When I opened this book, a five-dollar bill fell out.
That seemed just right.
Wanted: Gentleman Bank Robber carries a subtitle that's so long it almost announces that the book is self-published: The True Story of Leslie Ibsen Rogge, One of the FBI's Most Elusive Criminals.
And while most of it is written by the bank robber himself, the nominal author is not a professional writer -- he's Dane Batty, Rogge's much younger, totally adoring nephew.
The book had, in short, all the ingredients for a self-serving adventure story that just happened to fudge the morality of a life story that has the protagonist robbing around 30 banks for a score of about $2 million.
Still, I began to read it -- $5 buys a few minutes of my reading time.
I finished this 208-page book several hours later, having long forgotten the payola that got me started.
"Wanted" is, simply, a blast: funny, self-aware, amazingly informative about bank robbery, boats, cars, planes and -- far from least -- human nature. [To buy the paperback from Amazon, click here.]
Best of all, there's not an apologetic line in it. Oh, sure, Leslie Rogge might have taken his considerable talents and put them to a use that was of benefit to Society -- but the thing is, he was pretty much born for the life of crime.
"A job?" Hunter Thompson wrote. "But how would I make any money?"
That could have been Leslie Rogge's motto.
Want a deep psychological dive into his childhood? Forget it. Rogge stole his first car at 13. In high school, he swiped his father's credit cards and an under-aged girl. The judge said, "I'll give you four choices -- now pick a service." He chose the Navy. "For the boats."
Remember the '67 Cadillac Eldorado? Guys wanted them so badly they were willing to pay a premium. Rugge managed to find several. Soon, he says, he was making $30-35,000 a week. Okay, so he did some time for transporting stolen vehicles and his wife fled with the kids -- his second wife would have a better sense of humor.
A police scanner led him to bank robbery. As he analyzed the crime, the trick was to have two getaway cars. Rob the bank, be seen fleeing in one, ditch it, and roll on in the second car, all the while listening to the police go the wrong way.
The victims were mostly small banks, with women as managers. "Let's not turn this into a homicide," he'd say, and, being less inclined to heroics than men, the women complied. Later, in the getaway car, he'd set off "a can of WD-40 with a rubber band holding down the button." Why? To fog up the interior, removing all fingerprints. (Sometimes the getaway car was a small, stolen plane.) Good times!
Foolish? Not our Les. (His friends? Sometimes. "Wild Bill got caught at the Mexican border in a flame-red Cadillac Eldorado with the top down, a nineteen-year-old blonde hooker and a kilo of heroin in the A/C duct.") He was practical and thoughtful, and not really hooked on the thrill of crime: "It always seemed that when I ran out of plans, I'd start thinking of banks to rob. Then, with a case of money, things would seem to just come together."
His third wife liked boats, and cruising the Caribbean in a big sailboat, and lazy travel on the Mississippi in a houseboat, and she wasn't freaked out by Rogge's occupation. Which makes for good reading, because the centerpiece of the book is a life right out of a Jimmy Buffett song.
Minor inconvenience: Rogge is arrested, tried, convicted.
Solution: Just before he's about to be transferred to prison, he just... walks out the door.
By now, Rogge's in Butch Cassidy territory -- whatever his crimes, he's a lot more interesting than the straights who want to lock him up. You will not be thrilled when, in 1990, he makes the FBI's "Most Wanted" list. But he thinks fast, moves faster.
Run, Les, run!
Oops. The inevitable occurs. "My trial was bullshit. Of course I was guilty, but they didn't play fair."
You can find Leslie Rogge now in a medium security prison in Beaumont, Texas. He's due to be released in 2047. If alive, he'll be 107.
There's no way to read this book and not think, as you close it, "What a waste of my tax dollars."
[Cross-posted from HeadButler.com]