Ghost Burglar

Ghost Burglar

Jack Burch

Q: Why did you write Ghost Burglar?

A: I knew Ghost Burglar would be an incredible story. Bernard Welch’s crimes and the Halberstam murder trial didn’t get the amount of publicity they otherwise would have received in 1980 and 1981 because other newsworthy events overshadowed them. John Lennon was murdered three days after Dr. Halberstam was killed, and President Reagan was shot two days before the start of Welch’s trial on April 1, 1981. This made me think that the story we told would seem fresh, as it never really received that much exposure.

Q: What is the single most interesting thing about your book?

A: The insights and backstories of Jim King, who was one of the principal investigators trying to capture Welch before the inevitable happened, the murder of a homeowner during one of Welch’s burglaries. Jim was laboring under the shadow of what police officers refer to as a C.W.A.T.N.O.B.I. – “a cop with a theory no one believes in.” In the end, he was proven right. We found an amazing amount of interesting information that was not covered in the news reports. Much of it surfaced years, or even decades, after the December 5, 1980, arrest of Welch.

Q: You were trained as a photojournalist. Was it challenging to write the text in the long book form, as opposed to a short form for TV?

A: It was difficult writing the book, because TV news training posits that you should be able to describe even the second coming of Christ in 90 seconds or less with “film at 11.” But the fascinating parts of this story are in the smallest details and how they weave together to expose a complex story. For example, “the guy next door” goes out to buy propane cylinders, but this “harmless” act is part of the criminal scheme of a devious and dangerous sociopath. Most of us go about our lives assuming our neighbors are basically good people. The notion of a criminal living next door is unsettling.

Q: How long did it take to write the book?

A: It’s been about five years since I first met Jim King. Some of the information we gathered was a long time coming!

Q: Has writing the book taught you anything specific…any specific lessons you’d like to share?

A: Some of the best information can come from where you least expect it. Some folks can be very guarded in sharing information that would make them look crooked or silly. Others may share things that you can’t believe they’re actually telling you. And quite a few won’t discuss the subject at all, because they know intuitively that there’s no way it’s going to turn out looking good for them. I think we saw the entire spectrum with our interviews. I was surprised at how candid and cooperative many people were. There were many good people who were caught up short when they encountered Welch. Plain and simple, he fooled them.

Q: Has writing about Bernard Welch taught you anything you’d like to relate?

A: Welch was the ultimate deceiver. He probably would have been a great politician except for the obvious trail of death and destruction he left in his wake. He fooled prison officials, teachers, lawyers, police officers, lovers, judges, neighbors, reporters, and everyone else he came in contact with. Working on this story drove me back to dusty texts on psychology and family systems theory to discern what made Welch the way he was.

Q: Where do you write?

A: I do most of my writing at the dining room table. For research and rewrites, I work on a different computer in the basement. I had a bad episode a while back when some bugs and malware locked up the computer. Now I do my first drafts offline.

Q: What time of day do you write?

A: I use the mornings to take care of administrative work and everyday life. Most of my writing is done in the afternoon and evening.

Q: How many days per week do you write?

A: I’ll spend one day on research, interviews and phone calls each week and two days writing and rewriting.

Q: Do you keep a journal?

A: I don’t do any journaling, because I feel my own life just wouldn’t be that interesting to document. Earlier it was, but not now.

Q: Has any single book inspired you as a writer?

A: I thought Joseph Wambaugh’s true crime story “Onion Field” was superb. The feature movie made from his book was riveting. During Welch’s final stretch in prison, he tried to persuade many well-known authors to write his life story and Wambaugh was among those who turned down the job.

Q: What are your writing aspirations?

A: I’d like to find a couple more true crime stories to work on with Jim King. We are both intrigued by the chameleon/con artist/sociopath with multiple identities. They are popping up all the time now.

Q: Whom do you see as your audience?

A: I think this book would interest readers who are fans of true crime, mysteries, police procedurals, or courtroom dramas because it hits all of those buttons.

Q: What contemporary book are you currently reading?

A: Now I’m reading the “Soul Thief” by Charles Baxter. Charles and I went to the same grade school and used to pal around before he switched schools. A couple of years ago, I emailed him and we chatted on the phone. I went to one of his scheduled book signings, listened attentively to his lecture and the Q & A. Then I asked him to inscribe and autograph a book for me and one for Jim King. I would imagine that the next place marker in my quest to reestablish contact with Mr. Baxter is probably a restraining order.

Q: Name an author you admire. Why?

A: Vince Flynn is my favorite right now. He obviously does a tremendous amount of research and his characters think and act in ways I find very believable. This part of the country (the Midwest, particularly St. Paul and Minneapolis) is not the center of military or covert operations training and his command of the particulars that go into these professions is impressive. He must have a large circle of sources and subject matter experts he consults with that are involved in law enforcement, intelligence and the armed forces. And he’s local talent!

Q: What do you do in your spare time? Hobbies?

A: I used to play a lot of amateur baseball, so once in a while I’ll take a few swings in a batting cage. I also like to cut and split firewood. We have a small cabin in Wisconsin that’s off the grid and we heat it with wood. That and an occasional wilderness canoe trip keep me busy in my off time. I still shoot a little video now and then and teach an occasional class in cinematography.

Q: In reference to writing as a team, what was your strategy in getting the different aspects down?

A: The only division of labor we had at first was geographic and professional. That is to say, Jim King would handle everything he actually did as an investigating police official and describing the local scene and action in the Washington, D.C., and East Coast area. I started out handling Welch’s life up to the Halberstam shooting and Duluth or Minnesota events. From there, we each would fill in areas that we hadn’t yet covered according to our experience, expertise or interest in those subjects.

Q: Did you do an outline first?

A: Our outline was more like a to-do list of events we knew happened, but we hadn’t detailed yet.

Q: How did the writing process work since there are two writing styles to mesh together?

A: If one of us was blocked from getting information, the other would pick up the baton and run with it; it was very much like a relay team. Then we would send our finished chapters to each other for proofing and fact checking. I think that this cooperative approach accomplished what we were after and the finished product got an extra polish that wouldn’t normally occur. Is it possible to figure out who wrote which section? Probably. We tried not to step on each other’s toes. If one of us had a particularly stylized passage that really worked, the other would try his best to leave it alone.

Q: When you started working on this story, did you have any idea how complicated or big it really was?

A: It was overwhelming. I’m reminded of Jon Voight’s character in the movie “National Treasure” lecturing his son the treasure hunter, “One clue leads to another and another, and that leads to another one and another, and it never ends!” Every person we’d talk to would end the interview by asking if we had talked to this person or that person, and we finally had to stop talking and listening and start to write. I was probably the guiltiest of wanting to chase down every lead. I’m still doing it.

Q: What were you really looking for in the beginning?

A: I was trying to discover if Linda Hamilton was so naïve that she didn’t know what Bernard Welch was up to. Six days a week during the fall and winter, he would leave at dusk and return before midnight with $5,000 to $50,000 worth of stolen property. To me, this would be like living with a vampire or a serial killer for five years without suspecting something was not quite right.

Q: How did that change over time?

A: The transcript of the wrongful death civil suit set us straight there. Up to and through the murder trial, Linda had people pretty well convinced that she was clueless. The prosecutors’ agreement with her for her testimony against Welch gave her limited immunity from criminal prosecution. So prying questions as to her thought process didn’t materialize. Mrs. Halberstam just would not let it stand that her husband was dead and gone, Welch was in prison until the end of time, but Linda Hamilton was still free to manipulate and hide their holdings until they were found and confiscated. Believe it or not, Elliot Jones Halberstam’s judgment against Linda Hamilton and Bernard Welch has been instrumental in pressing the war against terror. After 911 it was cited as case law when the Feds started to go after the bogus charitable outfits that that were transferring money overseas to terrorists.

Q: How did you get people you interviewed to talk candidly with you?

A: Most people want to help with, or be a part of the telling of a good story. So much time has passed that many of the folks I talked with enjoyed reflecting on the significance of all that happened. I also got a kick out of filling in the blanks for those who had questions about how their piece of the puzzle fit in with all the others.

Q: What drew you to go back to this story?

A: I wanted to revisit these events because, other than contemporaneous newspaper and magazine stories, no one has done anything with this story for 30 years. Welch’s activities and behavior were at once outrageous and appalling. How could well-meaning people not notice the monster next door? Bernard Welch and Linda Hamilton fooled business owners, attorneys, peace officers, educators, politicians, county prosecutors, firemen, building contractors, housekeepers, baby sitters, furniture salesmen, school principals, and pizza delivery boys. As Norm Hamilton, Welch kept his real identity and wanted fugitive status secret, while engaged in the commerce necessary to remodel and operate two large homes and have over 50 million dollars pass through his hands in less than five years.

Q: You live half a country apart from Jim King. How did you meet?

A: I scheduled a trip to the East Coast with my oldest son, who was interested in attending the Coast Guard Academy. I had already started the research on the book project and I arranged a meeting with Welch’s defense attorney Sol Rosen in DuPont Circle, Washington, D.C. Just before we left for D.C., I was able to contact one of the investigators, James King, and talked him into seeing me just before I saw Rosen. I talked with Jim for a couple of hours and he showed me some of the notes he had kept from the Welch investigation.

Q: What led you to decide to work on this book together?

A: During our talk in Maryland, I discovered that Jim had some writing experience and was interested in working on this project. I was talking with one of the principals in the investigation. This guy was right in the middle of this story, his experiences and insight would be invaluable. Welch was dead, Hamilton was dead, and those involved that were still around could be either uncooperative or incarcerated. We kept in contact and eventually decided to work together on the book.

Q: What advantages to the story were there because you worked as a team?

A: There was half as much heavy lifting. With Jim King working from the East Coast, the logistics of half of our research was solved. The depositories for the records of the legal processes, both federal and municipal, were all in Jim’s territory. He had followed Welch and the case as early as two years before he was captured. His contacts as an ex-police detective in that area were also a big plus. And Jim got to pay his share of the out-of-pocket expenses.

James D. King

Q: Why did you write Ghost Burglar?

A: I had always intended to write something about this case. It was the most memorable one of my police career. I knew it would be a good story, but I just never got around to it. Life got in the way to prevent it—family, work, children, sickness—and deaths of my first child and then my wife. There was never time to sit down quietly and put down my memories, and many of the memories were painful. I guess for a long time I did not want to revisit them.

Then out of the blue Jack Burch called me. His interest in the story impressed me and came at the right time in my life. To me it was an epiphany, do it now or never do it.

Q: What is the most interesting thing about the book?

A: There are so many interesting aspects I am not sure I can choose just one. There is Welch’s life of crime—how he was captured, his murder trial, his second prison escape and later capture. That actually was a problem for Jack and me. There were so many interesting things that it was difficult to reduce the book down to a manageable size.

Q: Does writing a book differ from writing a police report?

A) Yes and no. When a detective writes the final report on a closed case he/she must pull all the facts together in a logical framework that will be read by the prosecuting attorney. What is in the report and how it is written will often influence whether a case is taken to trial. A police report contains no emotions or suppositions. As Sgt. Joe Friday used to say on the TV show Dragnet, “Just the facts.”
In a book the same logical development occurs, but there has to be descriptions so that the reader can imagine what things were like. A prosecutor does not care what the weather was like, what the perpetrator was wearing or the type of furniture unless it has a direct bearing on the case. The reader needs this information to set the scene, to know who the people are and to understand why things are occurring the way they are occurring.

That’s why writing a book about real crime is difficult. The small details are lacking in police reports. An author can only know these details by either doing a hell of a lot of research or actually being there. Jack and I are fortunate because I was often there when things happened.

Q: How long did it take to write the book?

A: Together, we have been at it for four years now. The problem is we are still finding new information about Bernard Welch and his crimes.

Q: Has writing the book taught you anything specific that you’d like to share?

A: I have learned how difficult it is to write something that people will read. I always wanted to be an author. I had a vague notion that one just ripped off a bunch of words and a story appeared at the end. It doesn’t happen that easily. It’s hard work and my respect for book authors has risen greatly.

Q: Specifically, has writing about Bernard Welch taught you anything?

A: Oh yes, the cold bloodedness of a psychopath. I discovered that the only difference between a person like Welch and a T-Rex dinosaur are size and epoch.

Q: What are your writing habits?

a) Q: Where do you write?

A: I still love the home I designed and had built 35 years ago in an agricultural area of Montgomery County, Maryland. I sit outside under a cluster of shade trees with only the noise of birds, wind and the horses next to my property. I sit in an easy chair with a glass of red wine and a fly swatter. In bad weather I’m inside with the wine and classical music playing in the background.

b) Q: What time of day?

A: Anytime, but I like early mornings with a cup of coffee or evenings with a glass of wine. Either way it has to be quiet. I think I have always been ADD, as it is now called, and I am easily distracted.

c) Q: How many days per week do you write?

A: Usually seven. I don’t feel complete unless I write something each day.

d) Q: Do you keep a journal?

A: No, I don’t even look at a calendar. I always forget birthdays, anniversaries and appointments. I have even forgotten my own birthday on many occasions.

Q: Has any single book inspired you?

A: No single book. I have read so many. When I was a teen, in the summer I read almost a book a day. When I got older it was one a week. Now with my own writing, it’s more like one or two a month.

Q: What are your writing aspirations?

A: I would like to write more true crime books. Jack and I often discuss what our next project should be. In fact, in my spare time I write science fiction stories like the ones I read as a teen. Nothing profound, just a good yarn that a kid can read on a rainy summer day. I think reading is so important for kids, even if it’s pure escapism. The very fact they are reading is exercise for the mind.

Q: Whom do you see as your audience?

A: Anyone who is interested in real crime and wants to know the details from start to finish. That’s what we have done with Bernard Welch. Through meticulous research we have followed him from birth to death.

Q: What contemporary book are you currently reading?

A: At the moment I am re-reading “The Complete Sherlock Holmes” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Doyle was a master of setting a scene in just a few words. I tend to read the works of specific authors. Strangely, I became enamored with novels from the 1930s, 40s and 50s. I read Agatha Christie. Dorothy L. Sayers, Dashiell Hammet and Mickey Spillane.

Q: Name an author you admire.

A: Dashiell Hammet. I like his crisp writing and the film noir that developed from it.

Q: What do you do in your spare time?

A; I read a lot of history and archeology and listen to old radio shows. I don’t watch much TV, except for PBS, the History channel as I’m going to sleep. I still work full time as a security guard in a middle school in a tough area. I try mentoring students about their life choices. I tell them often, “The decisions you make today will affect you for the rest of your life.” On weekends I take care of my house and the three acres that surround it, when I can break away from my writing.

Q: In reference to writing as a team, what was your strategy in getting the different aspects down?

A: When we started we had no strategy as such. Our process was, for lack of a better word, “organic”. It just sort of grew as we wrote. Jack did his research and wrote about it. I wrote of my experiences. Marion Burch edited our efforts. We traded our “chapters” and made changes to each other’s work. Sometimes the changes were accepted and sometimes not. Surprisingly there were no arguments, disagreements or egos involved. The book became our goal. It was almost like raising a child. We did the very best that we could. It was not the process that was important, but the end result that mattered, just like a child.

b) Q: Did you do an outline first?

A: We did not need an outline. This was a true-life event. We knew the beginning, middle and the end. It was outlined for us. We followed that outline.

c) Q: How did the writing process work, since there are two writing styles to mesh together?

A: Jack’s and my writing styles are not very different, other than he tends to be more visual and I tend to be more technical. Our main difference is in our “voices” as it is known in the writing world. Jack’s voice is Midwestern and mine is more Eastern.

We would trade our chapters back and forth making additions and deletions with Marion editing in between, lending her suggestions. By the end of the process it would be difficult to say who was responsible for a particular word choice, sentence or paragraph. I would like to say that the blending of our individual efforts worked well.

When did you realize that the burglaries you were investigating had a common thread?

A: It actually did not take that long, maybe a few weeks. Usually the only thing a burglar leaves behind is his or her M.O. (method of operation or more accurately modius operandi). The residential M.O. involves many things, such as neighborhood, type of house, location, method of entry, and what is or is not taken.

Since most burglars like homes with expensive stuff and enter pretty much the same way the main marker is what is stolen. Now all thieves will take cash. Some also take personal checks and credit cards, although this is stupid since often they can be traced back to the thief. The average burglar is a narcotics user and wants things that can be sold quickly on the street of his home neighborhood, because that’s his marketplace. Color TV’s, electronics, cameras are good items. He gets maybe 10 to 20 cents on the dollar. He will also steal usable medications to be sold or used personally. During the time I was working, almost every thief would take silver and gold, due to the high prices and ease of resale to unregulated precious metal buyers.

What set the Ghost Burglar apart was the theft of good antiques, old oil paintings, oriental rugs and antique weapons. He never took plated silver. The homeowner would say a piece of silver had been moved, but not taken. A check of the silver would show the mark “EPNS”, indicating ‘electroplated nickel silver’ a sure indication the item was not sterling and worth almost nothing. The same happened with jewelry. Costume jewelry was ignored. Only solid gold and silver items were taken, especially if there were gemstones attached.

It was the selection of items that set this group of burglaries apart from all the others. It was like a personal signature. Just as you can recognize your own signature at a glance, an experienced burglary detective can walk into a home and know within a few minutes if the perpetrator was an old pro and maybe even know who it was. We investigators who investigated the hundreds of burglaries in our jurisdictions could do the same with the Ghost Burglar.

I was first introduced to this technique when I was a fairly new uniformed officer in Bethesda District. One day I had taken several reports of burglaries in an expensive high-rise residential building. An old detective responded to the scene. Before entering the apartment, he examined the metal door and frame. I guess seeing a teachable moment for a rookie he called me over. Pointing to a small nick in the door paint just above the lock he said, “See this? That’s the pry mark of Willie.”

The veteran detective explained that only “Willie” used a tool that made that kind of mark. He specialized in high-rise buildings. The tool would be pushed into the crack between door and frame to widen it enough to inset a small plastic shim to press back the door lock. Willie left no clues behind other than one small scar in the paint, invisible, unless you knew what to look for. I went back to the several other residences that had been entered that day. They all had the same small pry marks in the same places.

In trying to find the Ghost Burglar, I ran down every thief in the Washington area who was known to steal antiques. They had all been arrested because they had sold their loot locally. None of them had ever taken old Chinese snuff bottles, primitive oil paintings or ancient weapons. They did not have the market for them. Even a dumb thief does not steal what he cannot use or sell. The Ghost Burglar was different from all the others. That’s what made it easy to filter out his jobs from the thousands of other burglaries. Of course we, the police, were still stymied. None of our traditional methods were working and we did not know why.

c) Q: How did the various police organizations respond to this theory at first and then later on?

A: At first, all the police jurisdictions involved treated these special burglaries as a local problem, as they always had in the past. In general most crimes are local, that is, the criminal usually lives in the area where the crime is committed. It’s a matter of being familiar with the area around him. As the number of these particular types of burglaries increased in several different areas it became obvious that they were related. Individual investigators made the connection through personal contact with detectives in other departments. In my case, I happened to meet with Detective Dave Roberts from D.C. Metro Police Second District which abuts Montgomery County’s Bethesda District D.C. and Montgomery are separated by Western Ave. The wealthy neighborhood of Chevy Chase straddles both sides of Western Ave. Past experience had shown that when one side of Chevy Chase had a crime problem the other side did also. Dave said that his area was having the same type of burglaries and so were the wealthy areas of Fairfax County.

That’s how the investigation went from local to regional. There were, at first, a very few investigators who met together and traded notes. The meetings became larger as more investigators in other areas heard about the meetings. After a couple of years the meetings had to be held in large rooms with up to 40 police officers attending on a weekly basis.

This was how “The Standard Time Silver Burglar Task Force” began. I know that’s a long title, but it defined our mission. I should mention that it was never an officially sanctioned unit by any jurisdiction. It was just a group of dedicated cops that came together to try to combat the rising tide of house burglaries in Washington, D.C., and its suburbs. In these meetings we traded suspect info, recent burglary reports, and what was being done. This was a first in the Washington area. Slowly, the pattern of the Ghost Burglar began to appear. By information sharing we learned that he worked his trade only during the season of standard time, that is the fall, winter and early spring months when it became dark in the early evening. Then he left, not to return until next fall. He hit houses in wealthy neighborhoods between about 6 and 9 p.m. every evening of the week except Sundays. From K-9 tracking we knew he would park his car on a side street and walk through back yards, breaking into as many as four houses in the same neighborhood before leaving. From the rapes of lone females in the houses he broke into, we knew he was a white male, of medium height and build, dark brown hair and brown eyes. He wore a dark knit cap and a bandana over his face. His shoe size was 10 ½, he carried handcuffs, a pistol, ½” blade screwdriver, wire cutters, had a northern accent and had false teeth. We knew a lot about this criminal, except who he was, where he was and how he disposed of the millions of dollars in stolen goods. Even when I when I discovered enough information to identify Bernard Welch as the Ghost Burglar a year before he was arrested, it was not enough to find and arrest him.

d) Q: Did the crimes of the Ghost Burglar change police work in the Washington area?

A: I like to think it did. Of course the fact that Washington is the governmental center of the nation has always had an impact on the fractured police departments around the Capitol City. Remember there is a presidential inauguration every four years. The traffic impact of that event ripples out into the suburbs and we have to gear up for that by coordinating with the District.

The 1967 riots that followed the assignation of Dr. Martin Luther King hit the Washington area like a tsunami. It was a lawless week when political boundaries evaporated. Police units were sent where they were needed to stop riots, looting and arson. Maryland police cars sitting across the street did not sit idly by when they saw a liquor store in D.C. being looted. They went and stopped it. Very few District stores were looted in the area close to Montgomery County.

Then in late 1960s and early 70s came the massive protests against the Viet Nam war. Again, jurisdictions shared information to control crowds and traffic as hundreds of thousands of protesters flowed into and out of the District from all sides.

Next the Ghost Burglar appeared in the mid 70s. Although the precedent had been set earlier that was a top down official response. Our Task Force was a bottom up response and, in some ways, more difficult to accomplish. Our police radios could not talk to other jurisdictions. This was a time before cell phones, computers or even answering machines. Our only means of contact was the landline phone. Since there was no voice mail one had to leave a message with a live person and hope it got through.

In effect, cross-border police department communications of the 1970s were not very far ahead of the old sheriffs of the Wild West who relied on telegraphs to combat outlaws.

In 2002 the Washington “Sniper” presented a similar situation to the Ghost Burglar, although only lasting three weeks. Ten were murdered and three wounded in Maryland, D.C. and Virginia. Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose was appointed to lead the sniper cross-jurisdictional effort.

The terrorist attacks of 911 created the Department of Homeland Security and now police, rescue services and fire departments radios can talk to each other across borders and share resources.

I am sorry we did not learn our lesson sooner.

e) Q: Is there any real estimate of how much Welch, the Ghost Burglar, stole during his career?

A: It is almost impossible to know because of the nature of police record keeping in the 50s, 60s and 70s when Welch was active. There were no computers then. Everything was on paper. The stolen property lists were attached to the crime reports of each of the several thousand victims across several jurisdictions in several states. His crimes spanned many years. Those paper reports were stuffed into file cabinets and warehouses of police departments. After years, the reports went to incinerators and landfills. Law enforcement agencies in the Washington metro area estimated that Welch committed 3,500 major burglaries over the almost six years he worked in the area. That does not include the hundreds of crimes he committed in the Richmond, Petersburg and Williamsburg areas of Virginia prior to moving up to DC.

We, the authors, estimate that after escaping from the New York prison Welch committed close to 5,000 break ins. Prior to his New York incarceration, our research shows that he committed several hundred home burglaries in upper New York and West Virginia. After his escape from Chicago, he hit the Pittsburg, Pa, area and did a few dozen there.

Here is what we do know. In the three months before his arrest in Washington, D.C. he accumulated $4 million in stolen goods. This was no-pie-in-the-sky number invented to impress the public. That number came from the stolen property values listed by the victims. Admittedly, some of those victim values were high. Then again, some were low. I believe the number to be fairly accurate.

Using rough calculations, we can estimate the total value of Welch’s almost six-year take in Washington. If Welch stole $4 million in three months and he worked six months a year that’s $8 million a year. Working six years would equal $48 million. Sounds impossible? Take the 3,500 burglaries estimated by police. Assume he hauled away $10,000 from each. Now that is not a wild guess. From my experience of writing the follow-up reports on hundreds of these burglaries that is a very conservative number. Therefore 3,500 times 10,000 equals $35 million. Police departments at the time put Welch’s total D.C. haul at $100 million. That would be over $28,000 per house. It is difficult to say who is right, but the real number is probably somewhere in between. For arguments sake let’s settle on $60 million, an arbitrary number. Welch received close to 50 percent of retail value from his stolen property. Simply put, over a six-year period he realized about $30 million. That’s $5 million a year, mostly tax-free! The average individual in 1975 earned about $12,000 per year.

Sounds incredible, doesn’t it? That was 1980 dollars also. Remember that Welch had a Paine-Weber account with a couple of million in it. He played the stock market, and usually lost and therefore, kept pumping money into it. He owned two houses with indoor pools and was putting a tennis court on one. There was the new furniture and two new Mercedes Benz sedans paid for with cash. He spent half the year on vacation in Duluth going on fishing trips. Throw in three first class Caribbean vacations, money handed out to relatives, money socked away in New York for his escape fund and living the “good life,” always picking up the tab at expensive restaurants to impress his friends. Try doing that on $12,000 a year.

f) Q: Welch was suspected of several other crimes. What were they?

A: We know that he committed several armed rapes, pistol whipped an old man and committed one murder in the D.C. area. He was convicted of the murder and four burglaries in Washington and four burglaries in Maryland. Virginia never prosecuted him for any crime. Virginia police suspected him of at least one murder in the Richmond area. One Virginia rape victim identified him in a line-up. He escaped from Dannamora prison in New York for which he was required to do ten years after his 143-year sentence in Washington for murder.

In 1985, he escaped again from prison in Chicago with Hugh Colomb. Colomb was responsible for several armed hold-ups while with Welch. Welch may even have supplied the gun to Colomb from one of his burglaries. Welch was an accomplice in the robberies and shared in the proceeds. We know he stole a car in New York and one in Wisconsin after his escape. While in prison in Marion, Illinois, he financed an unsuccessful escape attempt that resulted in two prison vehicles being shot up and injuries to three inmates.

There is an interesting aside from Welch’s trial for the murder of Dr. Michael Halberstam. When Welch was found after being hit by Halberstam’s car, he had no property from the doctor’s house. In fact there seemed to be nothing within the Halberstam home that interested him. Not only did he select the wrong residence for his thievery, he did so at the wrong time with the wrong homeowner.

Ironically, Welch got nothing for his efforts except life in prison. Even the infamous Ghost Burglar could make a mistake.

Jack and Marion “the editor” Burch