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America’s Dumbest Criminals – Case Studies

1.  If You Can’t Beat ‘Em …

Several years ago in Arkansas, a man robbed a pharmacy clerk at knife point. A few days later, the clerk picked the man out of a photo lineup and pressed charges against him. When the case went to trial, however, the man was nowhere to be found. He had fled the state, and officials had no clue where. They knew he came from New York City, but couldn’t be sure that was where he had gone, and they didn’t know where in New York to look. They really didn’t have much hope of catching him.

Then they got the break they needed to find their criminal. Sure enough, the suspect had returned to New York and had applied for a job. Federal authorities were alerted when the man’s prints were sent to Washington, D.C., as part of a standard check required for that particular job application. The man was soon arrested, charged, and convicted.

Oh, and he didn’t get the job he applied for—that of police officer.

2.  Positive ID  

Detective Chris Stewart of the Brunswick (Georgia) Police Department told one of our America’s Dumbest Criminals field reporters about a robbery suspect he transported back to the scene of the crime for a positive identification:

“We had gotten a call informing us that a woman had had her purse stolen from a shopping complex,” Stewart says. “A short time later, we saw a man who fit the description given to us by the victim. So we picked him up and took him back to the scene of the crime.”

Stewart explained to the suspect that they were going to take him back to the scene and that when they arrived he was to exit the vehicle and face the victim for a positive I.D. The man in custody heard this when the detective radioed ahead to the officer with the victim. Stewart said he had a man in custody who fit her description of the robber and they would be arriving shortly.

When they arrived at the scene, the suspect did exactly as he had been told. He stepped from the car and looked up at the victim. And before anyone could say anything, he blurted out, “Yeah, that’s her . . . that’s the woman I robbed.”

He has been given a new photo I.D. for his cooperation . . . and this one included a prison number.

3. The Civic-Minded Cocaine Cooker

t was October 1993 in a Georgia town when Tyrell Church was in the kitchen cooking up his specialty . . . cocaine. He had been doing that for a good thirty years, but he had never seen any that cooked up like this batch. Something was wrong.

“I had never seen powder cocaine that turned red when you cooked it up,” Church explained. So, being concerned for his own welfare as well as that of the public at large, Tyrell Church did what any fool would do. He took the suspicious concoction to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation crime lab for analysis.

The lab ran four separate tests. The substance proved to be cocaine after all. And Church was promptly arrested and charged with possession of the same. He opted to serve as his own lawyer in what to him seemed a ridiculous trial.

“Had I known I was going to be arrested,” he argued, “I wouldn’t have taken it over to the lab.”

So why did Church take his cocaine to the lab?

“If kids get hold of something like this,” he said, “it might hurt them or poison them. I took it over there to have it tested to see if it had been cut or mixed with any dangerous substances.”

The civic-minded cooker went on to say that if something had been wrong with the cocaine, he could have warned the public.

Church insisted that he had often had his cocaine tested in New York, where he once lived.

“What’s the sense in having a crime lab,” he asked, bewildered, “if a person can’t take anything over there?”

He also requested that the substance be retested, a request which the judge denied.

“I’m not a habitual user,” the cooker complained in his final statement. “I use cocaine for my arthritis. It’s a waste of the taxpayers’ time for this kind of case to come to court. The grand jury shouldn’t have even bothered.”

“I do not think a violation of the cocaine law is a waste of time,” the district attorney countered.

The jury couldn’t have agreed more. It took just seven minutes for them to return a guilty verdict.

4.  A Shining Example

To some people, image is everything. There are those who would not dream of leaving the house (even someone else’s house) without making sure their appearance was in order. And different people have different priorities when it comes to appearance. Some people can’t relax unless their hair is neatly combed. Others want to be sure their clothes are in style. For Cecil Warren, shiny shoes were everything.

Cecil was well known on the streets of Roanoke, Virginia, as a small-time thief and occasional burglar. He was just as well known for constantly shining his shoes. It wasn’t uncommon for him to put on the spit and polish several times a day. In the end, his particular form of vanity proved to be his downfall.

Cecil had decided to burglarize a house, and he had no trouble getting in. He simply climbed up and over the back porch. Unfortunately, this feat also required him to scramble onto the roof. And roof climbing, as one prosecutor later put it, creates “a great probability of shoe damage.” Our vain criminal couldn’t get on with the job until he made some repairs.

Cecil escaped from the home with some five thousand dollars’ worth of jewelry, but he left behind his can of shoe polish and, more importantly, his monogrammed shoeshine rag.

“The can of polish and that rag with the initials C. W. on it were as good as a set of fingerprints,” one detective noted.

The vain Mr. Warren was found guilty of breaking and entering and grand larceny. He is now cooling his heels— and probably shining his shoes—in jail.

5. Camera Hog

An officer in Indiana told us of a very photogenic crook who insisted on arranging his own close-ups. This criminal specialized in safecracking. He was highly skilled, extremely thorough, and—at the same time—incredibly dumb.

Our safecracking star had targeted a small local business that kept more than seven thousand dollars in cash in a safe. There were no alarms, and the safe was an older model, relatively easy to crack. But when the criminal arrived at “work,” he discovered a couple of video surveillance cameras in the building.

That wouldn’t do. After all, nobody likes to work with someone watching over his shoulder, right? So our resourceful crook set about making his workplace more comfortable. He found a ladder, climbed up with his screwdriver, and proceeded to take the lens off each camera.

Now, the big problem with most video surveillance is that you really can’t get close enough for a really good picture of the criminal’s face. The quality is not that good, and the perpetrators are usually too far away for the ceiling-mounted cameras to capture a good image. But our star safecracker took care of that problem for the local police. While he diligently worked with his screwdriver right in front of the camera, he also provided the officers with the best close-up they’d ever seen—right down to the smallest wrinkle and mole. Meanwhile, the camera across the room was providing a full-length view of him working on the first camera.

The video was picture-perfect, and the safecracker was quickly apprehended.

Smile—you’re a dumb criminal!


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