Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Myth of the Criminal Mastermind

In fiction novels we read about master criminals like Dr. Moriarity whose exploits are nearly a match for the likes of master detective Sherlock Holmes. In real life though, most criminals are pathologically dumb. Every once in a while you read about one of these pinheads and can't believe anyone could be this stupid. In support of this statement, I have listed some examples below:

Colorado Springs: A guy walked into a little corner store with a shot gun and demanded all the cash from the cash drawer. After the cashier put the cash in a bag, the robber saw a bottle of scotch that he wanted behind the counter on the shelf. He told the cashier to put it in the bag as well, but he refused and said "Because I don't believe you are over 21." The robber said he was, but the clerk still refused to give it to him because he didn't believe him. At this point the robber took his driver's license out of his wallet and gave it to the clerk. The clerk looked it over, and agreed that the man was in fact over 21 and he put the scotch in the bag. The robber then ran from the store with his loot. The cashier promptly called the police and gave the name and address of the robber that he got off the license. They arrested the robber two hours later.

Oklahoma City: Dennis Newton was on trial for the armed robbery of a convenience store in a district court when he fired his lawyer. Assistant district attorney Larry Jones said Newton, 47, was doing a fair job of defending himself until the store manager testified that Newton was the robber. Newton jumped up, accused the woman of lying and then said, "I should of blown your (expletive) head off." The defendant paused, then quickly added, "if I'd been the one that was there." The jury took 20 minutes to convict Newton and recommended a 30-year sentence.

San Francisco: A man, wanting to rob a downtown Bank of America, walked into the branch and wrote "this is a stikkup. Put all your muny in this bag." While standing in line, waiting to give his note to the teller, he began to worry that someone had seen him write the note and might call the police before he reached the teller window. So he left the Bank of America and crossed the street to Wells Fargo. After waiting a few minutes in line, he handed his note to the Wells Fargo teller. She read it and, surmising from his spelling errors that he was not too bright, told him that she could not accept his stickup note because it was written on a Bank of America deposit slip and that he would either have to fill out a Wells Fargo deposit slip or go back to Bank of America. Looking somewhat defeated, the man said "OK" and left. The Wells Fargo teller then called the police who arrested the man a few minutes later, as he was waiting in line back at Bank of America.

Milwaukee: A man and his girlfriend were robbing a convenience store. While waiting for her boyfriend to finish getting the money, the woman noticed a contest entry form featuring all-expenses vacations to exotic places. Thinking it would be cool to win, she filled out the form, complete with her name, address, and phone number. A few hours later the police were at the couple's house to arrest them."

Kentucky: Two men tried to pull the front off a cash machine by running a chain from the machine to the bumper of their pickup truck. Instead of pulling the front panel off the machine, though, they pulled the bumper off their truck. Scared, they left the scene and drove home. With the chain still attached to the machine. With their bumper still attached to the chain. With their vehicle's license plate still attached to the bumper.

Bent Forks, Ill. Kidnappers of ice-cube magnate Worth Bohnke sent a photograph of their captive to Bohnke's family. Bohnke was seen holding up a newspaper, but it was not that day's edition. This was pointed out to the kidnappers in a subsequent phone call. They responded by sending a new photograph showing an up-to-date newspaper. Bohnke, however, did not appear in the picture. When this, too, was refused, the kidnappers became peevish and insisted that a photograph be sent to them showing all the people over at Bohnke's house holding different issues of Success magazine. They provided a mailing address and were immediately apprehended. They later admitted to FBI agents they did not understand the principle involved in the kidnapping/newspaper photograph concept. "We thought it was just some kind of tradition," said one.

This story is probably an urban legend, but it does support the idea that while criminals may not be geniuses, their lawyers might well be:

A lawyer defending a man accused of burglary tried this creative defense: "My client merely inserted his arm into the window and removed a few trifling articles. His arm is not himself, and I fail to see how you can punish the whole individual for an offense committed by his limb." "Well put," the judge replied. "Using your logic, I sentence the defendant's arm to one year's imprisonment. He can accompany it or not, as he chooses." The defendant smiled. With his lawyer's assistance he detached his artificial limb, laid it on the bench, and walked out.


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