IT ALL STARTED WITH A PINK POWDER puff: On Valentine's Day 1990, Cilia Karmel, a fine-art publisher, spotted the mysterious artifact near the staircase of her home in Tunbridge Wells, England. Neither she nor husband Martin recognized the object, and "I couldn't understand where it came from," says Cilia.

The mystery was solved when her neighbor, a Mrs. Rowntree, appeared at the Karmels' door. Mrs. Rowntree, it seemed, had come to reclaim her puff, which she had last seen in the possession of the Karmels' Burmese cat, Minnimore. "She caught him red-handed as he was escaping with it in his mouth," recalls Cilia, 53.

The Karmels decided that the puff had merely been a cat love offering. With time, however, it became clear that Minnimore had a problem: Not only did he return to the Rowntree home to brazenly steal stuffed animals, he also targeted another neighbor. "He stole poor Margo's fur hat," says Martin, 64, a retired banker.

In the seven years since, the klepto-kitty—who favors houses with open windows or cat flaps—has pinched more than 160 items, including feather dusters, bedroom slippers and evening gloves. His avarice, it seems, is boundless. "One night we heard this terrible banging. It was Minnimore, struggling to push an enormous jersey [sweater] three times his size through the flap," reports Cilia.

Celebrated in the papers and on British TV, the cat burglar has been examined by an animal psychologist who reports that he is simply acting out his need to hunt. Efforts to curb him with foul-smelling decoys have been only partially successful; the Karmels still knock on doors with a basket of loot so neighbors can reclaim stolen goods. Fortunately, most are fond of Minnimore. "You can call me a victim," says teddy bear collector Tricia Smith, "but I'm really one of his admirers."