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He could find no jewelry worth taking. The fortune in gems he had come for was either locked away or on display downstairs. He returned to the open window and was about to climb out when he realized a few guests had gathered under the porch while he was inside. A waiter was refreshing their glasses, and they appeared to be in no hurry to move along. There was only one other way out. He followed the hallway to the main staircase and descended into the heart of the party. When a young woman coming up the stairs smiled at him as they passed, he was certain he looked like any other guest.

Gibson's real name was Arthur Barry, and he was one of the most brazen and successful jewel thieves in history. He was a bold impostor, a charming con artist, and a master cat burglar rolled into one. During the Roaring Twenties, with the posh estates of Long Island and New York's Westchester County as his hunting grounds, he swiped diamonds, pearls, rubies, emeralds, and other glittering gems worth almost $60 million today. His victims included a Rockefeller, bankers and industrialists, Wall Street bigwigs, and an heiress to the Woolworth five-and-dime store fortune. A skilled "second-story man," Barry could slip in and out of bedrooms undetected, sometimes as the occupants were sleeping inches away, oblivious to his presence. He hobnobbed with celebrities and millionaires as he cased their mansions and planned some of the most audacious and lucrative jewel heists of the Jazz Age. He outfoxed investigators, eluded the posse of police and private detectives trying to hunt him down, and staged a spectacular prison break to reunite with the woman he loved. He was touted in the press as a "Prince of Thieves" and an "Aristocrat of Crime." Life magazine would proclaim him "the greatest jewel thief who ever lived."

Barry smoothed his hair into place, straightened his bow tie, and headed for the punch bowl to launch his night on the town with the prince. He now knew the upstairs layout of the Cosden mansion. He would be back.


PART ONE
 
CHAPTER ONE
THE COURIER
Worcester, Massachusetts * 1896-1913

The teenager was traveling alone on a southbound train that rattled and clanged toward New Haven. A cap shielded his eyes, and a large black suitcase was clamped between his knees. Arthur Barry was big for a thirteen-year-old. He had an athlete's thick build and stood almost five foot eight, the height he would be for the rest of his life. Other passengers who had climbed aboard at the station in the factory town of Worcester, Massachusetts, likely thought he was on his way to college. None could have guessed what was in the suitcase he seemed to be guarding with his life.

The case and its contents belonged to Lowell Jack, a retired safecracker—a peteman or yeggman, in the slang of the day—who was reputed to be one of the best. He had robbed businesses and banks all over New England, drilling holes in the doors of safes and gingerly pouring in enough nitroglycerin to blow them open. He was "of the dangerous class," noted a newspaper account that lumped him in with a select group of notorious thieves, all named after their hometowns—Portland Fatty, Pawtucket Johnnie, Philadelphia Slim—and "all having prison records." Jack's most dangerous days, however, were behind him. He was too old to break into buildings and blow up safes, let alone to scamper away with the loot. His retirement pastime was supplying nitroglycerin to a new generation of yeggmen.

The "soup," as the safecrackers called it, was simple to make. Jack heated dynamite in a bucket of water on a kitchen stove, extracting the nitro as an oily yellow-tinted liquid that flowed like ink. It was a risky business. If the water reached too high a temperature, the nitroglycerin could explode. And in liquid form, nitro was extremely volatile. If it was shaken or bumped, or its container was dropped, the explosion would be deadly. Jack carefully poured the nitro into a thick-walled glass bottle, then nestled it in a suitcase stuffed with cotton. It was enough padding, he reckoned, to absorb any shocks or jolts.

Delivering his product to safecrackers across New England and beyond was the next challenge. He needed a reliable courier, someone railroad conductors, ticket agents, and nosy policemen would never suspect was carrying high explosives. Someone like Arthur Barry.

He had met the youth several times. Arthur had a part-time job delivering coffee and sandwiches for a restaurant and had brought food to Jack's apartment turned bomb factory.

"Son," he said to him at some point in 1910, "how would you like to make five dollars?" That would be almost fifty dollars today. Jack explained that he needed a package delivered to a customer in New Haven. All Arthur had to do was to take it there by train.

He handed the suitcase to his new employee.

"Don't drop it. In fact, don't shake it too much," he cautioned. "And try not to bump into anybody on the train."

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