Recommended by Virgil Swing for the News Tribune
Title: "Ghost Burglar"
Authors: Jack Burch and James D. King
Publisher: Savage Press of Superior
The message many will take away from "Ghost Burglar," written by Jack Burch and James D. King, is this: Thank goodness most crooks are dumb, because this burglar wasn't.
Burch is a former TV newsman and journalism instructor who owned a Twin Cities video production company for 30 years. King is a former D.C.-area police detective deeply involved in efforts to catch the burglar.
The Ghost Burglar, also known to police in the Washington, D.C., area as the Standard Time Burglar, was Bernard Welch, and it is no exaggeration to call him a one-man crime wave in the 1970s and early 1980s. Police estimated he burglarized 3,300 homes and stole $100 million in items. The authors think he broke into 5,000 homes.
Welch spent warm-weather months in Duluth during that time. He liked to break into homes of the rich in the early evening darkness. The arrival of Daylight Savings Time in spring made it too light then, thus his nickname.
The authors tell Welch's story in straightforward prose. There's no fine writing here, but they create a fascinating tale of a world-class burglar whom coincidence made a part-time Duluth resident.
That happened when he romanced Duluth native Linda Hamilton, then living in the state of Virginia. She eventually bore him three sons and persuaded him to buy a summer home in Duluth's Hidden Valley neighborhood, where he socialized with neighbors, including the St. Louis County attorney.
Welch grew up in a dysfunctional family, but many people do that and turn out well. Welch seemingly was born to be bad. His main crime was stealing from vacant houses, but he also committed rapes and a murder.
That 1980 murder did him in, temporarily. Welch was convicted and sentenced to life without parole but used a ruse to get temporarily moved in 1985 from an escape-proof Illinois prison to a less-secure one. He and another inmate escaped.
Welch's D.C. crime spree came after he had escaped from a New York prison in 1974. His escape from the Chicago prison was less successful; he was arrested less than three months later when he made one of his few mistakes: double-parking his stolen car in the alley behind his Pennsylvania apartment. It was his last taste of freedom.
The book makes good use of King's intimate knowledge of the case, resurrecting conversations from long ago. There's a lot of creativity involved in that process, but memoir writers do this all the time. The authors also do their best to give us a feel for the sights, sounds and smells of police stations of 30-plus years ago.
The book includes names and places recognizable to long-time Duluthians. It also includes a couple of unfortunate errors, misspelling the name of one well-known local resident and a Twin Cities brokerage firm.
Despite those errors, the book is a fascinating look at how much harm one smart crook can cause -- even if justice prevails in the end.