The Stowaway: Truly Adventurous

Detective Kirk Sullivan of the Las Vegas Police Department was slumped at his desk behind a looming mound of arrest reports when the phone rang. It was the head of security at the Four Seasons Hotel, and he had a strange story to tell.

Sullivan was 205lbs, over 6ft tall, with short, brown hair. He was soft-spoken, often wistful, and had an enigmatic sense of humor. The detective took enormous pride in his work and liked to tell people he had taken a job at his Dad’s hardware store when he was just six years old and had never been unemployed since. “I’d come home from Kindergarten and just sweep the store,” he recalled.

Sullivan had worked nearly every type of case during his 16 years on the force, from vice to traffic offenses, and he had seen every hotel con going: bogus websites, slick crime rings, petty burglaries by hotel staff. But, as he listened to the security team at the Four Seasons that August morning, he realized this crime was far more audacious.

At around 10 a.m., a handsome, lanky twentysomething with floppy black hair and a bluish mole between his eyes had entered the hotel lobby and walked across the polished marble floors to the front desk. His name was Daniel Gold, he told a receptionist, and he wanted his up-to-date room charges. Several minutes later, the man returned to the front desk. “Wait!” he exclaimed with just the trace of an accent. He’d somehow misplaced his room key and needed a new one. He offered up an I.D. card bearing his photo and the name Daniel Gold. “We later learned that he had a separate room,” Sullivan recalled, “where he had a photocopier and printer to falsify documents.”

With a replacement key in hand, the man pretending to be Mr. Gold took an elevator up to the couple’s $4000-a-night suite. As he entered, he heard voices from the adjoining room: the Golds were traveling with their nanny and children. Unfazed, the man left the suite and used a phone in the hallway to call the connecting room. When the nanny picked up, he pretended to be a staff member, telling her that Mr. Gold wanted to see his children in the spa and that she should go down immediately. Once the nanny and children had left the room, he then called the front desk. You wouldn’t believe it, he said, but his room safe wasn’t working.

“I’m in a rush,” he added, “so could you be quick?”

When the real Golds returned to their suite an hour later, the safe was unlocked and more than $200,000 worth of jewels, Rolex watches, and cash had vanished. So had the man.

Sullivan arrived at the hotel several hours later, and the head of security showed him security footage of the suspect. The thief was nonchalant, and he’d picked his targets uncannily well. “Ironically,” the detective told me recently, “the Golds were in Vegas on vacation because they were having their house refurbished. They had taken the jewelry with them so that the builders wouldn’t steal it.”

After the burglary that August morning, suspecting a serial criminal, Sullivan sent a photo of the suspect to other Las Vegas resorts. His efforts to warn them were in vain. Several days later, the room of a famous Vegas headliner was burglarized at the Bellagio, just down the Strip from the Four Seasons.

Sullivan began to think he might have a career case on his hands. Pure conmen, especially those who commit crimes using only chutzpah and charm, are rare in the criminal world, and they present a unique and enticing challenge to law enforcement. Still, the Las Vegas detective had little to go on besides a handful of security-cam photos. It would be a waiting game.

But even the stalwart Detective Sullivan couldn’t anticipate how long this case would take to crack, to say nothing of the caliber of conman he was up against. He also wasn’t aware of just how many other investigators worldwide were hunting the same ghost, and who would soon compose something of an unofficial global taskforce. By the time of the Vegas burglaries in the summer of 2003, the thief had illegally entered the U.S. at least five different times and racked up two convictions for credit card fraud and one for grand larceny while refining his skills to the level of art. He had developed tens of aliases, and he would use these, as well as the four languages he spoke fluently, to steal millions of dollars from the wealthiest clients of some of the world’s most exclusive hotels. In the following years, he would dupe detectives, judges, and prison guards from Switzerland to Hong Kong. One detective would later describe him as being able to “sell snow to Eskimos,” while the British press compared him to famed and fictional crooks Frank Abagnale, Jr., and Arsene Lupin.

Detective Sullivan would be one of a coterie of international sleuths, who — along with this journalist — would become obsessed with peeling away the many layers of this mysterious criminal’s persona in an attempt to answer a seemingly straightforward question: Just who is this guy?

What they’d come to learn is that the man had been a cipher from a young age, practically from the very beginning, when he literally fell out of the sky.

Read the rest of the story at Truly Adventurous:

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