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How The World Wags

AKA Clueless
By Dave Kiffer

January 29, 2005

Ketchikan, Alaska - Last week, I was reading one of those "stupid criminal" stories (man tries to rob donut shop in Cleveland and doesn't notice three uniformed police officers sitting at one of the tables!) and it got me thinking about the stories I've heard of local criminals who were a "few credits short of a(n out) law degree."

jpg Dave Kiffer

Don't get me wrong, Ketchikan has certainly had some first class law breakers in its history, but like any small town we've also had some who just weren't smart enough to make crime pay.

Take the woman who allegedly purloined a purse last fall at the library. The purse didn't have enough money in it, so she called the owner and offered to return it for a "reward." Since she left her real name and phone number, it was pretty easy for the local constabulary to reach out and touch her. Case closed.

When I was in high school, there were two interesting car thefts. Actually, they were joy-ridings because you couldn't be charged with car theft back then because there was (and is) nowhere to go.

In one case, a teenager who had "boosted" a Dodge Charger led troopers on a high speed chase to Settlers Cove and the end of the road. He decided to continue to drive beyond the end of pavement. Since the Charger didn't have four-wheel drive he didn't get all that far. It sank up to its hood in the muskeg. The would-be thief started running. The troopers didn't even give chase. He came back and surrendered wet and bedraggled an hour later.

In another vehicle heist, local police congregated at the Marine Highway Highway terminal in order to have a chat with an adult (????) who "borrowed" a brand new Ford pickup and drove it to the terminal to catch the next ferry south. This was on a Wednesday and the next ferry was Friday.

There haven't been a lot of successful bank robberies in Ketchikan either. Before my time, a clerk at the Miners and Merchants Banks reportedly foiled a robbery by asking the robber to rewrite his "put all your money in a bag" note not once, but twice because she said she couldn't read it.

Another robber was quickly caught with a large bag of cash while waiting at the Ellis Air Terminal (the old Amphibian Room) for a flight out of town. I suspect he was the father of the yahoo who stole the Ford pickup (see above) because that sort of long-range thinking tends to be relative.

When I was in high school, another attempt was made to rob First Bank. The robber successfully exited the scene of the crime but made an unfortunate choice in his getaway route. He chose to walk up Main Street, right toward the police station where he was enthusiastically greeted by a group of responding officers.

But you don't need to be a clueless bank robber to prove that crime doesn't pay. Not that long ago, someone called the local police to report that he had been short changed in a drug deal and he wanted to press charges. Naturally, the only thing "pressed" was him.

That mirrored an action taken by a fisherman in the 1920s who complained to police that he had "paid" for certain services to be rendered by a young woman on Creek Street and didn't receive the services and wanted to file charges. What he didn't know at the time was that the Police Chief was the owner of the sporting establishment in question.

Interestingly enough, one of Ketchikan's "bad" criminals was also one of the most successful ones in the city's history. He was a first class arsonist who single-handedly opened up large chunks of area in Ketchikan's crowded downtown for redevelopment.

This firebug was also a member of the volunteer fire department and had been suspected in a string of fires over a five year period, but he had never been caught. He went south for several months in 1961 and the fires mysteriously stopped, until the 4th of July weekend when three major fires broke out in the space of a little over an hour causing significant damage along Main, Dock and Front Streets.

While local officials were fighting the blazes, a report came in from the Annette Island Airport that a man was waiting for a plane south dressed in womens' clothes (neck scarf, shiny tan coat, small hat with veil, matching handbag, very high heels and sunglasses (cat eyes!) ). City police had heard reports of a forger who sometimes disguised himself thusly and reported the man to the FBI who were waiting when he arrived in Seattle. They took him into custody and he gave his real name. Since he was not the suspected forger, they let him go, but since local officials now knew he had returned home during the arson spree, they were able to link him to those crimes and several stretching back five years.

Like the purported purse snatcher demonstrated above, a better alias than the one on your driver's license seems like a good first step in any successful criminal undertaking.

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Dave Kiffer ©2004

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