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From the Department of Dumb Criminals:
Check out the facts of United States v. Drennon, a new Third Circuit decision:
Drennon robbed Bensalem Bank on October 17, 2005, passing the teller a handwritten note made out on the back of a pay stub bearing his name. He was arrested shortly thereafter.
Nicely done. Hat tip: Decision of the Day.
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):
I remember reading a Washington Supreme Court decision some years ago where the statement of the facts indicated that the defendant had gone in to a financial institution to deal with his overdrafts. While there, he became enraged, and killed everyone inside. (It was a small branch.) He made the mistake of leaving his blood spattered checkbook on the counter. It was, shall we say, not a difficult task to figure out who to question.
2.21.2008 2:58pm
Cornellian (mail):
These sorts of criminals are not generally known for their intelligence.
2.21.2008 3:02pm
Thoughtful (mail):
Talk about the audacity of hope...
2.21.2008 3:47pm
Ex-Fed (mail) (www):
I actually managed to lose a case like this.

Sad sack defendant had been in an auto accident. He gets an insurance settlement and deposits it at his bank. Two days later he gets fired and his girlfriend kicks him out. He goes to the bank to withdraw his insurance money to get a new place. Bank tells him the check hasn't cleared. He flips and tells them he has explosives and that it's a robbery. Takes what's in the teller's cash drawer and runs, leaving his driver's license at the teller window.

The jury hung 11-1 for acquittal. They felt sorry for him.

Of course, it didn't help that the judge hated the case and kept interrupting my cross-examination of the defendant to rehabilitate him. ("Wait a minute there, Mr. Prosecutor. Mr. Defendant, explain again how you lost your job and your apartment.")
2.21.2008 4:15pm
markm (mail):
If I ever turn to bank robbing, I'll steal someone else's deposit slips to write the note on.
2.21.2008 5:40pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

If I ever turn to bank robbing, I'll steal someone else's deposit slips to write the note on.
Just make sure that you use gloves, or you'll leave fingerprints.

I remember some years ago someone, apparently as a prank, scribbled "This is a robbery" on the back of the counter deposit slips that used to be in the central island of large banks. Customers came in, filled in the front of the deposit slip--didn't turn it over. The teller did.

Fortunately, no one was killed, and the presence of these deposit slips cleared the customers of any wrong doing, but talk about a clever way to ruin someone's day.
2.21.2008 5:50pm
John A. Fleming (mail):
Just a minnow trying to swim with sharks here ...
I believe it was Dostoevsky who showed in Crime and Punishment that, psychologically, the crimminal on some deep level wants to be caught; and so knowingly or not, always leaves behind clues. Might this be just a more obvious example?
2.21.2008 6:08pm
Dave N (mail):
When I was clerking in the Utah Attorney General's office during law school, I handled a case where a person cashed some stolen checks--that he had made out to himself by name before cashing.
2.21.2008 6:14pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

I believe it was Dostoevsky who showed in Crime and Punishment that, psychologically, the crimminal on some deep level wants to be caught; and so knowingly or not, always leaves behind clues. Might this be just a more obvious example?
I really want to believe that some criminals feel guilt about what they are doing. From reading the book Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, I get the impression that there are murderers who pretend that they are bragging in jail, but are actually feeling guilty, and are expressing that guilt in a form that fits the macho expression of the inner city.

But there are some pretty vicious creeps out there who are just stupid, and don't think through the consequences of their actions.

The ones that are smart are especially worrisome.
2.21.2008 6:35pm
hattio1:
I remember reading a story from a mystery writer. He would write, in hand, the title of the book he was getting paid for, on checks he received from his publisher. He said the teller was very nervous one day and he couldn't figure out why until he realized he had written "Your Money or Your Life" on the check before handing it to her.
2.21.2008 6:44pm
neurodoc:
These "dumb criminal" stories are relatively commonplace, and not surprisingly, since most criminals do not have impressive records of intellectual achievement behind them. The stories are good for a brief snicker, but then so what. Anybody have stories to tell about devilishly clever criminals, one's whose ingenuity we might marvel at? Or is there something oxymoronic in the notion of stories about devilishly clever criminals, since if they are that clever, then we are unlikely to know their stories?
2.21.2008 6:47pm
GaryC (mail):
The most amusing "dumb criminal - dumb cops" that I recall was the robber who was arrested as he tried to rob an Italian convenience store for the 13th time. All of the robberies occurred at the same time of day on consecutive days.

Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty were apparently not involved.
2.21.2008 7:58pm
NickM (mail) (www):
My favorite funny (as opposed to merely stupid) criminal story is that of the Canadian thieves who broke into a bank and attempted to open its vault during a holiday, but brought a welding torch rather than a cutting torch. They eventually gave up and departed (AFAIK, they were never apprehended for it), leaving bank officials quite a bit of difficulty in geting the vault back open on the next business day.

Nick
2.21.2008 8:13pm
John A. Fleming (mail):
Opening Pandora's box here ...
Devilishly clever crimminals: umm, OBL? 3000 dead, $25Million bounty, living in plain sight in Dir, Pakistan. You know, the valley where every Westerner and stranger ends up dead on the side of the road.
2.21.2008 8:18pm
hattio1:
Devilishly clever...How about DB Cooper?
2.21.2008 8:31pm
neurodoc:
Devilishly clever...How about DB Cooper?
If he survived the jump, yes; if he didn't survive the jump, no.
2.22.2008 12:31am
ChuckC (mail):
Getting a $200,000 ransom, and never spending any of it != Devilishly clever.
2.22.2008 12:38am
Fub:
hattio1 wrote at 2.21.2008 8:31pm
Devilishly clever...How about DB Cooper?
He may be the only criminal before 9/11/2001 to ever cause an engineering modification on an aircraft. Immediately after his exploit, the Boeing 727 rear ramp door and associated control systems were modified so that it could not be opened in flight.

He was very clever, both in executing his plan, and in not being found or even identified (so far). Of course, that assumes that he survived his nighttime skydive and likely hike out of the wilderness. Ordering chutes for the crew instead of himself was a clever way to make sure that officials on the ground didn't just send him a laundry bag with at ripcord.
2.22.2008 12:41am
Public_Defender (mail):
Criminals are generally stupid. In theft and robbery cases, I often notice that given the time my client has put into planning, committing, and covering up his crime, he made only a fraction of minimum wage. And that doesn't even include the price of getting caught.
2.22.2008 6:06am
Sid (mail) (www):
The easy part of police work is crime. Criminals as a group are not masters of rational thought.

The hard part of police work is community interaction. Dealing with domestic disputes and parking spot wars. His dog **** on my lawn complaints. Heated exchanges between citizens and the officer is referee.

But crime, especially property crime, is the easy police work. Never rob a bank. Ever. Convenience stores have video cameras. Pawn shops have thumb-print protocols. You will be caught.

If there is a group of clever criminals, they are also insane. Crime that is random, truly random, is difficult to solve because it has no social rules to track down. If someone kills you, you know them. If you know them, there is evidence of a relationship. If there is evidence of a relationship, there is evidence. But random crime, difficult to prove because there is no human story to follow. Random crime is also very rare.

As a military police officer, the road rule to remember is that you are probably going to know who to arrest within moments of opening the door to your patrol car. The guy to arrest kicked in the door of his ex-girlfriend's apartment and her dog bit him on the leg and he dropped his cell phone and the neighbors heard him screaming and saw him get into his brother's car and gave you the license plate number/description and the ex gave you the address and you find him smoking a joint on his mother's sofa with bandages on his leg claiming he got hurt at work. You call the brother at work and he tells you that the sorry SOB wasn't supposed to be driving his car because his license was suspended for a pending DUI.

We are not arresting rocket scientist on a daily basis. Unless they are shuttle crew members wearing diapers.
2.22.2008 9:12am
VincentPaul (mail):
Take the Money and Run
2.22.2008 9:54am
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

I remember reading a story from a mystery writer. He would write, in hand, the title of the book he was getting paid for, on checks he received from his publisher. He said the teller was very nervous one day and he couldn't figure out why until he realized he had written "Your Money or Your Life" on the check before handing it to her.
Since someone else mentioned the uproariously funny Woody Allen movie Take the Money and Run, I thought I would share my own disturbingly similar experience. Remember where the nebbish played by Woody Allen tries to rob a bank, and the teller and the branch manager get into an argument with him about whether the note says, "I have a gun" or "I have a gub"?

Well, I used to be a gun dealer. One particular wholesaler insisted on cashier's checks only for COD UPS deliveries. So I go to the bank to get a cashier's check made out to Southern Ohio Gun. Since I knew enough not to say the word "gun" in a bank (for fear of misinterpretation), I had written out the amount and the payee on a piece of paper. The teller looks at it and says, "Southern Ohio Gum?" At least we didn't have to get the branch manager involved.
2.22.2008 11:03am
neurodoc:
Fub, I knew that about the subsequent plane modification, and sometimes when it is slow going disembarking, I think to myself we owe that to DB Cooper. (Are 727s still flying? With the door-opening during flight made impossible, wouldn't there be some commercial appeal to a plane that would allow quicker passenger discharge, and hence quicker turn around?)

I didn't remember the parachute part, in particular that he demanded parachutes for everyone. (Yes, clever, but why didn't he bring his own on board? Too bulky to carry on?) Would it have been "ethical" to give him a defective parachute? Might there be criminal responsibility for causing his death with a defective parachute, even if it were to frustrate his escape after commission of a crime? Impermissable use of "deadly force"?
2.22.2008 11:08am
Fub:
neurodoc wrote at 2.22.2008 11:08am:
I didn't remember the parachute part, in particular that he demanded parachutes for everyone. (Yes, clever, but why didn't he bring his own on board? Too bulky to carry on?)
Maybe bringing a rig as carry-on luggage would raise eyebrows? I don't know why. I wasn't there. But next time I see DB, I'll ask him.
Would it have been "ethical" to give him a defective parachute? Might there be criminal responsibility for causing his death with a defective parachute, even if it were to frustrate his escape after commission of a crime? Impermissable use of "deadly force"?
The pleadings in the wrongful death suit from his estate might have been a interesting read.
2.22.2008 11:58am