Wednesday August 28 2013
– Even before a thief carefully removed a window pane from a mansion here one rainy June night and slipped away with a 1734 silver mug that had belonged to King George II, it was clear to detectives that a meticulous thief with a singular obsession was stealing the great silver pieces of the Old South.
For months, exquisite sterling silver collections had been disappearing, taken in the dead of night from historic homes in Charleston, South Carolina, and the wealthy enclaves of Belle Meade, Tennessee.
And nothing else was touched.
The police in different states did not connect the thefts, some of which initially went unnoticed by the owners.
But as the burglaries piled up, a retired detective watching reports on the internet recognised a familiar pattern and contacted Atlanta detectives, and early on Monday, outside an apartment building in the tiny Florida town of Hilliard, the police arrested Blane Nordahl, the man they believe is connected not only to the recent Southern silver burglaries but also to 30 years’ worth of antique silver thefts in several states.
Mr Nordahl’s skill as a thief is so notorious it has earned him his own Wikipedia page and the nickname “burglar to the stars”.
In one of the biggest recent hauls in which Mr Nordahl is a suspect, a thief disabled the alarm at the Cooleemee Plantation House in North Carolina and walked away with silver spoons forged by Paul Revere and a coffee and tea set a slave had buried for safekeeping when Union soldiers were in the area during the Civil War.
Detectives who chased Mr Nordahl, now in his early fifties, for decades say he might ultimately be responsible for more than 500 burglaries worth millions of dollars.
One of a string of girlfriends whom the police persuaded to help them pursue Mr Nordahl said “he would be 80 years old and still running down the street with his cane and a piece of silver in his hand. He is just fascinated with this stuff.”
Mr Nordahl is barely 162 centimetres, of muscular build and able to squeeze through small spaces.
Over the years he developed a fastidious routine, tracking his targets through architectural magazines, in libraries and by scouting rich neighbourhoods.
He learnt to pry the putty from windows and disable alarms, the police say, often stacking moulding from a door neatly nearby or replacing the glass – Kim Severson