By Ed Meckle, Retired LAPD
Every police officer has a collection of stories/memories or incidents that he or she brings out now and again to share with friends. It can be the “biggest” this or the “strangest” that but every copper has them. The category of “stupid” is so often encountered that TV even has a show called “America’s Dumbest Criminals.” Any officer can quote the old “crime makes you stupid” axiom. In keeping with that thought, let me introduce –the Blue Chip Bandit.
It is the mid-1960’s and I am a detective sergeant working the robbery squad at the old Wilshire station. My partner is Dale Brown a “good ol boy” from Oklahoma. Wiltshire is a busy house with three teams assigned to the robbery detail. I look at the movie or TV detectives of today and they have offices a CEO would envy. The six of us shared a table in a room the size of a bathroom.
The first thing I normally did in the morning was to check to see if we had any arrestees (in custody) that required action. Next, would be to check the “over nights” (crime reports that came in during night shift) to see if anything required immediate attention. Dale was banging away at the old manual typewriter as I began to read the robbery reports. Normally I would skim them then read them closely. One, however, immediately caught my eye. I read it a second time then slowly a third, thinking someone was playing a joke.
“Brownie,” I said. “We have one to work on now. Single gunman, victim and witness can both ID the suspect; good description of the car: an older Chevy, dark blue with a green right front fender and white passenger door. Oh, he is also about 5’6” and an Albino.”
Brownie finally looked up from the typewriter.
“However,” I continued. “We will never catch him. He is too clever for us, a master criminal.”
Brownie waited patiently for the shoe to drop.
“He covered the last number on the license plate with Blue Chip stamps.”
Let me pause a moment for those of you too young to know what blue chip stamps were. At that time, some merchants gave out either Blue Chip or S & H Green stamps with purchases. You pasted them in little books and when you saved 127,000 you got a can opener or some other luxury item to make your life easier.
Brownie snorted while I called DMV, who gave me my ten possible matches. Being an astute detective, I quickly picked the proper one. The Chevy, which gave me a name, which gave me a criminal record, which gave me a mug shot, which gave me a positive ID from victim and witness. Whew!! By now it was time for lunch. Before eating, however, I put out a broadcast for suspect and vehicle wanted for armed robbery.
When we cleared after lunch, the RTO informed us a south end radio car had bagged our suspect. We drove straight to 77th Street Division where the radio car was still doing the reports. The suspect car still had the blue chip stamps on the plate and the gun was inside. How sweet it is.
While Brownie rounded up the reports and talked to the uniforms, I pulled our “Albino” out and talked to him in an interrogation room. He admitted the robbery and said he knew the only reason we caught him was that he forgot to take the stamps off the plate. I told him this was true and asked him how he came up with such a clever idea. He said a friend told him to cover one number and they can never catch you.
I marveled at what a great idea that was and told him in confidence, “but it always has to be the last number and one number only.” He actually thanked me. As we walked him to the car I thought he looked almost luminescent in the sunlight. On the ride back I told him due to his unique looks he should try a different line of work—like burglary.
Brownie finally had enough. “Kid, forget the unique bit. You couldn’t be any more noticeable if you were on fire. You probably glow in the dark and you drive a clown car. Give it up”
The suspect said, “thank you sir.”
At least he was polite…