WHEN MOTHERS SAW TODD BECKER in the carpool line at the elementary school in Stonebridge Ranch, an upscale bedroom community in McKinney, north of Dallas, they’d occasionally stop chatting on their cell phones and do a double take. Becker was a good-looking young guy in his early thirties, with neatly cut hair and brown eyes. He wore khaki pants and crisp T-shirts. He had a pleasant smile, his teeth very white and straight.
But it wasn’t his looks, the mothers later said, that were the most attractive part about him. Around Stonebridge Ranch, Todd Becker was known as the family man, a devoted husband who always took the time to eat lunch with his sweet blond wife, Cathy, and a doting father who coached his children’s soccer teams and took them to their ballet lessons. Some of the mothers were impressed that he liked to go to the school and read stories to his children’s classes. Others noted that he was happy to let the neighborhood kids swim in his backyard pool or jump on the trampoline. He was pleasant and soft-spoken, never one to talk too much about himself. He rarely had more than a beer or two at parties. He took his family to Sunday services at the Lutheran church not far from his home, and at the Stonebridge Country Club, where he was one of the top tennis players, he never threw his racket when he was losing. “Let’s face it,” one mother would later say. “A lot of women around Stonebridge Ranch wished their own husbands were more like Todd.”
At his $280,000 two-story custom-built home on Fallen Leaf Lane, in Stonebridge’s Autumn Ridge neighborhood, where he had turned the living room into an extra playroom for the kids, Becker always led the family in a prayer at dinner. At bedtime, he would kiss his children good-night and tell them to sleep well. He would kiss his wife good-night and tell her to sleep well too. Then, he would get into his minivan or his Ford Expedition, back out of the driveway, and head off to commit some of the most daring, professionally executed burglaries that law enforcement authorities have ever seen.
Todd Becker made his living by stealing the cash out of safes from stores, restaurants, and businesses throughout Texas and Florida, where he had lived before moving to Texas. He and his small band of employees would pry the safes open with crowbars, slam them apart with sledgehammers, hack into them with concrete saws, or cut them open with torches. Many times they’d yank the entire safe out of the floor and carry it away to be opened at a more discreet location, occasionally inside Becker’s own garage. Becker would split up the loot with his team and then take his cut to his bedroom, hiding the money under some clothes in his closet. He’d shower, comb his hair, and be downstairs by the time his kids awakened, ready to fix them pancakes and drive them to school. When a torrent of gun-wielding police officers arrived at his house one morning in late 2002, bursting through his front door and stepping over children’s toys to arrest him, his neighbors stood in their front yards, cups of coffee in their hands, their mouths open. A few of them later told the cops that they had made a terrible mistake. “We said there is no way he could be a thief,” one neighbor recalled. “He’s just like the rest of us.”
A few months ago, while the 33-year-old Becker was still out on bond, he allowed me to come see him. When I walked up to his house, he greeted me at the door, gave me a friendly handshake, and said with a half-smile, “Well, here’s my crime den.” He led me to his dining room table, made of burnished cherry, while his youngest daughter, aged two, watched Barney in the family room and Cathy, who’s 35, made coffee. It was a couple of weeks before Halloween, and Cathy had decorated the front of their house, as she did every year, with pumpkins and plastic skeletons hanging from a tree and a sign on the front door that read “Autumn Greetings From the Beckers.” Next to the sewing machine in the kitchen were Halloween costumes that she was making for their four children. “Usually, I’m in charge of the neighborhood Halloween parade,” she told me with a slight shrug of her shoulders. “But this year I thought someone else should do it.” As she talked, Becker flipped through a scrapbook to a page that showed pictures of his wife and children in costumes from a previous Halloween parade, cheerfully marching down the street with their neighbors. Then he turned the page and showed me photos of birthday parties that he and Cathy had thrown for their kids. “Not what you were expecting, huh?” Becker asked me.
Nor the authorities. According to police detectives, burglars are typically impoverished young males looking for money to buy drugs. Wearing sweatshirts with hoods, they amateurishly smash through store windows and grab what they can while the alarms are blaring. “You don’t find these guys meticulously planning out their crimes so that they can live an all-American lifestyle in a nice neighborhood with a nice family,” said Bill Hardman, a detective from Fort Pierce, Florida, one of the many cities plagued by Becker. “They want crack or guns. But Todd Becker was one of a kind—a clean-cut yuppie daddy who bought dolls for his children.”
What especially intrigued the cops about Becker was the way he chose his accomplices. Like the Old West outlaw Jesse James, who also had a love of snatching money out of safes and strongboxes, Becker relied mostly on kinfolk to help him: his two half brothers, his brother-in-law, a step-nephew, and a childhood friend. Unlike Jesse James, however, he didn’t choose them because they were experienced criminals or good with guns. (Becker didn’t allow weapons of any kind to be used during