Bernard C. Welch, the accused slayer of Washington cardiologist Michael Halberstam and a suspect in hundreds of burglaries in the metropolitan area, claims in a magazine interview that he once had a $1.8 million stock brokerage account, smelted silver every Sunday and believed he was not stealing from people but rather from insurance companies.
Sidestepping his alleged involvement in the Halberstam slaying on Dec. 5, Welch says in the February issue of Life magazine published today that his personal world has been "destroyed" by his imprisionment in connection with the Halberstam case.
"I had everything going for me," Welch is quoted in the exclusive interview that he granted the magazine, "and he [Halberstam] had everything going for him. But now he's dead and I'm in prison. They said I destroyed his life, but he destroyed mine."
Welch's interview has been subject of intense controversy since it was disclosed 10 days ago that Life intends to pay Welch about $8,000 for the right to publish exclusive personal photographs from his life. The magazine carries nine photos of Welch, including two pictures from the 1940s of Welch's Rochester, N.Y., boyhood, a 1977 Caribbean vacation snapshot, a photograph of Welching playing with a beachball in an indoor swimming pool at his Duluth, Minn., home and a full-page color shot of Welch standing in his D.C. jail cell handcuffed and with manacles around his ankles.
The jailhouse picture apparently was the last photo taken of the 40-year-old Welch before he shaved off all the hair on his head before a recent police lineup. The article also includes nine photos of the slain Halberstam and his family members, pictures of Halberstam's and Welch's homes and a photo of some of the more than $4 million in allegedly stolen items confiscated by police from Welch's elaborate home in Great Falls.
The disclosure of Life's financial agreement with Welch sparked charges of "checkbook journalism" from the slain Halberstam's friends, claims by Halberstam's widow that Life had misled her into also providing material for the article without telling her Welch would also be featured and a statement by Halberstam's brother, author David Halberstam, that Life was "an accomplice" in the killing. Life, which has agreed to pay Welch about $1,000 a picture -- twice its usual rate -- has defended its deal with him and claims it did not pay for the interview.
The article, entitled "The Ghost Burglar and the Good Doctor." describes the different paths that Welch's and Halberstam's lives took. "Boyhoods that were world's apart" eventually led to their violent collison last month when Halberstam was fatally shot at his Northwest Washington home and Welch was charged with murder.
The quotations attributed to Welch in the article are his first public statements since his arrest. He has declined all other interview requests. Welch is quoted as describing the last six years as the best of his life and said that because he did not own much as a youth, he was determined "to have it when I was old." The article describes Welch's father as a reputed gambler and heavy drinker, his mother was a recluse. Welch is quoted as saying he had a "sixth sense for valuables" even before he could read.
"I wasn't ripping off people," Welch is quoted. "I was ripping off insurance companies."
Welch also described the loot seized from his home, saying, "What you saw there was just peanuts. . . Something went out of that house every week. If it wasn't gold bars, it was silver bars; if it wasn't silver bars, it was jewerly." The magazine says Welch smelted every Sunday. "I've been super, super active over the last several years," Welch boasted. He said he had the $1.8 million account with the Paine Webber brokerage house.
Life says Welch expected to be caught someday, but also quoted him as saying his "only bad habit . . . is that I steal." Welch has also been indicted on a rape charge in Virginia, in addition to being charged with the Halberstam killing and several burlaries in the District.
The U.S. Attorney's office here, which is prosecuting Welch, has declined comment on Welch's statements in the Life interview. Welch is expected to be arraigned in D.C. Superior Court tomorrow on the Halberstam murder charge.