Nancy Jo Sales is the journalist whose Vanity Fair article “The Suspects Wore Louboutins” told the story of the Bling Ring crew that inspired Sofia Coppola’s new film. From October 2008 through August 2009, the mostly teenage thieves—Nicholas Prugo, Rachel Lee, Alexis Neiers, Courtney Ames, Roy Lopez, Jr., Diana Tamayo, and Jonathan Ajar—stole everything from designer clothing, shoes and handbags to jewelry, underwear and a Sig Sauer .380 semi-automatic handgun. Sales, who wrote a new book that explores celebrity culture, the worship of wealth and how a bunch of kids who were barely old enough to drive became one of the most successful organized crime rings in Hollywood history, walked us through the real-life Bling Ring timeline.
September 1, 2001: Sales’s profile of Paris and Nicky Hilton runs in Vanity Fair
Although it’s hard to imagine a time before magazine stories about Paris Hilton, Sales wrote the first major profile of the heiress, when Paris “was a new kind of girl,” said Sales. “One of the things about her that’s on the Bling Ring continuum was that she wanted to be famous . . . and it [didn’t] really matter for what.” Hilton allowed Coppola to film scenes for “The Bling Ring” inside her house and later said she cried while watching the movie at Cannes.
October 2008: The Bling Ring strikes for the first time at Paris Hilton’s house
The Bling Ring used TMZ to determine when celebrities would be out of town and Celebrityaddressaerial.com to learn stars’ addresses. (“You will be able to see their houses behind the tall hedges, big gates and security systems,” the site promises.
“You will get unprecedented access to the sort of lifestyle your favorite celebrity can afford.”)
According to Nicholas Prugo, he and Rachel Lee went to Hilton’s for what would turn out to be the first of several trips. They didn’t even have to “break” in; Hilton kept a key under her doormat. Prugo is quoted in Sales’s book as calling Hilton a fair target because she “didn’t really contribute to society.” Prugo says they searched through Hilton’s handbags for cash and each went home $1,800 richer.
February 2009: The Bling Ring burglarizes Audrina Patridge
Although Patridge, who was on the MTV reality show “The Hills,” isn’t in the same league of celebrity as some of the Bling Ring’s other victims, “her life was their life,” said Sales. “It’s kind of sweet and chilling to watch Rachel Lee on the surveillance video outside [Patridge’s] house, because she looks just like her. It’s almost like she’s thinking to herself, ‘If she sees me, she’ll see how great I look.’ Because they know they’re being filmed.” The surveillance videos made their way onto TV, first on KTLA and later on TMZ. “Eventually that’s how they got caught: because they were egregiously posing.”
May 2009: The Bling Ring burglarizes Rachel Bilson five times
Prugo alleges that Lee picked Bilson as a target because she loved Bilson’s clothes; in Sales’s book, he also claims that their haul was so huge, they “sold maybe 30 purses” of Bilson’s on the Venice Beach boardwalk for $50 each.
July 13, 2009: The Bling Ring breaks into Orlando Bloom’s mansion
“In the surveillance video [of the night they robbed Bloom], you can see them over three hours, going in and coming out, with bags of stuff,” Sales said. “[Bloom] had these rare Rolex watches hidden in a secret compartment in the wall of his house, and they were gone, because these kids were really expert burglars.”
September – October 2009: The Bling Ring members get arrested
Prugo was the first to be arrested, on Sept. 17. In early October, he confessed; the police then issued search warrants for the rest of the Bling Ring, all of whom were arrested Oct. 22. “[Prugo] told me the reason he confessed is that he felt really bad,” Sales said. “It was like something out of Dostoevsky. He was losing his hair, and he couldn’t sleep.”
November 16, 2009: Alexis Neiers’s arraignment at Los Angeles Superior Court
Neiers attended with the crew of her E! reality show, “Pretty Wild.” In her Vanity Fair feature, Sales describes Neiers as “wearing a tweed miniskirt, a pink sweater, and six-inch Christian Louboutin heels.” This dozen word description would lead to the YouTube clip heard round the world, which shows Neiers trying to record a message for Sales disputing, among other things, that she wore Louboutins to court. She keeps getting interrupted by her increasingly emotional mother.
February 1, 2010: The March issue of Vanity Fair, with Sales’s story “The Suspects Wore Louboutins,” hits newsstands
Sales remembers how quickly the saga of the Bling Ring became an international sensation. “It involved kids, celebrities, crime, the Internet, surveillance, fashionistas, quote-unquote shopping, luxury brands. It was this very potent, pop-culture cocktail. It immediately sparked the interest of almost every major news outlet. I’d go to the courthouse for these kids’ arraignments and it would be this huge mob of reporters [and] camera crews.”
March 14, 2010: “Pretty Wild” premieres on E!
The reality show was intended to document the lives of Neiers, younger sister Gabby and friend Playboy Cybergirl Tess Taylor. (On the show, Taylor is described as Neiers’s “sister” and has been misidentified as such elsewhere, but they aren’t related.) Neiers was arrested during the filming of the pilot, and the show wound up following her legal troubles instead of her modeling aspirations.
July 2010: Neiers serves 30 days of her 180-day sentence
More proof that reality is weirder than fiction: For the last three days of her sentence, Neiers shared a cell block with Lindsay Lohan at the Century Regional Detention Facility in Lynwood, Calif. Lohan was serving 90 days for violating probation.
May 13, 2013: “The Bling Ring” premieres at the Cannes Film Festival
Sales describes her favorite moment in the film – which isn’t from her reporting – in which the character Rebecca, while robbing Lohan’s house, stands in front of Lohan’s mirror and sprays perfume on herself. “Sofia and I had talked about [what] was their motivation, and I think this moment says it all with no words at all,” Sales said. “This girl, standing in front of Lindsay Lohan’s mirror, putting on the perfume. It’s this incredible transgression, and there’s something so intimate about it. I’m in your bedroom, looking at myself in your mirror, spraying your perfume on myself.”
May 21, 2013: Sales’s book “The Bling Ring: How a Gang of Fame-Obsessed Teens Ripped Off Hollywood and Shocked the World” is released
In the book, Sales said, “I’m not just telling a story about burglars – which is a great story! – but I’m telling a story about American culture, and what went into the motivations here.”