..Lorna Hartman..


In today's cheering column, most of these criminals almost helped themselves be caught. It's something to remember that the shadowy world of petty crime isn't really the way it's portrayed on TV, for the most part--an arsenal of pricey weaponry, sophisticated technology, and brilliant criminal minds.

Today's column is an encouraging, and probably more realistic, view of your garden-variety criminal in action. "The Great Train Robbery" portrays what happens to the big-city criminal trying to operate in a small-town environment where everybody knows everybody else. "But Mom, You Said I Needed to Show Initiative!" tells the story of a young fellow still tied to the apron strings, trying to break into crime. It's a hard world.

The Great Train Robbery
Switzerland--Only one train makes its way up the steep Alpine slopes to the little storybook village of Wengen, and it's a tiny one, with just enough room in the passenger cars for one seat on either side of the aisle. The Wengen station is also tiny, just a single track and a miniscule platform.

But none of this mattered to the pair of thieves who took the last train up from the valley one evening near sunset. All they cared about was that the train would leave Wengen for the two villages above it on the mountain and then come right back down the mountain, stopping in Wengen just one hour later. That hour would give them just enough time.

Once off the train in Wengen, the dual dummkopfs headed directly for the village toy store. They waited patiently outside until the owner locked up and walked away, then they hurried to break in through a back window. Within ten minutes they were walking back toward the train station with two armloads of expensive model railroad sets.

They boarded the train and smiled broadly at the conductor, who congratulated them on their fine purchases. They laughed as he continued down the aisle into the next car; they had actually pulled it off! Their faces fell, however, when the train reached Interlochen in the valley below and they saw two police officers waiting for them. Their theft shouldn't have been discovered until morning. What had gone wrong?

The detail they had overlooked was a significant date in the toy-store owner's life--his wedding anniversary. He and his wife had boarded another car on the same train for an anniversary dinner in Interlochen. And when his friend, the conductor, offered congratulations on his big sale, he insisted he had sold no trains that day. That's when the conductor, who had watched the men get off empty-handed and reboard with armloads of trains, put two and two together and wired ahead for the police.

The next day's headlines gave appropriate credit: "Great Train Robbery Foiled By Quick-Thinking Conductor."

But, Mom, You Said I Needed to Show Initiative!
England--Magistrate Pam Mills of Devonshire raised three boys of her own, so she knows mischief when she sees it. She was also very direct and strict with her boys, so it comes naturally to her to " just say no"--even to a bungling bank robber.

It happened the morning Magistrate Mills went to the bank to deposit the proceeds from a weekend charity event. The teller counted out the pounds and pence while Mrs. Mills looked on, thrilled that the event had been so successful. She and the teller were so intent on the transaction that they barely heard a gruff voice saying, "Give me the money."

On reflex Mrs. Mills shot back, "Don't be so silly." She pushed the would-be robber's gun aside. "That's a toy gun. Just go away."

Mom Mills had been in this situation dozens of times before, when her young ruffians confronted her with broom handles and sticks, demanding that she raise her hands and surrender. "I was in my own little world," she remembers about her bank showdown. "I spoke to the robber as if he were one of my boys."

She was right. The "gunman" was holding two metal pipes taped together to look like a shotgun. He kept trying to convince Mrs. Mills his weapon was real while the teller hit the silent alarm and the police arrived.

He couldn't even convince her that he was "old enough to know better."

* * *

From "Wanted! Dumb or Alive" by Daniel Butler and Alan Ray and used by permission of Rutledge Hill Press, Nashville, Tennessee.

If you have a similar story of preventing crime or helping to capture a criminal, or know someone else who does, contact Lorna Hartman.

Link to previous Crimestoppers columns: