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AL Martinez

He took only cash and jewels because . . . they fit neatly into a pocket without breaking the line of his tux. : Selling Michael the Cat

November 21, 1985|AL MARTINEZ

Wanted: Career opportunities in film . Tall, handsome, 28. Black belt in karate. Knowledgeable in burglary and jail routines. Owns Doberman pinscher named Elke with expertise in spotting cops. Available immediately. Contact Michael the Cat.

It is not often that I involve myself in finding work for anyone, but Michael the Cat is different. I have never met an ex-burglar with such a fine sense of humor.

His real name is Michael Hughes. He was a sweet-faced young man when, at 19, he embarked upon a career as a burglar specializing in homes worth in excess of $250,000.

He used to prowl Beverly Hills wearing a tuxedo and when I asked him why, he replied, "Because, after all, I was in the kind of area where clothes mattered."

Though he stole from the rich, he did not give to the poor, instead keeping whatever he acquired for the good life he lived for a period of three years until he ended up in jail.

The boyish good looks, the tuxedo and the dog served him well on the balmy summer evenings he strolled through the tony neighborhoods around Sunset Boulevard looking for houses that could afford the hushed footfall of the Cat.

A detective told me once that Michael fit perfectly into the fastidious environment of sprawling estates and cultured gardens.

"He could have been a boy out walking his dog after the prom," he said, "instead of a guy who was shortly going to steal your underwear."

The detective, of course, was making a joke, since the Cat did not steal underwear. He took only cash and jewels because that is what a burglar with a sense of style took; small items that would fit neatly into a pocket without breaking the line of his tux.

He seemed genuinely offended when I suggested that there was probably a lot of electronic equipment he could have gotten away with.

"How gauche it would have been," he said, in a kind of arched way, "to be caught walking down the street in Bel-Air carrying a television set."

He trained Elke to stand watch outside the house being burglarized and to bark once if police should appear or the homeowners return.

The Cat thinks he hit about 150 homes during what he now considers the regrettable years, although the aforementioned detective feels it was probably more.

"You've got to give him credit," the cop said. "He was one hell of a burglar."

But that is all in the past now for Michael the Cat who, after eight months in jail, gave up stealing, taught his dog to pray and signed with the William Morris Agency.

"There is nothing like a cell," he said to me the other day, "to cause a man to consider career alternatives."

He was in his tiny, $150-a-month room over a photo agency on Fairfax Avenue, where he lives with Elke.

I had not seen Michael for years, although he often called to assure me that, even though his fortunes have not been excessive, he has not gone back to being a cat burglar.

Instead he speaks and writes about how to prevent your house from being burglarized, which is not unlike a Satanist proselytizing against the devil.

He has appeared on several television shows, including a religious hour for which he taught Elke to lift her little paws in prayer, and has written the outline for a book to be called "Nothing Personal."

In it he tells about his experiences as a burglar, including the time he found it necessary to break into a police station to steal evidence that would have been used against him.

Michael also writes about life in jail and the fellow con who once asked him to play chess. The Cat refused and then, in passing, asked the man what he was in for. The cellmate stared at him hard before replying, "For killing my brother in his sleep."

"Gee," Michael remembers saying, "on second thought, I'd love to play chess with you!" He let the man win every time.

Believe me when I say I am no fan of burglars, or of anyone, for that matter, who makes more money than I without having to agonize over what to write for tomorrow.

However, Michael the Cat is no longer a burglar and, in fact, atones for his past by speaking before Neighborhood Watch groups. "I forgive myself for what I used to be," he likes to say, "and accept the person I am now."

What he is now is a karate instructor, which pays just enough to provide food and the tiny room for him and Elke. Sometimes he gives a free lesson in exchange for haircuts or other necessary services.

Michael has always believed that burglary necessitates the same kind of persistence and daring required in show biz (although, of course, there is no audience during the average burglary), and is hoping for a career in acting.

You might give him a call if you are interested in hiring a witty ex-burglar. The Cat would be happy to meet at your home or office. No need to leave the door unlocked. He'll get in OK.

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