Atlanta’s latest claim to celebrity: famed burglar

Atlanta is a destination for movie sets and reality TV, but it may have reached the big time this year when it drew in a man implicated in such high-profile burglaries that he’s considered something of a star.

Blane Nordahl, 51, a thief so talented and so persistent that he has been featured in The New Yorker, is suspected of collecting at least $1.5 million in missing silver from a string of Atlanta burglaries. And police suspect he has taken between $6 million and $7 million worth of silver across six states since he moved to Florida after getting out of prison in New York in 2010.

The Atlanta Police Department has charged Nordahl in two Buckhead burglary cases — and has linked him to five othersthat resulted in the Jacksonville man being arrested in Florida on Monday.

“This dude is one of a kind,” said Cornell Abruzzini, a retired detective from Greenwich, Conn., who helped imprison Nordahl in the 1990s. “Once he got paroled in New York, I guess he went on his Southern tour.”

Atlanta Detective Drew Bahry, who found himself chasing a suspect who was fastidious, meticulous and extremely picky, said Nordahl burgled by removing panes of glass, dismantling doors or squeezing through small spaces — 12 inches by 19 inches.

Dogs were not a big hindrance. For one thing, roaming dogs usually mean no active motion detectors, and police say Nordahl was comfortable with them. “It has been heard that he carries treats,” Bahry said. “I can’t confirm or deny.”

Nordahl’s signature was very neat crime scenes in which only the best silver was taken and owners often didn’t know they had been robbed until they looked for a piece and discovered it missing.

“He would never leave a mess — it was almost like he vacuumed up after himself,” Bahry said. “I almost thought it was an inside job it was so neat.”

Nordahl is suspected in a burglary of the Buckhead home of Beverly “Bo” DuBose III. Last June, DuBose noticed a cracked glass pane but thought it had been caused by a storm when he was readying to leave for a Sotheby’s cocktail party in New York to raise money for the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia.

“There was no putty on the ground,” said DuBose, who said the thief entered while he and his wife slept. “I have to give the man credit. He was very good at what he did.”

It wasn’t until DuBose returned five days later that he noticed a silver cake basket was missing. He soon discovered scores of other pieces missing, including a 170-piece-plus Sheffield silverware set, as well as a mug that reputedly had been made for King George II in 1734.

DuBose said the thief only took the most valuable silver, leaving the knives because they have hollow handles and stainless steel blades that undermine their value when melted down. He hopes the mug has landed in the hands of a lover of history and antiques, albeit a witless or unscrupulous one.

“I am enough of a collector that I would like to see the piece of history preserved and owned by someone else,” said DuBose, 72. “The vast majority of what he took he was going to melt down.”

Nordahl’s résumé has its share of celebrities, the prominent as well as old-money wealthy. According to news reports, he’s been accused in crimes against Bruce Springsteen, Ivana Trump and “Andalusia,” the historic Pennsylvania estate of the late financier Nicholas Biddle. A 2000 US News article described Nordahl, a Midwest high school dropout, as fairly glowing when he described exquisite silver pieces that have passed through his hands, including “bowls made by Mr. Tiffany himself.”

“One I’d definitely love to get ahold of,” he said dreamily, “is an original Paul Revere.”

He may have gotten his wish in North Carolina. According to The New York Times, in one of the biggest recent hauls in which Nordahl is suspected, a thief disabled the alarm at the Cooleemee Plantation House and bagged silver spoons forged by Paul Revere and a coffee and tea set that a slave had once buried for safekeeping from Union soldiers during the Civil War.

According to the Athens Banner-Herald, Nordahl is suspected of stealing $30,000 worth of silver in the Athens area in July. Other Georgia towns reputedly hit were Columbus and Thomasville.

Abruzzini, the retired detective from Connecticut, said he got involved in the pursuit of Nordahl after a detective from Aiken, S.C., contacted him about a silver theft. The detective had found Abruzzini’s name in a 2004 New Yorker article about the thief. By the end of March, Abruzzini was helping Lonnie Mason, a retired New Jersey detective who has often pursued Nordahl, and who had become the adviser to a team of 24 members of law enforcement agencies in six Southern states who worked on the case through the summer.

Bahry said he expects Atlanta will make more cases against Nordahl, as will six states besides Georgia where Nordahl is suspected in silver burglaries that so far amount to at least 56 cases.

Abruzzini believes Bahry is right, especially if police can get Nordahl talking.

“He gave me 144 different jobs in 36 different jurisdictions in nine states,” Abruzzini said. “He is no dope, that is for sure, but he loves to talk about his trade. That is his life’s work.”

Abruzzini said Nordahl trolled through wealthy enclaves of old-money: Greenwich, Conn.; Newport, R.I., for yachting money; Allegheny County, Pa., for steel industry money; Wilmington, Del., for chemical industry money; Grosse Pointe, Mich., for auto industry money.

And now he is a suspect in Atlanta.

DuBose said he got a valuable lesson from whoever stole his silver. The Buckhead resident had his home’s burglary alarm turned on, which the thief bypassed, but had the motion detectors turned off to avoid an accidental alarm. He failed to get pictures of the thief because his outside cameras didn’t have infra-red capability.

“I have infra-red cameras now and a lot more motion detectors,” he said.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.