Diamonds Aren’t Forever, but Jesus Is

Former jewel thief and arresting detective find friendship in Christ

Diamonds Aren’t Forever, but Jesus Is

Former jewel thief and arresting detective find friendship in Christ

Victor Lupis, ever the runner, sat in a cushioned chair opposite a clerk at Margulis Jewelers in downtown Portland, Oregon, peering closely at two diamonds worth $127,000. Dressed the part of a high-end shopper looking for an engagement ring, Lupis had gained the trust of the store clerk enough that she had allowed him to hold both diamonds to compare them. But the calmness of the moment shattered the second Lupis catapulted from his chair with a pivot and a burst, bolting full stride toward the store’s front doors, diamonds in hand. A nearby manager saw his escape and began chasing after him, but to no avail. 

Darting out the door and down the sidewalk just a few yards, Lupis ducked into an office building passageway and hurried across the building and into a waiting van a block over. Meanwhile, a member of the burglary ring slipped into the store amid the chaos and nonchalantly wiped fingerprints from the door handles Lupis had accidentally touched on his way out. The team of robbers had pulled off yet another heist—part of a small, elaborate ring responsible for a string of some 25 robberies in nine states totaling more than $4 million worth of jewels. 

Lupis had been running since high school. He’d been involved in a church youth group on his native Long Island for a short time, but he eventually ran the other way. When his mom moved the family to Charlotte, North Carolina, before his senior year of high school, he ran some more, further and further from any semblance of God’s ways, deeper into selling drugs, and closer to self-destruction.

At age 25, Lupis was still running, albeit with higher stakes after being recruited as one of the younger members of the burglary ring. It was his running—that dramatic bolt in the Portland store, a made-for-TV moment captured on surveillance video and then on a Crime Stoppers ad—that eventually caught up to him. 

Eric McDaniel, now a Portland cold-case homicide detective, was a property crimes detective when he took the case in late 2010. He worked all the angles. Nothing but dead ends. Four months passed. Leads grew cold. But after returning from a vacation, McDaniel came back to work to find a surprise in his email inbox. Someone in North Carolina had heard the thefts being bragged about at a party and had seen the Crime Stoppers photo based on the surveillance video of the Portland heist. The informant pointed McDaniel to Victor Lupis.

That spring and summer, McDaniel made three trips to Charlotte as detectives built their case. Finally, Lupis cracked, confessing to his role in the crimes and then helping identify his fellow burglars. When he was recruited for the heists, he was told the ring would always have his back and even provide a lawyer if trouble came. None of that proved true.

“Every day,” McDaniel said, “you turn over a new leaf and you just follow the bread trail, basically. And I remember during my morning runs just asking the Lord for wisdom navigating this case.”

Although a Christian at the time, McDaniel said his faith lacked depth. He had no clue how God would turn the case in his favor, nor, ironically, in Lupis’. 

Lupis was extradited to Portland, but then had to be moved to a facility outside of Portland after authorities learned of a planned hit on him as he awaited trial. Authorities were able to foil the plot using an undercover cop—something McDaniel says was divine intervention. 

Because of his early cooperation in the case, Lupis was sentenced to just 22 months and got credit for time served in jail. By 2013, he was out and living again on the East Coast. 

About a year later, McDaniel got word that personal property seized from Lupis could be returned to him. It fell on McDaniel to call Lupis. McDaniel figured he was the last person Lupis would want to hear from.

Instead, Lupis stunned McDaniel, thanking McDaniel for saving his life and apologizing for not reaching out to the detective to tell him. 

“I could tell immediately that he was in a good place,” McDaniel recalled. “Victor started telling me what God had done in his life. … I was so humbled by it. I’m having this conversation with him about Christ right at my desk.”

Lupis told Decision that a fellow prisoner who had been involved in a Mexican crime syndicate led him to Christ, and a faithful chaplain—a former addict named Robert Gott—helped him get established in the faith. “I started getting discipleship materials and read whatever I could get my hands on,” Lupis said. “We received copies of Decision magazine, actually, and it was something we looked forward to getting. Anything I could read and get fed by.”

In the four years after Lupis’ arrest and conviction, McDaniel and his family had begun attending a new church with a vibrant Bible teaching and preaching ministry, and McDaniel had been growing in his faith. The Lord was preparing his heart for an unlikely friendship.

Over the next several years, McDaniel and Lupis stayed in touch and promised to visit one another sometime. So when McDaniel and his wife were in Tampa in April 2019, McDaniel called Lupis, who now operates a roofing company there. They met Lupis and his fiancé for dinner on a Wednesday night, and then the two couples attended Bible study at Lupis’ church. 

“A few moments into the conversation, it was like I was talking to my younger brother,” McDaniel said. 

And when Lupis traveled back to Portland in October 2019 for a restitution hearing, he and his new bride met McDaniel and his son, Will, for dinner, and the four of them attended McDaniels’ church together. 

McDaniel said it’s rare that detectives have ongoing contact with those they’ve arrested, much less a friendship. McDaniel sees God’s hand in it, and confirmation that he is fulfilling the Lord’s calling on his life.

“If this case were the one thing I accomplished in law enforcement, I would feel good about my career.”

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