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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Interview With Lee Gruenfeld, Bill Mason

Aired September 1, 2003 - 20:55   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: A self-proclaimed -- self-professed, that is, former jewel thief says, during his life of crime, he stole more than $35 million worth of fancy baubles, and now he's detailing it all in a tell-all book, "Confessions of a Master Jewel Thief."
It's a real-life "To Catch a Thief" adventure recounting how jewel thief Bill Mason, much like the Cary Grant character in the 1955 movie, pried on celebrities and members of high society.

Joining me now from Anaheim, California, is the co-author of "Confessions of a Master Jewel Thief," Lee Gruenfeld. Here in New York, the former master jewel thief himself, Bill Mason.

Thanks to both of you for joining us.

Bill, let's start with you. How did you get started in a life of crime, stealing jewels?

BILL MASON, FORMER JEWEL THIEF: Well, Wolf, I was in the real estate business, and I knew apartment buildings. I managed apartment buildings. And I started thinking about crime. I was always sort of interested in crime. I used to like a lot of pirate books when I was young. And it was like a trial and error type of thing, I was...

BLITZER: So you were just a bad guy at that point in your life. But you started looking for the rich and famous specifically. That became your effort.

MASON: Well, not (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- yes, the rich and famous, yes. I liked high-rise buildings. I liked buildings with a -- that you could go in and achieve something, bypass a lot of security. And it was a game, it became a challenge, sort of an adrenaline rush that I got addicted to.

BLITZER: Let's -- I want to add, just ask Lee a question before we move on. Lee, there is a lot of incredible, I guess, suggestions, allegations made in this book. How do you, as the co-writer, go ahead and verify what we're hearing from Lee?

LEE GRUENFELD, CO-AUTHOR, "CONFESSIONS OF A MASTER JEWEL THIEF": From Bill.

BLITZER: From Bill, excuse me.

GRUENFELD: I saw my role not as one of an investigative reporter, but really a story teller. And my job was to help Bill tell his story.

So I didn't do confirmations and verifications as such, as a CNN reporter might. But what I did do was often to come up with some -- do some research to find some environmental background, or to get a little historical perspective of the tenor of times in which he operated. And any time that celebrities and his paths interacted, I tried to track those things down.

And what I came up with meshed extremely well with what Bill had been telling me in terms of the chronology and specific events, so...

BLITZER: All right, let, let me, let's talk about some of the celebrities, Bill. Phyllis Diller, Truman Capote, you stole from them.

MASON: Correct.

BLITZER: How did you do that? What did you steal?

MASON: Well, from Phyllis, I stole twice, once about 35 years ago in Cleveland, Ohio, and a second time in Ravenna, which...

BLITZER: What did you steal?

MASON: Jewelry. Just jewelry.

BLITZER: And you never gave it back to her.

MASON: No.

BLITZER: You kept it.

MASON: I kept it. I sold it.

BLITZER: And Truman Capote?

MASON: Same thing. Very small amount of jewelry, but Truman was -- I met in Key West, Florida, and followed him around for a while. And...

BLITZER: You wanted to steal jewels from Elizabeth Taylor. But you failed in that effort.

MASON: Well, Elizabeth would never quite get with the program and get to Puerto Vallarta when I wanted her to. So she lucked out.

BLITZER: And then eventually you got caught, right?

MASON: I got caught. I was a fugitive when I was working on Elizabeth Taylor. But I had gotten caught in Fort Lauderdale and I had become a...

BLITZER: And you went to, and you went to jail.

MASON: well, I went to jail for a short period of time. And then after I got out, I was sort of set up again and began a two-year trial period, where I was trying to beat the case. And then became a fugitive for five years.

BLITZER: Lee, how does it feel working with a thief, an admitted, acknowledged thief?

GRUENFELD: Well, I don't wear my really good watch when I'm with him. But, no, he really is retired. But I -- it was extremely interesting and quite a challenge to try to get into the head of somebody like that.

But I want to just add one thing to something both you and Bill said. In addition to stealing jewelry from Phyllis Diller, he also stole her address book, which had the names and the phone numbers of everybody rich and famous you can think of. And that's what got him into trouble.

BLITZER: All right, Lee Gruenfeld, Bill Mason, unfortunately we're going to leave it right there. Thanks to both of you for joining us.

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