• Thomas A. Wilson

Not So Slick Willie Sutton

During his long career, Willie Sutton posed as a policeman, postman, maintenance man, and postal telegraph messenger. He pretended to have a real job because he wasn’t thrilled with actually working. He lived to be 79 years old and his longest run of legal employment was just 18 months. What Sutton genuinely liked doing, in his own words, was robbing people. In his 1976 book Where the Money Was: The Memoirs of a Bank Robber, Sutton wrote, “Why did I rob banks? Because I enjoyed it. I loved it. I was more alive when I was inside a bank, robbing it, than at any other time in my life. I enjoyed everything about it so much that one or two weeks later I’d be out looking for the next job. But to me the money was the chips, that’s all.”

Willie Sutton liked—no, loved—the thrill of flashing a pistol or Thompson submachine gun while terrified patrons watched him abscond with their hard-earned cash. He robbed about a hundred banks between 1925 and 1952. Sutton gained notoriety for his use of disguises and one other thing. Willie was famous for something he didn’t say.

News reporter Mitch Ohnstad once asked Sutton why he robbed banks. Sutton allegedly replied, “Because that’s where the money is.” The quote made sensational copy, but Sutton denied that he ever said it. Nonetheless, the urban legend took root, and today, medical school students (believe it or not) are taught Sutton’s Law. Sutton’s Law states that, in diagnosis, one should first consider the obvious.

Sutton also claimed he never used a loaded weapon during a robbery because, “Someone might get hurt.” His sentiment was probably little comfort to the correctional officer he held hostage at gunpoint during a prison break in 1932. And Arnold Schuster’s family was almost certainly unimpressed by Sutton’s quasi Robin Hood shtick. William Francis Sutton cost Arnold Schuster his life.

While Willie was on the lam in 1952, Schuster spotted him on a subway. Arnold, a 24-year-old clothing salesman, followed Sutton and aided in his apprehension. Local television played up Schuster’s role in the drama, and mob boss Albert Anastasia took offense. He ordered a hit on the squealer, and on March 9,1952, Arnold Schuster was gunned down outside his home. His murder was never prosecuted.

Some would argue that Sutton had nothing to do with Schuster’s death. And, truth be told, Willie had no direct connection to Anastasia; Sutton wasn’t criminally liable for Schuster’s death. But he was certainly guilty as sin. Bill Sutton’s life of crime set the stage for Arnold Schuster’s demise. One thing led to another, and Sutton’s need for an adrenaline fix ultimately came at the price of a young man’s life.

Sutton himself lived to be an old man. Given parole, he spent his golden years living with his sister in Spring Hill, Florida. One wonders if Sutton, quietly whiling away the hours at the Spring Hill Restaurant, thought much about Arnold Schuster.

Underliving doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Collateral trauma spreads to wives, children, parents, by-standers, witnesses, friends, co-workers, victims, accomplices… Well, you get the point.

If you’re in that boat—if you’re sick of the trauma and drama and mediocrity of it all, get a copy of Man School: A Practical Guide for Next-Level Living. You’ll get the tools you need to escape from the default future that threatens your real destiny.

Do it before you cross the line and get yourself into a mess you can’t wash off.


What about people, particularly men, who never launch at all? Leah Sakala, of Prison Policy Initiative, reported that the incarceration rate (a fair measurement of underliving one’s life) for whites in America is 450 per 100,000. For Hispanics, it’s 831 per 100,000. For blacks, hold onto your seat, it’s 2,306 per 100,000 (Sakala 2014). The United States is a world leader in incarceration. That’s a lot of failure, and a lot of pain, especially for disproportionate groups caught in a social siphon.

Affirmation of the Week: Understanding that decisions today have consequences tomorrow, I routinely plant seeds of positive blessing. I overcome challenges in a virtuous way as a normal part of my daily routine.

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