Costumed bank robber let me down
As a bank robber, Michael Rosario Sr. could have been a contender. He just about had it all: nerve, creativity, a sense of humor, an eccentric fashion sense and the ability to play nicely with (or at least not injure) his victims. He could have been somebody. He could have attained that lofty designation: arch criminal. But he fell victim to the pitfall that afflicts 99.9 percent of all wannabe outlaws: Being a successful criminal is somehow easier than being a successful regular guy.
Rosario was charged last week with being the "costumed bandit," the guy who robbed possibly 15 banks and financial institutions over the past two years in disguises such as soldier, construction worker and security guard. I referred to him as the "Village People Bandit" because I was sure he eventually would knock off banks dressed as an police officer, cowboy and Indian chief if he could have maintained his crime spree.
(On advice of counsel we insert here the fact that Rosario has only been charged with the robberies, not convicted. But given that 1,353 surveillance photos show him robbing the banks, he left behind fingerprints and the small detail that he confessed to a television news crew, we're going to go ahead and call him the robber without the gratuitous and bothersome use of the term "alleged.")
As a former crime reporter, I'm always on the lookout for breakaway criminals -- guys (or gals) who transcend the grubby, everyday world of crime-breaking. I'm looking for a Terrell Owens of the underworld, a Johnny Carson of crime, a Fellini of felonies. But they never materialize. At least not in Hawaii. Not anymore.
In the old days of Hawaii, a few crime figures became larger than life: Henry Huihui, Earl Kim, Alvin Kaohu and Nappy Pulawa (Pulawa and Kaohu continue to be listed in Nevada's notorious "Black Book" of people excluded from all casinos.)
But in my many years covering crime, I found that most criminals were just as bad at being criminals as they were at being noncriminals. See, a funny thing happens to some people when life isn't going their way in the straight world: They decide to try the underworld. But why they think they'd do any better in that world, where the stakes are higher, penalties harsher and the need for smarts greater, I don't get.
I thought a couple of them were going to make it. There was a guy in the '80s who broke into automated teller machines before anyone really thought about doing it. He'd hide in the false ceilings of department stores at Ala Moana Center, for instance. Then when the store closed, he'd hop down and break into the back of ATM machines whose front sides were open to the mall. It was brilliant. He stole hundreds of thousands of dollars. But if he had been an A-student burglar instead of a C, he would have plied his trade on the mainland and kept Hawaii as his base of operations. But he just kept knocking over ATM machines in Honolulu until he got caught. He got, like, 800 years in prison and had to turn in his Snidely Whiplash lapel pin.
Most criminals weren't even C students. I covered a case where the robber's car ran out of gas while he fled the crime scene. And the crime scene was a gas station! How dumb is that?
Then came the "Village People Bandit," Rosario, who had flair, guts and apparently a ready supply of spiffy outfits. But like the ATM robber, he was a small thinker. He didn't realize that you can't be a serial robber (serial anything, really) on a small island without eventually getting caught. If he had hit, say, four or five banks a year on the mainland (on advice of counsel, we point out that we are not condoning bank robbery here or abroad), he might have reached the level of a successful career criminal. On the Arch Criminal Wannabe Scale, I give Rosario an A for enterprise, C for wardrobe and an F for long-term planning. He could have been a contender. But he wasn't.
, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists' 2004 First Place Award winner for humor writing, appears Sundays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org