Willie Sutton

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Willie Sutton did not rob banks “because that’s where the money is.”

He never said that–he credits it to “some enterprising reporter who apparently felt a need to fill out his copy.”

Why did he rob banks? “Because I enjoyed it. I loved it. I was more alive when I was inside a bank, robbing it, than at any other time in my life. I enjoyed everything about it so much that one or two weeks later I’d be out looking for the next job. But to me the money was the chips, that’s all.”

In any case, Sutton certainly knew what he was doing. Between the late 1920s and his final arrest in 1952, he robbed 100 banks of $2 million.

He would bring a gun, but he prided himself on never using it. “You can’t rob a bank on charm and personality,” he said.

“My Dear Mrs. Budd …”

Excerpt from a letter sent by serial killer Albert Fish to a victim’s mother, November 1934:

On Sunday June the 3 –1928 I called on you at 406 W 15 St. Brought you pot cheese — strawberries. We had lunch. Grace sat in my lap and kissed me. I made up my mind to eat her.

On the pretense of taking her to a party. You said Yes she could go. I took her to an empty house in Westchester I had already picked out. When we got there, I told her to remain outside. She picked wildflowers. I went upstairs and stripped all my clothes off. I knew if I did not I would get her blood on them.

When all was ready I went to the window and Called her. Then I hid in a closet until she was in the room. When she saw me all naked she began to cry and tried to run down the stairs. I grabbed her and she said she would tell her mamma.

First I stripped her naked. How she did kick — bite and scratch. I choked her to death, then cut her in small pieces so I could take my meat to my rooms. Cook and eat it. How sweet and tender her little ass was roasted in the oven. It took me 9 days to eat her entire body.

The police traced the letter to Fish, and they found Grace’s skull buried in his garden.

Brooklyn Bridge East

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

The Eiffel Tower has been getting some alarming press lately: Its nighttime image has been copyrighted, and Islamists admitted they’d planned an attack on the Paris landmark in 2002. But these still can’t compete with the most outrageous episode in the tower’s history, when a Bohemian con man sold the whole thing for scrap — twice.

The tower was built for the Paris Exhibition of 1889, and by 1925 its upkeep was becoming a burden. So Victor Lustig posed as a government official and summoned six scrap dealers to a secret meeting, where he told them the city wanted to dismantle it. He led a convincing tour of the site, and even induced one eager dealer to “bribe” him for the job.

Lustig fled to Vienna with the cash, and the embarrassed scrap dealer never called the cops. So the con man came back six months later and ran the same scam again, with six new dealers. This time the suspicious mark went to the police, but Lustig still escaped.

An even more successful salesman was at work elsewhere in the early 1920s: Arthur Ferguson sold Nelson’s Column, Big Ben, and Buckingham Palace, then sailed to America and marketed the White House and the Statue of Liberty. Sometimes the best salesmen are the most audacious ones.

Of Vice and Men

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

The Depravity Scale is an attempt to reach a scientific definition of evil. What makes a crime “heinous”? If “horrible” or “atrocious” crimes get longer sentences, what counts? The Supreme Court says that sentences must reflect societal attitudes, but right now there’s no legal definition of a “heinous, atrocious, or cruel” act; jurors have to rely on their emotions.

New York forensic psychiatrist Michael Welner put together a list of 26 things that might characterize an act as depraved. Does the criminal maximize the victim’s fear or pain? Does he boast about his act? So far, Welner has found more than 90 percent consensus that 16 of the items indicate depravity. Interestingly, the results seem consistent across states, but not between countries.

“We need consistency, and in particular consistency that reflects the best that forensics has to offer,” Welner says. “From my own vantage point of working within the cases, juries and judges don’t see near as much as they should be seeing when it comes to forensic evidence about what a person’s intent was, what a person actually did, and what a person’s attitude was about what he did. Even from a mental health standpoint, there’s far more effort devoted to the question of who a person is or why that person did something rather than just look at what the person did.”

And Welner has no problem with the concept of evil. “I have no problem with the word being used,” he says. “If you look in the literature, there’s a startling lack of effort to try to flesh out what evil is, and I think it’s our responsibility as behavioral scientists to try to understand it. This issue gets neglected because therapeutic professions like psychiatry inherently must focus on the good in order to be therapeutic. Another reason for this neglect is because to wade in and wrestle with it means to confront it in ourselves, and that’s a painful prospect even for the most stable of us. When I first began exploring this, I never enjoyed it, and I appreciated walking away from it. The more I studied it, the more it affected even my dreams. It’s an unpalatable exercise.”

Scene of the Crime

http://www.toronto-crimestoppers.com/pages/posters/AbuseCrimeSceneFeb05.htmlRecognize this hotel room? Then you should call the Toronto police: A 9-year-old girl was sexually abused here two or three years ago.

Even though she’s been airbrushed out of the photo, the room still has a haunted quality. The same girl was apparently photographed in an elevator, near a fountain, even in an arcade.

Stranger still are the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death, dollhouse recreations of actual crime scenes. They were created in the 1930s by Frances Glessner Lee, a millionaire heiress who wanted to improve police skills in forensic pathology. Four puzzles are presented here, and the Baltimore medical examiner won’t reveal the solutions — he’s still using them in training seminars.

Jack the Ripper

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:FromHellLetter.jpgThis is the “From Hell” letter, sent by Jack the Ripper to the president of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee that was pursuing him. He included a bloody fragment to prove his identity:

“I send you half the Kidne I took from one woman and prasarved it for you tother piece I fried and ate it was very nise. I may send you the bloody knif that took it out if you only wate a whil longer”

Whoever he was, Jack certainly had a flair for dramatic horror. But much of his fame is really due to newspapers, which were becoming popular at the time. His crimes, which combined sex, violence, mystery, class warfare and police ineptitude, were tailor-made for cheap sensation. (In fact, it was probably a journalist who invented the “Ripper” nickname.)

Casebook: Jack the Ripper has gathered examples of lurid accounts from as far away as Poland, Jamaica, and Mexico. “All London is ringing with the horror of the thing,” writes one New Zealand editor. “The woman who reads, with hair standing on end, the details of some fresh outrage to-night cannot feel sure that on the morrow she may not be the next victim.” The whole episode is a low point for responsible journalism.

BTW, today the Ripper’s story has spawned a rather unwholesome fanbase, with concentration games, crossword puzzles, and fan fiction. Somehow time can make even serial murder seem quaint.

Serial Killer Art Review

http://www.yuppiepunk.org/2005/01/killer-art-serial-killer-art-review.htmlYuppiePunk’s Serial Killer Art Review presents the jailhouse compositions of 14 career murderers.

This piece is the work of Henry Lee Lucas, whose pathetic life was dramatized in the film Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.

Born to a legless alcoholic and a violent prostitute who shot his pony and beat him into a coma, Lucas lost an eye and experimented with bestiality as a teenager before stabbing his mom and launching a one-man crime wave.

He eventually confessed to 3,000 murders; if that’s true, he killed someone every day between 1975 and 1983. Kind of explains why he didn’t paint still lifes.

If you’re into this stuff, check out John Douglas’ disturbing book Mindhunter. A former FBI profiler, Douglas inspired Scott Glenn’s character in The Silence of the Lambs.

After studying sociopaths for 25 years, Douglas could examine a crime scene and give an uncannily accurate description of the killer: he has a speech impediment, he drives a red Volkswagen Beetle, he owns a German shepherd, he lives with sisters. And he’d be right. That’s one talent I don’t envy.