Revisiting The Park

Hooligans and thievery

A retrospective of memorable crimes in our sleepy neighborhood

Hooligans and thievery

Hooligans and thievery

Madison Park, like other cities nationwide, enjoyed a safer environment in the 1950s and ‘60s. Everyone left their doors and cars unlocked, there was no “fear of missing out” or “FoMO” as they say now.  It was all good enough!  There were a few exceptions.

Bill and Ada, husband and wife, were owners of the Dime store. Household goods, gifts and cards were for sale as well as a steady supply of barware for the Onion and Attic on either side. Every once in a while, a wayward shoplifter had to be chased out of the store.  

When the “Skylight Bandit” appeared on the Ave, all the businesses were cognizant.  His name came from how he entered stores from existing skylights, falling to the ground inside, robbing the place, then walking out the door.  

Fortunately, due to Bill’s and Ada’s ingenuity, “Skylight” met his match. Near the greeting cards below the skylight, Bill affixed kitchenware and knives pointing upward with clay frogs used for flower arrangements.  After a painful landing on the new greeting card display, “Skylight” skedaddled leaving a trail of blood behind, making it to Harborview just in time to go to jail.

A flight attendant moved into a small house on 42nd near Edgewater in the ‘60’s.  Neighbors watched as her goods were loaded into a truck leaving the house empty. When she returned from a trip the neighbors commented, “Gosh, we haven’t even met you and you’re leaving?” Dumbfounded, she answered, “What?”  We never found out what happened to her in the aftermath, or whether the theft was resolved.

Gas siphoning was big in the ‘70’s during the first energy crisis.  We were virtually blinded by all the gas caps on the parking strips. Having to wait in long lines to get a maximum of two to five gallons drove many to dastardly deeds in the middle of the night.

A detective explained to some of us in the neighborhood how quickly the must have crook moved, after another break-in on 42nd. The bottom drawer of a dresser was opened first. A pillowcase was stuffed with jewelry and then each subsequent drawer was rifled through without having to close them. The goods were piled by the back door along with the TV and stereo equipment. Of course, moments later the bad guys were gone.

The Hollywood Bandit was notoriously polite while targeting the banks in Madison Park. A friend of mine who worked at Seafirst, now Bank of America, recalled how “Hollywood” advised everyone to stay cool and that he’d be gone in no time. He asked my friend to please open the safe to which she replied, “I can’t remember the combination!”

He replied, matter-of-factly, “Oh darn, I’m going to have to shoot you!”  

“I remember now!”  she answered nervously.

“HB” disappeared from our area after completing three brazen hold-ups at Seafirst, but met his demise in a shootout on Thanksgiving day in 1996 in Lake City.  Ann Rule wrote about him in “The End of a Dream: The Golden Boy Who Never Grew Up and Other True Cases.”

Dave Romano, an owner of the Attic, at one time bought the Caller Tavern on 14th.  One rainy day morning a guy had a few beers and stated he was off to do some banking. He left in a yellow cab, rode to Fourth and University, had the driver wait in the alley and returned with two large bags of money. He told the driver to head back to the Caller.

The taxi driver hit his microphone several times to signal police so at Boren and Pike the boys in blue had them surrounded.  

My first hold-up was at Tac’s Grocery on 14th and Fir. 

I was on business for Hostess Cake and Wonder Bread. During the seven years I sold and delivered for the company, I covered 830-plus mom-and-pop stores and countless chains. Back in the ‘60s, orders were paid in cash or check.  (Credit cards were barely a decade old, and not popular.)  

As I approached the counter, a large gentleman said, “Be cool!” and pointed a 1927 issue .45 caliber automatic at me.  

Tac did not comprehend it was “a hold-up”.  The robber shouted, “Give me your money!” Tac answered, “No understand!”

The 200-pound gentleman (for sure a gentleman carrying a .45) shoved the gun near Tac’s face – to which he promptly grasped and unloaded the cash register in record time. I thought about striking this guy with my iron bread tray. Then, reflected in the deli counter’s glass, I saw Gentleman Robber No. 2 standing by the beverage cooler, gun in hand.  

Luckily, they left without mishap. But Tac and I were a mess and called the police. It was weird that the gunman never asked me for money as I had plenty from bread sales.

As driver salesmen, we were issued concealed weapons permits but never used them.  Looking back, there weren’t many occasions it was necessary.

In the course of seven years I was involved in three hold-ups.  My roommate, also with Wonder Bread, fought with a 37-year-old crook who had a gun. Herb was able to turn it around and shoot the perp. The inquest showed he died in 17 minutes. Something you don’t easily forget.

There were many hold-ups citywide.  The chain stores I serviced opened at 9 a.m. and closed at 6 p.m.  When I called on them I always announced loudly, “Can I serve you now or are you being robbed?”  

Those of us in the business tried to make light of the ever-present criminal element but it was hard not to notice the persistent shoplifters. One chain store open 24 hours stocked Hostess goods like cupcakes and Twinkies by the magazine rack. School kids sat there reading comics and feasting on cupcakes. When I told the manager about it he said the head honcho of the chains wanted the stores to be all the same.  

Every time I’d check my inventory, I’d see the kids munching away and would say good morning to them.  They smiled with mouths full of free cupcakes.  Behind the magazine rack were dozens of cupcake wrappers.  The store finally lost enough to require a new approach.  

At another store I watched as a tall older man stuffed two bottles of wine in his overcoat — he was unaware he’d been seen. I stood at the tile to be paid as he went through next to me.  

The store owner asked him if that would be all and as he answered yes the owner grabbed the neck of the bottles and said, “Well, how about these?” Mr. Crook replied, “OK, OK!” As he dug for more dollars the owner added, “Let’s not forget the carton of cigarettes you took last week!”  He replied, “But I don’t smoke!” and refused to pay.  The owner picked up the phone about to dial 911 when the crook gave in, begrudgingly, and dug for more cash.

There was a story of a 67-year-old man who had robbed a bank.  He sat on a curb with a gun at his side waiting for the police.  When he was asked why he did it, he answered, “I’ll have lodging, meals, clean clothes — that is way better than living on the street.  

Years ago, jobs were plentiful.  Hold-ups and burglaries were for the quick buck. Today, in many cases, those crimes are about survival. Blue collar jobs are now robotic and computer-based jobs need little human input — the jobless rate is high and it’s real.  

Somehow we’ve got to pull together to help each other survive the new realities. ν