The Bandit Queen: from Mud Hole to Millions

The well-dressed woman parked in front of the Boca Del Mar mansion and strode up to the front door with purpose. Anyone who glanced at her from the manicured lawns of one of Florida’s most expensive gated communities would believe her to be a high-profile real estate agent or perhaps a stockbroker. They would not give her a second glance, but they should have because in less than two minutes, the woman would be driving away, her car packed with every expensive item the homeowner possessed. The woman’s name was Judy Amar, and she was not a well-heeled society member. She was a professional burglar, responsible for up to 500 home burglaries in one county for five years. It earned her the moniker “The Bandit Queen.”


Born in the mid-1940s, Judy Amar grew up on “Mud Hole,” a sharecropper’s farm in Vilonia, Arkansas (population 250). As soon as she could drag a bag, she was picking cotton at 3 cents a pound. It was drudgery and a never-ending cycle of struggle: to pay bills, to eat, to live. By 13, she was “the pretty girl,” wearing a 36C bra, and boys were tagging behind her. Judy was an unwed teen mom and lived by an ongoing mantra of “you’re ugly, and no one would want you” regardless of her adult-sized body. $29 a month was not going to buy beautiful things. Now she was poor and "damaged goods." She dumped her son on her parents and fled to Miami, Florida, where the 1980s advertised endless sunshine and good times. The only work she could find was prostitution. From there, addiction. From a frying pan into a hot, humid, sandy fire.


It seemed destitute followed her. Judy hooked up with a career burglar, but “he wasn’t very good at it,” she’d say later. He had her drive through the exclusive gated communities of Florida’s Boca Raton and Boca Del Mar “because no one would suspect a woman.” He would scope out a house, and while Judy waited, he would break in. They were caught and arrested, but Judy’s charges were dropped for insufficient evidence. Men, Judy decided, were stupid about burglary. She was going to prove it.

Judy Amar's first mug shot. The charges were dropped for
lack of evidence. From here she became "The Bandit Queen." 

First, Judy Amar studied the Sunday real estate section “Parade of Homes” of the newspaper, where she learned about floor plans, specs, and burglar alarms. She purchased a variety of wigs. “Long, straight ones, short ones … blonde, an afro,” Judy would say in a later interview. She splurged on an expensive business suit. Next, she rented a nice car, paying in cash. It was the 1980s, before all of the security stipulations, and she could exchange cars every week or few days. She changed license plates. Now the Bandit Queen went to work to earn the title.


The Bandit Queen would burglarize homes only Monday to Friday between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Judy would locate the security or police officer guarding the area. She discreetly followed the car until the officer went on break. Then she drove into the high-dollar gated communities, nodding or waving at security officers, "like I belonged there," driving purposely to a home with a recessed door. The doorway was most important, given her m.o. If anyone was looking, they observed a well-dressed woman park at the mansion and stride up to the front door with purpose. If a knock or doorbell brought someone to the door, she would apologize, “I have the wrong house!” After moments of silence, Judy produced a 12” screwdriver, popped the lock, and walked in. 


The Palm Beach Post (09-04-1987)

Alarms were no deterrent. Cops know 90% of home alarms are false. It would take the cops an average of ten minutes to arrive. Plenty of time to go to the master bedroom while pulling on gloves, grab a pillowcase, and rifle through jewelry. By now, Judy knew expensive jewelry from fake. She then went to closets for quality clothing: furs, name brand suits. And the Bandit Queen knew her Rembrandts from copies, a Remington from a local artist. If the car could hold it, she would make several trips. Sometimes Judy found family secrets hidden away: naughty photos, newspaper clippings of clandestine charges, drugs, hidden papers. As a joke, she would display them on the bed for law enforcement or the unsuspecting family to find.  In 90 seconds, she was out the door. “It was,” she admits, “an exciting feeling.” She sold the goods or traded for cocaine.

Judy Amar would hit ten to twelve houses in a week, eventually amassing over six million dollars in art, jewelry, and clothing. In one haul, she stole $250,000 worth of goods. After committing the biggest home burglary spree in the United States, she was busted in June 1987. Judy’s hotel room looked like a “storage shed,” said one investigator, floor to ceiling with $45,000 worth of goods. Cops would recover $100,000 in items. She received a ten-year sentence, with a mandatory three years minimum. And Judy agreed to make an educational film for law enforcement on professional burglary. Judy never apologized to anyone. Instead, she blamed the homeowners for falsifying insurance claims. 


“I stole illegally; they stole illegally,” The Bandit Queen said of her victims. “What’s the difference?”




Borys, T. (2019, January 15) The harsh reality of home security systems and their response times.

Cone, T. (1987, December 29). Hot ice and cold cash.

Sugarman, M. (Director). Lipsy, S. (Writer). Masterminds: The Bandit Queen (2004). Season 1, Episode 15. 

Toplin, James H. (1987, September 30.) Boca-area burglar sentenced - woman gets 10 years in Boca Del Mar thefts.