SMU’s Rena Pederson on ‘The King of Diamonds’

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“A half a century later, the mystique of the uncatchable thief still lives on,” Rena Pederson said during the Faculty Club Luncheon on Oct. 18.

Pederson teaches a persuasive writing course at SMU, but this only minutely alludes to her qualifications. Pederson worked as a speech writer for the Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs in Washington, D.C. She was vice president and editorial page editor at The Dallas Morning News. She also worked for the Associated Press and The Houston Chronicle.

Pederson’s history in journalism has led to her current investigation on “The King of Diamonds.”

“He got away with millions of jewels . . . He knew who had the gems and where they kept them . . . He stole from some of richest people in country . . . The FBI and Dallas police pursued him for over a decade . . . None of the stolen gems were ever recovered,” Pederson said.

Most active between 1958 and 1970, the “King of Diamonds” first seized the public’s attention with his robbery of the Graf house in 1959. In one night he stole $215,000 worth of diamonds, the equivalent of $2 million today, Pederson said.

The “King,” as Pederson began to refer to him, took control of the elite of Dallas. Though Dallas at the time was home to people who, on average, made $5,300 per year, a veneer of wealth drew attention. The few elite were “like sparklers on a plain vanilla cake,” she said.

The King’s greatest talent was his intel. He knew when the parties were being held, who was going, what they were wearing, and other fine details could only be known by someone in the circle of the sparklers. His activity ranged from October to March, coincidentally during debutant ball season.

He was neat too. He never left shoe tracks, selectively chose items, pried open doors leaving hardly a scratch, never left fingerprints and often robbed households when the residents were still in the house — downstairs or just in the next room over.

Bandits comparable in scale and prestige to the King of Diamond’s scale were all caught. Even with the attention of the Dallas police, FBI and international investigators, including Interpol, the King was never discovered.

Pederson’s work to out-investigate the FBI has led her to psychologists for profiles and even suspects, though “most of the main suspects are dead,” she said.

“I’m ninety percent sure I know who it is,” Pederson said. Her investigation into the King, which has involved over 200 interviews, is recounted in a book she will publish next year.

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