Sunday, October 2, 2022 Oct 2, 2022
82° F Dallas, TX

Who Was the King of Diamonds?

By Robert Finklea |

In the dark bedroom of his Highland Park home Sam Wallace shifted uneasily in his bed. A noise in the bathroom had disturbed his sleep, and he rolled from under the covers to check, while his wife lay sleeping. Only the muffled padding of Wallace’s bare feet and the hiss of the air filtering through vents disturbed the silence of the house.

Wallace turned down the hall toward the bathroom . . . and stopped dead in his tracks. He and the short stocky man at the bathroom door eyed each other with astonishment. For a long, pregnant second they stared, and then, as in some comic routine, both turned and ran in opposite directions – Wallace to the bedroom and the short, stocky man toward the window of the bathroom.

Wallace rummaged through a drawer, grabbed a .32 caliber automatic pistol, and ran back toward the bathroom as his startled wife sat up in bed. All Wallace saw were the feet of his intruder as the man executed a dive through the first-floor window of the bathroom. A second later Wallace heard the man collide with a pile of garden tools beneath the window and utter a low moan. Then silence for a few seconds followed by the sound of a man scrambling over a fence, still moaning. Wallace turned and ran to the bedroom again, still yelling at his wife, grabbed the telephone by the bed and started dialing.

The phone jangled once, then twice, and the sleeping man, awakened by the bells, reached for the receiver. “Fannin,” whispered Captain Walter Fannin, commander of the Dallas police department’s burglary and theft unit. The voice at the other end identified itself as one of Fannin’s detectives, apologized for the 2 a.m. call, and launched into an explanation that “he” had hit again, this time in Highland Park at the home of Sam P. Wallace, on Lorraine. “Call Joe at home and tell him to get out there,” Fannin ordered. He also gave the detective a telephone number to call where one of his top lieutenants would be playing poker all night.

Fannin hung up and sank back to the pillow. In a few minutes he slipped back into a fitful sleep, but in those moments of dozing off his mind wrestled with a problem that had vexed him for the last five years.

The King of Diamonds.

From 1956 to 1966 a burglar who became known as the “King of Diamonds” plagued the exclusive sections of North Dallas, Highland Park and University Park, raiding the homes of the very rich, entering noiselessly and taking only the very best jewelry, then vanishing without a trace. He was never caught, and only a few pieces of the more than $1 million in jewelry that was taken during those years were ever recovered. Arrests were made but none of those men turned out to be the daring, super-athletic “King” whose activities forced Fannin and his beleaguered detectives to spend millions of man-hours investigating, interviewing 10,000 possible suspects, and trading information with virtually every big city police force in the world.

As far as anyone knows, Sam Wallace is one of only two persons ever to see the “King of Diamonds,” and while Wallace gave a good description of the man he encountered at 1:15 on a morning in March, 1962, no arrests were made. The other witness, a teen-age boy, encountered a man in a hallway of his home, but because the boy was not wearing his glasses his description was fuzzy.

So the legend grew, and the King became something of a silent, wispy celebrity. You weren’t anybody until the King had stolen your jewelry. The list of his victims includes names like Graf, Otis, Murchison, Pollock, Ling, Rolnick and Klein.

Somewhere, perhaps, the King still lives and smirks and remembers the days when Dallas was his oyster. As for that old saw about crime not paying, forget it. Crime not only pays, but it pays damned well.

The jewel thefts began in Dallas in 1956 when a smart thief switched cases in the security vault of the Stat-ler-Hilton hotel on Commerce Street. While an accomplice distracted the clerk, the thief, using a key, opened one of the safety deposit boxes and took a New York jeweler’s display case, containing $80,000-$90,000 in diamonds. Two years later there were more jewelry thefts from the Statler and other hotels, totaling $95,030. But it was not until the early hours of January 25, 1959, that a burglar provided the genesis for the “King of Diamonds” legend.

Mr. and Mrs. Bruno Graf lay sleeping in the second floor bedroom of their home on Park Lane. They had come home late from the Jewelry Ball, held at the Ridglea Country Club in Fort Worth, and Mrs. Graf had put her jewelry – $215,000 worth – in a drawer in the bathroom. She was tired and went to bed, perhaps thinking that she would put it in the safe in the morning. But in the morning there was no jewelry, and only tiny signs that an intruder had entered, incredibly, through the second-floor bathroom window. Fan-nin assigned 50 detectives to the case.

They found unmistakable waffle-sole shoe prints in an almost unbelievable spot – on a high brick wall 15 feet from the walls of the Graf home, and on a ledge outside the bathroom window. The thief had climbed atop the brick wall, run down it a few steps and leaped 15 feet to the ledge. Only a superman could pull that off. The jewelry was never found, and while the thief was not yet known as the “King of Diamonds,” the distinctive clues marking his work would appear again and again in jewel burglaries in North Dallas (and in other American cities).

The “waffle sole” shoe print is probably the most discussed and disputed piece of evidence. It ties all the cases together, but it must be pointed out that various sizes of waffle sole prints were found at the burglaries. All were made by a cheap rubber rain shoe pulled on over a regular shoe. The soles had waffle or criss-crossed patterns to insure traction, but worn on the foot of a cat burglar they were noiseless and easier to discard than regular shoes or sneakers.

There were other traits that the King showed down through the years, and these traits separated the King’s true burglaries from the 20 or so attributed to him. For one thing, he almost always raided while people were in the house, a daring thing to do. His only tool, apparently, was a screwdriver. “Every way he used to get in was a pure stroke of genius. He never picked a lock,” said Joe Cody, a detective who trailed the King for years. Usually, the King entered through an unlocked upstairs window or sliding glass door. Pry marks, ever so slight, showed where the forced entry was made.

Police never found fingerprints. He obviously used thin gloves, possibly surgical gloves. He almost always took the jewelry from a dressing table in the bathroom, and he always looked through the jewelry, to select only the finest pieces. The King never took men’s jewelry, and he ignored mere pearls. He could also spot costume or fake jewelry, even when the pieces were exact copies of the originals. And he had something of an uncanny ability to know when to strike – usually on weekends when the people in the house had been out that night or the night before at some society party or ball where the woman had glittered with her best jewelry.

That last clue did not escape Fan-nin or his detectives as case after case began piling up. It was a certainty that the King either had friends in society, or was himself a society party-goer. Fannin’s detectives worked that point over countless times. They narrowed down the field to a bachelor businessman friendly with a young gigolo who hung around the fringes of Dallas society and cadged invitations to parties. The businessman died not long ago, but the gigolo is still around, although he has slipped a long way from the halcyon days when he kissed the hands of fat matrons and squired around ugly debs. His last arrest was for petty shoplifting, but in those days when the police questioned him frequently and he began to receive notoriety, he once confided to his interrogators: “I’ve gotten more broads out of the publicity than I ever dreamed of. Everybody wants to sleep with the ’King of Diamonds.’”

The detectives believe the businessman provided the gigolo with inside data on who was going to the parties. The gigolo, in return, provided the businessman with women who could satisfy his sexual appetite. The information was then passed to the King. Theory? Yes, but theory based upon solid investigation by a group of old-time police detectives whose wealth of knowledge and experience mav be more valuable than today’s computerized investigatory techniques.

In October, 1959, $39,500 worth of jewels was stolen from Ethan Stroud. In April, 1961, the home of H. C. Otis was hit. Five days after the Otis burglary, the home of Clint Murchison, Sr., was burglarized, and $95,000 in jewelry taken. Murchison was playing cards with friends when informed of the loss, police recalled. He never missed a trick, not even when his wife told him rather airily, “Well, now you’re going to get to buy me some new jewelry.”

The waffle sole shoe print turned up at the Otis house, and the Murchison burglary had all the earmarks of the King. In rapid succession, burglaries occurred at the home of John A. Gil-lin on Rockbrook, November 11, 1961; Howell Smith on Park Lane, November 12; Philip Bee, again on Rock-brook, November 29; and Lawrence Pollock on Preston Road, December 20, all with the marks of the King. The Smiths lost $20,000, Bee lost $19,000, taken while he slept, and Pollock suffered a $39,800 loss. With the advent of 1962, the King kept up his royal style. He hit the Harry Rolnick home on Southbrook January 9, taking $17,200 in jewels. A maid found the signs of forced entry, and recalled that a short, stocky man between 30 and 35, and wearing a beard, had knocked at the door just one day before the burglary.

At about the same time, Mrs. P. E. Haggerty, wife of the president of Texas Instruments, reported her home on Northbrook had been burglarized while she was on vacation. She told police she’d had a strange feeling before leaving on December 22. She felt she was going to be robbed, she told them, and so she took her jewelry out of the locked bathroom dressing table and put it in a safe. Sure enough, when she returned after New Year’s, her home had been burglarized, but her jewelry was secure in the safe.

Then, on January 21, the wealthy suburb of Mission Hills, outside Kansas City, Kansas, suffered several burglaries in which $400,000 worth of jewelry was taken. The method was similar to the King’s and police there dubbed the burglar “sockfoot” because he came and went quietly and with few traces.

Fannin and his detectives were scrambling. The bewildering string of jewel burglaries seemed the work of a thief with an insatiable lust for sparkling gems. “Don’t worry, we’ll get him – if we don’t run out of diamonds first,” one of Fannin’s men quipped to reporters.

“We were frustrated. We knew that jewelry should have shown up by then,” Fannin said. “But as we got into it more, we found that the jewelry could be anywhere in the world. Once it was taken out of the settings not even the owners would recognize it. The more we learned about jewelry the more we realized it was not easily traceable. I had a good crew, and they wanted to solve these cases. They worked a lot of overtime without any promise of pay. We devised a lot of unusual methods to try to trap the King.”

The detectives staked out likely houses and made surreptitious patrols through the area from Midway Road to Preston and Walnut Hill to Northwest Highway. They took aerial photos, sneaked around with infra-red nightscopes, and set up electric eye cameras. During one all night stakeout 20 officers strung wire with bells and tin cans along a creek as a crude trip alarm. “All we ever got was chig-gers and snake scares,” said Cody. One night, Lt. Paul McCaghren was lying in the grass on a stakeout when one of his men, doing the same, called via walkie-talkie. “Lieutenant, do Dobermans get very big?” the officer asked. “Sure,” McCaghren whispered. “Big as a small pony.” “Okay, Lieutenant, we’re about to get stomped by either a large Doberman or a small pony.”

The King lay low for several months until the Wallace encounter in Highland Park. A white Oldsmobile sedan, seen racing out of the area, was spotted by a Dallas patrol officer on the southern edge of Highland Park. The officer chased the speeding car, but lost it at McKinney and Haskell. Wallace’s neighbors had seen a similar car nearby.

Fannin and his detectives developed a number of procedures for investigating and keeping up with the “King of Diamonds” cases. They had thousands of files; they set up a card index in which every name was entered, no matter how insignificant. And, an informal intelligence network of “old boys” formed between major departments in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Kansas City, Miami, New Orleans, Dallas and other places. There were several hundred cat burglare in the country – all at the top of the profession. The known ones were always under some kind of surveillance by police, and when the King began hitting in Dallas, and similar burglaries occurred in other cities, data on these burglars was freely passed. When one would leave town for another city, the police in the arrival city were notified by police in the departure city. When the burglars arrived in the new city, they were accompanied by an unseen police escort.

Among the slippery thieves police departments kept their eyes on was a 70-year-old cat burglar who lived on a farm north of Dallas, and who apparently flew in and out of town, pulling jobs in other cities. The old gentleman left Dallas once, destined for a town in Illinois, and Dallas police alerted the police in that city. “The entire town was staked out by the whole police force. That old geezer slipped into town, slipped past the cops, pulled his job and left without getting caught,” Fannin said. The old man was eventually trapped in the act in La Jolla, California, and sent to prison.

The burglaries started again in January, 1963. The Frank A. Schultz home on Park Lane was tagged for $16,000 in jewelry. A couple staying in a 14th floor room at the Sheraton lost $40,000 in jewels. Police suspected the King had returned to his realm. Any doubt vanished on the night of January 6, 1963, at the home of electronics czar James Ling. Ling and the servants were downstairs, Ling watching television. The King demonstrated his athletic prowess by slipping noiselessly into the first floor and swinging on an ornamental lamp hanging from the wall up to a second floor balcony. He pried open a door and took $10,000 in jewelry from Mrs. Ling’s jewelry box. Police found smudged waffle sole and glove prints on the balcony of the house. The next night, the home of Mr. and Mrs. Ray Dowling, a few blocks from the Ling home, was burglarized and jewelry taken. Then, abruptly, the burglaries stopped.

Fannin called in Dr. Robert Stoltz, then a psychologist at SMU, and let him spend months analyzing the “King of Diamonds.” Stoltz returned with a profile: the King was an Anglo-Saxon male, in his early 30’s with tremendous physical coordination. He was, Dr. Stoltz theorized, a “mama’s boy” from a broken home. He was a fanatic for neatness, worked very, very quietly and almost always while someone was in the house. He was non-violent, and possibly a latent homosexual. No one could dispute Dr. Stoltz’ profile of the King. They just couldn’t lay their hands on him to corroborate it.

August 17, 1964: the home of Harold Knop on Radbrook Place was hit and $20,000 in jewelry stolen. Shortly thereafter, a 27-year-old man, Jobie James Taylor, was arrested in Los Angeles with $17,000 worth of Knop’s jewelry. He was brought back, questioned and later sent to prison. He was not the King of Diamonds, just a copycat. In February, 1965, a jeweler lost $200,000 worth from a Love Field terminal locker – not the King’s style. That same month, Glenn Thurman Wilson, 41, was arrested in Los Angeles with $8,000 worth of jewelry that had been stolen back in 1961 from the home of Howell Smith. But again, police had a hunch their prisoner didn’t have the style to be the King. And, again, they were right. On the night of January 4, 1966, the King of Diamonds hit. Sportsman Herb Klein and his wife had been to a New Year’s Eve party that week, and Mrs. Klein had $75,000 worth of jewelry in the house. While they slept, a burglar entered and took the jewelry. On February 26, the home of Mr. and Mrs. Warren E. Phillips on Yolanda Lane, near the Klein home, was broken into, and $9,000 worth of Mrs. Phillips’ jewelry taken. The hard clues were not exactly the same as earlier King cases, but the style was unmistakably his. It was his swan song.

He had come and gone within a ten-year period, taking more than a million in jewelry, and he was never caught. He had earned the nickname “King of Diamonds” (so dubbed in 1962 by newspaperman Harry Mc-Cormick), and he had probably laughed at the police more times than they cared to think about. So, who was he?

“By the end I came to the conclusion that we weren’t talking about a King of Diamonds. We were talking about a group of burglars. Not sophisticated burglars, just a bunch of opportunists. Sure, there were burglars caught in Beaumont and Illinois who wore waffle sole shoes, but they weren’t the King. The King of Diamonds pulled maybe six or seven of the biggest jobs here, but all the rest were done by others,” said Fannin, in a recent interview.

Some of the cases attributed to the King of Diamonds were probably insurance frauds. Police can’t prove it, but two or three were definitely not legitimate. One woman reported a $100,000 loss, but when detectives combed her house for clues they found the jewelry shoved down in the bottom of a box of sanitary napkins.

There is no pat solution for the King of Diamonds cases. As Fannin, now the commander of the entire Dallas police detective force, says: “They’ll never be solved. I don’t think I’m the only one who regrets not solving it. I would like to have … all of us dreamed about it. But, it’s a lot like the Kennedy assassination. None of us wanted that to happen, and we all wanted to solve it. It just won’t ever be solved.”

So not even Detective Fannin, the King’s arch opponent, knows his identity and he expects never to know. Still, the King’s traits and patterns of operation suggest a number of possibilities.

The King of Diamonds was a physical fitness addict who worked out with weights, developing fine, taut muscles. He obviously needed strength to pull himself up to second-floor balconies and windows. He was probably a tennis player and/ or a gymnast. Remember the leap to the Grafs’ second-floor bathroom window ledge and the swing on the ornamental lamp at Ling’s home?

The King could also have been a tennis bum who frequented the courts around North Dallas and Highland Park, rubbing elbows with the sons and daughters of his potential victims. On the courts he would play and talk and listen, gleaning information about homes and family schedules.

Or he could have been an SMU student, which would bring him in contact with those exclusive families. Again, he would have an introduction to homes and parties where he could easily scout out the house and decide where his entry could be made. Maybe he excused himself to go to the bathroom and spotted the dressing table drawers.

The theory that the King was a society party-goer is a good one, for he would have had access to the homes and parties and he would know all the guests, where they lived, when they went home and in what usual state of sobriety. He could stand quietly to one side at these parties, his eyes roving over the women. Sparkling in the lights, gleaming on slender fingers and draped around necks, the diamonds, rubies and emeralds would excite him as no plunging neckline or soft, perfumed shoulder ever could, and when he stole them, perhaps still dressed in his party tuxedo, he would experience a sensual gratification.

Maybe the King was a woman. Everything points to the King’s being a man – the psychological profile, the brief glimpses, the physical strength needed to pull the jobs. But suppose the King was a “Queen,” disguised as a man. She wouldn’t need all the brute strength, for a woman usually has better natural gymnastic skill than a man. And how unlikely it would be for the police to suspect a woman. She would have better access – at parties or afternoon teas she could go into bathrooms and bedrooms without suspicion. Too many people took it for granted that the King was a man, displaying his male superiority, taking astronomical risks. But a determined woman, needing the jewels to provide cash for a costly life style, is not entirely an impossibility.

In a sense, maybe the King was not really a “King” at all, but a “knave.” The real King might have been the man behind him, the jeweler with the knowledge of fine gems who taught the athletic thief to pick only the finest, and who paid him a percentage from each burglary. The jeweler could then sell the unmounted stones in Beirut – the world’s best place to sell stolen jewelry – or on 47th Street in New York City, where millions change hands every hour – or Tan-giers, or Hong Kong or any place where stones bring money from buyers who ask no questions. The jeweler might be one who sold the diamond earrings, ruby necklaces and emerald rings to Dallas society. He would know who and where.

Perhaps the King was a retired jewel thief passing his knowledge on to a “son,” painstakingly training him in physical moves and teaching him the subtleties of fine, even exquisite, jewelry.

Who was the “King of Diamonds?”You tell me.

Related Articles

Home & Garden

Signature Home Scents

Dallas designers name their favorites.
By D Magazine
Home & Garden

High-Shine Home Accessories

Indulge your lust for luster.
By D Magazine