Confessions of a Master Jewel Thief: The Astonishing True Story of a High-Society Cat Burglar…..Bill Mason with Lee Gruenfeld

Bill Mason, infamous jewel thief

One of my all-time favorite movies is Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief, an amazing suspense movie starring Carey Grant and Grace Kelly. Grant plays John “The Cat” Robie, a reformed jewel thief, who has lived a squeaky-clean life since retiring as the world’s most notorious cat burglar. When a new string of high profile jewel thefts occurs on the French Riviera, Robie is immediately suspected. Thinking that it may ‘take a thief to catch a thief’, Robie offers to help the authorities nab the real culprit, bringing him back to the tantalizing world of wealth and society. It is Robie’s ability to think like a cat burglar that eventually helps him apprehend the suspect and prove his innocence.

 By day, Bill Mason was a successful property manager, married with three kids. But by night, Mason stole nearly $35,000,000 worth of jewelry over a thirty year period from some of the wealthiest and most famous Americans of the time. His unique and sometimes heart-stopping tale is told in his book, Confessions of a Master Jewel Thief. From the planning stages–where Mason checked out the society pages of newspapers and magazines to find his targets, studied their daily living habits, and researched their apartment security systems–to the execution phase, where he might have to do something crazy like creep along a narrow concrete ledge 15 stories up in the rain, or lower himself into a glass atrium on a rope, and then after all that find out that the owners have done something stupid like leave their patio door unlocked (!), Mason takes us all along on the adrenaline-soaked thrill ride that made him famous (or infamous). Lest you think he got away scot-free, he did eventually get caught and served some time in prison, but it was the ineptitude of the authorities combined with the skill of his lawyers that kept him from the multi-decade sentences he probably deserved. 

Mason also shares what it was like behind bars, what it was like to live as a fugitive, and the vindictive nature of the authorities, who did not appreciate being outwitted by Mason and strove to take their revenge in other ways. Several times Mason was arrested on false or trumped-up charges, and like John Robie, was blamed for other crimes that he had nothing to do with simply because he was so visible. It was amazing to me that he could be walking down the street and the next thing he knew, he was being handcuffed and put into a police car AGAIN, when he’d done nothing wrong. He also shares how hard his life of crime was for his family. His wife knew little or nothing about his double life, and it was she who had to hold things together for their kids as he was dragged in and out of courtrooms and jail. They would eventually divorce but remain friends, and Mason remained very close to his children.

I enjoyed the parts of the book where Mason broke down his individual heists, but I got really frustrated reading the parts about his personal life. I kept waiting for him to help himself out and grow up. It was almost like the guy wanted his life to be screwed up. It made me mad that he was lying to his wife the whole time (he admits cheating on her as well) and he admits that it took him almost falling 16 stories to his death during yet another theft attempt to finally reform his life, not the fact that he was putting his family and friends through hell. Even though at one point he was living as a fugitive, he would still go out to bars and even got sucked into a drug deal. I think my eyes were rolled back in my head for the entire middle section of the book. Are people really that dense? Come on! Stay home and stay out of trouble! Jeez.

I appreciated that by the end of the book he was very remorseful about what he’d done and how his actions affected not only his family but those he stole from, and that part of the proceeds of the book were going towards a robbery victims’ recovery fund.

Not a book I would wholeheartedly recommend, but it had its good parts. To Catch a Thief was much better.

Grade: B-

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