Tuesday, January 18, 2011

True Inept Crime Tuesday

Jan: When we write mysteries, we spend a lot of time making sure our protagonist has a "worthy" opponent. We try to invent clever bad guys with ingenious moves that keep our protagonist and our readers scratching their heads until the very end of the book.

The Sopranos television series did a great job of pointing out that hey, maybe people drift into criminal behavior because they don't have the smarts and the attention span to succeed at real jobs. But even those characters, who were uneducated and full of funny malapropisms, were still pretty crafty and street smart.

But in real life, many bad guys are flat out stupid. For example:
In Florida, Kyle Coker, 21-years old, wanted to impress his girlfriend by giving her a puppy so he took her Puppies Galore & More in Jacksonville. They hung out so long checking out dogs and looking so suspicious, that employees took notice.

When Coker tried to walk out of the store with a 9-week-old Shih Malt under his jacket, the store owner's daughter followed him outside and confronted him. He tried to deny taking the dog, but the cute little Shih Malt was peeking out of his jacket. The daughter's owner was able to grab the puppy back.

Coker ran away, but apparently forgot he left his girlfriend in the store. Employees were able to use her cell phone to call him and demand he come back to the store where he was arrested. He was charged with grand theft.

In Birmingham, Alabama, a 19-year old tried to rob an elderly man with a toy gun. Not only did he fail to intimidate the old man, when a neighbor saw what was happening and started screaming, the would-be robber ran away. He was caught by police, and tried in court, where he got a fifteen-year sentence for fake armed robbery. He was lucky, real armed robbery in Alabama carries a twenty year mandatory sentence.

Most real life criminals just aren't fit enough for our novels, but I'm wondering, do they have their literary uses? Could they be material for short stories?


  1. Jan, your post reminds me of the The Darwin Awards - they commemorate "those who yield to natural selection and 'remove' themselves from the gene pool...thereby ensuring that the next generation is smarter by one." Their web site is loaded with supposedly true stories about characters who were too dumb to live.

  2. One of my favorites is the would-be bank robber who handed the teller his "give me the money" note only to be told she was leaving for lunch and he had to go to the next window. He was still standing in line at the next window when the police arrived.

  3. Yes, Hallie, there are actually websites devoted to nothing else but stupid criminals -- I think it makes us feel better about our chances against crime.

    I know, some of them are hysterical There was one about a bank robberer who tried to rob a Bank of America by writing "Give me your money" on a deposit slip. When he got shooed out of Bank of America, he tried it on the bank across the street and the teller told him they didn't take Bank of America deposit slips. He fled into the arms of the cops.

    Some of them are so incredibly stupid, I'm not sure I believe them . But these two examples had court follow ups, so I had more faith in them.


  4. The inept crime could work as a diversion, you know, while the intelligent villain gets his own job done. Could be a little farfetched, but why not have the old man as the owner of a rare stamp collection? Or the bank have a vault easily accessible from a city sewer system? Nothing like a little misdirection...isn't that what red herrings are all about? :o) But I do love reading about those inept criminals...and the way they manage to get themselves caught every time!

  5. Hi Maryann

    Yes, misdirection is good. I'm also thinking something sort of caperish. Like Donald Westlake. He uses stupid criminals for comic effect.

  6. If you aren't smart enough to do the crime, stay home. Cops have better things to do. Really. *gigglesnort*

    In RL, I've investigated and tracked more of the bozos than I would have liked. They do exist and I'm all for using them for comic relief in a hard-hitting crime thriller--a little snack for the protagonist while between clues and red herrings in pursuit of the real villain!

  7. I loved the one who wrote a robbery note on his utility bill and left it behind or the one who showed the teller his driver's license when she said she couldn't give out any money without seeing an ID. I think these work great as comic relief or as part of dialogue between colleagues. Of course, the stupidest thing a lot of these guys do is brag to their so-called friends--or post the account/video of their crimes on the Internet. (Also a divorce lawyer's best friend.)

  8. Comic relief yes, but working in a short story...not so much. Why? lack of space or word count. Besides, who really wants to read, much less spend time writing about characters to stupid to live when you can see them on the news, or reality TV and laugh at them? We writers have to have believble stories and some of these people are so stupid they aren't believable to a reader.

    Really glad the puppy got away.

    Oh, I just read about a cime on the SinC or the Crime Writers loop where an FBI agent was standing in line at the bank when a guy tried to rob it. When the agent tried to object, he was told to mind his own business. Needless to say, the agent arrested the guy. I think it was Steve who told the story.

    Hubby watches a TV show with stupid crimials all the time. Can't convince him I can't use it for material, but it can spark an idea.