By Ed Meckle, Retired LAPD
Footpad, housebreaker, cracksman, 2nd story man—the list of slang names is endless.
Let me begin with a confession: I am not, repeat, not an expert on burglars. I probably know as much as the average street cop. There are those of you out there who have busted more burglars than I have written traffic tickets. So, this is not a lecture but a tale, The Tale of the Master Burglar, or the burglar’s burglar.
California penal code section 459 defines burglary (basically) as the entry into a building, room, etc. with the intent to commit theft or any felony. Remember this.
People are robbed—buildings are burglarized, thank you.
One of the perks of working Metro was the chance to attend any number of classes.
When Basic Investigators class was offered, I jumped. A week-long series of classes on “how to”, “where to find it” and “secret and sneaky sources”—great! One day the lecturer was Detective Dan Bowser (who was later to become my boss at Wilshire detectives and a longtime friend). It was the first time I heard the name Gordon E. Atterberry.
G.E.A. had been arrested only a year prior to the class I was attending so with the facts fresh in mind, Bowser talked for the full hour about this man. As I was to discover over the years Bowser was a great story teller but this one needed no embellishments.
We were on the edge of our seats the entire time. I wish I could remember more but these are some of the facts.
Atterberry was just 23 years old, slight and slender and had attended Wisconsin University where he majored in electronics, and made burglar alarms.
Nothing more than “playthings.”
He was the ultimate cat burglar. He loved hi-end residences, mansions, fancy condos and town houses and almost preferred “working” while the occupants slept. In one instance, he not only disabled the alarm he stole it.
Later he recounted the home owner’s reaction to find the alarm gone. For the same reason, he would not only pilfer the pockets of the victims clothing while they snoozed nearby by, but on several occasions, took the car keys and then the car.
He had a wide variety of methods of entry from unlocked doors, windows to doggie doors. Later, he described the feelings while in the bedroom as a rush. He took money, jewelry, and anything of value he could turn over.
Then one late night he found a gun and badge on the dresser and admitted to a combination thrill/fear as the officer slept. He replaced everything carefully and left without taking anything.
He worked mostly alone but sometimes with a small select crew. He ranged from San Diego to Bakersfield but preferred the San Fernando Valley plus Bel-Aire, Brentwood along with Beverly Hills.
He told of being chased any number of times by the police. So he always tried to climb a tree.
He told detectives, “Cops look under things, they look behind things and between things but they don’t look up.”
When he was finally taken down it was due to a domestic dispute. What else?
Various detectives spent weeks driving him all over southern and central California while he pointed out his accomplishments. He had a fabulous memory and pointed out many victims who never knew they had been hit. Detectives found three apartments crammed with the loot that he had not sold off.
Detectives conservatively estimate he was “good for” a minimum of 150 plus burglaries.
He was to burglary what Babe Ruth was to baseball.