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Crime.Justice & America - Weird World of Crime - The Weird World of Crime (1)

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 The Weird World of Crime (1)

The Weird World of Crime (1)

By Bill Bickel

      Last month, three men kidnapped a multi-millionaire – the second-richest man in Connecticut, in fact – and plan to hold him for $5 million in ransom. They held him in a motel room for about thirty hours, then finally got cold feet about the whole operation, and decided to let him go… but not before using one of his credit cards to order a pizza delivered.

      They’ve all been arrested, of course.

      Not yet arrested is a fourth man, not in the motel room with them, who’s been described as the plot’s “mastermind” – not that that’s saying a whole lot.

      Six years ago, before I began to cover weird crime news, I thought stories about bank robbers who write holdup notes on the back of their own deposit slips were just urban myths. Now I know it really happens: They use their deposit slips, they use envelopes with their own names and addresses on the reverse side, they use the backs of notes from their parole officers reminding them of their next appointment…

      My favorites? Either the robber who returned to the bank less than an hour after the holdup and tried to open an account with the money… or the German bank robber who wore a burlap bag over his face to keep from being recognized, but forgot to cut eyeholes in the bag: After bumping into everything in sight, he finally lifted up the bag to see where he was going, and gave the security camera a perfect view.

      But let’s just stick to stories from the past month or so:

      In Indiana, a robbery suspect was unable to outrun the police car chasing him down; but after the police officer got out of the car to apprehend him, he looped around, dashed over to the police car (the officer had considerately left the keys in the ignition), and made his escape.

      And drove home, leaving the police car parked in his own driveway.

      New Jersey’s Jennifer Lach also got caught, but at least her theft of a police car would have done Hollywood proud: Arrested for assault and presumed drunk, deposited in the back seat of a police car, she worked her cuffed hands from her front to her back, crawled through the ventilation window between the front and back seats, and drove off before the officers could get back into the car. She led another police car on a 60-mile chase, reaching speeds of 80mph, before she finally crashed and was re-arrested.

       Here’s an uplifting story: In Rio de Janeiro, a woman was caught in the crossfire of a shootout between police and drug dealers, and was shot in the chest. Fortunately, her silicone implants slowed down the bullet enough to protect her from injury.

      While the implant was being repaired, the plastic surgeon took the opportunity to further increase her assets. Jane Selma Soares told the media, “I’m twice happy, first because my [breast] saved my life, and also because I now look more beautiful.”

       In Los Angeles, a man tried to carjack a minivan filled with judo instructors. Let’s just say the incident ended with a world of hurt.

       More bad luck for would-be carjackers: In Edmonton, Alberta, two men held up a pizza delivery car, demanding pizza, money… and the car. Problem was, neither one of them had any idea how to drive a stick shift. By the time they gave up on the vehicle and decided to just steal the pizza and the money (“It was a toss-up between pizzas and the car, and they knew how to operate pizzas" - Edmonton Police spokesman Wes Bellmore), the police were on the way.

        Not that the robbery was likely to succeed anyway: They’d called for the pizza to be delivered to the home of one of the suspects.

        And speaking of car thieves: Two Illinois teens stole a Ford Escort and videotaped themselves breaking into it and joyriding around town. Of course, we wouldn’t know any of this if they’d remembered to take their camcorder with them when they abandoned the car later that night.

         And here’s a kid who’s starting early: In Minnesota, on cold winter mornings, it’s common for drivers to start up their cars and let them run while they’re having breakfast, so that both the engine and the car’s interior will be a bit warmed up. A 7-year-old took this as an opportunity to “steal” a car and take a brief joyride around the neighborhood.


        This story was reported nationally, as a warm-hearted humor piece. Actually, a 7-year-old behind the wheel of a moving car is only marginally more humorous than a drunk driver behind the wheel of a moving car. He could have gotten himself killed, and he could have gotten somebody else killed. After the first incident, his parents should have been held personally responsible for allowing the second incident to occur. Not cute at all.

        Okay, here’s a “stolen car” story that ended well – for the car’s owner, anyway: Jonny Newman of London, England, had a Nissan that seemed hardly worth stealing: the radio was broken, the temperature indicator was broken, the fuel gauge was broken, and the car overheated if you tried to take it faster than 40mph.

        Nonetheless, it was stolen – and when police spotted it a month later, they had a hard time chasing it down because the thief had fixed everything and transformed Newman’s car into quite the high-performance vehicle (police suspect he was planning to use it as a getaway car) – and they left behind a camera on the back seat.

        In Vienna, two men came to the photo shop to pick up their holiday pictures, saw an expensive camera within grabbing distance, snatched it, and ran – leaving their pictures behind, of course. They were arrested very soon afterward.

        In an Aachen, Germany department store, a woman tried to distract security guards from her shoplifting husband by stripping down to her underwear. It didn’t work. Not only were they both arrested, but… gee, that had to have been tough on her ego.

        Also in Germany: A Gambian man looked out the window, saw his car covered in white, and phoned the police complaining that his car had been vandalized. They don’t have a whole lot of snow in Gambia, you know.

        Two men in Belarus (formerly part of the Soviet Union) decided to stage a traffic accident to defraud the insurance company. They towed a damaged car to the “scene of the accident”, and might even have gotten away with it, despite the police officer’s suspicions… if they’d made sure there was actually an engine under the hood.

        I’d call this story out of Japan “Who’s the Dummy?”      A 16-year-old purse-snatcher was so convinced Okasa’s new round-the-clock street surveillance cameras were just dummies, he attacked a 72-year-old woman right next to one.

        He was wrong, of course

         Here’s where a little knowledge is a dangerous thing: In 2000, Paul W. Powell of Virginia was sentenced to death for murdering a 16-year-old girl and attacking her sister (the attack being the aggravating circumstance that triggered the death sentence). The Virginia Supreme Court threw out the death sentence, ruling that the attack on the sister was a separate event, and didn’t count as an aggravating circumstance to the murder. Powell, serving several life sentences and believing the ruling meant he couldn’t be punished further, wrote to the prosecutor: "Since I have already been indicted on first-degree murder and the Va. Supreme Court said that I can't be charged with capital murder again, I figured I would tell you the rest of what happened … Ha Ha! Sike!” and went on to describe his attempted rape of the girl before he murdered her.

      Turns out he could be still be charged with “homicide during the commission of a sexual assault”. And in mid-January, he was. And convicted and sentenced to death.

        Just for the record: In the movie Double Jeopardy, Tommy Lee Jones tells Ashley Judd that since she’d already gone to jail when her very-much-alive husband framed her for his murder, she can’t be convicted again if she actually does kill him now. To the generation of moviegoers whose knowledge of “double jeopardy” comes from this film: Yes she can.

        In Ohio, 7-year-old Hannah Milbrandt’s parents and grandmother are under arrest on a number of charges, including theft, fraud, and child endangerment. On the upside, she just learned she’s not fatally ill:

      Between April and December of last year, Hannah’s mother raised $10,000 from well-wishers by convincing them that Hannah had leukemia: She shaved Hannah’s hair, gave her sleeping pills to make her groggy, gave her a large bandage to cover the “chemotherapy port” that didn’t actually exist, and had Hannah undergo counseling to prepare her for death.

      Robert Hillbrandt, Hannah’s father, who has his own defense attorney, insists he had no idea his daughter was not, in fact, dying.

      Kind of makes the Pennsylvania couple who dressed their 7-year-old in a Cub Scout uniform and went door-to-door collecting $667 for a non-existent Scout troop seem not all that bad.

         Not that he’ll have to worry about this for a while, but Virginia’s Edward Blaine should probably think about getting into a different line of work: After robbing a bank, he left a trail of $100 bills as he tried stuffing the loot into his pockets. Then he realized he’d locked his keys in his getaway car. When bystanders grabbed him as he was trying to bust open a car window with a piece of wood, he took out his gun and… accidentally shot himself in the leg. He was charged with robbery, two counts of attempted murder, and five other felonies.

      2002’s Chutzpah of the Year Award goes to… Bradley Steven Bailey, arrested for stealing a $2000 bank deposit from the Waterloo, NY Hardees where he worked (he allegedly stayed after his shift to help a co-worker tally up the deposit, offered to take her car to bring the deposit to the bank, then rode off into the sunset with both the car and the money).       After his arrest, he wrote to the restaurant’s manager, apologizing for what he did, and asking for his final paycheck. 

        "We're doing this for the children. If we can bring a little joy into the lives of New York's youth -- while such joy is still legal – then Guns for Tots will be a success."       On February 6, to protest a proposed law that would make the sale of toy guns a crime in New York City, the Manhattan Libertarian Party held a Guns for Tots session in front of a local elementary school: They distributed toy guns to children as they left the building at 3 o’clock.

      A Comair flight boarding in Madison, Wisconsin was grounded after Steven M. Wiese leaned into the cockpit and said to the pilot “I hope you haven’t been drinking.” All 26 passengers were deplaned, Wiese and his wife were prohibited from boarding any other flight, and Wiese was charged with disorderly conduct (and faced the possibility of the FBI adding charges of its own).             Nobody disputes the fact that Wiese was only making a joke; but Dane County Sheriff’s Department Lieutenant Michael Krembs said, “In this day and age of heightened airport security, you just don’t joke about stuff anymore.”            

Okay, let’s at least get our paranoid catchphrases correct: “In this day and age of heightened airport security” refers to post-9/11 fears which is why, if somebody remarks “What do you think – I’ve got a bomb in my shorts?” an airport will be evacuated and every departing flight canceled.

This incident, on the other hand, follows several cases where airline pilots were discovered trying to take the cockpit with blood alcohol levels above the legal limit. The Federal Aviation Administration now requires the entire flight crew to be checked whenever there’s an allegation of alcohol or drug use.            

This, then, is Bickel’s Rule For “This Day and Age”: If somebody makes an offhand comment, ask whether they mean it. “Excuse me, sir, are you really alleging that the pilot was drinking? No? Then we don’t have to shut down the flight.”            

“Excuse me, sir, are you seriously saying you have a bomb hidden in your shorts? No? Then we don’t have to close down the airport, ground dozens of planes and ruin the plans of thousands of travelers.”     

Here’s the thing: To the best of my knowledge, no hijacker or in-flight terrorist has ever made a joke about his actual intentions beforehand. Yes, we want to make flying as safe as possible – but hysterical overreaction neither makes us safe, or gives us the illusion of safety.

(Contact Bill Bickel at bill@crime-justice-and-america.com)     

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