We know the cliché from countless movies: the lithe, athletic figure, clad in head-to-toe black, enters the museum/bank vault/government facility usually through a vulnerable rooftop entrance. He knows intimately all of the security measures he must counter, and has at his disposal a staggering collection of highly specialized technological tools. One by one, he neutralizes every obstacle in his way; his patience is as great as his skill and daring. Having pulled off the perfect crime without breaking a sweat, he may even go so far as to leave a calling card marking his presence, taunting the authorities with their helplessness.
Is this complete bullshit?
I realize there are people who steal things and are pretty good at it, but what I’d like to know, esp. from people with some knowledge of law enforcement/criminology:
• Is there such a thing as a professional freelance thief, someone who actually specializes in stealing well-guarded things and will do so for anyone who pays?
• Does the technology frequently employed by cinema cat burglars — hydraulic pulleys and grappling lines, cantilevered mirror systems that defeat security lasers, electronic codebreakers that plug into alarm panels and somehow neutralize them, etc. — exist in any fashion whatsoever? If it does, who makes it, and how does one go about getting it?
• Are there real cases on file of sophisticated cat burglars penetrating highly secure premises and making off with valuable swag, without tripping any security devices?
I was led to thinking along these lines by two things: the recent smash-and-grab theft of Munch’s The Scream, and the trailer to a new Nick Cage movie in which he steals the Declaration of Independence (apparently just moments ahead of Sean Bean, who presumably had his own plan for stealing it). The contrast is instructive: most successful thefts seem to involve the use of deadly force or the threat of it, banking on people’s sense of self-preservation to enable the thieves to get what they want. It’s only in the movies that you see some slick operator worm his way into Fort Knox or the National Archive and make off with priceless treasure. Realistically, I would think such a crime would be enormously difficult to plan and execute, and my common sense tells me that the “cat burglar” exists primarily if not exclusively in movies, comics, and pulp thrillers. Yet the archetype is so well-trodden and familiar that I can’t help wondering if there isn’t some factual basis for it.