Chris Falkenberg



Last week our speaker was Chris Falkenberg, husband of Kai Falkenberg who spoke to us about Forbes magazine – remember her? – (who wouldn’t!).

Chris, like Kai, was a graduate of Columbia Law School. Prior to obtaining his law degree he had worked for 5 years in the Secret Service. In 1992 he was assigned to then candidate Bill Clinton and to the 1992 presidential campaign. He was now president of his own company, “Insite Security”.  The company specialized in risk “minimization and reduction” for the ultra affluent and ultra high net worth individuals. These people were at greater risk than the average because of their lifestyles that might include ownership of private planes, multiple homes, luxury yachts and the employees that went with them, any one of whom could be planning some sort of nefarious activity such as stalking, home invasion or kidnapping.

Chris explained that most ordinary crimes were unplanned. A criminal had a need, an opportunity presented itself and the criminal acted.  But there were virtually no random crimes against high net worth individuals. They were planned and the perpetrators were normally more intelligent and more ruthless than the spontaneous variety.

He described the cases of a number of victims. The first was Edward Lampert, a hedge fund billionaire who habitually worked alone in his Greenwich office on Sundays, a fact that was easily observed. He was kidnapped in the parking garage in the office building but managed to ingratiate himself with his captors who agreed to release him to pick up $30,000 that he said he would bring back to them. Surprise, surprise he didn’t. The story also illustrated the fact that although Lampert was worth billions, the kidnappers sought a relatively modest payment and this was not unusual.

The second case was that of Exxon executive Sidney Reso, a creature of habit who left his house at the same time every morning and stopped at the end of his driveway to pick up his paper. While doing so one morning, he was kidnapped and, in the struggle, wounded in the arm. The perpetrators were a man, Arthur Seale, who had formerly worked in security at Exxon, and his wife, Irene. They locked Sidney in a storage locker in midsummer where his wound became infected and he died 3 days later. The couple buried the body in the woods and continued with their demand for $18.5 million. Eventually they were caught and Arthur was sentenced to 95 years while Irene, who had turned on him and cooperated with the police, got 20 years. She was released in 2009.

Then there was Harvey Weinstein – not the movie producer but the owner of an up market, formal wear, clothing business. He too was a creature of habit who had breakfast every morning at the same diner from which he was kidnapped. He was kept in an underground pit off the West Side Highway in New York for 11 days until he was rescued by police. Ransom money had been paid over but the bills had been heated in advance and the police were able to trace it, on its way with the kidnappers to JFK airport by following the infrared trail.

Nick observed that most domestic kidnappings were high risk and frequently ended in death whereas international kidnappings, in which corrupt police might or might not be involved, usually ended in the payment of the ransom and release of the victim. A fortunate survivor of a domestic kidnapping was the socialite Anne Bass. She was forced to open her home safe that contained nothing but chocolate that she was trying not to eat. The perpetrator was the family’s ex-butler who of course knew all about his victim. Another case was that of 14-year old Elizabeth Smart who was abducted from her home by an unemployed labourer who was also a sociopathic pedophile.   The man, Brian David Mitchell, had been employed to do work on the house and had spotted an open screened window. He broke in through it at night and abducted the girl. The crime was witnessed by Elizabeth’s younger sister who, some months later, remembered the identity of the man’s voice. There was extensive debate as to whether the man, who took Elizabeth forcibly as his second wife – a horrendous story in itself – was competent to stand trial. In the end the jury, displaying the normal man’s sense of justice, took only 5 hours to find him guilty and he is now serving a life sentence.  

In summary, wealthy families have many moving parts be they through their jobs or their lifestyles and Chris’s expertise lay in trying to ensure they were aware as possible of the identity and good standing of those with whom they came into contact.

In Q and A, Chris was asked what was the best single item one could carry to protect oneself when travelling? He replied, without a doubt, a flashlight – to draw attention to anything untoward occurring. In addition, take copies of your passport and keep them in different areas and follow the advice of the State Department about unsafe countries. Be careful about transportation from the airport to a hotel, and be aware that traffic accidents are much more common abroad – do not travel at night.

How did his company compare with that of the Blackwater security firm? Quite different. Blackwater was a paramilitary organization working in the public sector to protect officials. Chris did not have a military background.

What was the best way to safeguard your home when you were away? According to Nationwide, over 99% of alarms that went off were false. The best defense was to make it hard to break into a house.   Put film on windows, screw down sashes, make sure all doors have dead bolts. Most burglars will give up and look for an easier target. If you had invested in a safe, make sure it was screwed down. If you came home late at night and found intruders in your house, drive away.

On the Peter Knight scale of 1-10, Chris might have received a 9 but since his wife got an extra point for her natural charms, for which he did not qualify, a point was deducted – and he received an 8.