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

1 comment:

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