Could be you’ve heard of Brooklyn-born criminal Willie Sutton, whose longest continuous bout of (legal) employment lasted a mere 18 months. “Slick Willie, ” as he was known, spent most of his 79 years robbing banks. According to urban legend, when asked why, he replied, “Because that’s where the money is.” (What he really said was that he did it because he loved doing it; he never felt more alive than when he was robbing a bank. Your children are not reading over your shoulder, are they??)
But did you know that Willie’s love of fashion (he was apparently an immaculate dresser—and a very well-mannered bank robber, despite never making it past the 8th grade) propelled him in 1952 from the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted Fugitives List straight to a(nother) stint in prison? (Listen up, kids. The law has long arms.)
Yes, indeed. Because of Willie’s known infatuation with luxurious clothes, the Feds gave his photo to New York tailors, and sure enough, a tailor’s son recognized him on the subway one day and ratted him out. When the law came calling, Willie didn’t deny any of his crimes. But he insisted he’d been an honest man since his last prison break in 1947. In that little adventure, Willie and some pals had dressed in prison guard uniforms and headed toward The Wall with a ladder. When the search lights caught them, Willie—also known as “The Actor”—called out “It’s OK!” And over they went, pursued by no one.
End of story? Almost. Willie was sentenced to one life sentence plus 105 years and a second sentence of 30 years to life. He went to visit New York State Prison and stayed for quite a long while (maybe he liked the uniforms).
But, ever the charming rascal, Willie said goodbye to all that when, 17 years after he became their non-paying guest, the New York prison system took mercy on him and his ill-health (I sort of doubt penitence had anything at all to do with it) and let him go on Christmas Eve, 1959. Willie headed off to Florida and died there in 1980.
He loved his duds, but they done him wrong.
Categories: Fashion & History