Monday, February 20, 2012

The Willie Sutton Arrest, 60 Years Later

Sutton has a smoke after his Brooklyn arrest. AP


The New York Post featured a story over the weekend about 86-year-old Donald Shea.

A retired New York police officer, Shea made one arrest he'll never forget. In 1952 he collared the famous bank robber Willie Sutton, who had been holed up in an apartment on Dean Street in Brooklyn. If Sutton's name doesn't sound familiar, this might: When he was asked why he robbed banks, he famously answered "Because that's where the money is."

The arrest was on Feb. 18, 1952, sixty years ago on Saturday. At the Eagle, we also ran a story, as part of our "On This Day in History" series, with lots of colorful details about Sutton's criminal career.

For example, Sutton "ultimately spent 33 years of his 79-year life in prison, but he also successfully escaped prison three times, using elaborate schemes, such as painstakingly sculpting a likeness of his head out of bits of plaster and laying it on his cot so that guards would think he was still safely incarcerated rather than running to freedom." 

When Sutton was arrested that February day in Brooklyn, he had been on the run since 1947, having escaped a Pennsylvania prison by dressing up as a prison guard.

And not to step on Officer Shea's accomplishment, but the credit for Sutton's capture really goes to a young clothing salesman named Arnold Schuster, who spotted Sutton on the subway that day, followed him, and managed to flag down police to make the arrest.

Schuster paid the ultimate price for being such a conscientious citizen. A few weeks after Sutton's arrest, Schuster was murdered in cold blood near his home in Borough Park, shot in each eye and in the groin, allegedly at the order of a mob boss who hated "squealers."

More at the Eagle about Sutton's first robbery in Brooklyn (at age 9!), his innovative robbery techniques, and what he did in "retirement."

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