Because of the restrictions placed on him afterward, he goes days without shaving and his hair grows wild and curly. Repulsed by the prison food, he drops 25 pounds. As the months pass, Del Río takes to mumbling gibberish and shadowboxing naked, hoping the court will deem him insane. The trial drags on, mainly because—against his attorney's advice—Del Río refuses to plead guilty. In July 2007, the jury convicts him on multiple counts of burglary, attempted burglary, and receiving stolen property. Only then does he begin cooperating. In exchange for having his 10-year sentence reduced by almost a third, he helps return property to his victims.
In the back of a sedan on the 405 Freeway, en route to a studio where, as part of a deal with prosecutors, Del Río will film a training video for the LAPD, he confesses to Longacre that he was plotting to melt down much of his haul and ship it to Spain. Around the same time, he draws a treasure map for the detective leading to his buried loot. It's precise down to the fraction of a meter, with an X to mark the spot.
Left: Del Río stowed cash and jewels worth an estimated $500,000 inside of a pipe which he buried beneath power lines that prevented metal detectors from working properly. Right: He later drew a treasure map—precise down to a fraction of a meter—guiding police to the hidden loot.
Since December 2009, Del Río has been housed at R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego. He'll be deported upon release in 2013. I began communicating with him after he was incarcerated, asking him about his life. Some questions he answers. Most he evades.
One question he never answers is "Why?" It's the obvious and simple question: Why would someone like Del Río, who could have been almost anything he wanted choose the path he did? There's no easy explanation. Steeped in the Jesuit tradition, which exalts service to a greater cause, Del Río fills his phone calls and letters with concern for starving children and earthquake victims. "I knew I was good at what I was doing," he says, with a trace of pride. "I knew all the money I had. Can you imagine if I go to Africa and open a place for a doctor and buy all the medicine? Can you imagine how many lives you could save?"
But Del Río freely admits that his noble designs may only have been the justification he needed to steal. When I press him for more, he shuts down. He can't reconcile his notion of himself with reality. He dismisses every portrayal of himself in the media as "unrealistic." Yet when offered the opportunity to right the record, he refuses. At one point he tells me that "when you're faithful to your principles, you can be fearless." It's a choice bit of insight. What principles he possesses, he betrayed. And Ignacio Del Río —boxer, daredevil, master thief—is terrified. On the phone, he nearly breaks into tears describing his fear of talking to me. He's afraid of what I'll write. But more than that, he's afraid he'll have to confront himself.
In the end, there's little romance in being a great cat burglar. It's a lonely, selfish fantasy and a unique addiction. In prison, Del Río has withdrawn even further into his familiar emotional architecture. He spends a lot of time in "the hole" for his gamberradas against the system.
"I can't stand anybody telling me what to do," he says. "I got no rules." He keeps to himself, he adds, spending hours shadowboxing in the yard or meditating in his cell. He's back on a fighting diet. He is training again. For what, though, it's hard to know.
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