Intimate memoir of the criminal underground from an atypically blue-collar art thief.
Connor was the scion of Mayflower descendants fallen on hard times on one side, the son of an Irish cop on the other, a black sheep to both sets of relatives. Born in 1943, he grew up in Milton, Mass., near Boston. He chafed against New England’s strict class divisions, developing in adolescence a rebelliousness that seemed somewhat incongruous with his love of fine art and antiques. Yet Connor suggests that class snobbery propelled him toward his vocation: “The first time I wandered into the Forbes Museum, their contempt was palpable…they could tell just by looking that I wasn’t one of them.” He got even by pulling off his first art-museum robbery at the Forbes in 1965, around the same time he was finding some success playing rock ’n’ roll guitar in nightclubs. (The lifestyle of the gangsters he encountered on the club circuit was another factor drawing him to a career in crime.) Connor fancied himself a prodigy, but his brazen crimes brought punishment soon enough; at 22 he was arrested for burglarizing a Maine mansion, but only after shooting at the pursuing officer. He escaped from jail using a soap-bar gun, cementing his reputation in the New England underworld. Tracked down in Boston, he engaged in another extended gun battle and chase. The enraged officers retaliated by beating him severely when they finally cornered him, and by framing him for a series of unsolved rapes, which offended him deeply: “I have always lived by a strong code of ethics when it comes to civilians.” The rape conviction was eventually overturned, and he was free to pursue further criminal schemes. In 1975, he stole a Rembrandt from Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts and used it as a bargaining chip to avoid standing trial for another theft. Connor seems very taken with his own daring and panache, and the narrative, co-written by novelist Siler, focuses on his criminal glamour rather than the nitty-gritty mechanics of his devious deeds.
Self-regarding but revealing.