HOLLYWOOD 2024 Issue

A Home Invasion Turned Our Dream House Into a Nightmare. Then We Became a Bigger Criminal’s Target.

The writer’s Spanish Revival home was the stuff of Hollywood real estate fantasies—and the ideal target for Benjamin Ackerman, the city’s most prolific thief.
The writers house on Hollywood Boulevard was targeted in a string of high value residential burglaries.
The writer’s house on Hollywood Boulevard was targeted in a string of high- value residential burglaries.LINDA KASIAN PHOTOGRAPHY.

“Take Sunset, pass the Chateau Marmont. Make a left at the Liquor Locker and follow the road until you hit Hollywood Boulevard,” I told the driver of the Liffey Van Lines moving company when he phoned to say he would be arriving in 20 minutes. “How narrow is the street?” he asked. “Not too bad,” I told him. “But sir, there are 29 steps leading to the front door,” I cautioned, grimacing at my husband, John, who was pacing the empty living room. I put on Tom Petty and arranged the Gatorade we had purchased for the movers into color-coded groupings. When John spotted the 18-wheeler chugging up our winding road and yelled, “They’re here,” my stomach fluttered with excitement.

It was December 31, 2016, and the idea of waking up on the first day of a new year in a new house surrounded by the amassed belongings of my family of four was thrilling. A clan of sturdy Irishmen began unloading furniture that had crossed the country from our Greenwich Village apartment to the Hollywood Hills.

The foreman was our first “visitor,” and when I gave him the house tour, I introduced each room—“This is Beau’s bedroom,” “John’s secret office,” “Ellery gets the view”—in the same way the blondes on The Price Is Right used to present new cars. “You can stand on the terrace if you’d like,” I encouraged, wanting him to enjoy the details I loved most. When I showed him the primary bedroom, I explained that John and I didn’t put up the mirrored wall, but I did say, “Isn’t it so clever that behind the wall is a long walk-in closet?” When he said, “This is a lovely house,” and yelled down to his team to “bring up floor protection,” I appreciated his due diligence. And when the movers rolled out red carpets across our bleached white floorboards, I nudged John and whispered, “Oh, my God, so LA.

On New Year’s Day, we woke to a beautiful blue sky, the stress of our move melting in the warmth of the sun. We opened all the windows, and from our bedroom I could smell jasmine and eucalyptus, signature scents of my childhood. For years, John and I had flirted with the idea of moving to LA, where I was born and raised and where it would be advantageous for John’s career, but it wasn’t until I left my job (at this magazine) in search of new challenges that it became a reality.

Our new house, a 1920s Spanish Mediterranean style residence, was glamorous and full of potential. It had been remodeled with light, airy interiors by designers Nate Berkus and Jeremiah Brent, friends from whom we purchased it. We planted bougainvillea and installed two period sconces that flanked our front door. The enormous palm tree in the front yard was lit from below, and when I’d arrive home after dinners at the Tower Bar, the sight of it always caught my breath. Our rooms weren’t overly furnished, mostly because the pieces we had jigsawed together in our compact New York City apartment were dwarfed by the new space. But I don’t like clutter, so I didn’t care. In time, I told myself, we’d fill it with new memories. 8195 Hollywood Boulevard perched proudly among its more architecturally pedigreed neighbors, including Frank Lloyd Wright’s Storer house, and I cast it as the symbol of my new chapter.

Punch Hutton’s husband, John Hodges, and their children at their former house in the Hollywood Hills.Courtesy Punch Hutton.

We jumped right into our new lifestyle. We got a golden retriever puppy and named him Salty. In the evenings the kids would swim with him in the pool while John grilled cheeseburgers and I floated on a jumbo Jake and the Never Land Pirates raft, sipping Chardonnay. During the week. The kids acclimated easily and made fast friends, and so did we. Our careers and our social lives were inextricably linked, and in Hollywood, that’s a good thing. “You look so happy,” a friend and former colleague of mine said over drinks at the Chateau. We clinked our martini glasses: “To LA.”

And then there was a man in my closet.

I had been to dinner at Mozza with my brother. When I texted him to say I had made it home safely, he reminded me to call my doctor in the morning—my bronchitis had gotten worse. I whispered into John’s ear that I’d be sleeping in the guest room downstairs. “I don’t want to wake you up,” I explained, waking him up. I propped my head on two shams and listened to myself wheeze as I drifted off.

Just after 3 a.m. I awoke to the sound of a rodent frantically clawing the wall. I assumed it was trapped but when the floorboard creaked, my body stiffened. Silence fell, and I told myself to stop being paranoid and sandwiched my head between the pillows. But when the rustling of papers woke me up again, I was annoyed. I sat upright and yelled, “John! What are you doing?” Because I saw him. In the closet. But it wasn’t John.

A tall man, dressed in black with a hood over his head, approached the foot of my bed. He stared at me and I stopped breathing. He lifted an index finger to his lips and I nodded when he whispered, “Shh.” He slipped out of the room, but I knew he was still in the house because I didn’t hear the wobbly floorboard that groaned every time someone walked across it. I smelled my sweat. I didn’t scream—I can’t; I’ve had a paralyzed vocal cord since infancy. In the darkness, I called out, “You need to leave. I’m calling 911.”


I used the palm of my hand as a prop and tapped it three times. “Hello, 911, I have an intruder in my house,” I said loudly but not hysterically. And then I heard the floorboard followed by the sound of a door gently closing.

The police officers swept our property with flashlights. They pronounced it a “hot prowl” and guessed that our guy was looking for something to sell in exchange for drugs. There was nothing in the guest room closet but a box filled with 50 individually wrapped bars of oatmeal soap. “These guys enter and exit without a trace,” they explained, and I wondered if he’d be back. Before the police left, they pointed to the construction site next door and said, “There should be a security fence around that property. It allows access to your yard.”

In the morning, we drove our kids to school and never mentioned anything about the man in the closet. John had ADT install a security camera, motion sensors, and a new alarm system that startled me every time its automated voice gave commands. The Oppenheim Group held the listing for the neighboring lot. When I stopped by their office, I was directed to a tan man sitting behind an enormous desk. He waved off my security concerns and said, “When that project is done, your property value will increase.” Two years later I saw him again, staring down at me from a billboard in West Hollywood, promoting a new series: Selling Sunset. John and I acknowledged Things could have been worse and moved forward as if nothing happened.

Except now I slept with a hammer under my pillow. And I never again went into the guest room when I was home alone. And I always looked behind the shower curtains whenever I used the bathroom. And I saw things in the shadows. Especially the ones cast by the Kentia palms that swayed in their pots when the windows were open. I didn’t tell anyone that I was struggling with imaginary images. But I think Salty knew. He was constantly at my side.

In early September, the Santa Ana winds blew open an upstairs window, which tripped our alarm. I froze, then crouched on the floor and crawled to the phone to call John at work. “We need to sell our house,” I whispered as tears ran down my cheeks. “I don’t feel safe here.” Nine months after we bought it, we put my dream house back on the market.

After our first open house, on October 22, 2017, John and I received two offers. Confident it would sell quickly, we found a new place in the Outpost Estates, two miles deeper into the hills. Several weeks before our move, we fell out of escrow on the Hollywood Boulevard house, so we agreed to have one final showing, with our furnishings intact, on December 3.

John and I took extra care cleaning the house that Sunday morning. I baked cookies and left them on a plate in the kitchen for prospective buyers. John dropped Salty off at the Chateau Marmutt en route to LAX, where he boarded a flight for New York. I took my children to two birthday parties and shuttled some of their friends home afterward. Our open house was scheduled from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., and when our real estate agent texted to say that it had been well attended and asked, “Want me to leave the lights on?” I told her not to worry, I’d be back soon. But we got waylaid and didn’t pull into our garage until just after 7 p.m.

The first thing I noticed was that the streetlamp was out. There were no lights on in my house or at the next-door construction site. There was so much darkness. I masked my unease by quacking like a duck every time I took a step up to the front door. The kids did it too, and we made a game of seeing who could get to the top first. When we got inside, I hit every light panel on every wall—our house lit up the hills. We ate pizza and I ran baths before putting the kids to bed. I poured myself a glass of Cabernet, grabbed the hammer from the toolbox, set the alarm, and headed upstairs.

I undressed and pulled the top drawer of our armoire open so that I could drop my wedding band onto the crystal Tiffany ring holder that had been an engagement present. But the drawer was empty. My beloved engagement ring, my grandmother’s ruby-and-diamond ring, a Chanel watch, diamond earrings, and a gold link necklace were gone. I checked the side table next to my bed, where I kept pearls and pins and several moonstone charms from Temple St. Clair. Gone. I dialed John in New York, where it was 2 a.m. “I think we’ve been robbed!” I cried. (That was before I knew the difference between a robbery, when property is taken by force or threat, and a burglary, when someone illegally enters a building with intent to commit a crime.)

“Check the closet,” John said, and when I turned on the light, the first thing I noticed were empty spaces on my shelves. The less expensive totes were intact, but my nicer handbags, including a collection of Chanel clutches and purses that had been given to me as Christmas and birthday gifts over the years, were gone. “Oh, my God. They were in here too!” I told him, shaking. “Go to my dresser,” he instructed. “In the third drawer, I keep my Rolexes in a Ziploc.” “You do?” I asked, incredulously. When I opened the drawer, all I found was an empty plastic bag. The burglar was taunting us. “Call the police,” John yelled.

I placed three calls—the first to 911, the second to our real estate agent, and the third to my mom, who drove over from Brentwood to keep vigil over the children, who were sleeping soundly. The police responded immediately and scribbled into notebooks while manning their walkie-talkies. And then I started to tremble. Slowly at first, but then my teeth began to chatter, and it became harder to breathe. Things got fuzzy, and as I held my head in my hands, I could hear the echo of sirens. I remember a heart monitor strapped to my chest and squeezing the paramedic’s hand. When my panic attack subsided, I tried to regain control and offered the men drinks and snacks like we were having a late-night cocktail party. I led the group upstairs—the primary bedroom appeared to be the only raided area. Police said there had been a recent surge of residential burglaries—during open houses. How had my bags been smuggled out undetected? I wondered. John booked an early flight home, and after thanking everyone for coming, I climbed into bed. It was just after 3 a.m.—the same time I encountered the first intruder and the same time I’d wake up every night for years to come. I closed my eyes, but when a draft of cool air brushed my cheek, I sat upright and reached for the hammer. I approached the wall of windows and ran my hand under the glass panes, feeling for air. And then I froze. A dirty handprint gripped the window frame. Dark smudges covered the window crank. A shoe tread scuffed the wall. How had we missed this? Who had come through the window, and when?

We filed claims with our insurance company, and when the AIG representative followed up, he interviewed us. Separately. “Do you have any reason to think your husband is having an affair?” he asked me. “Anyone he may have given your possessions to?” “How do you pay for things now that you’re not earning a consistent salary?” “Why did you choose not to keep your valuables in a safe?” The line of questioning made me feel like the guilty wife of a cheater. “I’m required to ask these questions,” he explained apologetically. “Insurance fraud has skyrocketed.” I leaned in and asked, “Is there something I need to know about John?”

And then months passed. People told me I’d never get my things back. My friend Vanessa offered to loan me “anything you want.” When John and I received some insurance money, my friend Suzy took me to XIV Karats, a mini diamond district empire housed in a nondescript building in Beverly Hills. IYKYK, I guess. We walked the maze of glass-countered display cases—so many options, so much bling. But nothing could replace the engagement ring John had made from a diamond passed down from his mother—the ring he proposed to me with in our first apartment on 10th Street in the Village. I later ended up finding a cubic zirconia knockoff at the Four Seasons gift shop and wore it for four years, until it turned my finger gray.

My friend Natalie, whose Bel-Air home was burglarized a few weeks after ours, encouraged me to join her as she scoured flea markets and pawn shops and kept close tabs on resale sites. She had actually found some of her stolen property this way, and when she said, “I’ll never buy vintage again,” I understood. I admired her perseverance, but the healthier direction for me was forward. “It’s only stuff,” I told myself, and even though many pieces carried meaning, what choice did I have but to let go?

What I couldn’t shake, however, was paranoia—which I tried to manage by becoming hypervigilant. The first intruder had entered through a side door that we had forgotten to lock. But the open house burglar, who was not the same man as the one in the closet, was a more sophisticated criminal. The thief had left our home in such pristine condition that I now obsessed over details. Things aren’t always what they seem, I reminded myself, spiraling into self-doubt. Is the alarm faulty? Should I stop telling strangers Salty is friendly? Did a shadowy figure just step into Ellery’s room? When we moved to Outpost Drive, I followed the electrician, locksmith, and handyman around like Columbo—just in case they were actually casing the house.

I also blamed myself. “Maybe I’m bad luck,” I told John and went about trying to attract positive energy by burning sage, high-fiving the Fortune Cat at the nail salon, and collecting black tourmaline crystals. My “new chapter” wasn’t supposed to unfold like this. You can get through this, I told myself. But trauma doesn’t go away until you deal with it. On September 27, 2018, Suzy called her therapist and asked, “Can my friend, Punch, take my appointment tomorrow?” “But it’s my birthday,” I protested. Suzy put her hands on my shoulders and said, “Happy birthday.”

On January 2, 2019, my phone started pinging. Nate sent a series of texts: One was a link to an LAPD press conference in which a “person of interest”—32-year-old Los Angeles native Benjamin Eitan Ackerman—had been identified in at least one case in the spate of burglaries targeting high-value residences in the Hollywood Hills. The second text was a link to The third asked, “Any of this yours?”

Deputy District Attorney Phil Stirling, Detective Jared Timmons and Deputy District Attorney Jeff Stodel at the Hall of Justice in Los Angeles, CA.Photograph by Timothy Mahoney.

My hands went numb as I scrolled through enough inventory to fill the first floor of Neiman Marcus—in Beverly Hills and in Dallas. I swiped through colorful baubles; bottles of wine; necklaces and cuff links with engraved initials; framed black-and-white photographs of Faye Dunaway and Mick Jagger, among others; watches from Rolex, Patek Philippe, Hublot, and Panerai. There were handbags and wallets—Hermès, Vuitton, Gucci, Balenciaga, Givenchy, Fendi, Chanel. So much Chanel. I saw bags that could be mine. I saw the quilted and the leather black flap bags with gold chains, but given their popularity, I couldn’t claim them with certainty. And then I found it. The navy Goyard bag wasn’t proof enough. But the red P.H. monogram in the lower right corner was. “Oh, my God,” I said to John. “They caught him.”

We phoned the LAPD, and when Detective Jared Timmons got on the line, my questions came out in rapid succession: How did they catch the guy? Did he have an accomplice? How many victims were there? Why hadn’t we been contacted? And also, would he like for us to come collect our belongings? Timmons explained that the recovered property was part of an ongoing investigation. “Ongoing? You mean there’s more?” I asked in disbelief. He promised he’d be in touch.

It took four and a half years to get the answers. The stories of other victims are not mine to tell, but the details of Michael Gores’s case—whose home was burglarized in July 2018—are key to understanding how they finally caught one of the most prolific burglars in the history of Southern California.

Gores and his wife were out of town when Gores’s mother, who was also his real estate agent, hosted several open houses at their residence just north of Sunset in West Hollywood. When the couple returned home, they discovered blank spaces on the wall where valuable art had once hung. Other missing items included Hermès crocodile Kelly bags, Chanel purses, two guitars, and a Cartier poker set. A week after the burglary, an art dealer called Gores about a painting Gores was selling by American street artist Retna. An interested party had reached out over Artnet inquiring about its value. When Gores told her that the art, which had been wrapped up in his garage, had just been stolen, she forwarded to him the email inquiry. Gores plugged the sender’s email address into a site called BeenVerified and did a reverse search. The name Benjamin Eitan Ackerman came up, along with his photograph. Gores’s mother recognized the man as a broker who had attended several of her son’s open houses. When she and Gores examined the sign-in sheets from those days, they noticed that the man had signed in using his middle name—which he spelled slightly differently each time. That’s when “we felt like there was a strong suspicion that something was off,” Gores explained.

He phoned the LAPD to say he had a lead on his stolen property, but it didn’t seem to ring any alarms. Gores’s next call was to Michel Moore, the newly appointed chief of the Los Angeles Police Department. Moore moved swiftly, giving the directive to Captain Cory Palka to “put his best guy on the case.” Enter Timmons.

Two months later, a team of 12 swarmed Ackerman’s apartment near the mid-Wilshire section of LA at 7 a.m. Ackerman was handcuffed and sat on a couch in his robe while Timmons began taking stock. The Retna was there—as were other pieces from Gores’s art collection, which were hanging on the wall. A picture of Freddie Mercury, which had been inscribed to performer Adam Lambert—another victim—by the remaining members of Queen, with whom he was on tour, was found in the laundry room. Lambert’s name had been whited out and replaced with “To Ben” written in Sharpie. In Ackerman’s office, Timmons found handwriting samples replicating artists’ signatures, hundreds of purses organized by brand, and labels corresponding to resale sites including Bella Bag and Fashionphile. On the desk was a stack of Bridgewater Associates business cards with Ackerman’s name printed on them. Timmons phoned the Connecticut-based hedge fund, which would not verify employment but did confirm that the email address on Ackerman’s cards was not valid. “He had no job, no proof of income, no evidence of prior employment,” Timmons explained. Ackerman was not a licensed real estate broker. “I opened his desk drawer, looking for receipts, and that’s when I found the paperwork for a storage locker near The Grove.” Timmons obtained a search warrant and sent his guys to investigate the facility. Detective Patrick Aluotto called and said, “You’re not going to believe how much stuff is here.” He identified more of Gores’s property; heaps of jewelry, including a gold necklace with Usher’s name (another victim); hundreds of bottles of wine; art work; limited edition Vuitton bags, available only in Tokyo, which had been reported missing by two separate victims.… “That’s when I said, ‘Seize it all,’ ” Timmons said.

He spent the next three months cataloging more than 2,500 pieces of stolen property and setting up an account on so that burglary victims could identify and claim their items. It was at the time the largest recovery of high-end items in the history of the LAPD, Timmons eventually told the court, estimating the overall value at more than $5.5 million.

Timmons linked 14 residential burglaries that occurred between 2016 and 2018 to Ackerman and identified 32-year-old Jason Emil Yaselli as his alleged accomplice. Ten were connected to open houses; three were the homes of Ackerman’s friends; one took place at a residence where Ackerman’s friend was house-sitting. In August 2019, the same month my family and I moved back to New York City, into a doorman building with added security, both men were arrested. Ackerman posted $1 million bail and was put on house arrest; Yaselli was handcuffed at LAX and booked into Men’s Central Jail, where he served 112 days.

Hutton walks her dogs, Henrietta and Salty, back in New York City.ADAM WARD/COURTESY OF FRANCES VALENTINE.

Deputy District Attorney Jeff Stodel was assigned to the case in 2021, and when most of the world was still in COVID lockdown, he, Timmons, and I had the first of many Zoom calls. I walked them through the events of December 3, 2017, and emailed JPEGs of the handprints and foot marks I had discovered the night of the burglary. I made a diagram of our backyard and the side of the house with its low roofline, which illustrated how Ackerman accessed our bedroom window. They would not tell me if I was correct, which drove me nuts. “We’ll tell you everything after the trial,” Stodel promised. Our conversations were cathartic. Especially because my husband had long since moved on. “It’s in the past,” he said, but I was still in therapy working through PTSD—the constant feeling of vulnerability made me anxious and depressed. Stodel asked if I’d be willing to testify. “Without a victim there is no crime,” he explained.

I had seen pictures of the burglars in the press. Nothing remarkable—I could have walked past either without ever looking over my shoulder, which made it all the more frightening. Ackerman came from an upper-middle-class background. His family was religious; he attended a private Modern Orthodox high school in LA. He had boyfriends but no job. He financed his extravagant lifestyle by liquidating stolen property. He drove a Mercedes G-Wagon (one of his three cars), drank Opus One wine, dined at Madeo, and had the type of wardrobe that doesn’t look expensive but is. By all accounts, Ackerman had an addiction, and his drug was greed.

Yaselli, on the other hand, was less textbook. The two met in a nightclub in Hollywood in 2005 and became pals. Yaselli was a licensed real estate agent, and while he never burglarized any residential properties, he did encourage criminal activity. Ackerman shared detailed accounts—photographs of stolen property, selfies in victims’ homes, owners’ identities—with Yaselli, who admitted to being “thrilled by the play-by-play. The gory details fascinated me.” Yaselli also enabled Ackerman, who had no bank account or line of credit, to spend lavishly by authorizing Ackerman as a user on his account and getting him credit cards in his (Ackerman’s) name.

“Ackerman would use the proceeds from the burglaries to pay down the balance,” explained Timmons. In return, for every dollar Ackerman spent, Yaselli accrued airline points. Hardly the stuff of Michael Mann characters, but on one American Airlines Mastercard alone, Yaselli racked up close to a quarter million miles.

Meanwhile, crime was ramping up in LA; the longer we were there, the more stories we heard about home burglaries. Many pointed to Proposition 57, passed in 2016, which authorizes significantly earlier parole consideration for criminals convicted of “nonviolent felonies.” Under California law, most residential burglaries are classified as nonviolent felonies. The exception to this is residential burglary carried out when someone is inside the home at the time of the burglary. Residential burglary with a “person present” is considered a violent felony, which puts it outside the ambit of Prop 57 and carries a substantially longer sentence.

At the preliminary hearing in April 2022, Judge Michael Garcia determined there was probable cause to believe the defendants had committed crimes, and a trial date was set. Ackerman was accused of more than 40 felonies, but Stodel knew that “unless he was convicted of the three residential burglaries with the ‘person present’ allegations, Ackerman would serve little or no prison time.” Therefore, the legal battleground of the trial centered on proving the three counts of “residential burglary with person present” allegations. It was the only way to ensure that Ackerman would serve an appropriate prison sentence and that justice would be served to his victims. Stodel was confident Yaselli could help prove the person present charges, but as an aider and abettor, he found Yaselli to be “as legally culpable as Ackerman.” Stodel admits he “agonized over giving Yaselli a deal.” Stodel consulted with Deputy District Attorney Phil Stirling, one of the most formidable and respected prosecutors in the state—only one not-guilty verdict in approximately 100 felony jury trials and a 100 percent murder conviction rate. “Phil’s jaw dropped when I showed him the Ackerman case,” Stodel told me. “He wanted in.”

Stirling came on as co-counsel, and the DAs agreed to offer Yaselli limited-use immunity for his truthful and complete answers during a recorded “proffer interview.” “No promises were made, and any decisions to offer him leniency would be made based upon the evidence provided and a review of the entire case,” explained Stirling. Yaselli was advised that his statements could be used in cross-examination if a cooperation agreement was not made. Stirling went through 82,506 text messages exchanged between the codefendants and had Yaselli assign context and meaning, which further corroborated Ackerman’s modus operandi. Stirling also contacted Romy Haas, an expert crime analyst, who used location data embedded in Ackerman’s phone to place him thisclose to the burglary sites and track his routes home.

Yaselli turned state’s witness and agreed to testify in exchange for no additional jail time. He pleaded guilty to one count of residential burglary and two counts of money laundering, and was offered two years of probation with hundreds of hours of community service requirements. He also had to relinquish all those frequent-flier points.

As evidence mounted, Ackerman’s defense pivoted strategy. One month before the trial was to begin, Ackerman pleaded “no contest” to all charges (11 counts of first-degree residential burglary and 29 counts of money laundering) except the three counts of residential burglary with “person present” allegations.

Six years after our burglary, on August 24, 2023, the trial finally began. With regard to my case, the prosecution shared statements provided by our real estate agents that verified Ackerman’s two visits to 8195 Hollywood Boulevard—once on October 22 and again on December 3. He’d introduced himself as a broker scouting property both times. It was noted at the December showing that he spent more time in the backyard than he had inside the house.

Among the text messages between Ackerman and Yaselli presented in court were these:

12/3/2017 5:28:21 PM Ackerman: Well just when you thought the day was done;)
[Picture of someone holding two of my bags, with my jewelry inside them]
12/3/2017 5:29:33 PM Yaselli: That’s you right now!!!!
12/3/2017 5:31:44 PM Ackerman: Yep.
12/3/2017 5:32:02 PM Yaselli: ANIMAL
12/3/2017 5:32:30 PM Ackerman: Yep. I have been watching this house for a while.
12/3/2017 5:32:35 PM Ackerman: Told ya I’m good
12/3/2017 5:32:39 PM Yaselli: And determined.

What was not submitted into evidence, and what I found out about after the trial, was this exchange:

12/7/2017 7:11:27 PM Ackerman: Look up punchhutton on ig
12/7/2017 7:12:10 PM Yaselli: Ugly

There was more, but you get the gist. It bothers me that this bothers me. “Who cares what they think?” John says. But I feel like that emoji with the girl raising her hand.

Even though Ackerman had admitted to burglarizing my house, I was still able to testify. The DAs believed that I could help illustrate for the jury a wider picture of Ackerman’s conduct. He didn’t just peruse the open house listings and randomly capitalize on a window of opportunity—he targeted 8195 Hollywood Boulevard by watching and waiting over several months, eventually returning with criminal intent.

John was not allowed to attend the trial—victims who may be asked to take the stand cannot be privy to testimony—so my mom flew in from Colorado. Her strength has impacted me profoundly. We had dinner at the sushi restaurant next to our hotel in Little Tokyo, where we shared a room. In the morning, I put on a red dress, slingback crocheted sandals, and a neutral shade of lipstick. We met Jeff and Jared (we were now on a first-name basis) in the lobby of the Hall of Justice, and together we walked across the street to the LA Superior courthouse.

The courtroom was not regal with polished wood floors like in The Good Wife. But there was Judge Mark Arnold; Ackerman and his team; Jeff’s co-counsel Phil Stirling; Catherine Zink, the court stenographer; a jury of 12; two police officers; scattered press; and the American flag.

When Jeff said, “The people call Punch Hutton,” I took the oath and said good morning to the judge as I climbed onto the witness stand. I wanted to say hello to the jury, seated on my left, but I was concerned it might be misconstrued as trying to curry favor, so I purposely didn’t look at them and then worried about being impolite. My anxiety ramped up as Jeff began his line of questioning, but by the time pictures of my house and the handprints I had found on the window frame were projected onto screens, my teeth had stopped chattering. I used a pointer to show how someone could access the bedroom window from a section of the roof in the backyard. “You unlatched this window during the open house and then climbed through it later,” I wanted to declare to Ackerman so he knew that I knew. I never looked directly at him until Jeff asked, “Do you see that man in the black jacket?” I swiveled my chair toward the defense. This was the moment I had been waiting for—the one where I would see remorse and contrition in his eyes. And part of me would find forgiveness because I believe in redemption. But he wouldn’t look at me.

“Did you ever give him permission to enter your house when you weren’t home?” Jeff continued. “No,” I answered. The last thing Jeff did was present me with my blue bag, the one with the red initials. He asked if I recognized it and how I could be certain it was mine. I told the court I had purposely (and naively) set the bag on a chair, like a design prop, because its color scheme matched my bedding. I also pointed to my dress and explained that red is my favorite color.

Five other victims took the stand, including Gores, Lambert, and the three victims of the “person present” charges. Yaselli testified over three days, decoding names and further defining for the jury the thousands of text messages, which provided a running narrative of Ackerman’s hit list and proved he stole property from homes while brokers were present. In one instance, he explained how Ackerman not only stole a safe during another victim’s open house but hid it in a duffle bag and then brazenly asked the broker to keep an eye on it while he finished looking around.

The jury found Ackerman guilty on all three “residential burglary with person present” charges. “Yaselli was the linchpin,” says Jeff.

In California, before sentencing takes place, victims or survivors have a legal right to inform the judge about how a crime has affected their lives. I underestimated how emotional this experience would be and attended the November 1 court date on my own. I went first and addressed Ackerman directly. “Was it worth it?” I implored—not angrily but curiously.

Emotions flooded the courtroom as other victims read personal accounts of identity theft, the violation of personal space, stolen valuables, and betrayal—the psychological effects of trauma were obvious.

The room went still when the last of the victims spoke. Rabbi Karen L. Fox, the first woman rabbi to serve at the prestigious Wilshire Boulevard Temple, and her husband, Michael Rosen, had been close friends of Ackerman’s late mother for more than 30 years. The rabbi told the judge that the braided gold necklace Ackerman stole from her locked safe had been passed down from her grandmother, Berta, who had used strands of it to barter for medication, visas, and ultimately freedom after Kristallnacht, when the rabbi’s family escaped Nazi Germany. When Fox realized the family heirloom had been taken, she wrote a Rosh Hashanah letter to her family as a tribute to its legacy and significance. “The Necklace did its work and allowed us to survive as a family and as Jewish people,” she explained. When Ackerman accompanied his mother to console Fox at her home, Fox never fathomed that he was the burglar. When she told him about the letter, Ackerman “asked for a copy, and I printed it out and gave it to him,” she remembered. The necklace has never been recovered.

When Ackerman’s attorney asked if his client could read a statement, the judge deferred to the victims. We sat side by side on a wooden bench and unanimously agreed to listen. Had he taken responsibility for his actions, showed empathy for his victims—especially those with whom he had lifelong relationships and whose grief and anger were palpable—apologized to his family, who showed up to support him, or given the judge respect, I would acknowledge it here.

“I don’t believe you’re sorry. I believe you’re sorry you got caught,” Judge Arnold admonished before sentencing Ackerman to 31 years and eight months behind bars. I was sitting next to Jared and whispered, “Is this what you guys wanted?” He nodded, and I squeezed his hand. The judge banged his gavel and everyone stood up. I turned my back as the bailiff took Ackerman away.

When it was all over, I decided to drive past our old house on Hollywood Boulevard one last time. It had undergone a modest facelift, but the palm tree and the sconces were the same. I counted the steps up to the front door and looked up at the balcony where Ellery and Beau used to play with the wind. I coaxed memories, testing myself to see if any love remained for what I had once called my dream house. But all I saw were nightmares. I drove away, relieved to have this chapter behind me.