Sometimes we hear a story or read an article that is so strange it sticks in our mind’s hard drive, and then. even years later, all it takes is the slightest hint and the whole thing comes right back to us.
This happened recently when a front-page article in the New York Times appeared;
A Finicky Thief of the Finest Silver Is Arrested Again.
This meager hint was all it took to bring the whole story back to mind, from a 16 page article in a 2004 New Yorker chronicling the outrageous exploits of Blane Nordahl, arguably the most successful cat burglar in the history of American crime.
Nordahl is so notorious that he has his own Wikipedia page and was long ago dubbed, “burglar to the stars.” though he seems never to have cared about the identities of his victims.
Those victims include some of the most illustrious members of America’s superrich. One of Nordahl’s most notable heists was the theft of 120 sterling salt and pepper shakers from Ivana Trump’s Greenwich, Conn. mansion. He is a suspect in over 500 burglaries netting him millions of dollars. but in his all many capers he has not physically injured anyone, and he only steals one class of goods – the very finest items made of purest sterling silver. His passion for the metal is so refined he once refrained from stealing ten grand in cash that was in a cabinet of silver he pilfered from.
Standing only 5’4″ but strongly built, Nordahl’s skills are legendary among police on the east coast and in the south. And his ability to evade capture has driven the constabulary nuts. He has learned to pacify vicious Rottweiler guard dogs, disable elaborate security systems, escape from massive police dragnets, making off with loads of silver, which he carried in garbage bags, most of it sold to a jeweler in Manhattan and eventually melted down. Even when apprehended and grilled, police were unable to find enough evidence to convict him. This is amazing, considering that he often pulled off three jobs in one night.
For years, Nordahl was a source of endless frustration for the police, and one man, Detective Lonnie Mason, made it his life’s work to catch and nail the thief. though it was Cornell Abruzinni, a Greenwich, Connecticut detective, who first brought Nordahl to justice. But this was only the beginning of a series of Nordahl’s incarcerations, releases, and returns to his thieving ways. As Abruzinni said of the Nordahl’s ability to get back to work, “It’s like watching the same bad movie again and again.
A complete list of Nordahl’s doings is far too extensive to note here. and there may be hundreds more that the police don’t know about. He rode high for years, obviously enjoying making fools of the cops, but in the end, he made the same mistake many a successful man makes; he pissed off the wrong woman. Detective Lonnie Mason approached Blane’s girlfriend, a woman named Luanne, with a picture of Nordahl with another woman. Luanne was enraged. She spilled her guts, and in 1998, Nordahl was again sent away.
But this didn’t stop him His saga of imprisonment and release continued until late 2013. After a long thieving spree in Georgia, and suspected of numerous burglaries – maybe as many as a hundred – he was caught again and is now awaiting trial in a Fulton County, Georgia jail.
What intrigues many people is why a person such as Nordahl, a man of undeniable talents, should turn to thievery. Detective Mason got to know Nordahl to some extent, and grudgingly admitted to the man’s amazing innate talents when he said, “With his mind? I honestly don’t think there’s anything Blane can’t do.
To presume Nordahl was purely money motivated is naive. People with no moral scruples who are strictly money motivated do not go in for risky endeavors requiring nerve and skill; they go into politics or work on Wall Street.
A clue might lie in the fact that Nordahl’s father David is a highly successful painter of western scenes. In trying to understand the motives of his son Blane, one must keep in mind that the essence of any life dedicated to an artistic practice is the psychological condition known as obsession.
In his Pulitzer prize-winning book on psychoanalysis, The Denial of Death, Ernest Becker states that “Art is, in the end, nothing more than a socially acceptable excuse for obsession.”
Any person who has committed themself to an artistic practice will confirm the role of obsession in their lives. That is what makes Nordahl return to his gig time and again. Theft is his art. It would be as impossible for him to give it up as it would for his father to throw away his paint brushes, because not to do it is not to exist.
Guys like Nordahl fulfill a valuable function in society. Their exploits, though larcenous, are inspiring. and they keep a certain percentage of the police force occupied, leaving them less time for harassing the rest of us
One of Blane’s old girlfriends told the police, “He’ll be seventy-eight with a goddam cane, walking down the street stealing silver.”
So, here’s hoping that Blane Nordahl, despite the fact that he’s 51, can finagle his way out of prison and eventually lead the police on another merry chase for priceless sterling.
Of course, the downside of this would be the immeasurable suffering he would bring to his ultra-rich victims.
When one thinks of the agony Ivana Trump must have suffered when she found her salt shakers missing… the heart bleeds!
Bye for now, friends,
Sources; The Silver Thief, Stephen J. Dubner, The New Yorker, 2004
The New York Times, Articles 8/26/13 and 2/15/14