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Law Violators So Dumb it's Criminal

By Brian Bergstein, 11/95
Chicago (AP) --

The convict couldn't stand another day in his Rhode Island prison.

Faced with a 90-day sentence for disorderly conduct, he spent 88 days
concocting a scheme to break out.  On the 89th day he successfully
made his escape -- only to be caught a few months later and sent back
to prison for 1 1/2 years.

"The crimes are real, but the names have been changed to protect the
ignorant," quipped author Leland Gregory, who collaborated with two
others on the new book, "America's Dumbest Criminals."

Gregrory, Daniel Butler and Alan Ray toured the country for four
months beginning last November talking to police officers in big
cities and small towns.  Among some of the most stupid criminals

*  A Nevada robber who let a convenience-store clerk make one phone
   call during a holdup, then seemed surprised when police showed up.

*  A Rhode Island man who was charged with breaking open vending
   machines and paid his $400 bail entirely in quarters.

Those criminals might seem too stupid it be real, but that's all the
better, the authors said.  "We wanted to let kids know that criminals
are not really glamorous characters," said Gregory, an actor, writer,
and TV producer who live in Chicago.

"Films like 'Seven,' 'Copycat,' 'The Silence of the Lambs,' with
intellectual, conniving criminals -- that's all fiction," he said.
"The truth is a guy gets drunk, tries to steal a TV and gets his foot
caught in an air vent."

One such ill-conceived exploit was a man's plan to blow up Percy Priest Dam
near Nashville and flood the city.  He figured that with the country-music
capital submerged, he could  strap on scuba gear, dive through the city and
plunder its riches.  Never mind that he had never been scuba diving before. 
And the dynamite explosion he rigged managed only to knock down the door of 
an old wooden shed near the top of the dam.

A case in point -- the thief who liked to smash windows of jewelry
stores and grab whatever he could.  One store he robbed replaced its
windows with unbreakable Plexiglas.  When the thief returned and
threw a cinder block at the window, the block bounced back, hit him
in the head and knocked him out.

They sent us a video," said Jerry Atnii, national secretary for the
Fraternal Order of Police, based in Nashville.  "It was a humorous
side to the sometimes ugly business that we're in."

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