Police describe Alan Golder as a master at his craft, a man who scaled mansion walls, slipped through second-floor windows during dinnertime while alarms were off, stole the best jewels and ran for miles to safety.
At times, he even posed as a musician, surrounding himself with beautiful women and luxury cars while real estate agents showed him exclusive houses that he would later burglarize, investigators say.
"He looked like a rock star," said Alfred Vincinere, a retired Nassau County, N.Y., detective who arrested Golder in 1980 in a case that put Golder in prison for 15 years. "I always felt I had a sort of reluctant respect for the guy. He was fearless. He went into homes with Dobermans in the yard."
After nine years on the run, the alleged "dinnertime bandit" was extradited from Belgium last month.
Golder, 52, pleaded not guilty this past week to nearly 40 felony counts, including burglary, larceny, robbery and kidnapping. Authorities estimate goods worth nearly $1 million were taken during the 1990s burglaries in the upscale towns of Greenwich and Darien.
His attorney, public defender Howard Ehring, described Golder as charming, smart and articulate, but said he worked menial jobs and "did not live the lifestyle of a very wealthy man" during his time in Europe.
But marshals who brought him back say he was wearing an expensive suit.
The homes were usually broken into at sundown or early evening when many residents were home and alarm systems were off. Authorities say the burglar climbed up support columns or gutters, slipped through second-story windows and targeted bedrooms, moving about quietly and leaving little trace of anyone being there.
"Many times people never knew he was in the house," Vincinere said, recalling one homeowner who thought her household help had stolen her jewelry.
Golder showed early signs of his agility while growing up in Lynbrook, N.Y., scaling apartment buildings, jumping from roof to roof and racing across railroad tracks, a childhood friend said.
Golder was raised by a single mother who was a waitress at a bowling alley. He lived in a rundown house near railroad tracks in Lynbrook and was frequently in trouble for stealing bikes and fighting, said the friend, who asked not to be identified.
Vincinere said Golder began robbing stores when he was a teenager. He learned about jewelry from a store in New York City where he sold his loot, the detective said.
Authorities say Golder claimed to have robbed the homes of Johnny Carson, Glen Campbell and other celebrities. Vincinere says he stole jewelry worth millions of dollars over five years around the country in the 1970s.
However, public defender Ehring says such claims stem from Golder's effort to sell a manuscript while he was in prison.
"His options were to work in the laundry room for 23 cents an hour or fabricate a life history for $25,000," Ehring said.
In 1978, real estate developer Lawrence Lever was fatally shot at his Nassau County home by Golder's accomplice during a break-in. Golder, arrested by Vincinere, served 15 years in prison and was paroled in June 1996.
'The best second-story man'
Golder's stepbrother and sometimes driver, John Kulp, told police Golder started committing burglaries within a week of being released from prison. Golder considered himself "the best second-story man in the business," and got a rush out of burglarizing homes while the owners were home, Kulp told police.
Kulp, who died in 2001, told police he would drop Golder off at sunset near a church in Greenwich and then watch a movie while his brother burglarized homes. Golder would run up to five miles to a meeting place, then test the stolen gems on his way back to New York, Kulp said.
Police say Golder sometimes stole a neighbor's ladder to gain access to a home's second floor. He wore gloves to avoid leaving fingerprints and a black "ninja"-type suit with a black hood with slits for eye holes, according to arrest records.
Golder fled the U.S. in 1998 after police obtained a warrant for his arrest in connection with the break-ins.
After he fled, Golder's brother, Thomas, a police lieutenant, searched his apartment with a parole officer. They retrieved his shoes with distinctive tread and found magazines about wealthy lifestyles and a textbook about gemstones, according to an affidavit. Thomas Golder would not comment.
'Better than having an orgasm'
Authorities have said Golder also is a suspect in burglaries in towns in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, but may not face charges because of a statute of limitations and a lack of witnesses.
Ehring said Golder has never even been to some of those towns.
Golder enjoyed his work, Vincinere said. "He said it was better than having an orgasm," Vincinere said.
Prosecutors said that when Golder was arrested in 2006 that he had been living in Belgium and Paris and had seven aliases.
Ehring said there were some unsolved burglaries that European authorities looked at, but maintains Golder was in different countries at the times of those crimes.
Vincinere is skeptical about that. "Alan Golder was not the kind of guy who was going to retire," Vincinere said.