Willie Sutton- Prolific Bank Robber: Part One

Willie Sutton, born as William Francis Sutton, was a notorious bak robber famed for his prolific criminal career which lasted for forty years. Many people say that he was the greatest bank robber of all time. THe police said that when it came to planning and executing a robbery he had no equal. He is estimated to have robbed over 100 banks, stealing around $2 million.He was born in 1901 on Gold and Nassau Streets in Vinegar Hill, which was known in his day as Irish town.

He was one of four children and the son of a hard working, decent blacksmith who sent WIllie to the local Catholic school where he finished the eighth grade-a typical level of education for working class Brooklyn males at the turn of the century. he was highly intelligent and would have had no problem in mastering any honest trade. He usually carried a pistol or a Thompson submachine gun. “You can’t rob a bank on charm and personality,” he once observed. In an interview in the Reader’s Digest published shortly before his death, Sutton was asked if the guns that he used in robberies were loaded. He responded that he never carried a loaded gun because somebody might get hurt. He stole from the rich and kept it, though public opinion later turned him into a perverse type of Robin Hood figure. He allegedly never robbed a bank when a woman screamed or a baby cried.

I have seen many posts on the internet that he was from Greenpoint. This misinformation arises from a confusion. He was born on Nassau Street, not Greenpoint’s Nassau Avenue.

He robbed banks because he loved the adrenaline rush he got from the few minutes in the bank and a psychiatrist told him that every time he saw a bank he could not resist the challenge it presented him.
Sutton spoke how he robbed a bank and the personal cost he paid for his life of crime.stating, ” I studied a bank carefully before I robbed it. I studied the habits of the employees, the guards and the cops on the beat. I learned the complete layout of a bank before I did anything else and drew a plan of it showing every possible means of entrance and escape. I learned the location of every burglar alarm and safeguard the bank had installed. I rehearsed my men thoroughly through their parts. I never left anything to chance and what is the result? I am fifty-one I have spent most of my adult life in prison or in hiding. I haven’t a penny. I am no more conceited than the next man, but if I couldn’t get away with it no man can. When I say crime is a sucker’s game I am an expert.

He knew many of the leading gangsters and criminals of his day and he noted that they ended their days badly. ” No One can beat the game. I I know them all- Dutch Schultz, Legs Diamond, Nicky Arnester, Dapper Dan Collins, Arnold Rothsteiner, not one of them beat the game.” He noted that all his partners i crime got caught or killed. Paddy Carney hanged himself in the tombs prison and Johnny Logan was shot and killed in Paddy Murphy’s saloon on West 47th Street.

The idea that he was a hero bothered him and he felt that he had gotten in life the punishment he deserved saying,” No, I belong in prison. I have no complaint and no excuses to make. I came from a decent family. I wasn’t forced into crime by poverty. I am not bitter towards anyone at all.”

His first big robbery was as a teen when he robbed the Red Hook repair yard of a girlfriend’s father. They broke into the safe and stole $16,000. He and the girlfriend went on the run, but were eventually caught by the police in upstate New York. Willie tried to settle down and do honest jobs, but the lure of crime was too strong.

Sutton worked with a brilliant safe cracker from Chicago called Doc Tate who was fascinated by mechanical devices and he would be become totally engrossed in the details of the safe. Tate never committed crimes in New York to avoid getting caught and taught Sutton to wear gloves and to use mass-produced tools.
he and Sutton looted four stores in Boston before attempting to rob a store in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania. They were surprised by the night watchman. Tate wanted to run, but the armed Sutton tied up the guard and they made off with $50,000. Sutton patterned himself on Tate. They both lived in good hotels, ate in fine restaurants and dressed in stylish, but not flashy clothes. He learned to enjoy Broadway shows and Times Square Dance clubs where his cash helped him to pick up women, but he never drank too much and never became too intimate with the girls there.

Sutton might have been criminal, but throughout his life he was a die-hard Dodger fan and he was arrested at a Dodger game and beaten by the police who wanted him to confess to a crime he did not commit. Because he refused to plea he was charged with the murder of Happy Gleason, but the charges would not stick.

Tate would not take on banks because of the time element. Robbing a store at night allowed for a lot of time to crack the safe, but bank robbing required strict planning and there was no room for error. Sutton,unlike Tate had the nerve to rob banks. In 1930 in Manhattan, he robbed his first bank, and a jeweler as well, while disguised as a Western Union messenger.

Sutton also executed a Broadway jewelry store robbery in broad daylight, impersonating a postal telegraph messenger. Sutton’s other disguises included a policeman, messenger and maintenance man. He usually arrived at the banks or stores slightly before they opened for the day. In the same year, he along with five accomplices including two women, entered the Richmond Hill National Bank and handcuffed some of the employees. They forced the manager to open the vault and hand over to them $19,000.There was one more robbery he and his gang would pull off that year. Willie, disguised as a telegraph messenger entered the J.Rosenthal & Son Jewelry Store when an employee opened the door to receive the telegram. His accomplice followed and they both bound the employees. They ran off with jewelry worth $129,000.

Sutton planned to rob an Ozone Park bank by using an acetylene torch to cut trough the floor. They worked all night but when the cops showed up they had to run and left the acetylene tanks, which the police traced and they nabbed Sutton for the first of numerous bank robbery convictions. Sutton got five to ten. A lesser criminal might have continued to use the Acetylene, but he realized that he could never rob in this way again.

In June, 1931 he was sentenced to 30 years for robbery and assault and sent to Sing-Sing prison in Ossining. New York where he pulled off an ingenious escape. Willie Sutton and fellow inmate John Egan each used hacksaw blades to saw through one of the bottom bars of their respective cells. Sutton, a skilled lock-picker, made his way through several doors. One of the mysteries of this escape is how they made their way through the one door where the look could not be picked. Sutton tells a version in his book Where the Money Was, but there is no confirmation of the story. There has also been speculation that the escapees had some help from an inside guard. They went to a basement under the mess hall, where they surprised a trustee, John Tytsch. After binding and gagging Tytsch, they located two ladders, which they lashed together with wire. Using the ladder, the made it over the west wall of the prison from a point that was not manned by a tower guard during the late-evening hours. Once over the wall, they went up a small hill, where a getaway car was waiting for them. The arrangement for the transportation was made when Sutton’s wife visited him days before the escape. The setup of the prison’s visiting room provided an inmate and visitor to converse without others hearing everything said.

On February 15, 1933, Sutton and a confederate attempted to rob the Corn Exchange Bank and Trust Company in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Sutton, disguised as a mailman, entered the bank early in the morning. The curiosity of a passerby caused the robbery attempt to be abandoned. However, on January 15, 1934 Sutton entered the same bank with two companions through a skylight. When the watchman arrived, they forced him to admit the employees as usual. Each employee was handcuffed and crowded into a small room.

In 1934 he got arrested again in Philadelphia. Sutton was apprehended on February 5, 1934 and was sentenced to serve 25 to 50 years in Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for the machine gun robbery of the Corn Exchange Bank. He got sent to Eastern States Penitentiary in Pennsylvania. Again, his cleverness and observation helped him develop an unsuccessful plan to break out of prison again. He noticed there was a sewer in the prison that led to an outside barred and window ventilated cellar. He cut the bars by having a guy stand in front and block the guards view. He slipped down in the cellar and crawled the two hundred feet through the sewer and then swam fifteen feet under water with a brick, but could not bash the door open so he had to return to his cell, but he knew that he could escape in this way. he would wait years, but would break out again.

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