Saturday, October 13, 2012

Sutton's Place

There are people who have long since passed away who we still know about because of their quotes, or quotes from their works. Shakespeare certainly is one of the most famous, and any number of people from the Bible. Yogi Berra's utterances will live long after him, as will those of many, many others, of all stripes.

Add to that pile Willie Sutton, an old-fashioned bank robber who physically removed money from banks rather than the new way of just getting the money sent to the Cayman Islands electronically as a result of insider information overheard while holding a flute of flat champagne, who famously said, or is said to have replied, when asked why did he rob banks, "because that's where the money is." And therefore, after Willie, where the money was.

Willie denied ever saying it, but he's lucky it stuck, Otherwise, no one in the 21st-century would be writing a book about him, and no major newspapers would be reviewing the book. Whether he said it or not, his phrase is perhaps more famous than he is. It has appeared as part of any number of Power Point presentations on fraud and uttered by any number of people to explain all kinds of behavior.

Bonnie and Clyde were famous bank robbers and stickup artists, but the movie starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway was more famous than the true-life pair. The visual of dapper, hunky Beatty, coupled with desirable Faye dressed in cutting-edge 1930s fashions that became 1960s fashion, with a cigar popping out of her mouth long before Cigar magazine came into existence, sets the mold for Bonnie and Clyde. Even Clyde's statement of, "we rob banks" doesn't add any immortality to the pair, but rather seems like an answer to the question for what his occupation is. No, Willie's got it when it comes to that quaint occupation of robbing banks.

So, into this we get J. R. Moehringer's book titled, 'Sutton." Apparently, for some reason it is written as a "novel telling the true story" of Willie Sutton and his life after release from prison in 1969. Perhaps a 'historical novel' is what gives way to some inaccuracies in the review by the Wall Street Journal's Bryan Burrough.

Willie Sutton escaped from prisons, as well as robbed banks. And how he got out of New York's Sing Sing twice is hopefully given some true detail. That's some laundry basket if that's how he did it.

Aside from the exploits committed by Mr. Sutton there were tangential happenings that were significant. Mr. Burrough's, perhaps taking it from Mr. Moehringer's prose, says it was a 'mailman' who spotted a most wanted, walking-around Willie in a New York City subway and did enough things that lead to his re-apprehension and another incarceration.

The Arnold Schuster 'mailman' wasn't a mailman, but a young twenty-something adult who was a salesman in his father's Brooklyn clothing store, who initially wasn't going to get the reward for "leading to the arrest and capture" of a wanted felon. They didn't want to pay up.

Arnold, and perhaps his father, doth protehdist too much, and caused such a stink that they got the media attention (read newspapers) in 1952, and ultimately got the reward. But it came with a heavy price. Arnold Schuster was killed in daylight hours (read "broad" daylight) coming back to his Brooklyn apartment by a professional hit man who shot him once in the eye and once in the groin: the mob's message for people who squeal, even if they aren't part of the mob themselves.

Mr. Burrough's, perhaps again because of Mr. Moehringer, describes an "outer-borough Mafiosi" as ordering the hit on Mr. Schuster for being a "rat." This is really laughable.

"Outer-borough" is one of the descriptions that I find most ridiculous. To describe New York City's four boroughs that aren't Manhattan, but are connected to Manhattan by more bridges and tunnels than any place on earth as "outer" is to portray them as islands off the coast of Scotland. My own suspicion is that the New York Times started this description and that's something they're famous for.

Regardless, there was and is no such thing as an "outer-borough Mafiosi" as if it was a green cab that went where the yellow cabs won't go. It's reliably considered that Albert Anastasia, the boss of New York's bosses, ordered the hit because Arnold, even though he was just a civilian Joe, was not adhering to the "code of silence." Albert himself was spectacularly whacked in a midtown hotel (Manhattan) barbershop in 1957. Whether he was visiting from an "outer-borough" and getting cleaned up before seeing a Broadway show was never disclosed.

And perhaps a reach, but one for psychologists to ponder, is how the very public, sensational shooting of Arnold Schuster affected New Yorkers and whatever chances they would take to "get involved."

One of the still most famous instances of not "getting involved" was when it was estimated (how, I could never figure out, even as a teenager at the time) 38 people witnessed poor Kitty Genovese getting dragged around doorways in Kew Gardens and stabbed so many times she was killed by a mugger.

It was night, and screams were heard and people came to their windows. But no one called the police. There was no 9-1-1 system then, and precinct numbers weren't so well known that they were on sticky pads next to the phone. In fact, precincts were seldom called directly. Emergencies involved dialing "O" for the "operator" who was asked to connect the caller to the police or the fire department. But who knows, perhaps getting the police on the phone when needed only happened if you were Alan Ladd or Humphrey Bogart in the movies and you were wearing a hat indoors and smoking.

After reading newspaper accounts of the Arnold Schuster shooting I always speculated that there had to be enough adults around in 1964 who remembered 1952 very clearly, and what happened to people who informed. Ironically, Ms. Genovese was a distant relation of the Genovese crime family.

So, Willie Sutton has given us a highly usable and entertaining quote that he claims he never said, and perhaps with an enormous stretch, the 9-1-1 system that was created after the Kitty Genovese murder.

How do we thank Willie for his contributions? Maybe declare a holiday and close the banks for the day?

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