More than 4,000 words in the Sunday Fort Worth Star-Telegram were devoted to telling the story of John O’Brien, an accused jewel thief suspected in dozens of spectacular, million dollar heists around Texas and Oklahoma over the past decade.
The Fort Worth Star Telegram ’s Tim Madigan described the sophistication of the burglars, writing:
They had the tools and know-how to penetrate thick vaults of steel and concrete, and the audacity to linger in the vaults, sometimes for hours. Working at night, they loaded up sacks of gold and jewelry almost too heavy to carry – tens of millions of dollars of loot over the years. Yet they never left behind so much as a fingerprint or a hair fiber.
The heists sound like something out of Ocean’s Eleven —if the film’s heist had taken place in Texas strip malls instead of a Las Vegas casino. And the main suspect even has Hollywood-ready good looks: Madigan describes O’Brien as athletic, good looking, and “amiable, if not downright charming,” going so far as to sugget Ben Affleck play O’Brien in the inevitable movie treatment of the story.
O’Brien, his brother Kelvin O’Brien, and Jason Clay Kennedy, a seven-foot man known as “Stretch,” are awaiting federal trial for a $6 million jewel heist in Houston, but first John O’Brien wanted to tell his story. He contacted the Fort Worth Star-Telegram without informing his legal counsel, saying “My lawyers are going to kill me,” O’Brien told Madigan. “But I don’t care.”
The brothers O’Brien, both ex-cons, first came onto the radar of authorities in 2007, when their brother Chalky O’Brien was found passed out in a car outside of a Pantego jewelry store during a burglary, Madigan wrote. Police picked up Chalky on an outstanding warrant and found he had a briefcase with a transmitter inside. “Are you there? Where are you?” asked a voice inside the locked briefcase. The day after the Pantego robbery, Kelvin O’Brien sold loose diamonds and some 13.5 pounds of melted metals to a Dallas metals dealer.
On February 5, someone broke into Houston’s Karat 22 Jewelers and entered the vault by drilling through six inches of steel and concrete. Two days later, O’Brien, who runs a gold buying business, went into Millennium Precious Metals in Dallas carrying buckets—yes, actual buckets—of gold. He claimed that the loot came from another gold buying business that had liquidated its inventory. No physical evidence linked the O’Briens to the crime, but they were picked up in September after local and federal investigators connected them using surveillance footage and circumstantial evidence.
Kelvin’s wife cooperated with investigators, saying she suspected her husband was robbing jewelry stores. “When I asked her why, she said on this occasion he came home wearing all dark clothes, he washed his clothes immediately after returning home and she found loose diamonds … in the washing machine,” Houston police Detective Frank Quinn wrote in an affidavit.
O’Brien was happy with his portrayal in the story, according to Madigan’s tweet: “John Obrien, accused jewel thief, just texted me, thanking for @startelegram story today. Felt like his stuff fairly portrayed.”
“Even on your best day … Do you ever think you’re going to find diamonds in your dryer?” Stuart K wrote in the story’s comments with more than a tinge of envy. Elsewhere in the comments, Leonard F. Goodman declares O’Brien brilliant. “Imagine the use they could have put their intelligence and industry to. Wow. I only wish I was that ambitious. My gut tells me they’re guilty; at the very least, this guy is guilty of being an egomaniac.”