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

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."

Monday, April 2, 2012

Neighborhood Watch: Detective Kirk's Story

The following story was related by Detective Sally Kirk, a retiree of the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Department. Sally worked in the Major Burglary Unit for several years.

In 1981, shortly after Bernard Welch was arrested, Detective Sally Kirk attended a regional burglary meeting. A Fairfax County Police Department lieutenant mentioned that a couple of years ago during the height of silver burglaries in an upscale neighborhood, the residents formed a Neighborhood Watch Committee. The lieutenant was assigned to go to the meeting at a home to help organize the program and lead the first session. He left directly from another assignment and arrived early, just after dinnertime. He killed some time cruising around the neighborhood, driving his unmarked car slowly and deliberately from one block to another, looking for house and landscaping features that would thwart or entice burglars so he could bring them up at the meeting. As he turned right at one intersection, he saw a brand new silver Mercedes Benz slip around the corner a block away with a white male driver. The detective thought nothing of it; expensive cars were common in this neighborhood.

A 1980  Mercedes Benz 450 SEL.  Bernard Welch drove cars that blended
into the affluent neighborhoods targeted for his crimes.
With ten more minutes to kill, he decided to park in the block where the watch committee meeting was to be held. While listening to his car radio, he noticed that same silver Mercedes come around onto the block where he was parked. He watched in his rearview mirror as the vehicle approached. The driver was a good-looking guy with dark hair and a Zapata moustache who also seemed to be driving around the area slowly and deliberately. The detective shut off the music and almost pulled out to follow the driver, but that expensive car disguised the fact that this may have been an interloper. The meeting could not start without him, so he opted instead to gather up his presentation materials and be on time. The folk who lived in this area had a lot of money and were politely demanding to know what was going to be done about this rash of break-ins. Block meetings went a long ways toward silencing those drumbeats. It encouraged the neighbors to help each other and help themselves, which also helped the police department.

After Bernard Welch’s capture, this encounter was brought up at a Burglary Task Force meeting. The Fairfax detective hadn’t thought much about the incident since that Neighborhood Watch Meeting of a couple of years ago. The moderator of the Task Force couldn’t help but point out to this detective, and others in attendance, that based on the description of the car and driver, it was Bernard C. Welch who had driven past him.
            – James King