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Deja Vu

February 8, 2013

This is a Stick Up!


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2013: Bank robbery, a crime whose perpetrators once held America’s rapt attention, is on the decline. A sharp rise in electronic theft and crime has made some FBI agent believe that outlaws demanding cash from tellers and scaring patrons might be a thing of the past. The Wall Street Journal reports:

Though electronic bank crimes have taken far more money than physical robberies in recent years, the shift has resulted in less violence. In 2011, bank robberies left 88 injured and 13 dead—roughly 40% lower than both statistics for 2003, the earliest FBI figures available.

In the 1930s, notorious bandits including John Dillinger and Bonnie and Clyde helped make bank robberies a piece of Americana, and for decades the high-profile crime remained one of the FBI's top priorities, partly because, as the famous quip goes, “that's where the money is.”

1934: Evelyn “Billie” Frechette, girlfriend of notorious bank robber John Dillinger, penned a five-part article in the Chicago Tribune after Dillinger’s death and her incarceration. While acknowledging a life of crime wasn’t ideal, Frechette remained true to Dillinger even from behind bars:

Only one big thing ever happened to me in my life. Nothing much happened before that, and I don't expect much from now on—except maybe a lot more grief. The one big thing that happened to me was that I fell in love with John Dillinger.

I'm in prison on account of that. The government people said that I “harbored a criminal.” John was good to me. He looked after me and bought me all kinds of clothes and jewelry and cars and pets, and we went places and saw things, and he gave me everything a girl wants. He was in love with me.

If that's harboring him, all right then. I harbored him.

John's dead. I'm not sorry I loved him. That part I couldn't help. I'm sorry what happened to me and what it cost me after I was caught.

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The brutalities of progress are called revolutions. When they are over we realize this: that the human has been roughly handled, but that it has advanced.
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Lewis H. Lapham is Editor of Lapham's Quarterly. He also serves as editor emeritus and national correspondent for Harper's magazine.
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