The Man Who Loved Cat Burgling

By day, Mitch Shaw was a colorless computer nerd. By night, he teamed up with his sweetheart, Jennifer Dolan, to rob Dallas’ rich and famous of their jewelry.

To the cops who patrolled Dallas’ richest and most exclusive neighborhoods throughout the 1990’s, Mitch Shaw and his cute girlfriend, Jennifer Dolan, must have looked like a couple of rubes. For one thing, they cruised through the neighborhoods in a turquoise Toyota Tercel. Turquoise! Jennifer always drove, usually with her window down, her magnificently teased hair and dangling costume earrings fluttering in the wind. Although no one would have called Jennifer a knockout, she had a big, inviting smile, and she clearly knew how to handle herself around men. When a Dallas police officer stopped Jennifer and Mitch a couple of years ago to ask why she kept tooling up and down one particular mansion-lined lane, Jennifer gave the officer a little wink and said in a voice as sweet as syrup, “Officer, we live in a little apartment, and sometimes we like to look at big, pretty homes. Is there anything wrong with that?” Then she pursed her lipstick-red lips around a straw and took a drink from a big cup of Diet Coke that she had wedged between her thighs.

If the officer was able to take his eyes off Jennifer—and, in all honesty, it was an effort to not look at her, especially when she wore one of those bras that pushed her breasts together—then he would have glanced over and seen a slightly pudgy, unmuscular young man with soft brown eyes, long eyelashes, thinning dark hair, and a gentle, almost perplexed expression on his face. Mitch Shaw was not exactly a threatening figure. His friends said he was a computer geek who spent most of his time creating Web sites on the computer that sat on the kitchen table of the one-bedroom apartment in far north Dallas that he shared with Jennifer. For relaxation, he watched Jeopardy, dabbled in abstract painting, played with his tabby cat, Sweet Pea, and took Jennifer to the Galleria, where they wandered through the stores and ate fast food down by the skating rink. They looked like so many other young couples you see at the mall, couples still trying to find their footing in life, the type who often drive through rich neighborhoods at the end of the day so that they can dream about what their lives might be like someday. As the wide-eyed Jennifer exclaimed to the police officer that day, “Just look at these homes with all these big columns. They’re bigger than Ramada Inns.”

Actually, Mitch and Jennifer were not that interested in the way those homes looked—not from the outside, anyway. According to statements that Jennifer would later give to Dallas police detectives and subsequently confirmed to me, she would often park the Tercel on a side street with little traffic and watch as Mitch, who usually wore a rumpled T-shirt, baggy shorts, and tennis shoes for their evening drives, put a black baseball cap backward on his head, pulled on a pair of gloves, and then snapped a fanny pack around his waist that was filled with just three items: a flashlight, a screwdriver, and a pack of cigarettes.

Be careful, honey,” Jennifer would always say, leaning across the seat and giving him a kiss.

Don’t you worry,” he would reply. And then Mitch would jog toward one of the mansions, scale the outside wall or gate, slip unnoticed through the back yard, expertly knock a hole in the window of the master bathroom, hoist himself through, and meticulously begin hunting for jewelry. He’d pick the locks of cabinets, rifle through closets, pull up carpets, and then make spectacular last-second getaways, racing back out the window just as police helicopters and squad cars were closing in.

Professional jewel thieves aren’t supposed to exist anymore. Confronted with a state-of-the-art combination of electronic locks, infrared motion detectors, and hardwired detectors on doors and windows, most criminals are lucky to get inside a wealthy person’s house, let alone have the time to figure out where the jewels are. But the police are convinced that Mitch Shaw, who’s now 31, was one of the shrewdest and most daring jewel thieves of our time and that Jennifer Dolan, who’s now 26, acted as his “wheelman,” dropping him off and then picking him up at prearranged locations near the targeted homes, so confident a driver that she’d wave flirtatiously at the cops as she drove away with Mitch crouched on the floorboard.

Mitch is the lead suspect in the break-ins of some of Dallas’ best-guarded homes over the past decade. Police detectives believe that he snatched jewels from the lavish residences of such society-column notables as Nancy Brinker, the wife of restaurateur Norman Brinker and the founder of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation; Clarice Tinsley, a popular Dallas television anchor; and the flashy charity ball hostess Sharon McCutchin. His crowning achievement came on a rainy night in January 1998, when Jennifer dropped him off just down the street from the Preston Hollow-area estate of Dallas billionaire Harold Simmons, whose wife, Annette, is renowned for her magnificent collection of jewelry. The 12,000 square-foot Simmons home seemed impenetrable. It was guarded 24 hours a day by an off-duty trooper from the Department of Public Safety, who walked the grounds twice an hour. In the back yard was a German shepherd guard dog. Wired to the windows and doors was an alarm system that was designed to go off even if the window panes rattled too loudly.

But Mitch made friends with the dog, avoided the DPS officer, deftly popped out two window panes in the master bedroom, found a key in the powder table that fit a locked closet, and then used his screwdriver to pry open five locked drawers, each one containing jewelry. He dumped the jewelry into a pillowcase and raced back to the Tercel, where Jennifer was sitting patiently, slurping on a Diet Coke. Back at their apartment, they dumped Mrs. Simmons’ jewels on their bed—nearly two hundred pieces, worth at least $1 million. Mitch and Jennifer had just pulled off

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