..Lorna Hartman..

This month's column contains the first account this writer has obtained through a personal contact, so there's much more detail in the story. We also have a few anecdotes about criminals who couldn't get a break (or didn't know enough to use the one they had).

A man went into a drug store and announced his intentions to commit robbery. He pulled a large garbage bag over his face to conceal his identity. He did not, however, cut eyeholes in the mask and was tackled by a brave customer.

Natron Fubble tried to rob a Miami deli, but the owner broke Fubble's nose with a giant salami. Fubble fled and hid in the trunk of a nearby parked car. The car belonged to an undercover police team that was trailing another criminal. After five days, officers heard Fubble whimpering, opened the trunk, and arrested him.

An 18-year-old walked into a 7-11, pulled a gun, and demanded money. The clerk didn't panic. She calmly said, "I don't think you're old enough to be robbing us. Don't you have to be at least 16?" The thief pulled out his wallet and showed the clerk his driver's license. The clerk quickly memorized the information and gave the thief his money. The police arrested the underage thief at his home.

Dale Richardson went into a restaurant and snatched a woman's purse, but not just any purse. It belonged to Claire McCaskill, Jackson County Prosecuting Attorney. After making off with the purse, the thief called the prosecutor's house and offered to return the purse for a $250 reward. McCaskill agreed. When he showed up, he was promptly arrested.

Two masked gunmen burst into a house wearing T-shirts marked "POLICE." They tied up a woman and two of her children with duct tape and demanded to know where a "Joe" was. When the woman said he didn't live there, the two said, "Oops, we have the wrong house." Meanwhile, back at the other bedroom, the woman's other child had called the police. When the men walked outside, they were arrested.

A man who had hosted a party earlier one evening smelled what he thought was bodily gas after everyone had left the house. Knowing it was not him, he called the police. Officers discovered a man in the closet waiting to commit robbery.

It was a sunny, clear fall afternoon as Jean Anthony* arrived at work. She was in her third year at college and worked part-time at a maternity clothing shop to make ends meet. The store had recently gone through ownership changes, including a replacement of store locks.

When Jean arrived at 2 p.m., both of the other clerks were hungry, so they went to lunch, leaving Jean alone to tend the store. This was not unusual since it was a small shop. Unfortunately, they neglected to pass on to Jean the information that a security guard had warned them earlier that day about a suspicious black Mustang that had been circling the small strip mall in which the little shop was located.

It was a quiet afternoon. About 20 minutes into Jean's shift, two men came into the store, one tall and slender with sleeked-back hair, and one heavier man who approached Jean asking for help in buying his wife a dress. She was curious why the slender man paced at the front of the store looking out the front window. She felt uncomfortable, but was totally unprepared for what happened next.

Jean showed the heavyset man a few new styles, then he asked about some of the sale dresses in the back of the store. As she turned to walk to the back, he yanked one of her arms behind her back and shoved what felt like the cold metal barrel of a gun against her neck. Jean was in shock. Things were happening so fast.

He ordered Jean to the back of the store and into the back room. She was trapped in the small back office with only one way out -- a double-keyed locked door. Since the management change, store personnel had only recently, for "safety reasons," left a key in that door. Jean was appalled as the man ordered her to take off her clothes. But she didn't see his gun or look at his face. She was totally focused on the door and key.

Jean had always fumbled with that door, often turning it the wrong way prior to getting it open. She knew she had only one chance to get it right.

As she was being held in the back room, the slender partner had started loading their getaway car with merchandise from the store. Again the heavyset man ordered Jean to take off her clothes and told her to be quiet. Something told her that the time was now.

Jean screamed and dove for the door. The next thing she knew, she was 25 feet out into the parking lot, screaming for someone to call 911.

The men ran out the door and drove off with the goods they had, never to be caught, but as Jean says today, "I can thankfully say that at least a crime of rape was not committed."

Though she was not able to prevent a theft from the store, she stopped the more serious crime, a sexual attack. We honor her courage, and the carefulness and wisdom of all the folks in this column who have thwarted a criminal and prevented a crime.

* * *

ęCopyright 2001, Jeff Koon and Andy Powell, "Dumb Criminal Acts," www.dumbcriminals.com.
*Not her real name. Story used with permission.

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: