Bungled bank heist really takes the prize

This Just In...

April 30, 2001|By Dan Rodricks

THAT BUNGLED bank robbery in downtown Baltimore the other day - two guys rob a bank; one runs into an federal agent on a lunchtime stroll, while the other runs to the illegally parked getaway car, which is being ticketed by a city cop - has been nominated for a Gibby.

But the Society for the Preservation of Guilty But Mostly Stupid Criminality, meeting in emergency session at my house over the weekend, tabled the nomination after a long and sometimes heated debate that reflected dramatic changes in attitudes about the awards and the feats they were established to recognize.

One wins a Gibby if one is found to be GBMS (guilty but mostly stupid). Winners of Gibbys are men and women - and sometimes juvenile delinquents - who do moronic things in the attempted perpetration of crimes, facilitating their immediate arrests by law enforcement authorities and providing, in this otherwise depressing era of crime, comic relief.

The Gibbys were established in 1981, when it was felt tribute should be paid to a pair of brothers who had attempted to rob a Glen Burnie bank by going there at night, hooking one end of a chain to the handle of the bank's night-deposit box, the other end to the bumper of their car, then gunning the engine. Instead of ripping the deposit box loose, the brothers managed to tear the bumper away from their car. Sensing trouble, they fled the scene, leaving the bumper - and their license plate - behind.

The bonehead bumper caper won the first Gibby.

There have been many other winners in the two decades since then.

We've had guys who locked the keys inside their getaway cars, and burglars who got stuck in chimneys and ventilation shafts. Who can forget the Baltimore car thief who answered the car phone and agreed to return the car to its owner at a certain time and a certain place, where - it somehow never occurred to the thief - the police were certain to show up?

There was a Philadelphia guy who, during a police chase, decided to jump from the passenger side of a getaway car into some shrubs; the shrubs turned out to be the tops of trees along a high overpass.

Ten years ago, in the Essex section of Baltimore County, a shoplifter ran out of a store in the Middlesex Shopping Center and, in an effort to evade security guards in pursuit, frantically knocked on the doors of several cars before one of the motorists let him in. The accommodating motorist turned out to be an off-duty county cop.

I could go on, so I will.

There was a guy in Florida, under house arrest for burglary, who slipped off one weekend to watch the Grand Prix races in Miami and told a TV reporter there what a great time he was having. His parole agent saw the whole thing on television.

There was a woman in California who took part in a burglary, decorated her home with some of the loot, then months later held a neighborhood crime-watch party. Among guests was the victim of the burglary, who recognized her stuff in the house.

We awarded a Gibby to the burglar in Oregon who hired a cab driver to take him on his rounds, never thinking the cabbie would become suspicious when he filled the cab with computer equipment.

Gibbys went to burglars who fell asleep in houses and didn't wake up until their victims came home.

A car theft suspect in Louisiana dropped his wallet while running from police and actually showed up at a police station a few hours later to see if anyone had turned it in. He got a Gibby, too.

Violent crimes are not considered, and, in recent years, some members of the awards committee have become reluctant to give a Gibby to anyone who uses a gun in the commission of a crime - even if no one is hurt.

But that has made it increasingly difficult to find decent nominations. Some committee members believe the standard to be unrealistic. They argue that bank robberies, for instance, frequently involve guns and dumb crooks.

For years, inept bank robbers won Gibbys handily. We had the case of the guy in New York who decided to stick up the bank used by agents from the FBI's Manhattan office to cash their paychecks - and he picked payday for the robbery and found himself surrounded by half a dozen feds.

Past Gibby winners include bank robbers who wrote stick-up notes on personal stationery and on the backs of their personalized checking deposit slips. At least one robber held up a Baltimore bank while wearing an Army field jacket - with his last name stenciled over the breast.

So the committee has seen a lot of Gibby nominees from the ranks of bank robbers. They suffer from the Tom Hanks syndrome - they're too good and they get too many awards, so the committee now sets the bar too high.

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