texasmonthly.com: How did you get interested in Todd Becker?
Skip Hollandsworth: I first saw Todd Becker’s name in a newspaper story. The story was very short, saying he had been arrested for stealing safes. At one level, the fact that someone stole safes intrigued me—I had heard of safecrackers, of course, but I had never heard about someone specializing in stealing safes. But what really interested me was another detail in the story about Todd living in a neighborhood called Stonebridge Ranch. As I would later write in my own article, every major city in America has a development like Stonebridge Ranch, a glittering new master-planned community where everything, from the location of the schools to the size of the community swimming pool to the length of the country club golf course, has been perfectly blueprinted. Stonebridge Ranch is the realization of the suburban dream: custom-built homes, garages big enough for two SUVs, everyone young and successful and ambitious. It is the place for people who are constantly looking for the perfect safe incubator for their children. The neat patterns of the streets, the stop signs, the endearing names given to the neighborhoods—all help convey a sense of order and peace. I put down the newspaper and said, “What is a professional burglar doing at Stonebridge Ranch?”
texasmonthly.com: And apparently, a lot of other members of the news media were asking the same question.
SH: That’s right. Todd and his lawyer were inundated with requests for interviews. Initially, he turned everything down, and the story was practically forgotten. But one year after his arrest, I made another attempt to get to him. At that point, he had agreed to plead guilty in federal court. He was out on bond, and he had a few weeks of freedom left before heading off to prison. He also knew I had been working on the story, trying to understand who he was. I had been talking to many of the police detectives involved in his case, all of whom were willing to talk because the case was completed. And after a brief meeting with Todd at his lawyer’s office, he called me at home one day and said, “Come on out to the house.”
texasmonthly.com: As you point out in your story, when you walked up to the house, you had trouble believing you were entering the house of a professional criminal.
SH: Well, this was a house that had a sign on the front door that read “Autumn Greetings From the Beckers.” There were kids’ toys in the front yard. I could hear the theme music from the television show Barney, which his youngest daughter was watching in a room near the front door. And for a moment I just stood there and wondered how Todd Becker could have maintained such a secret life as a burglar within a social framework of such intense normalcy. Then the door opened and there was Todd and his wife, a young couple who looked like all the other young couples in the neighborhood, trying to live the American dream.
texasmonthly.com: So what’s the answer? Why did a professional burglar want to live in Stonebridge Ranch?
SH: When I began researching the story, I thought that Todd had ingeniously picked Stonebridge Ranch to be a kind of modern-day outlaw hideout. It was a brilliant strategic decision, I figured. The cops would never imagine that the guy doing this fiercely noisy, scary, risky job of safe stealing would be living in a family neighborhood, driving a minivan. But as I got to know him, I realized that he genuinely wanted to be the prototypical, all-American everyman, experiencing the prototypical suburban family life. It’s something he had wanted since childhood. He really did have this image in his head of the kind of dad he wanted to be—devoted to his wife and children, a good neighbor, the kind of guy who tended to his lawn and waxed his minivan and coached soccer and sat through ballet lessons. I’ve been interviewing criminals for twenty years, and this is the first one I’ve ever come across with such a need to be a Ward Cleaver. Here was a guy who genuinely lived a moral life. He was absolutely loyal to his wife, he tithed at the church, and he taught his children right and wrong. But in the end, he had this one talent that he could not deny: He was a great burglar.
texasmonthly.com: He obviously was a smart man. Why didn’t he just quit burglarizing and find a legitimate job?
SH: As I point out in the story, he thought all the time about how he could go straight. He wanted to run his own business, like a Chuck E. Cheese’s restaurant. But every time he tried a business, it would fail. He tried opening a restaurant. He also opened a company that sold satellite dishes, and he opened a check-cashing business—all of them went bust. To pay off debts from his failed ventures, he found himself having to commit more burglaries. And, of course, the more burglaries he did, the better he got, which made it easier for him to stay in the burglary business. He kept thinking that if he could come up with one huge score, he could finally have the money to buy a Chuck E. Cheese’s franchise and live like everyone else. But he never did get that big hit. Like everyone else in the neighborhood who was over-extended and living paycheck to paycheck to finance their expensive lifestyle, Todd was living from burglary to burglary.
texasmonthly.com: One of the more intriguing parts of your story was the way he chose his accomplices to make up what the police called the Becker Crew.
SH: It just seems like something out of fiction: this young fastidious father, who rarely drank and who didn’t do drugs and who sang hymns at church, teaming up with his roguish relatives and a high school friend. “Why,” I kept asking myself as