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Rena Pederson on Dallas’s Elusive, High Society Jewel Thief

Rena Pederson on Dallas’s Elusive, High Society Jewel Thief

A single evening in 1970, Rena Pederson, a young wire-assistance reporter arranging news bulletins printed by the Dallas office’s teletype machines, came throughout a dispatch about an audacious criminal offense. The so-named King of Diamonds was at it again, absconding from a community mansion with jewels worth an believed $60,000. “That,” Pederson recollects, “was 10 situations what I manufactured a yr at UPI.” 

The clever crook, it seemed, had been active for several years, thieving from dozens of houses owned by Texas tycoons whose new income came from oil wells and retail empires. Pederson would commit the subsequent quite a few many years amassing an spectacular journalistic resume, but even as she climbed The Dallas Morning News’ masthead and revealed quite a few guides, she didn’t overlook the never-caught thief. 

In the mid-2010s, Pederson recognized she finally experienced time to publish about the “king,” as the press dubbed him 6 a long time back. The products of interviews with far more than 200 men and women and numerous several hours expended digging through newspaper archives, her new book—The King of Diamonds: The Research for the Elusive Texas Jewel Thief—is useful and entertaining, a recreation effort to fix a batch of sensational crimes that coincided with Dallas’ midcentury economic boom and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. 

Talking from her residence in Austin, Pederson talked over the thief’s intriguing criminal offense spree, which, she calculates, netted jewels that would be truly worth $6 million nowadays.

By 1970, how long had the thief been lively?  

I would say that the thefts were going on for at minimum a 10 years by then. At the time I checked the information, I realized that they in all probability started off in the mid-50s. 

Who was the thief stealing from?

It was a incredibly specific time in Dallas, I guess you would say. Oil funds brought extraordinary riches pouring into what was in essence a extremely rural, lousy condition. Dallas was comprehensive of Gatsbys, mainly because that&#8217s exactly where the bankers were being, and they would take a danger on a properly for a share of the earnings. Dallas was primarily a smaller metropolis, with rich folks who were like sparklers on the cake.

That aspect of the ebook tends to make it a portrait of Dallas getting the spot we know currently. Did you recognize from the start out that you composing a kind of record of the town in the 20th century?

At initially, I didn&#8217t. I thought, properly, this male was so very good, he had to be a professional, and he likely finished up in some other jurisdiction. But the more I received into it—and the more the law enforcement bought into it—I recognized it was anyone dwelling in Dallas, simply because it went on for so long in a extremely contained place. It had to have been someone who knew these prosperous folks, for the reason that the thief was so intimately acquainted with their houses. You had to glance at the culture, mainly because the culture designed this instant, this great storm of cash and glamour.

The men and women whose properties ended up robbed belonged to swanky golf golf equipment and night spots. And you feel that more than 20 experienced some sort of website link to the Dallas Opera?

When you have individuals who are newly prosperous, they want respectability, they want a position in modern society. So what they did was be a part of the opera. They dressed up to go to the opera since that&#8217s what abundant people in New York and Boston did. 

How precisely did the thief get the job done?

Commonly, a burglar will appear when people are out of city and there are no lights on, and papers are piled up in the yard. That’s the factor that was confounding to the police—he would come into people’s homes although they ended up in their beds, wander by their beds, occasionally cover in their closets. 

That was my favored depth from the reserve, that he appears to have needed folks to be at home, since if they were, their jewels would be there far too.

Correct, and the burglaries were occurring in a finite space, two-and-a-quarter square miles. When the law enforcement manufactured a spreadsheet, they recognized that most of the crimes transpired among October and March. Nicely, that takes place to be social period in Dallas, when people have their jewels at home—you don&#8217t want to be functioning back again and forth to the safe and sound at the financial institution. 

If the jewellery-entrepreneurs needed to be noticed hunting fancy at the opera, the thief also would seem to have had one thing to confirm. 

He only went right after the most effective jewelry. He only took women&#8217s jewelry. He would leave 1000’s of 1000’s of pounds in jewels if they weren&#8217t the most effective. Some adult males, just to prove how considerably revenue they experienced, wore these big gold Rolex watches with diamonds. He wasn&#8217t intrigued in all those. 

And none of these products ever turned up for sale any where?

No, and that additional a different layer to the investigation. The only persons who could be capable to get the jewels out of city, to Europe or where ever, would be structured crime.

You imagine you might’ve figured out the id of the thief. I won’t spoil the ending listed here, but I was asking yourself if you can communicate about narrowing down your suspects. 

I uncovered that as it went on, and as their neighbors were being being hit, people today suspected their neighbors, they suspected an individual dancing upcoming to them who appeared like they ended up sporting expensive jewels that they couldn&#8217t afford to pay for. Everybody&#8217s suspected everybody else, so that gave me extra suspects. I experienced to pare it down, and what I did is, if somebody’s title came up at least 10 occasions, then I would glimpse a lot more intensely and in additional detail at them. 

I finished up with about five lead suspects, and I could have produced a superior case for any just one of them. And that&#8217s a person explanation it took for a longer period than predicted to complete the ebook, for the reason that I wasn&#8217t investigating just a single burglary—there have been in excess of 60 that I could document, and I suspect there have been at minimum 100. Some folks didn&#8217t report them, since they didn&#8217t want their neighbors to know that they experienced been burgled or how a lot jewellery they had. 

Although the crimes happened many years ago, you were being ready to interview a ton of folks who lived by means of this, together with cops and reporters. 

I&#8217m so glad I started out when I did. I would say at minimum a third of the individuals I interviewed have died given that then. I really feel so lucky that I acquired to them in time to get their oral histories. Some men and women were being keen to converse about it since it felt like it had just occurred yesterday. It was even now quite real to them. 

As you say in the guide, you can’t discuss about Dallas in the 1960s without having speaking about JFK. How did that have an affect on the speed of the crimes and the investigation into them?

Dallas law enforcement had been pulled away from the scenario, of program, to deal with the catastrophe that the Kennedy assassination was. They pulled just one officer to reinvestigate what had gone erroneous in the security of Lee Harvey Oswald, and how Jack Ruby (who shot Oswald on stay Tv set) got into the law enforcement station. 

But two weeks after the assassination, jewels were being taken from an architect’s house that was only a pair blocks from the police station. So the King of Diamonds wasn&#8217t in shock. He wasn&#8217t mourning. He was carrying out what he did—he preferred factors, so he took them.