Bank Robbers

Bankrobber

The scariest bank robber I ever came across wore a mask and carried a gun. I never met him personally, but I saw the pictures. He wore a Halloween mask (not unlike the one in the picture above, which was worn by an actual bank robber in Pennsylvania a few years back) and he entered the bank aggressively, brandishing his weapon.

The man in this particular robbery hit at least two banks in Salt Lake City, a few years ago. He walked into both banks arrogantly, careful not to touch anything, and he pointed the gun at the helpless tellers, demanding money. He knew what he was doing. He asked for cash from secondary drawers, knew to demand no trackers, and brought in his own bags. He climbed behind the counter and pointed his gun at people’s heads, even into their mouths, promising to come back and hurt them if he was caught. He was gone in less than a few minutes and fled.

Of course, the police caught him, but it took them a little bit of time. The aggression of his actions, with a weapon and threats, escalated the crime to the highest levels with nearly maximum sentences. Bank-robbing is federal crime automatically, but using a weapon and delivering threats escalate the crime, though taking hostages, or hurting or killing someone, would obviously result in a more severe sentencing.

As a clinical social worker, I’ve worked the last 15 years doing crisis response work, on the side from my professional business. Though I’m self-employed, I make myself available to businesses who have been impacted by crises. Tragic employee deaths, suicides, corporate downsizings, industrial accidents, and, yes, bank robberies. Bank robberies, over the years, have been the most frequent crisis I get called out to. At this point, I’ve been to the sites of dozens of them (they happen more often than what people think), and I usually arrive just after the FBI has left). All of them are traumatic in their own way, and it is impossible to walk out of one of them emotionally unscathed.

But this man, this selfish, scary, arrogant man in a mask, he spent two minutes trying to get some quick cash, and then he lost everything, facing decades in jail. But for those he hurt, those half dozen people that he threatened and frightened, for them, this experience lasts forever. He never saw them, he only aimed the gun and then ran.¬†He didn’t see them as humans. He didn’t realize that one of tellers would later break off her relationship with her fiancee because she couldn’t handle the nightmares, that one of the men would turn to alcohol to avoid the flashbacks he was having from the war, that an older single mother would quit her job because it was too scary to return, or the young man who suddenly couldn’t get the image out of his head about how his father used to beat him. The robber didn’t realize that some of them would be forever altered by this.

Most bank robberies aren’t this abrupt or violent. Often the robber is quiet, quick, or even apologetic. They are sometimes under the influence of drugs, or mentally ill, or just plain desperate. They might stand in line like a regular customer, walk up to the counter, calmly, and pass a note. They may or may not imply that they have a weapon in their pockets, a gun up their sleeve, or even, as one robber pretended, a bomb strapped to his chest under his shirt. They might simply rush out of the store as quickly as possible. One robber I’m aware of hung out in the bank branch for nearly thirty minutes, stating he was waiting for someone, before he finally handed his note over.

Bank robbery notes themselves are fascinating. Some are short and direct. “THIS IS A ROBBERY! PUT ALL THE MONEY IN A BAG AND DON’T SAY ANYTHING TO ANYONE!” Some are apologetic. “I’m so sorry to have to do this, but my family is starving. Please give me $2000 in twenties and tens as fast as possible. And don’t call the police!” And some fill an entire page with detailed instructions. “This is a robbery. Do not call the police. Do not signal anyone for help. There is a gun in my left pocket. Before you read any further, raise your left hand in the air to indicate understanding, but do not look up at me. After raising your hand, I want you to take the bag I am placing on the counter and then…” The notes might be legible in lined blue ink, monstrous scrawls in black marker, or even pre-typed on carbon paper.

Bank employees go through a rigorous training in order to work in banking institutions. They learn protocols for how to handle it. They are taught to remember as much as possible, to comply with all possible requests, to focus on safety first, and to get the robber out of there as fast as possible. They are told not to argue, to keep their voices calm, and to call the police in a calm manner afterward, giving them all the details possible. But no amount of training can prepare you for the moment a man (they are almost always men) comes in with a note, an implied weapon, and a threat. Adrenaline kicks in, trauma is triggered, and the heart rises in the throat, and sticking to the training is not always easy.

Immediately after the robbery takes place, the bank tellers have to notify the police and authorities, check on the customers who have been impacted, shut down the branch, and then write down everything they remember. They have to be interviewed by the FBI agents who arrive, provide descriptions and details, make camera footage available. This can take hours, and generally they don’t have a chance to even call their families before that is over. Regardless of whether they are angry, scared, anxious, panicked, numb, or triggered, they have to follow these protocols. And then they have to deal with the trauma for the following days.

Imagine going home to your car after a robbery and having to drive home. Imagine getting home and facing your family. Imagine closing your eyes for sleep that night, images flashing in your brain as you wonder if you locked the door or not. Imagine having to walk back into the bank branch the next morning to start the new shift, all over again. Imagine checking the news repeatedly to see if the police have caught the guy yet. Imagine worrying every time that you leave your branch that your coworkers might get robbed while you are gone.

I enter banks differently now. I view the tellers, young and old, with new respect. They aren’t paid well, and often don’t have a lot of support, yet the put themselves into these dangerous situations generally because they love customer service and they are dedicated employees. Sitting with them in the roughest moments, after their traumas, is difficult, but it is my supreme honor.

Raping Evelyn

Florence Evelyn Nesbit was a petite girl, with thin hips and a small frame. She was a bit androgynous, with a boyishness about her that photographers found irresistible. Her lush brown hair draped over her shoulders in some photographs, or was piled upon her head in the more adult style in others. When she started modelling as a young teen in the late 1890s, her popularity quickly mounted. She posed for paintings, for classic photographs, for stained glass windows, for magazine ads. Her likeness was placed on postcards and hanged in museums. Evelyn enjoyed the attention, and what teenage girl wouldn’t. She was carving a life for herself away from her controlling mother and sickly brother even while supporting them financially; her father was dead. Soon her work took her to New York, where she could model and pose, sing and dance. She was absolutely lovely.
When millionaire architect Stanford White, who had built famous parts of New York City, took notice, Evelyn was flattered. She was only 15 and he in his 40s. He was portly, with a thick moustache, and married, but he paid special attention to just her, spending months flattering her, entertaining her, and taking her to private dinners, where he would smile and coo at her across the table. He bought her gifts, gave her mother and brother money, and pushed Evelyn on a red velvet swing he kept in a room of his private quarters. He even had Evelyn’s teeth fixed at the dentist, taking away her only flaw in his eyes. And so Evelyn thought little of it the night he drugged her champagne and she woke up naked in his bed, her virginity stolen. He explained that no one could know, that her reputation would be ruined if she spoke a word and that no one would ever want her again, so she mustn’t even tell her mother. Evelyn was 16. Evelyn was far from his only victim.

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But Stanny wasn’t the only millionaire to take notice. Harry Thaw had a sizable monthly income of $8000, drawn from his family’s railroad and coal fortunes, so vast that he didn’t need to work. Harry’s mother kept the family history of insanity quiet from the public, and she overlooked Harry’s habit of luring young women and young men up to his room, where he would force them to get naked, beat them with a riding crop, and sexually assault them. If the victims complained, Harry and his mother could just pay them off to keep them quiet.
Thaw courted Evelyn from afar for several weeks, sending her notes and gifts before introducing himself. Also much older, he worked to convince her that she should be with him, and began sending money to her family so he could Evelyn alone more often. With her mother’s permission, Thaw took Evelyn for weeks to Europe, and he proposed to her multiple times before she finally told him of the loss of her virtue to Stanford White, a man Thaw hated beyond measure. After weeks of violently and obsessively questioning Evelyn about every aspect of the events with White, he finally locked her in a room in a Bavarian castle and beat and raped her over the next few weeks. Evelyn was 17. Thaw would later marry her, after he had her followed, trained her how to act, and made her aware of his consistent demands and the consequences if she did not meet them. He then required her to get her dental work undone.

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In 1906, at Madison Square Garden, Stanford White sat watching a play among a crowd of hundreds, including Evelyn and Harry. As the performers sang the song, “I Could Love a Million Girls”, Harry Thaw walked forward in his tuxedo, drew a gun, and shot White three times, killing him instantly for “ruining” his wife. Thaw was put on trial for murder a few times over the next few years and, declaring temporary insanity, was placed into a mental institution. Despite violent episodes and an escape requiring recapture, he was set free just a few years later, but was soon re-confined after committing more rapes and assaults.
Evelyn herself struggled the rest of her life with mental illness, alcohol and drug addiction, and suicide attempts. She had multiple careers, including, most famously, a touring show where she sang and danced about her husband killing her lover. She lived into her 80s after becoming a grandmother.

The Nesbit-Thaw-White story dominated the newspaper and gossip circuits for years, and reporters called it “The Crime of the Century.” Who could resist a story about a super-model and two millionaires, with all of the sordid details of murder and sex and rape and violence thrown in? The public couldn’t get enough.

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Although this story is well over 100 years old, it is easy to recognize the parallels of money, privilege, abuse, rape culture, misogyny, corrupt justice, exploitation of women and their bodies, internalized homophobia, insanity, and media sensationalism that are alive and well today. Reading this history, in conjunction with the results of the election of Donald Trump as president in 2016, has left me feeling how far we have come as a society at all. Many who abuse and exploit women use the same tactics of grooming, isolation, persistence, excuse-making, blaming, violence, shaming, and threats to get away with their crimes, and the media seems to only pick up on the stories about the millionaires.

America just elected a man who has been accused of sexual assault multiple times, and who has paid off people to drop lawsuits (and yes, I’m aware, Bill Clinton did the same thing). A man who has been heard on a public recording to brag about being rich and able to do what he wants with women, who excuses his actions and words as “locker room talk”, and who regularly rates women on their appearance. A man who buys women gifts hoping to lead them to the bedroom. A man who has publicly bragged about entering the locker rooms of teenage girls and seeing them change. A man who has cheated on his spouses.

I know a great number of people who are in shock right now. Among them are women who have been assaulted, groped, groomed, coerced, silenced, pressured, and abused, who now feel that their government is loudly saying that what has happened to them doesn’t matter and hasn’t mattered. Men have been using these tactics for far too long, and far too many have ended up hurt.