Police continued yesterday to retrieve and sort an estimated $250,000 to $500,000 in jewelry, coins and antiques from the apartment of escaped murderer Bernard C. Welch, who was recaptured Wednesday in Greensburg, Pa., after three months of freedom.
Greensburg police said the alleged loot, which filled nearly a dozen boxes and large bags, is being laid out on tables at City Hall for inspection by burglary victims. Police from Virginia, New York, Wisconsin, suburban Pittsburg "and all over" have called to inquire about it, Detective Sgt. Michael Dell said.
"We don't feel he did anything in our town," Dell said. "He just thought we were a nice community to live in."
Welch, convicted of the 1980 murder of Washington cardiologist Michael Halberstam, escaped May 14 from the high-rise Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago by smashing through an outer wall and lowering himself 75 feet to the ground by an extension cord.
He rented his third-floor apartment in Greensburg, southeast of Pittsburg, two months ago. The U.S. Marshals Service was beginning to focus its search for Welch on the Pittsburgh area because suburban police there had reported more than 65 burglaries recently.
In the 1970s, Welch had supported an expensive life style in McLean, Va., with hundreds of burglaries in well-to-do neighborhoods. He was not connected to the thefts until he fatally shot Halberstam during a burglary at the doctor's Northwest Washington home five years ago. Welch was arrested after Halberstam gave chase and hit Welch with his car before dying of his wound.
Some of the property recovered in Greensburg was found in the stolen BMW that led to Welch's arrest before dawn Wednesday, shortly after police received an anonymous complaint about an illegally parked car. Neighbors identified the driver as Robert Wilson, identified after his arrest as Welch.
Police in Shorewood, Wis., an exclusive suburb north of Milwaukee, said the BMW linked to Welch was stolen the night of May 25-26. A Shorewood detective said three houses next to each other were broken into that night. The thieves took $5,300 in jewelry from one home, and the BMW and $3,000 from a second.
Much of the jewelry found in Welch's rooms has been damaged.
"Most of the big stones seemed to be gone," said Capt. Richard DeFrank. "It's all quality stuff. There is very little junk."
DeFrank said two women's watches and one men's watch had been appraised at a total of $10,000 by a local jeweler. The haul included more than 60 men's rings and several sets of sterling silverware. Many of the items were found in Welch's sparsely furnished four-room apartment; police said some had been hidden in crawl spaces above the ceiling.
Dell said law enforcement authorities do not know why Welch chose to settle in Greensburg but are speculating that he got the idea from a recent survey that ranked Pittsburgh as the most livable U.S. city, with a low crime rate.
Welch, 45, is being held in the federal penitentiary at Marion, Ill., as marshals and the FBI attempt to reconstruct his journey from Chicago to Greensburg. Burglary victims are asked to contact the police department that investigated the crime -- not the Greensburg police -- if they believe that their stolen belongings may be among those being linked to Welch.