Crime: The Way It’s Done

Whether it's armed robbery or running a brothel, there's a right way and a wrong way.

(BRUCE JACKSON IS A WELL known expert on criminology and folklore. What follows are excerpts from interviews he conducted with inmates of Missouri and Texas prisons for his book In the Life. )

Bob and Ray

BOB: WHEN WE STARTED WITH OUR first robbery, if it hadn’t been successful we would have probably quit. A lot of times people will hit a place and get just $40 or $50. We got $7200 on the first one.

We were broke at the time. If it had been someplace where we got $30 or $50 we might have hung up right there and said, “The bother isn’t worth it.” I don’t know. Have you ever had $7200 in cash in your hand at one time?

RAY: And no bills to pay.

BOB: …no taxes…

RAY: …just money, there in your hands?

BOB: We had $15 to pay for room rent and that was it, that was all we had.

You’d be surprised how something like that will change your outlook. I seriously think if you had been with us or if I could take you out to California right now and put this kind of money in your hands, take you out and let you rob somebody and see how easy it is, and show you how it is twice as easy the next time, I mean, you’d be surprised how much money is out there, you know, if I could show you that stuff, your attitude would change too.

Of course we got busted. We were at it four years to the month before we were ever busted. I’d been arrested numerous times, questioned, but no convictions. That’s all it was. They say our record looked like a Mickey Spillane novel, but no convictions. When you get that kind of money it’s awful hard to do without it.

BOB: When my partner and I first decided to go into crime, the first thing that we had to decide was just what branch of crime to go into. You’ve got car theft, you’ve got burglary, stealing, stealing money or rolling drunks or whatever you call that, armed robbery, what else…

RAY: A number of things.

BOBS Checks. Having past experience in them which was rather disastrous I gave that up.

RAY: Backtrack here. You might be interested in our mental attitude at this particular time. I mean why we even considered going into crime at all.

I had been separated a few months from my wife; Bob had left number three or four at the time. I’d lost an exceptionally good job and had been blackballed for a year in my field because they’d found out I’d done time some years back on auto theft. Had a little trouble over a little bit of embezzlement that was embarrassing and pulled out. We were at a pretty low ebb, because we knew that using our own names and giving our own backgrounds and everything we couldn’t do what we were used to doing and have the amount of money that we were used to making. So we were forced to do something in order to live in the manner to which we’d become accustomed.

BOB: Not actually forced of course. We weren’t broke, we were far from out. We had a little bit of money and I had a job at the time. And I think you’d just lost one?

RAY: Yeah.

BOB: I’ve never had any trouble getting a job. Anybody can work, but of course I don’t dig working. I mean, not that type of manual work. And then when we got together and talked it over and decided that in order to get the amount of money we wanted in the shortest time, that crime was the way to get it.

And crime, we feel, is just like any other business. In other words, there’s setbacks in crime and there’s deficits, just like you run a business and there’s a chance that you might burn down or you might go bankrupt or your employee might have embezzled everything you got without the insurance to cover it, and it’s the same way with crime.

Of course the penalty for going bankrupt in crime is much stiffer, but at the same time your material gain is much more than it is in a regular business.

When we decided to go into crime, we were both what you might call inexperienced criminals at the time, so we decided that to decide what branch we wanted to go into we should first do as much research as we could and find out which made the most money the fastest and percentage-wise was the safest.

I think you’ll find that every public library in the city has the statistics on the number of crimes committed the previous year, approximate value of each crime, and you could figure out from the number or amount stolen, the number of crooks caught, the number of convicted, all types of things, what was best for you. We spent four days at the public library and researched and we came up with armed robbery as the best.

Now you’ve got to take this into consideration: There are crimes that are pulled and got away with, but one man might have pulled 20 armed robberies before he’s caught, so they got him on one and there’s 19 unsolved. Statistics-wise it looks like everybody’s getting away, but actually they’re not. And you’ve got to take that into consideration when you check into it.

RAY: We found that armed robbery is by far the best as far as getting away with it is concerned. Unlike burglary or breaking and entering, you don’t take anything that you have to convert into cash, thereby putting something into somebody else’s hands, and you’re taking nothing but money, which is spendable any damn place, I don’t care where you go, that money’s going to be good. And unlike stealing cars, you don’t have to worry about transporting the car to wherever you’re going to sell it,

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