Willie Sutton: The Sensitive Bank Robber

Willie Sutton 1901-1980

Willie Sutton was born on June 30, 1901 in Brooklyn New York and died on November 2, 1980 in Spring Hill, Florida.

His education didn’t last past the eighth grade and he turned to a life of crime at an early age.

Sutton wasn’t your average bank robber. He robbed about 100 banks, but never fired a shot, although he did carry a pistol or Thompson sub machine gun with him. He was once asked if the guns were loaded and he replied that he never carried a loaded gun, since someone might be hurt.

Showed Compassion During Robberies

He wouldn’t rob a bank if a baby was crying or a woman would scream. He robbed over 100 banks during his career and says he made $2 million while robbing banks.

He would hold up banks in various disguises, including times when he would wear a police uniform or a telegraph messenger’s uniform.

Sutton was of short stature being only 5 foot 7, but still was able to command respect, when he was robbing a bank. He also focused on robbing safes and refrained from going to teller windows to make his illegal withdrawals.

He was known as the Babe Ruth of bank robbers, Willie the Actor and Slick Willie.

Known For Prison Escapes

Sutton spent half his life in prison, but it could have been even longer, if he hadn’t been able to escape from prison a few times.

One time he escaped with other prisoners, who were all wearing prison guard uniforms and when the prison searchlights shone on them he shouted that it was OK and they proceeded to escape.

Citizen Recognized Sutton

He had been hiding for five years in 1952, when a passenger Arnold Schuster a clothing salesman on the subway recognized Sutton, since he had seen his wanted poster. He followed Sutton and while Sutton was working on a car he told the police that he had seen Sutton. They asked Sutton for identification and it showed him as being Charles Gordon. The policemen didn’t question him further, but their superior told them a short time later to bring him to the police station.

Sutton finally admitted that he was Willie Sutton and he was arrested. Arnold Schuster was hailed as a hero, but Schuster’s life would end a few days later, when he was murdered gangland style. Apparently, Albert Anastasia the mob crime boss had seen Schuster on television telling about telling police about Sutton and didn’t like seeing the snitch on television.

Another example of the sensitive nature of Sutton was shown when he later said that the murder of Schuster really troubled him. Most criminals would have been tickled to have seen the one who caused his arrest murdered, but Sutton seemed more concerned about the death of Schuster, than the fact he was returning to prison.

Released For Medical Reasons

Sutton didn’t escape this time from prison and served 17 years of his sentence, before he was released for medical reasons. He would live another 11 years before dying in 1980.

It was an urban legend that Sutton had said he robbed banks, because that is where the money is, but Sutton said he never said that, since it was obvious that the money was in banks.

The one thing that stands out for me is that although Sutton was a prolific bank robber that he never shot anyone and truly cared about the man who was murdered in cold blood, because he had led the police to Sutton.







Author: Andrew Godfrey

Retired from newspaper work after 38 years. Had served in the Army in Hawaii and Vietnam in the 60's. Am now retired and living in Sulphur, Louisiana.

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