Looking back at '91: Reversals of fortune, 'without incident' A bumper crop of gaffes by crooks casts a positive light on the year gone by

DAN RODRICKS

December 31, 1991|By Dan Rodricks

It wasn't all bad. I mean, if you use my personal method for evaluating the quality of a particular year, then 1991 wasn't bad at all.

Some people judge a year by its financial dividends, others by its personal rewards and emotional payoffs, still others by the number of history-shattering news events.

Me, I go by the number of crooks and would-be crooks who goof up on the job, and the number of such news stories I can add to my collection. It's a newspaper columnist's slightly twisted hobby -- collecting dumb crook stories. With crime being such a dreary subject and occupying so much space in the newspaper, one has to relish the times when men and women with criminal intent find themselves, shall we say, stifled.

The most recent such incident occurred in Glen Burnie this past Sunday morning -- just in time to qualify as a dumb crook story for 1991.

According to Anne Arundel County police, a fellow took a cab to a convenience store so he could rob it, then returned on foot to his nearby home. He then called for another cab to pick him up at his house. But a couple of sharp Arundel cops intercepted a cab from the same company, ordered the driver to respond to the call, then sat and waited for the suspect to emerge from his house. Which he did. And when he saw the two cops, the suspect must have realized his predicament was an impossible one -- a downright hopeless one -- for the police tell us he was arrested "without incident."

That's how most of the dumb guys go -- without incident. They might be dumb, but they're not stupid. In fact, only one incident in my 1991 collection of kooky capers involves any kind of violence at all. In Mount Clemens, Mich., police pulled a man's artificial arm off during a domestic dispute. The prosthesis was kept as evidence for the man's assault trial.

That's about as physical in nature as the stories in my collection get.

What Yogi Berra said about baseball applies to dumb-crook capers: "Fifty percent of this game is 90 percent mental."

The guy from Glen Burnie wasn't the first to be accused of using a cab in the commission of a crime. Last February in Oregon, a burglar hired a cab to take him on his rounds. The cabbie was told to take the guy to a house and to wait until he returned. When the guy got into the cab with his hands full of computer equipment, the cabbie got suspicious. When the guy told the cabbie to wait a second time, the cabbie called the cops. The cops were waiting when the burglar returned to the cab.

Other highlights of 1991:

* A young guy from Landover tried to buy a truck with $12,000 stuffed in shoe boxes at a car dealership in Frederick. Such a display of green is never wise when you're a young man making a major consumer purchase. But when the cash is covered with a white powdery substance -- well, you're really asking for trouble. Police charged the young man with possession of cocaine.

* In Hartford, Conn., a guy wanted to rob a bank. So he went to the bank and handed the teller a note. Which was Standard Operating Procedure, except for one thing: His stickup note was a personalized savings deposit slip. He got five years in prison.

* In Albany, N.Y., a father and son called police to report an armed robbery. Men with shotguns had taken their . . . marijuana stash.

* In Charlotte, N.C., a 34-year-old bank robber stripped to his bikini underwear before making his escape. Said the robber, Jeffrey Link: "I was hoping people would think I was jogging instead of running around in my underwear." After frisking the suspect, police found $1,500 stuffed in Link's shoe. He was later sentenced to four years in prison.

* In Lincoln, Neb., a bank teller named Tim Holt lost his driver's license. A young man named Freedom Hunter got his hands on it and, a short time later, decided to put it to use. He wrote a check, payable to Tim Holt, for $275. He drove to a bank. He pulled up to the drive-in window. He passed the check to the teller. He used Tim Holt's driver's license as an ID. Guess who the teller was? Tim Holt. Call that dumb luck for a dumb cluck. Hunter got six months in the county jail.

* In Pittsburgh, a 35-year-old man was wanted for stealing a police squad car. Humiliated cops looked everywhere for him. Guess where they found him? On TV. He was giving a live interview to a reporter, expressing his support for our troops in the Persian Gulf War. Which reminds me of what Samuel Johnson said: "Patriotism is the last refuge of a car thief."

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