An Aiken detective’s curiosity has helped with the arrest of a cat burglar suspect believed involved in silver thefts across the Southeast.
On Monday, authorities arrested Blane David Nordhal, 51, whom they say is responsible for stealing silver worth millions from homes across the South.
Nordahl is a career criminal often called the “Silver Bandit” because of his penchant for stealing just sterling silver. He also had been dubbed “Burglar of the Stars,” because past victims included Bruce Springsteen and Ivana Trump.
After a previous conviction in New York, Nordahl’s probation was transferred to Florida when he relocated to Jacksonville, which investigators said became his new base of operations.
From there, he traveled the South, but not so far that he couldn’t make it back home before being missed by probation officials.
Authorities believe Nordahl is responsible for more than 70 burglaries this year in Georgia, the Carolinas, Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky. The stolen silver was worth more than $4 million.
When a detective in Aiken was searching the Internet for crimes in which only sterling silver was stolen, he came across an article about Nordahl that had been published in The New Yorker magazine quoting Cornell Abruzzini, a retired detective from the Greenwich Police Department in Connecticut.
The Aiken detective sent Abruzzini crime scene photos and reports, which were “like carbon copies of my reports from the 1990s,” Abruzzini said.
The former Greenwich detective then reached others who previously investigated Nordahl, including Lonnie Mason, a retired detective for the office of the Monmouth County prosecutor in New Jersey, where Nordahl was first arrested for burglary in 1983.
Nordahl began as an amateur, breaking windows and stealing whatever he could, Mason said, but over the years he refined his methods to the point they became so distinctive they became so-called signature crimes.
According to Mason, the burglar began specializing in sterling silver thefts because flatware and other dining items are kept downstairs, away from sleeping residents in upper rooms.
Mason, who acted as consultant for the task force in the current investigation, is considered the leading authority on Nordahl’s methods and behavior because of his many interactions with the suspect over the past two decades.
“Nordahl is OCD the way he goes about his business,” Mason said. “He does things the same way every time. He removes window panes and paneling and neatly stacks them in the yard outside. When you see one of Blane’s crime scenes, you know that no one else but him could have been responsible.”
The diminutive, athletic suspect was able to crawl through small spaces and bypass alarm systems, he said.
In Athens, Ga., police said they believe Nordahl struck three homes in July, netting about $30,000.
A task force formed to track down the burglar and was headed by a detective from Atlanta, where the upscale Buckhead neighborhod had been particularly hard hit.
An Athens-Clarke police detective was in Jacksonville on Saturday when authorities raided his home, but he wasn’t there. It is believed he might have been tipped off when his girlfriend, Elizabeth Irene Music, got picked up soon before near the home they share.
Authorities were able to obtain the cooperation of an unidentified witness who arranged to meet with Nordahl in Hilliard, Fla., about 30 miles from Jacksonville. Police were waiting and captured Nordahl after a brief foot pursuit.
Though it could not immediately be learned whether anyone of note was victimized this time by the burglar, Nordahl is suspected of breaking into the historic Cooleenee Plantation in Davies County, N.C., where someone swiped sterling silver items valued about $145,000 and spoons made by Revolutionary War patriot Paul Revere and considered priceless.
A consummate pro who was careful to not leave behind incriminating evidence, the burglar’s “signature” led to Nordahl’s being identified as the prime suspect, authorities said.
The burglar worked patiently and methodically. He disabled phone lines and alarms, carefully removed door panels and replaced them when leaving homes, and took out windows by removing the putty.
Abruzzini helped put Nordahl behind bars more than a decade ago after he broke into three homes in the New York City bedroom community of Greenwich. That included Ivana Trump’s mansion on the Long Island Sound, from which 120 pairs of sterling silver salt and pepper shakers were stolen.
At one home in Greenwich, Abruzzini said, the burglar spent two hours removing window moldings and panes to get inside.
Abruzzini, now an officer in Norwalk, Conn., assisted in the current investigation.
After Nordahl was charged in warrants obtained by Connecticut police in 1996, he was nabbed by investigators who followed a trail of burglaries that ran through Chicago and to the suspect near where he grew up in Wisconsin.
In September 1997, Nordahl signed off on a deal with federal prosecutors in which he admitted to 144 burglaries, allowing police in various jurisdictions to clear open cases. In exchange, Nordahl pleaded guilty only to the interstate transport of stolen property.
In accordance with the plea bargain, Nordahl was sentenced in 2000 to five years in prison.
Almost immediately after being paroled the following year, Nordahl went on another burglary spree in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, for which he was sentenced to an additional two years in prison.
More arrests followed after his release in November 2003. He avoided an extradition hearing and became a fugitive as mansion break-ins spread along the East Coast. Nordahl was arrested again in 2004 in Philadelphia. He was sentenced in December 2004 to eight years in prison. When released in November 2010, Nordahl had his probation transferred to Jacksonville, where he and Music ostensibly ran a pool service company.
Mason believes that the latest arrest will finally ended Nordahl’s career.
“By the time he’s finished being shipped from state to state and prosecuted in the various jurisdictions, he’s looking at 100 years or more,” Mason said. “This time it looks like we’ve got him for good.”