – James King

    Monday, April 9, 2012

    The Citadel


                                                                       Image by Joseph Lekas Photography
    The Metropolitan Correctional Center in downtown Chicago.

    The Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) in downtown Chicago was designed by Harry Weese Associates and built in 1975. This 26-story building was a medium-security holding prison for federal inmates slated to testify in upcoming court cases. Some prisoners were housed there to supply information to government authorities about eminent gang-related violence directed against federal prison staff and other inmates. The Feds also hoped some of these snitches would tell them about upcoming escape attempts from other federal prisons.

    Original MCC design by
    Harry Weese Associates, Chicago.
    By 1985, Bernard Welch had been incarcerated for five years in high-security federal prisons for the murder of Dr. Michael Halberstam in Washington, D.C. Most of Welch’s time had been served in the “New Alcatraz,” a supermax prison in Marion, Illinois. Welch managed to convince federal authorities that he knew about some revenge murders and riots planned at the federal prisons in Marion and Atlanta. His story carried some weight with authorities, because Welch was in New York’s Attica State Prison during the riot of September 1971, in which 43 inmates and prison staff were killed.

    Welch was transferred from Marion to the Federal Witness Protection Program, which was administered by the Justice Department. He was housed on the sixth floor of the MCC with eleven others. All twelve men in the protection program had killed someone. The warden and staff at the Chicago MCC were aware that Bernard Welch had a history of violence. What they didn’t know about was his escape history. It was ironic that the man brought to the MCC to inform the Feds about the upcoming escape attempts of others was actually planning his own escape. And this high-rise prison-without-bars was just what he had in mind.
    – Jack Burch   
     
    About the Photographer
    "The world around us is a far more uniquely interesting place than most people today seem to credit it. Today, cell phones, the internet, and hand-held devices are taking the lead in distracting us from what is right before our eyes. In an ever-changing society of fast paced change and rapid desperation for entertainment, one must shed aside the constant subjection to diversions and keenly look around. Sometimes, what you find, be it under a magnifying glass or larger than life, will surprise you in ways that turn the ordinary into the extraordinary.

    "I have particular passion for pushing the boundaries of reality to a more personalized ideal appearance and bringing out unseen detail, as I venture on to keep trying to awaken the extraordinary in everyday life."  www.josephlekas.com