It only took two years to write this article. I made my first phone calls in March of 2002. I was finishing up a book that concerned Pittsburgh, so I was in the habit of reading the Pittsburgh papers every morning. In the Post-Gazette one day was an article about some silver burglaries that, if pattern held, were likely committed by a certain Blane Nordahl, who had just been arrested outside of Philadelphia. A quick search of the Philly papers yielded a few more articles. So my first conscious act in writing this story about burglary was to burgle the work of those journalists in Pittsburgh and Philly. To them: apologies, and thanks.
I got to work, trying to reconstruct the past few years of Nordahl's life. I was happy to save string, see how things turned out. What I really wanted was an interview with Nordahl himself, which took forever to arrange. Finally he agreed. Then he changed his mind. Then he changed his mind again, but with conditions. By the time I finally sat down with him at a federal prison in Ohio, I knew more about Nordahl than I know about some of my own siblings. (This isn't as strange as you might think; there are eight of us, and some of the facts are pretty murky.) Nordahl was, without question, one of the dullest interviews I've ever conducted. His story was terrific, but he wasn't the guy to tell it. He was too arrogant, too paranoid, too controlling. The story came from Lonnie Mason and Cornell Abruzzini, from Bobby Eisler and Tom Fort, generous gentlemen each of them, and a small army of others.
Early one morning, soon after Nordahl jumped bail, went on a burglary tear, and got busted again, Lonnie Mason called me. He said that two of Nordahl's friends-the people he was staying with when he was arrested, and who had in fact set him up-were killed in a one-car crash. Police suspected the brake line was cut. Mason thought that Nordahl had arranged from jail to have them killed, to eliminate potential witnesses. He couldn't ever prove it; knowing Lonnie, he's probably still trying.
A few months after this article was published, Law & Order: Criminal Intent ran an episode based on Nordahl. Lonnie and I both happened to be watching. During commercials, we chatted on the phone. We couldn't believe how thoroughly they had lifted the story: every detail, every twist, every idiosyncracy. It made sense, of course. A story about a thief, which began in thievery, should surely end in thievery. It was a good episode, one of my favorites.