Great Criminals You’ve Rarely Heard Of Part Two: Bernard Charles Welch, Jr

“He really was the coolest. He just had street smarts. Had he had the opportunities… he would have been a top corporate executive.”

–          Sol Z. Rosen (Welch’s criminal attorney)

Known as the Standard Time Burglar as he generally stole between 6pm and 10pm, Bernard Welch Jr was one of – if not THE – premier professional thieves of the twentieth century. A true professional, he stole tens of millions of dollars worth of antiques, collectibles, fine art, furs, coins and jewellery all by himself, while maintaining a respectable civil façade and living the finest part of town in a luxury home with a wife and 2 kids.

Growing up is austere circumstances, Welch left school at the age of 16 and became a plumber. By the time he married his first wife, he had already started thieving as a side job, targeting high society homes in and around Spencerport, New York where he lived. His wife then joined the ‘family’ business and acted as wheel woman for him as they went out on jobs, driving him to and from burglaries whilst their oldest child slept in the car.

Questioned by the police after one job too many, Welch and his family loaded a trailer full of stolen booty and drove to another town, where he had the chutzpah to open an antique shop selling the stuff he had stolen. Having been repeatedly noticed unloading his truck at the less than business like hour of 3am, local cops became curious and he was finally arrested and sent to jail.

Whilst in prison, Welch studied antiques, got his high school diploma and learnt some fundamental criminal rules. Work alone, don’t tell anybody what you’re doing and don’t shit in your own nest. Paroled from prison in the late 1960s, Welch went back to robbing houses whilst holding down a day job as a pipe fitter for Kodak in upstate New York. Following the rules he picked up in the joint, he fenced goods in Florida and sold precious metals to dealers in Delaware. Nonetheless, he was picked up again after a dealer he sold to became suspicious.

In 1974, a few months short of being paroled, Welch escaped from the Clinton Correctional facility in upstate Dannemora, New York with another inmate, smashed through a police road block in a stolen car and went on a burglary rampage. His new partner however bailed on him after awhile as, “Welch was burglarizing everything in sight. Then we met broads, and he liked to slap them around. I didn’t like that.”

Whilst on the run, he met Linda Susan Hamilton. Convincing her to let him use her last name to avoid paying alimony payments to his now estranged wife, Welch settled down to a life of lavish domesticity, overpaying for menial chores and going on overseas vacations. One neighbour’s husband who was a DEA official, even had Mr Hamilton checked out as he thought he may be a drug dealer due to the way they splashed cash about.

The cash was being generated by non-stop burglaries. Brandishing a handgun, threatening residents, even raping three women didn’t slow down Charles Welch Jr and accordingly to Maryland Detective Sergeant James King, “This guy was better than any fictional character. He was hitting three or four houses every night. But his claim to fame was not how much stuff he stole, it was how he lived after stealing. He wasn’t your typical junkie. He took his money and invested it. The guy had imagination.”

Stealing all manner of precious metals, Welch spent Sunday afternoons in his garage melting them down to gold and silver bars in small smelters he had installed himself. He then sold the bars to dealers all over the world, while filing tax returns with the IRS and claiming a business income of $1,000,000 a year as an investor and antique dealer. He invested the money in shares and bought property. First, a modern home in his defacto wife’s hometown and then a palatial mansion in the wealthy suburb of Great Falls, Virginia. Paranoid of burglars himself, Welch installed a state of the art security system in his home including cameras and flood lights hidden in trees and pressure sensors in the lawn. Just in case the power went, he had a generator installed too to back up the system.

The indoor pool in Welch’s house

Ironically for a self educated antique expert, Welch’s home contained little furniture, and according to a neighbour who received a tour, what he had “…was in poor taste. There were no antiques”. He did however have a huge indoor swimming pool, fine art on the walls and a basement filled with about $4 million dollars worth of jewellery, antiques, rings, necklaces, watches, ivory, porcelain, fur coats, jade and rare coins. He also had a large collection of guns, including a revolver he had stolen from an FBI agent’s apartment and would later use to kill somebody.

Welch continued to remember not to shit in his own nest too. He stole primarily from expensive suburbs of Washington D.C., fenced the goods in Minnesota whilst on family holidays and lived in his luxury home in Great Falls, Virginia. He avoided other criminals (fearing they would eventually drop a dime on him) and instead sold his items through legitimate dealers using false names and IDs. As one merchant with whom he had business remembers, “Once I asked him where he got the stuff—coins, rings, cuff links. When he told me that he bought estates, I said, ‘I wish I could get estates like that.’ He said, ‘You have to know the right people.’ ”

A small portion of the booty found in Welch’s basement

Casing and committing his crimes in a current model Mercedes Benz 450 SEL, realising that an expensive car would blend in to wealthy neighbourhoods and arouse less suspicion, Welch committed four or five burglaries a night, whilst raising two kids with Linda, mowing his lawn and sharing stock tips with his neighbours.

A 450 SEL similar to the one used by Welsh

His criminal idyll was shattered in 1980 when he was confronted on the job by a returning resident who tussled and fought with him. Producing the FBI agent’s stolen gun, Welch fired several shots, two of them hitting homeowner Dr. Michael Halberstam in the chest. Running away from the scene of the crime, he was run down by the irate and dying Halberstam who was driving himself to the hospital and was found by police not far from where he was hit. Halberstam himself slammed into a tree after running him down and died not long afterwards making Welch a murderer.

Dr. Michael Halberstam in photo obviously stolen from the web

Dressed head to toe in black and carrying no ID, Welch gave up nothing. Even after his arrest he refused to give any information about his burglaries and following his sentence of 143 years in jail in 1981, he had no comments for reporters. He did however, inform on the Aryan Brotherhood whilst in jail which got him moved to a less secure prison in Chicago from which he then broke out of in 1985. On the run again for three months, he resumed committing burglaries and was finally caught again after falling asleep in a stolen BMW 630 CSi in another man’s parking spot. This man pissed that someone had parked in his space, complained to cops and he was arrested for the third and final time.

In 1981, Welch was paid $9,000 to appear in a story in LIFE magazine entitled, “The Ghost Burglar and the Good Doctor.” In the article, Welch stated that:

“They say I destroyed [Halberstam’s] life, but he destroyed mine.”

Written and posted by Horatio Cornblower. Copyright 2013. All rights reserved.

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author and The Eastern Terraces with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Great Criminals You’ve Rarely Heard Of Part One: Bernie Cornfeld

“Do You Sincerely Want To Be Rich”

With these seven words Bernard Cornfeld lured many an investor to the insurance and investment fund he launched in Paris, registered in Panama and ran from Geneva, ultimately scamming hundreds of millions of dollars in the process.

His fund Investors Overseas Services (IOS) originally pitched itself at European based American GIs before going wide and employing thousands of door to door sales men who competed with one another to earn overseas trips, bonuses and if really good, visits to their bosses homes in the French Riviera and Beverley Hills. Essentially an elaborate pyramid scheme, the people on the top were paid by those lower down who had to work doubly hard to find new clients. An epochal story cites one of his salesmen caught in the Belgian Congo during a coup. Cornfeld receiving the hapless salesman’s telegraph and reading, “Insurrection, sadism, rape”, simply replied, “OK, OK, but is he doing any business?”

It’s my safari suit… and I’ll wear it if I want to.

Thanks to such sheer mindedness, Cornfeld was flying high by the mid 1960s. Splitting his time between a 12th Century French mansion, Douglas Fairbanks former home in L.A and a suite permanently reserved in New York, he rolled with up to 20 women at a time and broadened his business interests to things like financing the construction of the Playboy mansion. He threw lavish parties attended by celebrities such as Laurence Harvey, Tony Curtis, and Richard Harris and counted Hugh Hefner and fellow financier Victor Lownes amongst his friends. Lownes, in addition to starting the London Playboy Club, is also quite well known for having helped introduce acid to the London scene during the 1960s and for being a close friend of Roman Polanski. Cornfelds access to characters such as Hefner, Curtis and Polanski also undoubtedly helped him to lay Victoria Principal, Alana Hamilton and a teenage Heidi Fleiss [Yes. Seriously].

Cornfelds 1967 Stretch Lincoln Continental (NB: Please note that Photobucket stole the original photo and this is only a stock picture of a similar 1967 Continential)

Alana Hamilton and George Hamilton

Victoria Principal

Cornfeld and Tony Curtis

As the funds IOS governed got larger – and perhaps more crucially – invested in other funds owned by themselves, Cornfeld came under pressure by American regulators not to sell to Americans either at home or abroad and when the market turned and the share  value declined, their ‘guaranteed returns’ had to be paid out of operating funds. Consequently short of cash by 1969, the company shifted to Canada, went public to raise money and ultimately removed Cornfeld from his position as head the board, replacing him with a new chairman, Robert L. Vesco.

Vesco took control of IOS, its funds, real estate holdings and other assets and using his position of power stripped over $200 million from the company, sprinkling it all over the world in off shore holdings known only to himself. Wanted for this brazen theft and for also having made an illegal $200,000 contribution to President Nixon’s 1972 presidential campaign, Vesco fled to the Bahamas before ultimately settling in Cuba, where he lived until his death from lung cancer in 2007.

Cornfeld despite knowing the company was on the verge of collapse, meanwhile persuaded IOS staff to buy shares in the fund to help prop up its price, before being arrested in Geneva and spending almost a year in Swiss prison for doing so. Upon his release, he was again arrested, this time for the more prosaic offence of using a device to avoid paying for long distance telephone calls.

Following his release from American prison for scamming the phone companies, Cornfeld played the media circuit giving interviews with magazines such as People who reported in a June 1974 issue:

“In spite of all his legal hassles, Cornfeld is remarkably serene. When he takes calls on a telephone that never seems to stop ringing, he finds time to run his finger up and down the back of one of the stunning, bikini-clad women who inhabit his home. “I didn’t miss sex at all in prison,” he says, almost surprised. “But unlike some of the other prisoners, I never really doubted that my interest would return once I was out.” His kosher leprechaun appearance notwithstanding, Cornfeld has never had trouble attracting lovely women in astonishing numbers. The money helps.”

A fitting epitaph. He died in 1995.

Written and posted by Horatio Cornblower. Copyright 2013. All rights reserved.

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author and The Eastern Terraces with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.