‘Dinnertime Bandit’ faces life in jail for robbing rich

Hailed as one of the greatest cat burglars who ever lived, Alan Golder seemed the epitome of the ”gentleman thief”. He robbed the rich and famous, choosing to break into their mansions while they sat down to dinner because he knew no one would be out wearing their best jewels at a ball or party. The tactic earned him the nickname ”the Dinnertime Bandit”. He stole millions of dollars’ worth of jewels in the Seventies, including daring break-ins at homes owned by the Kennedy family and talk show host Johnny Carson. But it was a spree that ended in 1980 with a 15-year jail sentence after one robbery went tragically wrong.

Now Golder is back behind bars and charged with a number of fresh heists. Police believe that on his release in 1996 Golder went straight back to what he did best: stealing jewels from the wealthy. Next month Golder will appear in court charged with more than 40 burglaries in Connecticut. He is suspected of others in New York and Pennsylvania that in total netted more than $6-million.

But that could be just the tip of the iceberg. When police first began to link Golder to the crime spree, he escaped from the country and spent a decade in foreign climes. Many experts believe he has probably been robbing his way across Europe.

”I believe he’s been targeting homes all over. Spain, France, the Czech Republic, the United Kingdom … in many ways he is the best jewel thief that ever lived,” said David Webb, who is researching a possible book on Golder and maintains the website Dinnertimebandit that chronicles his story.

In many ways Golder’s story fits perfectly into the mould of the aristocratically minded jewel thief, made famous in popular culture by Cary Grant in To Catch a Thief or David Niven in The Pink Panther. When he left the country in 1997 police found a document at his New York flat. It was a 13-page proposal entitled Precious Metal: Confessions of a Rock ‘n’ Roll Jewel Thief. Nor was Golder’s belief in the worth of his own story without foundation. He had sold the treatment to Paramount Pictures for $25 000. That does not surprise crime experts. ”We have always been intrigued by crime and often this sort of crime is seen as victimless, even if that is not true,” said Steven Chermak, a professor of criminal justice at Michigan State University.

Certainly Rock ‘n’ Roll Jewel Thief seems an apt self-description of Golder’s life. He grew up poor in New York but discovered his talent for stealing at a young age. By his late teens he had taken to burglary and fallen in with the local mob who steered him towards becoming an elite jewel thief. He quickly developed his modus operandi of breaking into homes while wealthy owners sat down to eat their dinners. As well as ensuring that the best jewels would be present in the house, that tactic also ensured no alarm would be on and people would be distracted as they ate their meals.

He had amazing agility and free-climbed walls to enter a house through an upstairs window. He would wear a black Ninja-style suit with slits for eyeholes and gloves to cover his fingerprints. He rarely left a trace and most of his victims never knew they had been robbed until they had finished eating. He stole from the richest enclaves of America: Westchester County in New York, Long Island, Florida, Texas, Beverly Hills. He would often arrive in a wealthy suburb posing as a rock star with a beautiful woman by his side. He would contact a real estate agent who would show him around an area thinking he was looking to buy a property. In fact, Golder would be casing the neighbourhood. His ill-gotten gains even earned him a lavish lifestyle with celebrity friends such as John Belushi and Rod Stewart and he hung out in top nightspots like Los Angeles’s famous Rainbow Bar and Grill.

But it all appeared to end in 1978 at a break-in at the home of real estate mogul Lawrence Lever on Long Island. Golder was working with two accomplices and in a scuffle one of them shot Lever dead. Finally caught, Golder pleaded guilty and eventually helped investigators to catch other criminals in return for a lighter sentence. He then spent 15 years in jail before getting out on parole.

But now it seems that Golder’s career has had a second act. The robberies he is accused of began only days after he left prison. They followed the same pattern as those of the Seventies and were focused on Greenwich, Connecticut, which is one of the wealthiest parts of America. When police made a link between Golder’s release and the rash of new robberies, they issued a warrant for his arrest and Golder disappeared. He became one of America’s most wanted fugitives until a year ago, when he was arrested in Antwerp, the diamond capital of the world.\

The Belgian authorities have refused to say how they caught him, but he was then extradited to the United States. He has surprised observers by pleading not guilty to the new charges, but many believe this will mark the end of the Dinnertime Bandit’s career. ”I think Alan is going to spend the rest of his days in jail,” said Webb.

For many who have marvelled at his life of crime, there is a hint of sadness in that. ”There is an idea in popular culture that burglars as good as Alan do not deserve to be caught,” Webb said. – Guardian Unlimited Â

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