Honolulu Lite

by Charles Memminger

Wednesday, July 14, 1999

Life of crime is
usually a short one

THERE'S a great misconception that being a criminal is somehow easier than achieving success in a legitimate enterprise.

The recent arrests in a dramatic armed bank robbery should be instructive for those wannabes who think a life of crime is a walk in the park.

The case apparently was broken because a suspect left a supermarket club card in one of the getaway cars. Police merely had to scan the card to find out who it belonged to. That person led to one of the suspects.

Leaving such an obvious piece of evidence behind is a rookie mistake. But the annals of Hawaii crime are filled with such bloopers.

The truth is that it is just as hard to be a successful criminal as it is to be successful at anything else in life. If you have failed in getting an education and a good job, why do you think you could do any better as a criminal? If you are successful in life, you could become a successful criminal, but what's the point? When it comes to crime, the up side -- instant cash, excitement and reasonable business hours -- is offset by an extremely low down side -- possible death by armed store clerk or SWAT team sharpshooter, attorneys' fees, long prison sentences and the occasional pulled hamstring.

When I covered crime for the newspaper, I occasionally came across criminals who had a certain flair for the job. But 99 percent turned out to have some fatal character flaw that doomed them to failure.

There was a guy who killed people. His flaw was that he saved mementos of his crimes. In one case, he took a rattan chair. And not just a small rattan chair. It was one of those huge Don Ho kind of chairs. When the cops showed up at the guy's apartment during a routine investigation, one of the detectives actually sat in the chair. Later, detectives were looking at photos of the crime scene and one said something like, "Hey, that chair looks familiar." Bingo, the suspect was busted.

Another guy (I don't want to give names here because I don't want to embarrass anyone or receive any late-night phone calls from the Oahu Community Correctional Center and Snack Bar) came up with a brilliant scheme. He figured out how to break into the back of automated teller machines and take the cash. In one case, the front of the machine was facing a public sidewalk, but the back was in a department store. He hid out in the store and after it closed he raided the machine.

His fatal flaw was that he only knocked over machines in Hawaii. A guy with this kind of talent could have been a real criminal contender if he hadn't insisted on working so close to home. If he had limited his enterprise to a few yearly visits to various mainland strip malls he would have had a lifetime supply of small, unmarked bills.

Because of his ground breaking -- or machine breaking -- techniques, ATMs are now impregnable. So not only did he blow it for himself, he ruined it for all future ATM burglars. (By the way, why, when ATM surveillance cameras are so good, do photos of robbers taken by cameras inside banks look like charcoal drawings of Big Foot?)

Here's a quick reality check for aspiring criminals: If you suck at everything else you've tried in life (education, job or marriage), you're probably going to suck as a criminal. It takes at least as much smarts and attention to detail as any legit job. But you don't get fired from being a criminal, you get fired AT. And the pension plan is rather confining.

Charles Memminger, winner of
National Society of Newspaper Columnists
awards in 1994 and 1992, writes "Honolulu Lite"
Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Write to him at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin,
P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, 96802

or send E-mail to or

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