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

4 comments:

  1. Given this man's ability to assume different identities, are you absolutely positive that the identity under which he was prosecuted was his true identity?

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  2. Given this man's ability to assume different identities, are you absolutely positive that the identity under which he was prosecuted was his true identity?

    ReplyDelete
  3. Here is another interesting topic for your future articles - data room due diligence . How do you like it?

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  4. Well, very interesting. Our house was burglarized in 2013. Took a LOT of valuable stuff. Never found goods or offenders. Still happening.

    ReplyDelete