Desperate times, desperate measures
During the Great Depression, America maintained a fascination with larger-than-life bank robbers like John “Jackrab¬bit” Dillinger, Charles “Pretty Boy” Floyd, and Bonnie and Clyde. And small wonder. With a catastrophic drought sweeping the Midwest and farm foreclosures across the country, bank robbers seemed to be among the few actually living the American Dream: boot-strapping their way, with the barrel of a gun.
These days, bank robberies are driven by something far more mundane: drug addiction. According to Major Campbell of the Providence police, of the 48 bank robberies in the city since 2003, every single perpetrator arrested has had a drug problem — and usually a patchwork of previous criminal convictions.
Bank robbing is a serial crime, says Gail Marcinkiewicz, a Boston-based spokeswoman for the FBI. “A bank robber’s going to continue robbing till he’s caught,” she says. Among convicted bank robbers nationwide, 20 percent have a history as veteran bank thieves.
“These guys are no Cary Grants,” Providence Police Chief Dean Esserman says dryly. “I wish they were. It’d make [catching them] a challenge.”
When it comes to bank robbing, Rhode Island has seen its share of on-the-job buffoonery. Last year, one benighted bank robber in Providence presented the teller with a note demanding “$50s, $30s [sic] and $20s.”
Another, in Swansea, Massachusetts, upon being told that the teller had no cash, promptly passed out in shock. (He was still unconscious when the police arrived.) In Cranston, one robber was quickly apprehended after holding up a local bank, wearing a mechanic’s shirt with his own name embroidered on the breast pocket. Meanwhile, in Providence, one armored-car robber’s attempt to make a hasty getaway was foiled when he found that his loot was four bags of money containing $3200 — in pennies.
Yet while big-time heists may be the exception these days, they still dazzle the imagination.
Take Craig Pritchert and Nova Guthrie, for example. The couple pulled off a stunning 16-month streak of takeover robberies across the southwestern US, netting half a million dollars from 1997 to 1999.
Like a modern-day Bonnie and Clyde, the lovers lived lavishly on the lam for six years, skiing in British Columbia and snorkeling in Belize, before being apprehended. Closer to home, there’s Rhode Island’s 1975 Bonded Vault case — a brazen stunt in which nine masked men entered a Providence security company in broad daylight and held several employees at gunpoint before escaping with roughly $3 million in cash and valuables.
: News Features
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