Wednesday, March 28, 2012

You Are What You Drive

A 1977 blue BMW 630 CSi led to Bernard Welch's final arrest.
Bernard Welch loved being seen in nice cars. In his younger years, he drove a Chevrolet Impala or Ford Thunderbird. Later on, he discarded flashy red and white convertibles and moved on to the refined styling of German engineering. Bernie’s stolen merchandise and bullion sales brought in huge amounts of money from the four or five burglaries a night he staged during the colder months. This thievery took place in the upscale homes of the richest counties in the United States, the outer suburbs of Washington, D.C.

Bernie drove a new silver Mercedes Benz 450 SEL sedan while living and robbing out of his million dollar mansion in Great Falls, Virginia. It blended in very well as he scouted various neighborhoods for prime targets. Eventually, more cash on hand meant buying a new 1980 Mercedes 450 SL Sports Coupe for his common-law wife, Linda Hamilton. She used this brown $40,000 Benz strictly for personal errands, as they had a Ford Country Squire wagon for supermarket trips and doctor appointments for the kids.

Welch lamented the loss of those two marquee automobiles as he did time in federal prison after being convicted of murdering Dr. Michael Halberstam in 1981. When he escaped again in 1985 and worked his way north from Chicago to Milwaukee, he needed to get his hands on some transportation. While burglarizing a nice house on the shore of Lake Michigan, he came across another example of German car design that he couldn’t resist. In a well-to-do accountant's home, he found the keys for an older BMW 6-series sedan. It was a blue 1977 630 CSi, an earlier low-production forerunner of the BMW 633 CSi and 635 CSi. Very slick, fuel injected, very stylish. Less than 20,000 were manufactured.

Welch drove this car from the Milwaukee area to Rochester, New York, where his family lived. After a short stay there, he stole the license plates from another BMW and came south to Greensburg, Pennsylvania. As he passed through Carlisle, Pennsylvania, he made yet one more change of license plates, stealing a set of plates from a car parked in a Thrifty car rental lot. Welch started his burglary enterprise again and lived with an unsuspecting Greensburg woman. He continued to drive the stolen blue 630 CSi with the plates stolen from the Thrifty Rent-A-Car lot.

The police officers who arrested him in Greensburg said that Welch told them he knew he should have gotten rid of that car earlier. He said it just looked so sharp and handled so well that he didn’t want to give it up and that he had planned to get another car the next week and leave town. The day after he was arrested, the U.S. Marshals came to escort him back to the supermax federal prison in Marion, Illinois.  

- Jack Burch

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Prince of Thieves?

It has been estimated that Bernard Welch, the Ghost Burglar, stole about $100 milliion worth of goods over his career.  Because of that almost unimaginable amount, some have labeled Welch "The Prince of Thieves."

Could that be true? Possibly, depending on your personal definition of prince and accepting the context it is used in here. Of course combining the royal title of Prince with the morality of crime might also be considered an oxymoron. But  for our discussion, we'll say that a prince is the most successful individual in a particular enterprise, such as crime.

Reprinted with permission of the DC Public Library, Star Collection, © Washington Post.

December 1980 - Loot taken from the Bernard Welch home in Great Falls, Va.  The stolen goods, including fur coats in the background, were on display at the Fairfax County Police Headquarters, where victims of Welch's burglaries could identify their property. 

Putting morality aside for the moment, it would be helpful to define the parameters of success in the world of crime. In the criminal world, success is measured only by the quantity of money stolen. The amount of misery, injury, and violence created in the pursuit of a criminal career are considered collateral damage and are ignored, at least by the perpetrators. Although perhaps difficult for the law-abiding reader to accept, for the purposes of this discussion, we shall also agree to ignore murder, rape, assault, drug dependence, and other negative aspects of a life of crime.
Some might argue that modern drug lords or Mob bosses like Al Capone and his ilk were more successful criminals than Welch. But let’s remember that organized crime leaders have many other people in their organizations. After achieving leadership, those guys do not dirty their hands with the day-to-day criminal enterprises of their operations. They are the masterminds, organizers, and directors of the people working for them. In contrast, Bernard Welch made his haul completely by himself. None of it was earned by partners or henchman, nor was any of it divvied out to such associates. He kept every penny for himself. It looks like we have to pare down the definition a little more. Let’s limit our discussion to one-man operations.
Over the years, I have read scores of books and articles about criminals. Nowhere do I remember any individual criminal carrying off $100 million in loot. During happy hour at the local watering hole, where a panel of knowledgeable commentators comprised of old cops, retired teachers, construction workers, and the occasional barfly meet, I have often had this question posed to me: What about Bernie Madoff? He swindled folks out of $18 billion. Indeed he did, but there is a catch to that. People came to Madoff’s Wall Street investment company and gave him the money. The operative word here is company. Madoff did not work alone; he had employees working for him. Just because his employees had MBAs instead of guns does not change the dynamic of organized crime. 
Another thing to remember is that Madoff’s take was in 2010 dollars. Welch’s haul was estimated in 1980 dollars. A Google search reveals that $100 million in 1980 is equal to $300–$500 million in 2010.
Taking into account the amount he stole and the fact that he worked alone, Bernard Welch was probably the most successful individual hard-core criminal in American history. Ignoring the qualities of nobility, kindness, and generosity usually associated with a prince and only employing our limited definition of the word, could Bernard Welch be called “The Prince of Thieves”? 
 - James King


Monday, March 12, 2012

The Ghost Burglar: More Lives Than A Cat

Bernard C. Welch circa 1977
Virginia DMV photo
Bernard Welch, the master of deceit, was an expert at hiding in plain sight. Seems like the old "cat" was just as adept at stealing identities as pilfering Sterling silver. He devised two more aliases than a cat has lives. Seven of these names were used while he was an escaped convict. Amazingly, he even had a few state-issued driver's licenses with his name and photo on them. 

Bernard C. Welch Jr. was also known as:
1. Richard Alan Sachner
2. Jerry Lloyd
3. Bernard Miles
4. John William Landis
5. Myron Henry "Hank" Snow
6. Larry Lee Boone
7. Norman Heiman
8. Norm Hamilton
9. Darryl Brown
10. Robert Leroy Wilson
11. Fred Rogers

Fred Rogers was the name he gave to arresting officers in Greensburg, Pa. in 1985.  He just couldn't resist driving a stolen BMW 630 CSi. 
 - Jack Burch

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Ghost Burglar is Back!

Welcome to the website for Ghost Burglar: The True Story of Bernard Welch - Master Thief, Ruthless Con Man, and Cold-Blooded Killer. Co-authored by Jack Burch and James D. King, Ghost Burglar will be published by Savage Press in September 2012.

Check back often for updates!