Crimes of their Times
Some types of crime are eternal, such as swindles based on making the sucker think that he or she is getting something for nothing, or that the sucker is swindling the swindler in some way. Other crimes are created when new technology comes into widespread use.
   Credit-card crime, for instance, is strictly a 20th Century phenomenon, as are bank-robberies using such high-tech aides as thermal lances and industrial lasers.
These types of crime come into use and are then discarded in favour of new methods of assaulting the wealth of others using new technologies.
   Interest in crime is truly eternal, however - especially when things go horribly wrong for the criminal in an amusing way.
   That is what this collection is all about in the main - the lighter side of crime, seasoned with the serious crimes of their era to provide context and perspective.


When US coastguards intercepted the Panamanian freighter Don Emilio in the Bahamas after a tip-off, they found a record haul of marijuana - 160 tons with a mid-Seventies 'street value' of 50 million.
   Unfortunately, they lost 440 lbs. of cocaine and one of the crew members, who was locked in a cabin with the rest of the Columbian crew after questioning. A coastguard spokesman said that there was a guard on the cabin door and the porthole was too small for him to squeeze through.
   Even so, he managed to disappear.


Three Norwegian thieves got the shock of their lives when they tried to blow open a factory safe in Oslo - it exploded. The safe was full of dynamite.

Two policemen were suspended from duty in the summer of 1977 after cannabis seized in police raids and worth 400,000 was stolen from a London warehouse.

Four executives of a Chicago burglar alarm firm were found shot dead in a lift at their offices in the suburbs.

3 Italians arrested in connection with a 172M fraud - the then British record - escaped from a detention room at Thames Magistrates' Court in London's East End. Accomplices had sawn through the bars on a roof fanlight and they used the bench in the detention room to climb up to it and disappear.

Ted Hinton, the last survivor of the six officers who blew Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow away at a police roadblock in Louisiana in 1934,died at the age of 73 in 1977.


The National Bank and Trust Company of Traverse City, Michigan, obligingly cashed a German 100,000 mark note for the equivalent of 24,000. Later, someone noticed that the note had been issued in 1923, during the inflation period, and it was worth less than the paper it was printed on.

Guiseppe Cavaleri met his match when he tried to rob the NatWest branch in Accrington. When he threatened cashier Julie Foulds with a grenade, she carried on counting a bundle of notes and told him he could wait his turn. Running out of patience, Mr. Cavaleri threw his arms in the air in disgust and stalked out of the bank.
   At his trial, Mr. Cavaleri claimed that the affair had been a joke and he couldn't understand why so much fuss had been made. The judge gave him two years in gaol to figure it out.

A gang of thieves armed with pistols and shotguns arrived at the Air France cargo warehouse at Heathrow airport just before dawn. They bluffed their way in by pretending to make a delivery, tied up the night duty staff and collected the keys to the main security area. They opened packing cases containing goods worth thousands of pounds - but they left empty handed. The best explanation that the police could come up with was that the thieves had heard that something incredibly valuable would be passing through the cargo store but they turned up on the wrong day.

The FBI arrested an unusual team of burglars in New York in 1978. A woman in a long, flowing dress was keeping people talking at the door while her diminutive partner sneaked unseen into the house to look for valuables. The scheme was so successful that the woman was arrested while parking her new Rolls-Royce.

For years, the owner of a gents outfitters in New Ulm, Minnesota, wondered how the similar shop next door could always undercut his prices. Then the cops found the door between the two basement stockrooms ...

Scottish Farmers of Govan, Glasgow, hired Robert Hepburn, a man with a criminal record, as a security guard. So when their payroll of 4,000 arrived, the safest place to keep it seemed to be Mr. Hepburn's office. When he strolled off with the cash, he was given a lift by a passing police car. His fatal mistake, however, was to leave behind in his office, a cigarette packet on which he had written the address of his secret hideout. And he ended up with free accommodation for 18 months after the trial.

A masked gunman entered a shop in Memphis, Tennessee, and demanded to see the jewellery. He then rejected the stock as rubbish, decided that the small sum in the till wasn't worth stealing and walked out again empty-handed.


At the end of an investigation lasting more than a year, Federal narcotics agenst raided the Chicago Stock Exchange and made 10 arrests. As well as trading in stocks and shares, the accused had been running their own drug ring, dealing in cocaine.

About 20 years after France changed its currency system, and 100 old francs became 1 new franc, industrialist Leonard Iperti gave his gardener, Leon Baty, a cheque for 750,000 francs as redundancy money. And then he realized that it was 100 times more than he had intended to pay. Mr. Baty was hauled before a court in Nice but he was told that he could keep the money because there was no evidence of fraud. Which was just as well as he had already gambled it away in casinos.

30 car crashes, 2 burglaries, food poisoning and 21 falls - these were the misfortunes suffered by a Chicago preacher in just 4 years. He raised 50,000 from his claims on various insurance companies - 'all for the church', he insisted - but he still ended up in gaol.
   The preacher qualified for the Crime Prevention Institute's title of 'most imaginative and ambitious fraudster' ahead of a salesman, who claimed that he had swallowed an insect in a bottle of a soft drink, broke the same teeth several times on various brands of candy bar and slipped 7 times on wet toilet floors.

Thieves reconnected the phone at the home of bank manager James Symes to a field telephone, then called him to tell him that they were holding his wife to ransom. Mr. Symes phoned his home, as the thieves suggested, to check up on the claim. Believing them, he drove out of town and left 40,000 in a bucket at the roadside before informing his head office of what he had done.
   When they looked for the money, the police found that it had gone. They also discovered that Mr. Symes had been hoaxed - his wife had been having coffee at the home of a neighbour all the time she was supposed to have been kidnapped.

Three burglars climbed to the roof of a clothing store in the spring of 1979. While the others kept watch, one of them lowered himself 15 feet down a chimney. But when he reached the bottom, he found that the fireplace had been bricked up. He tried to climb up again, but he failed. So he began to shout for help. The fire brigade was called to break a hole in the brickwork. After an hour, the burglar was removed to the roomier confines of a police cell.

'Networking', one of the buzz-words of the Nineties, has been around for a long time in criminal circles. Back in the late Seventies, the police suspected that gangs of criminals were getting together in prison. Their scheme was to set up jobs locally then sub-contracting them to out-of-town gangs. The theory was that the men carrying out the job would not be recognized if they weren't 'locals' and they would just melt back into their own community after the job.
   The targets for visiting gangs, which were often armed, were payrolls, warehouses and high-value lorry loads. Police found that out-of-town gangs collected over 300,000 in more than 30 robberies in Northumbria in 1978. Lorries stolen on Tyneside were dumped in Lancashire and Yorkshire, and a vehicle stolen on Merseyside ended up in Newcastle.

Murder suspect Raul 'Lovely' Wilkerson picked the wrong car for his getaway after a shoot-out in downtown Los Angeles. The police took just 20 minutes to track him down - he was driving a white Rolls-Royce.

Auction houses Sotheby's and Christie's lost jewels worth 200,000 from exhibitions in Switzerland to cheeky thieves in a 6 month period. In November 1978, a 8-strong gang, including a man dressed up as a woman, robbed Christie's. Six months later, viewed by CCTV cameras, a man swapped a diamond ring worth 58,000 for a replica at a public viewing and disappeared into the crowd. A few days later, another thief sneaked past 5 armed night security guard on a paddle steamer on Lake Geneva and disappeared with a diamond ring valued at 103,000.

Two thieves with a sawn-off shotgun stole a bag from a businessman, who had parked near a bank in Romiley, Cheshire. They drove away in a stolen car. Their victim wasn't too worried, however. He had been going to the chemist, not the bank, and the bag that had been taken from the boot of his car had contained just two empty medicine bottles.

100 tourists, who had paid for a trip through the famous Carlsbad caverns in New Mexico, got more than they bargained for when four gunmen rounded them up and held them hostage for six hours before surrendering to the FBI. The motive for the crime wasn't revealed.

A radio, a shotgun and two hand-guns disappeared from a police station in San Bernardino, California. Two hours went by before the cops noticed that they had been robbed.

A discriminating thief with a large-calibre automatic pistol grabbed two display cases at a jeweller's in Sacramento, California, but left a third case worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. He told the staff, "I'm not a greedy man."

David Dale, 39, a temporary employee of the General Electric Company of North Carolina, was arrested by the FBI for trying to ransom 150lb of low-grade uranium from the firm's nuclear fuel fabrication plant.
   Neither the FBI nor the company was willing to comment on how he had moved the uranium, from the plant to a field five miles away, where it was discovered several hours after his arrest. Unable to raise $150,000 bail, Mr. Dale was gaoled on charges of ransom the stolen nuclear fuel back to its owner for $100,000.
   The FBI director, William Webster, said that a letter had been found on the plant manager's door demanding the $100,000 in small bills and a sample of the brown-black uranium powder. No money was paid, Mr. Webster added.
   An FBI spokesman said that the uranium was too low-grade to be made into a bomb or any sort of weapon, and that all of the missing uranium, which was stored in two unmarked metal pails, had been recovered. Joseph Hendrie, chairman of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said that the stolen material was, "Not particularly dangerous, but I wouldn't want to go out and roll in it." He added that the material could cause physical harm only if the dust were inhaled for ten minutes or taken in quantity.


George Canning, when Lord Mayor of Birmingham, visited a Sikh temple in Handsworth. He left his shoes outside, as required by custom. They had gone when he emerged. He had to stand about in his socks for a quarter of an hour. Then the search was abandoned. Mr. Canning crammed his size 8 feet into a borrowed pair of shoes, one fawn and size 8, the other black and size 5, then he stumbled to his car. Preserving his dignity was made much more difficult by a chauffeur doubled up with laughter and his wife, who was laughing so much that she seemed likely to burst.

Len Lacey of Northwich sold a 'genuine Jivaro shrunken head' to collector John Eaton for 100. The matter ended up in court when Mr. Eaton realized that the head was made out of monkey fur. Mr. Eaton told the court that Mr. Lacey had claimed that he had been present when the head was brought out of the jungle.
    Mr. Lacey said that he had originally paid 60 for the head, believing it to be genuine. Then he argued that a part of the human body can't be the subject of a civil action.

A car thief in Bristol thought that he was being grabbed by the Incredible Hulk at the beginning of 1980. He managed to escape and he ran for his life, but he was identified later by WPC Monica Harris, who was attending a New Year fancy dress party. She was wearing all-over green make-up, a ragged shirt and knee-length jeans when she responded to a car alarm. Her prompt action won her a police bravery award.

A thief stole Bill Hart's car, a purse-snatcher roughed up his wife and his brother was wounded in a hold-up. Mr. Hard was Detroit's chief of police at the time.

When they assaulted a night safe at the Southern Leisure Centre at Chichester, Sussex, the thieves had their equipment set up for welding rather than cutting - and they got nothing. Worse, the manager of the leisure centre had to spend an hour with a hammer and chisel to get the safe open the next morning. A police spokesman called the intruders "complete amateurs".
   Much the same could be said about Clive Bunyan, who robbed a village store at Cayton in North Yorkshire in 1977. He had a toy revolver, a full-face crash helmet as a disguise and a motorbike as his getaway vehicle, and he was able to convince a 15-year-old shop assistant to empty the till into a paper bag. The only slight snag was the words 'Clive Bunyan - driver' in one-inch-high letters on his helmet. Still, it took the police only 3 years to get round to catching him, a delay which was not explained in court.

Fears of a possible nuclear war allowed confidence tricksters to cash in at the end of the Seventies by selling useless fallout shelters. The Home Office felt obliged to take action in 1980 by drawing up a list of five approved types of shelter ranging from a 'basic' model for 1,200 to a deluxe underground fortress for aroung 6,000.
   Civil Defence experts wanted them to go even further by giving householders grants and tax relief and the Federation of Master Builders wanted to set up a register of companies licensed to build such shelters.
   Setting the concerns in context, the rush to build nuclear shelters came after faulty computers put the United States on war alert in November, 1979, and twice more in four days in June, 1980, sending crews racing to man America's nuclear strike bombers. 1979 was also the year of the nuclear accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Road rage, which got its name in the Nineties, has been around for as long as there have been motor cars. Frederick Child, for instance, stabbed another driver, who gave him a V-sign while overtaking him, and was gaoled for life at the Old Bailey in the summer of 1980.

A crime-stoppers organization began to spread across the United States at the beginning of the Eighties. Ordinary citizens banded together to tackle major unsolved crimes by hiring actors, buying television time and offering rewards. They showed reconstructions, which were so realistic that the criminals could be excused for beliving think that they have been filmed while 'in action'. American police forces reported that some of the reconstructions had dramatic results.
   Three weeks after a murder in a bar in Austin, Texas, the killer gave himself up to the police. The reconstruction had left him afraid to leave his home.
   "It was so realistic," he said, "that I figured I would be picked up the moment I stepped outside. I couldn't stand the strain."
   More than 80 crime-stopper groups had been formed by the summer of 1980. 4,577 felony cases had been solved, stolen property worth 5 million recovered and 100,000 in rewards paid.
   The Windrock Rapist had been put behind bars for 360 years, thanks to the efforts of the citizens of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Major jewel thieves and smugglers of Mexican wetbacks had also been put out of business.
   The programmes also had a psychological effect on criminals. A hold-up man in Orlando, Florida, surrendered to the police after his crime was reconstructed on television.
   "After the show," he said, "I couldn't stand the thought of some creep getting a thousand dollars for turning me in."

Accountant Jeffrey Gordon was in the dock, accused of rape by a woman, who claimed that she had pulled the man's hair during the attack. Facing the jury, Mr. Gordon took hold of his long hair and pulled. Off came his wig and the case came to an abrupt halt.

New Yorker Louis Davis was accused of forging a $20 bill. The evidence couldn't be found when the judge ordered it to be produced. Mr. Davis was chewing something at the time, but he said it was a fruit gum. His case also came to an abrupt halt.

Making use of the facilities provided, a burglar deposited a blowtorch in the cloakroom of a New York disco at the very end of 1980. He mingled with the customers until closing time, then burned open three safes. The take was about $30,000 but he left a clue behind - his receipt from the cloakroom attendant.


A masked man with a knife rushed into a store in Attleboro, Mass., and demanded, "Give me all the money!"
   Clerk Robert Sirros got hold of a metal pipe and tapped it on the counter, ominously. The robber reduced his demand to $20. Mr. Sirros shook his head. He shook it again when the robber asked if he could take a packet of crisps.
   Defeated, the masked man backed to the door, saying, "Oh, if it's like that, I'll go. This wasn't my idea, anyway."

Two men tried to rob a shop in Pointe Park, Michigan. One of them pulled a gun and shouted, "Freeze!" The other made for the till - and he was shot in the head by his partner.
   "It looks like an accident," commented Chief of Police James Laplatte, "but it's awfully bizarre."

Some people use snakes for very sinister purposes, as Anthony Ditaranto found out when he was closing his shop for the night. Two men marched in and ordered him to open his till. He refused, so one of the robbers showed him a black and orange snake, and told him "It's poisonous. Do you want it to bite you?"
   Mr. Ditaranto decided to open the till.

Obliging Americans will even rob you at snakepoint in the comfort of your own home. When Michael Thompson opened his front door to a delivery man in Los Angeles in the autumn of 1979, the man cut the string instead of handing over the parcel. Then he showed Mr. Thompson a poisonous snake and proceeded to relieve him of his cash and valuables.

An episode of Chips, the Eighties US TV series about the cops of the California Highway Patrol, a man climbed into a Mustang Cobra in a car showroom and zoomed off, never to be seen again. A few weeks later, a man got into the driver's seat of a Cobra at a showroom in San Francisco and asked if he could take a test drive. The obliging salesman filled up the petrol tank and the 'customer' roared away, never to be seen again.

Michele Zaza, king of the Naples Underworld, organizer of a huge cigarette smuggling racket and a building empire, couldn't take the shock of being arrested. When four plain-clothes officers stopped his car in Rome, he keeled over in a faint and he had to be revived with oxygen at police headquarters.
   A bullet-proof waistcoat containing wallets stuffed with cash to the value of half a million pounds had to be cut away to let him breathe. Mr. Zaza had been planning a war with a rival gang and he had assumed that the police officers were an assassination squad sent by the other gang boss.

Derbyshire police logged their first instance of a new type of crime in the summer of 1981 - someone broke into the premises of Rowpack, the corrugated case manufacturers of Glossop, and stole their 10,000 computer. The thieves ignored valuable electric typewriters, the usual targets of such raids. Bob Lloyd-Griffiths, the managing director, commented, "I've never heard of a computer being stolen before."

An E-flat cornet was stolen from a car parked in Rochdale, Lancs. Then a saxophone was taken from a flat half a mile away. A police spokesman said, "We don't think the offences were orchestrated."

Wayne Gregory, a resident in Denver county gaol after being convicted of hiring a hit-man in an unsuccessful attempt to kill his former fianceé, won his next legal battle. A court granted permission for a visit by a toupee tightener. Mr. Gregory had a hairpiece attached to his scalp and it needed to be adjusted.

Prem Chand Paniwali enjoyed 16-year a career as a professional perjurer for the Delhi police force. He appeared as an 'eye-witness' to prop up more than 2,500 court cases as part of an army of stock witnesses. His record included 35 appearances in one year before the same magistrate in separate trials.
   He began his business life selling drinks from a handcart outside the Delite cinema, and he soon learned that he had to pay off local policemen and officials for the privilege of being allowed to sell his wares. Then the local police began asking him to appear in court for them.
   Mr. Paniwali is illiterate, but the police taught him to write his name in Hindi so that he could sign false statements. He was exposed only when he attempted to retire and the Delhi police tried to change his mind by bringing several false charges against him.
   Indian lawyers have often tried to get their hands on unofficial lists of professional witnesses, and official sources have confirmed that such lists exist. It is also believed that lists exist of 'witnesses' who have appeared a particular court often enough to be well known, and who should be replaced.

As punters in a betting shop in Hoole Road, Birkenhead looked on, 2 thieves strolled in, cut an 8 ft by 6 ft chunk out of the carpet and strolled out again.


A gang of enterprising thieves rented a house near a Shell depot in central Thailand. Over a two-year period, they siphoned 250,000 gallons of petrol from an underground pipeline. Their predation was detected when water was pumped through the pipe and their house was flooded.

A thief who stole Derek Lannon's coat in the Spring Tavern, near Glossop, must have got the shock of his life when he checked the pockets. One of the pockets contained Mr. Lannon's pet garter snake, Humprey. Mr. Lannon later offered a 10 reward for information leading to the recovery of his 30-inch, non-poisonous pet.

Larry Bennett tried 5 stores in his search for a pair of special glasses to view the first showing of a 3-D movie on TV. He was just walking out of the supermarket with his purchase when a guy pulled a gun on him and told him to hand over the 3-D glasses. And that's all that the gunman wanted.

An optimist was arrested in Shanghai for trying to sell a fake $5,000,000 banknote, which he claimed was printed by the American Banknote Company in 1945.

The US National Centre on Crime and Delinquency calculated that 1 in 590 Americans was in prison in the autumn of 1982 and, if the number of people being sent to prison continued to grow at the same rate, every single American man, woman and child would be behind bars by the year 2100. The government organization added that the problem had 'no quick fix'.
   Lawyer F. Lee Bailey did not agree. He came up with the idea that cash is the main motivation for crime and that it should be illegal, when credit cards and computer accounting are available, for anyone to possess more than $500 in cash. "The only people who have the need for more than $500 in cash are criminals," Mr. Bailey added.

Burglars in an apartment in Washington, DC, got a shock when they knocked over a cage and released a pet tarantua. Police arrested the fleeing crooks but the spider managed to elude them.

Blackpool magistrates gaoled one summer visitor for two months and fined another 100. Their offence? Stealing light bulbs and dropping from from a height of 400 feet from Blackpool Tower.

Guns are banned in Japan, so its citizens have taken to using the umbrella as a deadly weapon. Following the death of a motorist after another motorist drove an umbrella into his throat, the police met the Japanese Council of Umbrella Promotion Associations to ask them to blunt the tips of umbrella spikes. The association's spokesman, Yazo Tanaka, said that fights with umbrellas were common but no other cases of fatal injuries were know.

Finnigans of Wilmslow in Cheshire place a fish tank-style display case by their door to attract customers. The case contained a gold box, key rings, cigar cutters, pens, knives and tie pins worth 3,395. It was there at 1:30 on a Tuesday afternoon in September. Twenty minutes later, one of the staff noticed that it had gone. A cheeky thief had just walked in, picked it up and walked out again.


Police raided the church in the teetotal community of Aseral in Southern Norway and found an illegal still brewing schnapps.

An enterprising blackmailer was forcing girls in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to strip in public in 1983. He carried out the dastardly crimes by phoning the girls and pretending that he was holding their relatives at gunpoint.
   Meanwhile, in New York, a bank robber was telling clerks that he had AIDS and, presumably, threatening to give it to them if they didn't hand over the money. When the police caught up with Garnett Wilson, 36, they found that he did have a health problem - he had been shot in the arm and the leg by someone who had stolen his bike.


Demolition workers tearing down a restaurant in El Paso, Texas, found a skeleton stuck in a chimeny. The police concluded that the deceased was probably a burglar, who had got stuck. Mrs. Herlinda Hernandes, who had owned the restaurant with her husband for 20 years, was surprised by the discovery because the chimney had always worked well despite the obstruction.


Patrick Goldsmith of Cefn Glas, Bridgend, faced 17 pages of charges related to motoring offences when he appeared in court at the beginning of 1985. Mr. Goldsmith admitted 74 of the 108 summonses, and he was given bail while social reports were made - on condition that he didn't drive.

After a journey of 140 miles from Skegness to London, the fare gave the taxi driver 7,000 and asked him to look after it. The cabbie contacted the police and discovered that the money was part of the proceeds of a 30,000 robbery in Skegness. A police spokesman said they were looking for a very strange man.

In July, 1976, a gang entered the deposit vault of the Societé Général Bank in Nice from the sewers and got away with millions. Nine years later, when a gang tried to tunnel into a Dublin bank from a sewer, they set off an alarm and fled empty-handed.

A man with 61 arrests to his credit escaped from a Colorado prison. The next time the authorities heard of John Garcia was three years later, when they received a tip-off that he was boxing in Florida under the name Roberto Medina.
   A promising career, which had included several televised fights, ended after a six-round scrap with former Olympic boxer Meldrick Taylor. Detectives had confirmed the fugitive's idendity by looking out for three distinctive tattoos when he took off his dressing gown in the ring.

90 feet of dry-stone wall were stolen from a farm at Dobcross, near Oldham, in the summer of 1985. The police suspected that the wall was destined to become porches and fireplaces.

The US Government paid the Special Information Systems division of Xerox to create the Quick Response Multi-Colour Printer in the Eighties. It used lasers to create sharp images and could reproduce any colour of the spectrum. Its intended use was the high-speed manufacture of military maps. Then someone realized that anyone with access to it could take all the skill out of forgery.
   US Government researchers calculated that one in five users would make a couple of banknote copies out of sheer curiosity, one in 100 users would make several dozen notes to pay their debts and one in 5,000 users would take up counterfeiting professionally.
   The Bureau of Engraving and Printing set to work re-designing the country's banknotes as a matter of urgency. Their security devices included elaborate watermarks, minute prisms that created transient colours, security threads and holograms.
   When the problem arose, Xerox was expecting 2,000 QRMPs, the fore-runners of today's ubiquitous laser printers, to be in circulation by 1987. The new banknotes were not expected to be available until 1988.

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