To Re-Catch a Thief

For the old cat burglars, all that's left is a movie script, a book proposal, and undying hatred for one another

On a cool Sunday evening in January 1973, just days after Richard Nixon's second inaugural, Peter Salerno and Dominick "Don" Latella crept along the ocean beachfront of a small jut of land in Juno Beach. The handful of mansions was isolated from the mainland by a gate and surrounding water -- the kind of barricade that makes wealthy homeowners feel secure in their opulence.

Salerno and Latella, both handsome Italians originally from the New York area, were in their physical prime, barely out of their 20s. But for the fact that they were married to twin sisters, they had little in common. Salerno was a foul-mouthed street tough with Mob connections. His glare and almost freakish upper-body strength intimidated many. Latella, the product of a middle-class family and once an aspiring pro musician, was as skittish as Salerno was nervy. Dressed in their black cat-burglar garb, however, they blended into the darkness as one.

Ahead of them that night would be the largest score of their lives.

Walter Shaw: The memory lingers on.
Colby Katz
Walter Shaw: The memory lingers on.
Cat burglar mastermind Pete Salerno was a friend of the Mob and the bane of wealthy Floridians.
Cat burglar mastermind Pete Salerno was a friend of the Mob and the bane of wealthy Floridians.
A former police detective, Dan Riemer fruitlessly tracked cat burglars who laid siege to Boca Raton.
Colby Katz
A former police detective, Dan Riemer fruitlessly tracked cat burglars who laid siege to Boca Raton.
Undercover detective Bill Erfurth stepped into a den of jackals when he infiltrated the Dinnerset Gang in the 1980s.
Colby Katz
Undercover detective Bill Erfurth stepped into a den of jackals when he infiltrated the Dinnerset Gang in the 1980s.
Walter Shaw used a wine bottle to severe his relationship with one crime partner.
Colby Katz
Walter Shaw used a wine bottle to severe his relationship with one crime partner.

By now, after almost six years of burglaries across the nation, they'd earned the nickname "Dinnerset Gang" because of one simple premise: A woman doesn't wear her best gems while dining alone with her husband because he just doesn't give a damn anymore. She leaves them in the bedroom.

Their modus operandus was distinctive. Spy from the shadows at dusk into a fully lit mansion. Wait for the prosperous occupants to settle in for dinner or after-meal conversation. Pinpoint the whereabouts of the butler, the maid, and the cook, all of whom are busy in the orbit of their masters. Make sure the one essential room is vacant -- the master bedroom, where almost certainly the precious jewels are kept. Salerno would be in and out in a matter of minutes. He had a nose for hidden jewels like a bloodhound does for escaped convicts.

This night, however, looked like a bust. They'd surveyed the oceanfront homes as they walked, but none was right to hit. Two were dark; their owners -- and their best jewelry -- were likely out. Then again, the occupants might actually be in there, maybe lying in the master bedroom with a small reading light. Maybe with a gun. No, the best, safest way to do this was to know exactly where everyone was. The other homes had movement, but the would-be thieves couldn't figure out who and how many people were home. Not worth the risk.

Then they saw lights in the last mansion at the north end of the beach. It was a dark brown, one-story home, built in a square to surround a large pool. Between it and the sea were about 60 feet of sand and shrubbery. Hunkered down in the tropical flora encircling the home, the pair watched the movements inside. A maid and butler lit the candles on the dining-room table. Dinner would soon be served. Latella felt his stomach roll; it didn't look like they'd walk away from this one. The middle-aged wife, a beautiful and regal woman with frosted blond hair, walked through the room. Salerno followed her, watching through the windows until she went to the one room he was interested in, the bedroom. Then she returned to the dining room and sat down with her husband.

"It's now or never," murmured Salerno, and both made their way back to the window of the master bedroom. The room faced the ocean, and a door opened on to a small wooden deck, about four feet off the ground. Latella boosted Salerno up, then situated himself at the corner of the house where he could see both Salerno and the dining room. Salerno readied his essential tool, a small pry bar. He twisted the doorknob first. It popped open. Unlocked. He gave Latella a thumbs up.

Once inside, Salerno crept to the inside bedroom door and locked himself in. With a keen sense of night vision -- aided by a small penlight -- Salerno found his way around easily. He searched the dressing/makeup alcove but found only empty jewelry cases. Moving quickly, he discovered a set of diamond earrings atop a dresser. He opened the top dresser drawer, patted it down. Nothing. He moved down the drawers and in the bottom one felt something hard beneath the clothing. He moved the garments aside, revealing a valise covered with customs stickers from around the world. His instincts as a thief caused him to involuntarily gasp.

Moments later, Salerno was at the window. He motioned for Latella. "Don't drop it," Salerno whispered to him. "We're in the crane business." Latella knew exactly what that meant -- a score so big that they could expand their steel construction company and go legit.

They were gone in a flash, heading back to the raft in which they'd arrived. Latella looked back at the house. No one had heard a thing. They supped contentedly that night, their world undisturbed for now.

It was only after they were safe on land that they realized they'd just robbed Ethel DuPont, daughter of Alfred DuPont, one of the richest men in America. The FBI valued the stolen gems at $12 million, one of the biggest home burglaries of all time.


Salerno and Latella could have made an easy exit from the life of crime with the DuPont loot, but greed got the best of them. Instead of quitting, they expanded their operation. They drew in family and friends to form a loose-knit crew that, for 30 years, became the scourge of the well-healed, from Florida to New York. Detectives, routinely stymied, learned to recognize the gang's trademark: meticulous planning and an utter lack of physical evidence.

Dan Riemer, now a 45-year-old private eye, was a burglary detective for the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office in the late '80s. "I never investigated a burglary unless the loss was over $100,000, and in 1990, I worked probably a little over 100 burglaries, all attributed to the Dinnerset Gang. It was their m.o.: no evidence, no apparent sign of forced entry, and nothing was disturbed or torn apart." The Dinnerset Gang holds a special place in the pantheon of Florida crooks, and police detectives today concede that the original members displayed a level of skill and professionalism second to none.

The burglars didn't go into neighborhoods or homes blind. They prepared. Posing as well-to-do buyers, they'd visit the sales offices in tony gated communities and ask for floor plans, blueprints, a map of the tracts. And, of course, they'd ask about security measures. Salespeople would eat it up.

They painstakingly reviewed architecture magazines, like Architectural Digest, that featured wealthy homeowners. They pored over Forbes' annual lists of richest Americans and studied Who's Who reference books.

With their technical skills, home alarms were impotent. The thieves removed panes of glass so that alarms designed to react only to sliding window frames wouldn't go off. They exploited design flaws in motion detectors, Most were silent alarms designed to dial up either police or private security firms; the burglars simply spent the few seconds of the alarm's grace time to find the phone and lift it off the hook. Alarm neutralized.

"They were masters at their trade," Riemer recollects. "They made no noise. There were no neighbors alerted. They left no fingerprints. They left no footprints."

But as its founders aged and its younger members became consumed with $1,000-a-day drug habits, the gang, most of whom lived in Hollywood, conveyed the nastiness of Scarface more than the sophistication of To Catch a Thief. Bill Erfurth, a Miami-Dade detective who infiltrated the gang in the 1980s, recalls a nightmarish world of callous hubris.

Even in the old days, the gang was never known for European-style savoir-faire. That wasn't Cary Grant scaling those mansion walls. "I remember going to one of their houses for dinner one time, which was one of the weirdest things in my life," Erfurth says. "The dinner conversation was like, 'Fuck him, and fuck that. I'll kill that motherfucker, blah, blah, blah.' I just remember Peter Salerno's sister made a turkey and they just frickin' scavenged it down like rabid animals."

Other visits were equally bizarre. "There were many times when they were getting blowjobs or banging somebody, right in front of you," he says. "It was almost like a game to show off and do crazy shit."

Protégés of the original thieves are still active -- though with only a modicum of the prowess exhibited by their mentors. There's no clearer example of this than 45-year-old Dale McClain, a former Dinnerset protégé who received a ten-year jail sentence last summer for a burglary that ended with his jumping into a police car he mistook for a getaway vehicle.

All that's left of the old gang now is a few freelancers plying South Florida's wealthy communities, looking for quick scores, and the memories of the original gang members.

If there's one trait that embodies the Dinnerset Gang lore, aside from expertise at casing high-end homes, it's the long-standing acrimony among its early members. Thirty years have passed, but Latella and Walter Shaw, who both now live in Fort Lauderdale, loathe each other no less.

Walter Shaw is pissed, and his voice booms -- the way it does anytime he talks about his former partner. At age 56, Shaw looks like a character torn out of The Sopranos -- a show he dismisses, however, as a joke. His black hair is slicked back, and he wears a pinky ring and the kind of tailless, untucked shirt favored by New Jersey men young and old. He's behind the wheel of his black Cadillac Eldorado, cruising around Palm Beach County and pointing out neighborhoods he and his crew burglarized after he finished his 11-year jail sentence in 1987, long after his time with the original Dinnerset Gang.

"We never got along," Shaw roars about Latella. "We tolerated each other. He was always a pussy, a bullshit guy. I hear he's doing a book, but it's about a guy who's been in the Navy and got into crime. He was on a TV show bragging about the Dupont score, like it was a joke. I don't see any humor in that." He calls Latella and Salerno "rat bastards" because of their history of becoming informants to get out of serious jail time.

"He's a phony, a pussy," Latella lobs back when asked later about Shaw, whom he won't even concede was a bona fide gang member. "I'm not a tough guy, but I'll beat the shit out of him."

Their mutual hatred is visceral and seething.

Their high-flying criminal careers ended, Latella and Shaw have stories both hope to sell. Shaw is in preproduction on a Dinnerset movie (Christian Slater is reportedly interested), and Latella is hoping for a book deal.


Both remember the final schism that led to Shaw's departure from the gang in 1974; like almost all their recollections, there are differences. Shaw, Latella, Salerno, and two others had flown to California and robbed a few seaside homes on Pebble Beach. Their escape route was a brisk walk along the beach with their pants legs rolled up -- just a group of friends out enjoying the surf. Later that night, they dined together at a hotel restaurant, and the conversation inevitably turned to the shares. Shaw wasn't satisfied with the amount of jewels Salerno said he'd found in the homes; Shaw had a steady beef about Salerno, claiming he held out on him. "Don got snide with me, and I bashed him in the head with a wine bottle," Shaw says. (Latella remembers Shaw only smashing the bottle and menacing him with the shards.) Salerno broke it up.

Whatever their personal beefs, both men have practical reasons for squabbling over the Dinnerset legacy. For years, Shaw has been trying to get a movie made based on his criminal life. Early incarnations of the script focused on him, but in recent years, he's shifted the emphasis to his illustrious father, Walter L. Shaw, an engineering genius who created the technologies for call forwarding, speakerphones, and other innovations. Despite the success of those inventions, though, he sealed his ruin when he created a device for Mob bookies to render their phone lines untraceable.

The backbone of Shaw Jr.'s script, however, remains the son's time with the Dinnerset Gang. The film lives or dies on Shaw's criminal creds.

Latella, who spent most of the '90s in prison in Pennsylvania and was paroled in 2001, has laid low until recently. He says he went straight after his release, but few employers are willing to hire a 63-year-old, lifelong criminal. Latella is irked by Shaw's claims of running with the Dinnerset Gang on its biggest capers, and he sees the possibility of making some money from a book deal. Indeed, the media appetite for true-crime tales is bottomless. Latella recently appeared on a segment of Court TV's Masterminds in which he recounted the Dupont theft. Regardless of what else might motivate him, Latella knows the biggest asset he now owns is the story he can tell.

As for Salerno -- without question the mastermind -- he's now serving a seven-year sentence in Collier County for trafficking in the narcotic oxycodone and is in no position to exploit his iniquitous past.

It's a long way down from the glitzy Miami Beach life the Dinnerset Gang swam in 40 years ago.


The Dinnerset Gang was born in the days when South Florida still felt a little like frontier territory. Its two primary members, Salerno and Latella, were Northern transplants looking for the good life, brought together through marriage and Italian ties.

In the 1960s, South Florida was a magnet for New York mobsters and their friends looking for a break from the scrutiny of cops up north. The U.S. Justice Department had only recently begun to understand the organized crime network that spanned half the United States, and Mob soldiers enjoyed a degree of impunity in Florida.

It was the perfect milieu for a guy like Salerno.

The five-foot-six firecracker had launched his criminal career at age 16 when he took a swing at a cop in Yonkers, New York, where he'd grown up. He got five years in 1958 for grand theft and assault, and after his release in 1963, he headed to Miami, where he continued to support himself through burglaries.

At some point during these formative years -- so the lore goes -- Salerno met a veteran of either World War II or the Korean War who had been trained in reconnaissance. Back in civvies, he made use of his skills breaking into homes undetected. Salerno was an apt pupil, fanatical about his new profession.

"Pete was very egotistical about being this great cat burglar," Shaw recalls. "He had a philosophy: no drugs, work out, run miles on the beach." Salerno had 21-inch upper arms and hands like iron claws.

Salerno married Gloria Savino, a petite Italian girl who made the bantam thief look tall. Her father, John Savino, a heavyset man with a Mobbed-up brother-in-law, owned the restaurant in the Tangiers Hotel on Miami Beach. The marriage ultimately led to an organized cat-burglary ring of family members that spanned four decades.

While Salerno perfected his criminal skills in the early 1960s, Latella, bedecked in baby-blue suit and tie, played with a high school guitar band called 2+2. He joined the Navy, served a couple of years, and then resumed playing music. His parents moved to Miami Beach in 1966, initially staying at the Tangiers Hotel, where they immediately bonded with the Savinos, who were from Yonkers. Latella quickly became interested in Sandra Savino, whose identical twin sister was married to Pete Salerno. In the close-knit group of Italians in Miami, Latella heard asides about how Salerno made money. ("They're in the iron and steel business," the joke went. "She irons, and he steals.") Salerno reacted coolly when, in 1966, Latella broached the possibility of helping out some time for a few bucks.

But Salerno had a change of heart not long after. He quizzed his future brother-in-law about his hometown of Harrison, New York. Did he know the neighborhood well? Did he know where the wealthy lived? Of course he did. Latella was given the role of driver and ended up making $1,500 for a few nights' work in his hometown.

In 1967, Salerno quarreled with his burglary partner -- a different brother-in-law -- and coaxed Latella to take the role of lookout.

"Do you think you'd be capable of coming into a house with me?" he pressed him.

Latella felt an urgent need to vacate his bowels. "I don't know," he stammered. "Just the thought of it gives me the shakes. I have a nervous stomach. What if the house is dark and someone takes a shot at us?"

Salerno already exerted a lot of control over him, a sway that ate away at Latella's girlfriend, Sandra, who loathed her brother-in-law for stealing away her twin sister. "If Pete was a planet, then Dominick was the moon revolving around him," recalls Fred Schwartz, a former federal prosecutor. "Dominick got reflected luster off Pete. Not that Dominick was dumb, but he was a second-in-command type. I think if Dominick had tried to go into the crime business himself, he wouldn't have been the success he was with Pete." Pictures taken around that time of the pair with family and friends dining at Miami Beach hot spots like the Fontainebleau Hotel reveal two virile-looking men in snappy suits with thin, black ties. Salerno's eyes smolder above his grave face.

Salerno quelled his would-be partner's fears by promising him an easy first job. He'd gotten a tip that a bookie in White Plains, New York -- not far from Latella's hometown -- kept a money stash in his house. But he rarely ventured out. "If we do get him, he can't call the cops anyway," Salerno reasoned.

The first night, they cased the house by hiding in the shrubs outside, but Latella's anxiety got the best of him. "I had to end up shitting between two houses by a bush because I was so nervous," Latella recalls nonchalantly. "I'm using leaves to wipe my ass."

For three months, they reconnoitered the home, waiting for an empty house. Then their tipster, who stood to gain a third of anything they stole, told them that the bookie's mother had died and that the funeral would be four days later. The house, at last, sat empty. Dressed in light-colored clothing to blend in with the snow, they walked along the sidewalk and then darted between two houses that led to the bookie's backyard. They quickly got through the back porch, and Salerno posted Latella at the front door as the lookout. "I'm nervous as hell," Latella recalls. "I'm seeing the guy coming, cops pulling up, me going to jail. I hear things upstairs. Boards being ripped. He's prying up the floor."

Salerno bounded down the stairs with a steel ammunition box filled, they discovered later, with about $50,000.

No one called the cops.


Walter Shaw, unrelated to the family network that made up the Dinnerset Gang, wasn't a natural fit for the group. He married his high school sweetheart, and they lived the suburban life with two children. But he possessed a slick tongue and a zeal for thievery that ingratiated him with Salerno -- until things soured.

Shaw was a gawky 13-year-old attending Oakland Military School in New Jersey in March 1961 when the superintendent showed up at his classroom door. The boy was led to the infirmary and told that his mother would be calling him soon and that she'd be arranging for him to travel back home to Miami Shores. The next morning, he boarded a Greyhound bus alone for the 1,600-mile trip.

Only after arriving home did he learn that he was expelled from the school, not for anything he'd done but because his father, Walter L. Shaw, had been arrested in Mamaroneck, New York, in connection with a $10 million-a-year bookmaking ring. The elder Shaw, whose face was long and serious, had begun supplying the bookies with devices to help them elude telephone wiretaps by police. One of these devices, which bookies had nicknamed the "black box," prevented long-distance calls from being registered; it was as though the call had never been made. The black box baffled investigators. Telephone technicians couldn't figure out how it worked, because it self-destructed when it was examined. (The elder Shaw ultimately served a year in a Florida prison for tampering with the telephone system.)

Shaw had worked for Southern Bell Telephone Co. from 1936 to 1950 as an equipment engineer. Shaw told his son later that he'd left the company because his employer wanted all rights to anything he invented, "past, present, and future." Shaw, on his own, would go on to conceive and patent the speakerphone, call conferencing, touch-tone dialing, and other advancements. By the time of his death in 1996, Shaw had profited little from the technology that's now ubiquitous in telecommunications. (The Florida Legislature paid tribute to his accomplishments through a proclamation in 2003.)

The story surrounding his father's inventions now consumes the 56-year-old former cat burglar, but at the time, he says, he felt only betrayal. His father had introduced his bookmaking acquaintances as accountants or business associates. Only afterward did he learn they were part of an organized crime family. "I was shocked that my dad was involved with these people. I was in disbelief not because of what it was but because he lied to me. These guys were criminals, the bad guys."

With his parents consumed with "money, lawyers, bonds, and losing everything," the young teen started hanging with the wrong crowd, including some of the Mob figures who'd associated with his father. One of them eventually advised the young Shaw that his career options included loan shark, bookmaker, or extortionist. "But I have a nephew, one of the top jewel thieves in the country, and he's so successful because he hides behind a ski mask," he advised Shaw. "If he thinks you've got what it takes, I'll hook you up."

His nephew was Pete Salerno.

Shaw says he joined the Dinnerset Gang in 1967, when he was 19 years old. "I started as a driver with Pete and Don because their brother-in-law retired with a heart condition," Shaw says. "Pete said, 'I'll give you $300 a week and you'll learn what it's like to be a driver in the field -- how, where, and when to pick us up. It's a big responsibility, but the driver has the least amount of risk because he's never in the perimeter when the police block it off. '" But it ate away at Shaw that there was more money to be made as an inside man, and he pestered Salerno for six months, until he let him in. "I knew I had it," Shaw boasts. "I adapted to everything -- dogs, cops. I was not afraid out there."

Shaw recalls an acrimonious parting with Salerno. "I found out through a fence that Pete was getting more money than me," Shaw says. "I went to him in 1974 and told him I was leaving him. 'Everything I have, I learned from you and got from you, but now you're robbing me. '"

Shaw, however, got his wings clipped after his young getaway driver was arrested and flipped for police. He regaled authorities with details of past burglaries that implicated his boss. Cocksure to a fault, Shaw rejected a plea deal that would have let him serve two years. Instead, a jury quickly found him guilty, and he was handed a 15-year sentence.

Meanwhile, Salerno was sentenced to six years in an Atlanta federal penitentiary for selling cocaine to an undercover Broward sheriff's deputy in 1975.

After years of highlife, Salerno didn't much like wasting away in the pen. Not that he let his fabled physique go to the dogs: During the exercise period outside, he'd flip to a handstand and then run around the track.

Soon after he arrived, Salerno began talking to the FBI about his Mob friends, some of whom had fenced the stolen jewels. By 1978, he was helping the U.S. Justice Department make a case against a gangster underboss for an execution-style murder. Salerno had been a good earner for the Gambino crime family, which took a percentage of anything he sold to its jewelers. Latella and John Savino also cooperated, says Fred Schwartz, the federal prosecutor in the case. "Pete basically got a clean slate from us in the late '70s," he says.

Salerno, Latella, Savino, and their wives entered the witness protection program and lived in several states. But Salerno's lust for gems would bring him back to Florida.


The Dinnerset Gang had gained the grudging respect of law enforcement during its early years. Twenty years after Salerno had begun heaving himself onto second-story balconies, however, the gang was a shadow of its glory days.

Late in 1984, Bill Erfurth, a 25-year-old green detective with the Miami-Dade Police Department, received an anonymous tip that would lead him into the seamy underworld of the Dinnerset Gang. The once-disciplined, highly skilled ring of cat burglars had morphed into a coterie of drug-addled bandits who turned on one another with barely a nudge.

Today, Erfurth hardly resembles the mustachioed, brash undercover agent who infiltrated the gang 20 years ago. Soft-spoken, with a vanishing hairline, he splits his time between the Police Department and a high-ceilinged office at Cineworks in Miami, from which he consults as a technical adviser for movies, such as Bad Boys II. The walls are adorned with mementos, photos, and decorations, including an exceptional-service award for helping close 709 burglary cases and recovering more than $2 million of stolen goods involving the Dinnerset Gang.

The anonymous tip helped Erfurth bust a number of minor players in the organization, most of whom were relatives and close friends of John Savino. The trail of informants led to Pete Salerno, who was then going under his witness protection moniker, Pierre Cardin. "His insatiable desire for money and jewels and crime brought him back to South Florida," Erfurth recalls. "For a while, he was driving around in a Rolls-Royce and living large using his federal name."

Erfurth's informants introduced him as a player, someone looking to make a buck, and he ingratiated himself into the Dinnerset family, most of whom lived in the west Hollywood area. What amazed him most was the utter lack of loyalty among what was in essence a family. "The way that all of them would screw over each other in a heartbeat to save their skin was an incredible lesson," he still marvels. "I'd never seen such a high degree of ruthlessness in my life."

Eventually, Erfurth flipped Salerno, Latella, and other key members, he says. (Latella claims he's never heard of Erfurth. He says he spent the late '80s in Canada, where he ran drug money and cocaine over the border.) Salerno, however, even as he holed up with his son and other informants in safe houses in Broward County to keep them from getting "whacked," continued burglarizing. In February 1986, the aging thief, now over the hill for the profession at age 47, got sloppy during a burglary in Hollywood, and a homeowner bashed him over the head with a sports trophy. Salerno received a 12-year sentence, most of which he would never serve: Within months of incarceration, Salerno was released to the FBI to testify against a Mob hit man in Yonkers. Both spent most of the 1990s in Pennsylvania jails for burglaries in that state.


None of the early gang members has any money to show for the millions he stole. What remains are the war stories, which they hope will ultimately yield as much profit as the burglaries themselves, through books and films. That's enough reason to continue feuding.

Shaw is a walking contradiction when it comes to reflecting upon his life of crime, a dichotomy that manifests itself even in a single conversation.

"I'm not going to go down as having historical value," Shaw declares while driving his Cadillac around the Palm Beach County neighborhoods he once robbed. "We were just a gang of thieves. That's all. The whole group has been dysfunctional for the kind of money we made."

But not much later, he boasts, "I was not one of these half-ass criminals, just stealing toasters and microwaves. I think in the realm of criminal folklore, I stood out." His cell phone ringer, naturally enough, plays the theme from The Pink Panther.

Indeed, his passion for robbing the wealthy is evident when he approaches the security gates of La Lac, an exclusive bastion of mansions belonging to the likes of Ed Morse, a SoFla car dealership tycoon, and Scott Sullivan, the former WorldCom chief financial officer arrested for $3.8 billion in accounting fraud.

"Boy, this brings back memories," Shaw sighs. He and other fragments of the Dinnerset Gang plundered gated communities like this in west Boca Raton in the late '80s and early '90s. He drives through the security gate, which inexplicably stands wide open. "These are the houses I robbed," he gloats. "They can feel safe all the fuck they want; I used to eat their lunch in here. I'm telling you, I used to fucking take them out. I love this place. I start to twitch." He chortles.

Dan Riemer attests to Shaw's ability to infiltrate "secure" communities 15 years ago, when as a police detective he worked the high-end burglaries. Two of the hardest-hit communities were near the Turnpike in Boca Raton, and investigators were baffled at how the thieves were getting in. Riemer eventually figured out that they were being dropped off and picked up on the Turnpike, a discovery that came from painstaking effort.

"I tied black sewing thread over branches and bushes all along the canal on the eastern bank of the Turnpike, which is the western bank of Boca West," he recalls. "They wouldn't notice the thread when they broke it. We'd set up surveillance where it was broken. A lot of time, we'd get into a chase with them, but the problem was, they knew the area a lot better than we did."

Shaw hadn't intended a return to cat burglary after leaving prison in 1987, planning instead to make a living as a born-again evangelist. But he needed quick cash for a girlfriend's custody battle. "I threw away my whole career and ruined any legitimacy for that life," he mutters. After his son, Randy Shaw, was arrested for burglary in 1990, the elder Shaw made a deal with police to help recover stolen jewels in return for leniency for the young man. The elder Shaw ended up on three years' probation, and it was the end of his burglary days.

Today, Shaw seems to seek redemption for a life of crime through producing a feature film about his father's accomplishments. "Did he make mistakes?" he asks of his father. "Yes, but did that negate what he left us when you sum up a whole man's life?"

Riemer offers this armchair psychology: "I think what happened is that he feels he lost his salvation or that he's not good enough to get in heaven because of his actions. But he thinks that if he can do some sort of tribute to his father, it's kind of like his redemption, his sacrifice."

With so much at stake, perhaps that's why Shaw threw down the gauntlet when Latella began telling his version of the Dinnerset tale. Shaw goes ballistic over Latella's claims that he's not authentic Dinnerset. Latella swears he just wants to set the record straight.

But that's the conundrum of the Dinnerset Gang. There's little in the way of records of their early activities. Except for a lot of missing gems, they left no trace, not a clue, of their visits.

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