The Life and Crimes of Andrew Forkes

A 93-year-old career criminal looks back in danger

"This is my beautiful wife," Forkes says ruefully, pointing to a large, framed black-and-white photo of Alice Forkes on the wall. Alice died of Alzheimer's two years ago. The image recalls Clara Bow in her prime, bright-faced with thick cheeks and a gracious smile. "She had a magnetism about her. . . . She coulda married millionaires, and wound up with a bum like me."

Some non-book anecdotes suggest Forkes might not let accuracy get in the way of a good tale. He claims a millionaire crony once offered him a tidy sum for his wife. "He offered me a million dollars for Alice. I fractured my hand when I hit him. I put him in the hospital. I said, 'What the hell do you think she is, a used car or something?' The whole thing cost me $1,600. A thousand for the hospital, and I paid off two detectives for $300 apiece. Thank goodness for crooked politicians and policemen."

Forkes produces a photo album filled with decades of grainy remembrances. A picture of a well-tended rose garden in Akron ("They came from all over to look at my roses"). Snaps of the Forkeses at Charley Grapewin's Hollywood manse, of Forkes perched atop a totem pole at John Barrymore's Benedict Canyon digs.

Retired safecracker Andrew Forkes opens one for the old times.
Paolo Vescia
Retired safecracker Andrew Forkes opens one for the old times.

He pulls from a shelf a hardbound volume of poems published in 1989 by the National Library of Poetry. The book contains a Forkes original, titled "Father Time."

He digs out other poems, most written from the vantage of a post-World War I outlaw looking back. In "Square Pegs, Round Hole," he writes: "Even though society brands me a thief/To hell with society, because I've had it made."

Byrd Holland, Forkes' literary rep and editor, says things are looking up for Forkes and An Honorable Thief. In the works but not on paper are possible television and movie deals, but Holland wouldn't be specific.

"I do have some good prospects in that area," he says via phone from his Hollywood home. "It's a bad time; Hollywood is gearing up for the Oscars."

"He's had this tough life, he really has," says Art Terrosof, a friend of Forkes' who, ironically, owns a jewelry store equipped with a large safe in back. "And it's all true. He's talented. I mean, he's supported himself by carving birds. He's made jewelry, done oil paintings. He's a poet. It's not like he's cracked safes all these years."

Forkes is sitting in the moneyed air of Terrosof's central Phoenix jewelry store, his powerful, veiny hands resting on his cane in front of him.

I ask Forkes if he has any regrets after decades of thievery. He stares straight into a glass case that displays a collection of ornate jewels and shakes his head. "No. No regrets."

There's a point in An Honorable Thief that sees the burglar come clean, embarking on a life on the up and up, yet sidestepping a nauseating moral high ground. He says his decision to walk from the crime game came after he nearly murdered a man in the Maryland prison. It's a redemption of sorts, with no apology.

"This book, I've been told, belongs in every library," he says. "It belongs in every school. And to anybody that aspires to be a thief or break a law it will be a deterrent. If my book stopped one person from going to prison, I would feel amply rewarded.

"Bottom line to this autobiography is that I never wanted to be a thief, I was born that way -- best I can figure. . . ."

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