When it comes to breaking safes, this Camas man is a star
One of the most famous crackers in the country lives in Camas. But he’s not a thief looking for big scores and takedowns.
Outside of work, Dave McOmie, 64, leads a quiet life. He’s sweet, hard of hearing, and married to his college sweetheart. But the father of six is ââwanted by individuals and businesses to open safes and safes across the country. He wrote a book about how a lock-obsessed 15-year-old became a star in the esoteric world of professional crackers.
âHe’s the guru,â said Richard Colwell, a security technician for Atlasta Lock & Safe Co of Portland. âHe forgot more than most of us know. Dave is the person someone flies to New York for the tough job no one else can do.
McOmie’s most famous contract, which he details in – “Safecracker: a chronicle of the coolest work in the world” – took him to Minnesota in 2016 to open the safe where Prince kept tapes of his unreleased music. McOmie learned that Prince, who died that year, was the only person to own the three-ton vault door suit.
âA Century American Mosler,â McOmie said. “It was a full-fledged bank vault and he had paid for every possible upgrade.”
McOmie said it was “hard work”. He signed a nondisclosure agreement and was unable to discuss his fees or details of what was in the safe.
âI have been in thousands of bank vaults,â McOmie said, âbut his vault room was as big as I have ever seen.â
McOmie, who was born in Portland, discovered his passion as a boy when someone stole a neighbor’s purse, which contained the keys to his house and car. The woman had a locksmith come to her house to make new keys.
âI struck up a conversation with him,â McOmie said. âHe never had a son and invited me to his shop. My parents drove me there after school and on Saturdays. I worked for him throughout high school.
McOmie went from locks to safes and safes, learning how they’re made, how they can be damaged, and how to open them. Word of this man from Camas spread and customers began to look for him. He has written 24 technical books on safes and safes. All of them, he said, are industry bestsellers, but he adds a caveat.
âIt’s a small industry,â he says. “When a book in this industry sells a hundred copies, it’s a bestseller.”
For over 30 years, McOmie has written a column for National Locksmith Magazine. Since 1992 he has been running a vault cracking club where industry professionals share ideas and technical assistance on opening safes and safes. And for the past 35 years, he’s traveled the country teaching advanced locksmiths in opening safes.
He said individuals and business executives come to him for four scenarios: A family inherits a safe without a combination. A company employee damages a safe, making it impossible to open. Then there are the crooks. Some attack an ATM, using everything they can to get money, but rendering the machine unusable. In some cases, a burglar attacks the hinges, sometimes removing the dial and handle in an unsuccessful effort to open the safe in the safe. Or they damage it, causing the safe or safe’s anti-theft devices to activate and the door to be blocked.
âThen we have bank vaults, a user error where the vault cannot be opened,â McOmie said. “It happens every week in a bank safe in this country.”
McOmie, who travels with a bag of tools, said opening a safe is nothing like what is depicted in the movies, with the thief leaning his ear against the door to hear the cups click. . If McOmie messes up a job, the door may never be opened. He said he had traveled hundreds of times to states across the country to find jobs.
He avoids calls from clients going through a divorce – “I don’t want an ex-husband to come home and be wrong about what I’m doing” – and people who say they have a safe in the trunk of their car which must be opened.
âIt happens from time to time,â McOmie said. “I tell them that I will meet them in the parking lot of a police station and that I will open the safe. They tell me they will meet me there and they never show up.
McOmie had never planned this career.
He spent his first year at the University of Western Washington before transferring to the University of Washington, where he met his future wife, another member of the university’s debate team. He obtained a Bachelor of Arts and later a Masters, both in Philosophy. His plan was to teach, but the job market had collapsed, forcing him to return to his first love – the locksmith – for a living. He worked for Allied Safe & Vault in Portland before going on his own.
While now a “good guy,” McOmie admits in his book – much to his “eternal dismay” – that he used his skills in a different way during his freshman year in college. When he and his friend realized they weren’t prepared for the midterm exams, McOmie chose a teacher’s door lock and he and his friend searched the desk and found the answers to the test.
McOmie continued to pick locks for the rest of the school year. He could open most in 20 minutes, but one night he had trouble with a delicate lock, unable to open it until 3 a.m. He and his friend then discovered that the test would be a trial run, and they had to stay awake for hours to research a topic so that they could each give different answers.
That put an end to McOmie’s capers.
âSome kids grow up into their teens and are ready for college,â McOmie writes in his book. âClearly, I wasn’t. And I was lucky not to get caught, it would have changed the trajectory of my life.
He has no travel jobs across the country planned in the coming weeks.
âAt my age, I’d rather do easy jobs in the Northwest than jump on planes for the tough ones,â he said. âI currently have safes to open in Lincoln City, Vancouver, Beaverton and Gresham. “
– Tom Hallman Jr; [email protected]; 503-221-8224; @thallmanjr