Crime doesn't pay: dumb crook stories

Crime really doesn't pay.

If you ever need reminding of that beloved chestnut, it can be good to go to a place like or to grab a book like World's Dumbest Crooks by Allan Zullo. Or do what I do, and occasionally look for stories on the web of true tales of dumb crooks.

Here are just a sampling of some stories that have happened in the last month.

Carjacker stops to ask for directions to the bank. That was the headline of an Associated Press story in April. In Cleveland, the 19-year-old carjacker took a father and two kids hostage in their SUV and then the youthful gunman began driving around the city, looking for a U.S. Bank, apparently to drain his victim's bank.But the carjacker couldn't find a U.S. Bank, so he pulled over, parked the car, presumably took the keys and told the father to not make a move for it, and he departed, asking two people for directions. The two people were newswoman Shannon O'Brien and photographer Eric Walls, who coincidentally had just finished doing a live report on bank problems.

Ms. O'Brien spotted the father in the car making odd gestures, enough where she was able to sense what was probably happening. The news crew called the authorities and followed the car until the authorities were able to come in and save the day.

In South Carolina, a thief tried to cash a stolen lottery ticket. It may not sound dumb that he didn't know that the computer would alert the convenience store clerk that the ticket had been stolen. But he was clearly absorbed in his task of getting his money and had lousy timing. At the moment he decided to cash in his ticket, a police car pulled up to the store. He didn't notice that a police officer just happened to walk in. The clerk was able to gesture that something was amiss, and so he stood in line, directly behind the thief. Then another polcie officer came in and stood in line. And then a third.

And that's when the clerk informed the thief that the lottery ticket was stolen. The thief tried to leave, but the police, of course, detained him and found 400 stolen tickets on the guy. And the money he would have won, had he successfully cashed his ticket? $15.

A man attempted to cash a rather significant check. This is probably my favorite of the three. In Forth Worth, about a week ago, a man tried to cash a check at a bank. He had stolen the check from his mother-in-law and then wrote in the amount. The teller immediately realized something was up, and contacted the police, who found the 21-year-old bank customer with a gun in his possession and some marijuana. Oh, the amount of the check? $360 billion dollars.

Geoff Williams is a business journalist and the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America (Rodale).
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