According to the FBI, most modern-day bank robberies are
"unsophisticated and unprofessional crimes," comitted by young male
repeat offenders who apparently don't know the first thing about their
business. This information was included in an interesting, amusing
article titles "How Not to Rob a Bank," by Tim Clark, which appeared
in the 1987 edition of The Old Farmers Almanac.
Clark reported that in spite of the widespread use of surveillance
cameras, 76 percent of bank robbers use no disquise, 86 percent never
study the bank before robbing it, and 95 percent make no long-range
plans for concealing the loot. Thus, he offered this advice to would-
be bank robbers, along with examples of what can happen if the rules
1. Pick the right bank. Clark advises that you don't follow the lead
of the fellow in Anaheim, Cal., who tried to hold up a bank that
was no longer in business and had no money. On the other hand, you
don't want to be too familiar with the bank. A California robber
ran into his mother while making his getaway. She turned him in.
2. Approach the right teller. Granted, Clark says, this is harder to
plan. One teller in Springfield, Mass., followed the holdup man
out of the bank and down the street until she saw him go into a
restaurant. She hailed a passing police car, and the police picked
him up. Another teller was given a holdup note by a robber, and
her father, who was next in line, wrestled the man to the ground
and sat on him until authorities arrived.
3. Don't sign your demand note. Demand notes have been written on the
back of a subpoena issued in the name of a bank robber in
Pittsburgh, on an envelope bearing the name and address of another
in Detriot, and in East Hartford, Conn., on the back of a
withdrawal slip giving the robber's signature and account number.
4. Beware of dangerous vegetables. A man in White Plains, N.Y., tried
to hold up a bank with a zucchini. The police captured him at his
house, where he showed them his "weapon."
5. Avoid being fussy. A robber in Panorama City, Cal., gave a teller
a note saying, "I have a gun. Give me all your twenties in this
envelope." The teller said, "All I've got is two twenties." The
robber took them and left.
6. Don't advertise. A holdup man thought that if he smeared mercury
ointment on his face, it would make him invisible to the cameras.
Actually, it accentuated his features, giving authorities a much
clearer picture. Bank robbers in Minnesota and California tried to
create a diversion by throwing stolen money out of the windows of
their cars. They succeeded only in drawing attention to
7. Take right turns only. Avoid the sad fate of the thieves in
Florida who took a wrong turn and ended up on the Homestead Air
Force Base. They drove up to a military police guardhouse and,
thinking it was a tollbooth, offered the security men money.
8. Provide your own transportation. It is not clever to borrow the
teller's car, which she carefully described to police. This
resulted in the most quickly solved bank robbery in the history of
9. Don't be too sensitive. In these days of exploding dye packs,
stuffing the cash into your pants can lead to embarrassing stains,
Clark points out, not to mention severe burns in sensitive places
--as bandits in San Diego and Boston painfully discovered.
10. Consider another line of work. One nervous Newport, R.I., robber,
while trying to stuff his ill-gotten gains into his shirt pocket,
shot himself in the head and died instantly. Then there was the
case of the hopeful criminal in Swansea, Mass., who, when the
teller told him she had no money, fainted. He was still
unconscious when the police arrived.
11. Be prepared to back up any threat. One would-be robber went into a
bank armed only with a finger in his pocket, which he tried to
pretend was a gun. Upon receiving the typically tactful note -
"Hand over the money or I blow you away" - the teller said, "I'm
sorry sir. I'm afraid I'll have to see your gun". The felon turned
round and walked out.
12. Come prepared. One day, a robber handed a note to a cashier saying
"Put $5,000 into a paper bag and don't say anything." The teller
took the note and wrote on the back,"I don't have a paper bag."
The robber fled.
In view of such ineptitude, it is not surprising that in 1978 and
1979, for example, federal and state officers made arrests in 69
percent of the bank holdups reported.
There were a couple of ridiculously inept bank robberies in Scotland a
few years ago. In one, the robber used his bicycle as a getaway
vehicle! A man in the street was given a bag of money for holding the
bike steady as the robber tried to mount it with the cash in his
hands. The robber hadn't worked out how to ride a bike when both hands
held bags of money...
The other I recall was even worse. The robber asked the cashier for
£5,000. The cashier started laughing. (I don't know if this was from
fear or if the cashier felt this was a joke.) The robber then asked
for £500. The laughing increased. He then asked for £50. Even more
laughter. By the time the robber had got down to asking for 50p, the
cashier was laughing uncontrollably. The robber then climbed on to the
counter and tried to vault over the bullet-proof glass. He fell flat
on the floor. At this, he decided to get out of the bank. He tried to
leave using the revolving door, but pushed it in the wrong direction,
so it stuck. He was still pushing it in the wrong direction by the
time the bank staff realised that the robbery was for real and got out
from behind the counter to make an arrest.
Another inept bank robbery I heard about in Pittsburgh: one Friday an
old man held up the branch he'd used for most of his life, without
using any kind of disguise. The following Monday he went back to
deposit the haul into his account, with the notes still in the bank's
The local post office in a small village in Holland was being robbed.
The woman attending the post office managed to trip the quiet alarm
before letting the armed robber in. Five minutes later, the phone
rings. The robber answers it. It's the local police: "That's you?
You're being robbed or something?" The crook answers "No, I'm fine,
thanks for calling" and ties the attendant to a chair, to be found
only the next morning.
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