David Bruce: Crime Anecdotes

In February 2008, Julio Diaz, then age 31, got off the subway one stop early, as usual, so he could eat at his favorite diner. This time, a teenage boy with a knife mugged him. Mr. Diaz said, “He wants my money, so I just gave him my wallet and told him, ‘Here you go.’” The teenager started to walk away, but Mr. Diaz said to him, “Hey, wait a minute. You forgot something. If you’re going to be robbing people for the rest of the night, you might as well take my coat to keep you warm.” The teenager asked him, “Why are you doing this?” Mr. Diaz replied, “If you’re willing to risk your freedom for a few dollars, then I guess you must really need the money. I mean, all I wanted to do was get dinner and if you really want to join me … hey, you’re more than welcome.” In an interview later for NPR’s Morning Edition, Mr. Diaz said, “You know, I just felt maybe he really needs help.” Mr. Diaz and the teenager went into the diner. Mr. Diaz said, “The manager comes by, the dishwashers come by, the waiters come by to say hi. The kid was like, ‘You know everybody here. Do you own this place?’” Mr. Diaz told the teenager, “No, I just eat here a lot. He says, ‘But you’re even nice to the dishwasher.’” Mr. Diaz replied, “Well, haven’t you been taught you should be nice to everybody?” The teenager said, “Yeah, but I didn’t think people actually behaved that way.” The bill arrived, and Mr. Diaz said, “Look, I guess you’re going to have to pay for this bill ’cause you have my money and I can’t pay for this. So if you give me my wallet back, I’ll gladly treat you.” The teenager returned Mr. Diaz’ wallet. Mr. Diaz said, “I gave him $20 … I figure maybe it’ll help him. I don’t know.” Mr. Diaz asked for the boy’s knife — and the boy gave it to him. Later, Mr. Diaz told his mother what had happened, and she said to him, “You’re the type of kid that if someone asked you for the time, you gave them your watch.” Mr. Diaz said, “I figure, you know, if you treat people right, you can only hope that they treat you right. It’s as simple as it gets in this complicated world.”

Benny Washam, a former resident of Possum Foot Bridge, Arkansas, told cartoon director Chuck Jones that a certain story of the Johnson Brothers — both oversized and under-brained — who lived in nearby Cotton Mouth Farm was true. The Johnson brothers had a profession: pig-rustling. They rustled a pig, loading her into the back of their pickup, but soon they heard on the radio that the police were on the lookout for anyone who was hauling a pig. To avoid unnecessary trouble, they dressed the pig in a shirt and pants that belonged to a Johnson grandmother who weighed approximately the same as the pig: about 500 pounds. They then put the pig in the seat between them. Sure enough, two state troopers stopped them and asked them who they were. They identified themselves as Johnsons, and then gave their first names: Frobe, Newt, and Oink. The state troopers let them go, and one state trooper said to the other, “Have you ever in your born life seen anybody as ugly as that Oink Johnson?”

In 2003, Juan Catalan, a 24-year-old machinist, was accused of murder. He protested that he had been attending a Los Angeles Dodgers game at Dodger Stadium at the time of the murder. He had the ticket stubs, but he needed more evidence to show that he was at the game. As it happened, the TV show Curb Your Enthusiasm had filmed an episode in Dodger Stadium on the day that Mr. Catalan had attended the game. The show was contacted, and a viewing of the footage shot that day showed Mr. Catalan and his daughter eating hot dogs in the stands. Mr. Catalan escaped the death penalty, although he had spent five months in prison. Larry David, the main man behind Curb Your Enthusiasm, says now, “I tell people that I’ve done one decent thing in my life, albeit inadvertently.”

In 1958, country musician Johnny Cash performed a concert at San Quentin Prison. Years later, fellow country musician Merle Haggard told Mr. Cash that he had been at that concert. Mr. Cash said that he did not remember Mr. Haggard performing, and Mr. Haggard replied, “I was in the audience, Johnny.” He had been serving three years for armed robbery and for escaping from jail. Mr. Haggard said about Mr. Cash’s music, “This was somebody singing a song about your personal life. Even the people who weren’t fans of Johnny Cash — it was a mixture of people, all races — were fans by the end of the show.” After hearing Mr. Cash’s concert, Mr. Haggard began playing with the prison’s country band and eventually became a country music superstar.

Vinnie Bell wanted to buy a music magazine titled Cash Box, so he went to a newsstand, looked around, and asked, “Where’s your Cash Box?” The sales clerk, who was unfamiliar with that magazine, thought he was being robbed so he raised his hands and pleaded, “Don’t shoot!” It took a while, but eventually Mr. Bell was able to buy a copy of Cash Box.

In Paris, Sophia Loren’s jewelry was stolen. Shortly afterward, she and Elizabeth Taylor had lunch. Elizabeth, who loved jewelry and was wearing emeralds, said, “I’m sorry, Sophia, about the robbery. I see you’re wearing no jewelry.” Sophia replied, “No, dear.” She then opened her arms wide and displayed her low-cut dress: “I’m wearing my skin.”

A young student brought his teacher a rose for several days. One day, he showed up without a rose, and he told her, “I’m sorry about your rose, but the lady was looking and I couldn’t swipe one.”

Boxer Oscar De La Hoya was once robbed in his own neighborhood; however, when the robbers realized whom they had robbed, they returned his wallet and his money to him.


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