The Naked City Feb 20 2013
JACK OF DIAMONDS
Diamond thieves get away with millions in gems after Brussels airport heist.

Some real world pulp for you today. The news is just coming out in the last day, but apparently on Monday night in Belgium, there was a diamond heist at Brussels National Airport. A group of men driving two black vans with flashing police lights entered the airport through a hole cut in a perimeter security fence, drove up to a Switzerland-bound commercial jet idling on the tarmac, held at gunpoint workers who had loaded a cache of diamonds onto the plane, and snatched the gems right out of the cargo hold. Passengers on the plane were unable to see any of the action. A few minutes later the vans sped away and slipped through the previous gap in the security fence. The vehicles were later found burnt to a crisp outside Brussels. The diamonds are said by industry spokespeople to be worth about $50 million, which must be very interesting news to the men who dig them up somewhere in Botswana or Yakutia. In any case, the theft investigation is ongoing and as yet there are no leads.

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The Naked City Aug 6 2012
HOMICIDE HOLLYWOOD STYLE
Two mobsters meet a messy end on the boulevard of broken dreams.

They were known as the Two Tonys—Brancato and Trombino, a pair of wild mobsters out of Kansas City. In May 1951 they robbed the cash room at the mob-controlled Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas. They and their three henchmen had been wearing hats, but Tony Brancato lost his mid-robbery, was caught on camera, and from there ended up on the FBI’s most wanted list. Brancato and Trombino were also identified by a mob subordinate who recognized them because he’d been robbed by them in Beverly Hills. The pair were arrested for the Flamingo robbery, but made bail, then promptly headed to Los Angeles. There they shook down a mob bookmaker’s right hand man, which put them on L.A. crime boss Jack Dragna’s most wanted list. But the difference between his list and the FBI’s was that Dragna’s had nothing to do with capture and trial. He ordered the Two Tonys to be killed, and mob shooter Aladena Fratianno, aka Jimmy the Weasel, took on the task. Brancato and Trombino desperately needed money for their legal defense, and Fratianno told them he’d help them take down a high stakes poker game worth $40,000. The Tonys were thrilled and grateful, but the heist was fiction. Instead, in a car on Hollywood Boulevard, Fratianno had two subordinates murder them. The aftermath appears above and below. Today, 1951.


 
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The Naked City | Vintage Pulp Feb 16 2012
BAD ALBERT
Albert Nussbaum was good at almost everything—but what he really enjoyed was crime.

Above is an Inside Detective published February 1963, containing a feature on Albert Nussbaum and Bobby Wilcoxson, a pair of armed robbers who were among the most sought after fugitives of their time. Nussbaum was the brains of the operation, and was adept at chess and photography, and was a locksmith, gunsmith, pilot, airplane mechanic, welder, and draftsman. With his spatial and mechanical aptitude, many careers would have been available to him, but he chose instead to become a bank robber. Predictably, he was good at that too.  

Nussbaum and Wilcoxson knocked over eight banks between 1960 and 1962, taking in more than $250,000, which back then was the equivalent of more than two million. During a December 1961 Brooklyn robbery, Wilcoxson got an itchy trigger finger and machine-gunned a bank guard. The killing landed him on the FBI’s most wanted list. But even after the Feds distributed more than a million wanted posters and involved upwards of 600 agents in the case, they could locate neither him nor the elusive Nussbaum. The pair were just too smart.

But brains are not the same as intuition. Nussbaum was clever enough to arrange a meeting with his estranged wife right under the authorities’ noses, but apparently had no clue his mother-in-law was capable of dropping a dime on him. What followed was a 100 mph chase through the streets of Buffalo that ended only after a civilian rammed Nussbaum’s car.Wilcoxson was arrested soon afterward in Maryland, and both robbers were convicted of murder. But where Wilcoxson got the chair (a sentence which was commuted to life upon appeal), Nussbaum got forty years, which made him eligible for parole.

Before being arrested Nussbaum had begun corresponding with mystery author Dan Marlowe, who encouraged him to put his experiences into fiction. He suddenly had plenty of time on his hands, so he wrote some short stories, and of course, he had an aptitude for that, too. With Marlowe’s help, he scored a gig writing film reviews for the Montreal magazine Take One, and after being paroled years later, wrote fiction that appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchock’s Mystery Magazine, and other places. He and Marlowe eventually lived together, with Nussbaum acting as a sort of caretaker for his mentor, who was in failing health and suffering from amnesia. Marlowe died in 1987 and Nussbaum continued to write, as well as host workshops, and get himself elected president of the Southern California chapter of the Mystery Writer’s Association.

Truly, Albert Nussbaum’s story is one of the most interesting you’ll ever run across, and there’s much more to it than we covered here. Perhaps a suitable summation would be to say that before there was such a term as “street cred” Nussbaum had it in spades. His crimes resulted in a man’s death, and his later fame traded on the very experiences that led to that tragic event—unforgivable, on some level. But still, he proved that, given a second chance, some people are capable of making the most of it. Albert Nussbaum died in 1996, aged 62.

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The Naked City May 20 2010
ART APPRECIATION
Five old masters disappear without a trace.

There’s so much priceless art in Paris it’s a virtual smorgasbord for art lovers—and it’s all you can eat for art thieves, as well. Last night a group of sophisticated robbers proved that when they broke into the Paris Museum of Modern Art, helped themselves to a Picasso, a Matisse, and a Légere, had a side of Braque and topped the heap off with a Modigliani and some bleu cheese dressing before disappearing without a trace. The stolen art was initially said to be worth a whopping €500m, or about 600 million dollars, which would have made the heist the largest in history. Later, museum authorities revised their figure to 150 million dollars, which is quite a write-down. We can hear the conversation: “Oh, we thought they stole the other Braque. That one’s priceless. The one they actually took is the one we use for darts.”

Of course, the fascinating bit about these art thefts is that they are strictly pre-order—which is to say, they are financed by wealthy individuals who have the capacity to pay for the pieces, store them indefinitely, or perhaps even display them in their homes with no fear of exposure to authorities. The black market for stolen art is robust, to say the least, and for thieves the jobs are irresistible because it’s physically impossible to steal 500 (or 150) million in actual cash. At least not without the starting offensive line of the Philadelphia Eagles to help you carry it. Even if the sale value for stolen art is a fraction its estimated value, it’s still probably impossible to physically steal, say, 60 million dollars—or even 10 million. Enticed by such rewards, and outfitted by rich backers who can pay for the latest in security-thwarting gear, it’s very possible no protective technology can prevent these thefts. French police made a statement earlier today in which they revealed that they have a security recording of one thief entering the museum through a window, but otherwise they seem to be sans indices—i.e. clueless.

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The Naked City Feb 15 2010
IT TAKES A THIEF
Is it just us, or does the thought of financial institutions being robbed fail to arouse your moral outrage?

Most people think it’s pretty hard to rob a bank, but that perception is mostly a result of good marketing by financial institutions. The reality is, all you need is the huevos. Take for example the Blue Note Bandit. Here’s a guy who has robbed fifteen California banks in four months and shows no signs of slowing down. They call him the Blue Note Bandit because during his first heist he showed the teller a blue note demanding money. Other times the note was on white paper. Sometimes off-white. But the end result was the same every time—he walked with the green. Except for having a dye pack explode on him after one of the robberies, everything has gone the bandit’s way so far, but of course, the odds of him getting nabbed go up with each foray. We seriously doubt he’ll get away with many more. Back during the heyday of the pulp era bank robbers became folk heroes. Dillinger. Pretty Boy Floyd. Bonnie and Clyde. Today, most people are far too responsible to support criminals in such fashion. But isn’t siding with a bank over a bank robber in these interesting economic times a bit like accusing a woman of assault when she slaps the vampire who’s sucking her blood? Just a little moral complexity to get your Monday off to a good start. You’re welcome. And Mr. Blue Note? Quit while you’re ahead and visit sunny Guyana for the next, oh, rest of your life.

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Hollywoodland Feb 1 2010
RIP OFF HIS ROCKER
Does this look like a guy who’s responsible for his actions?

Actor Rip Torn, best known for his role as Zed in the sci-fi blockbuster Men in Black, was found Friday inside Lichfield Bancorp, a Connecticut bank, drunk and carrying a loaded handgun. Police arrested the 78-year-old and charged him with first-degree burglary, third-degree criminal mischief, carrying a firearm while intoxicated, first-degree trespassing, and possession of a firearm without a permit. Quite a laundry list. The mug shot here is actually from a previous arrest, but we’ll just assume he looked more or less the same Friday. Anyway, we laid out the rules for American justice in yesterday’s post—the richest person or entity wins. Torn is, one would assume, reasonably well off, which means he’d walk from this crime if he broke into, say, your house. But since he broke into a bank, he’s basically screwed. His only chance is to blame it on alcohol. That’s a lot like shooting someone, then rubbing the gun’s nose in the victim’s blood and screaming, “Bad weapon!” But for some reason, it seems to work for celebs.

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Intl. Notebook Feb 2 2009
THIS WON'T HEARST A BIT
Modern day bad girls are nothing compared to Patty Hearst.

Winona, Paris, Nicole—read and learn. Patty Hearst was first a millionaire socialite, then a kidnap victim, then a self-described urban revolutionary and machine gun toting bank robber. She went on trial for armed robbery in January 1976, and the proceedings continued through March. Newsweek produced the grainy cover you see above twenty-two years ago today. Despite the efforts of celebrity lawyer F. Lee Bailey, Hearst was sentenced to 35 years. But her sentence was commuted by president Jimmy Carter after a mere 22 months of time served, even though she had refused at trial to give evidence against her kidnappers/accomplices. She was later given a full pardon by Bill Clinton. Psychologists claim Hearst was not responsible for her actions due to the effects of Stockholm syndrome, which basically means she started digging her kidnappers. We're gonna try that excuse next time we get arrested, but we have a feeling it won’t work.

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The Naked City Dec 5 2008
ICE SKATING
Daring daylight diamond heist results in hefty haul.

In Paris yesterday evening, in a scene right out of a Hollywood heist movie, a gang of thieves robbed high-end jeweler Harry Winston of €108 million of diamond rings, necklaces and watches. At least three of the crooks were dressed as women, and all were reportedly armed with guns. After entering the store in plain sight of customers and bystanders, they overpowered fifteen boutique employees, bagged one of the most valuable collections of loot in jewel theft history, and fled before the police could be called. This is the second time the New York-based jeweler has been hit—just over a year ago the same shop lost more than $28 million in merchandise to another gang. Police claim to have few leads in this new robbery, but have said that because stolen jewels are difficult to sell in Western Europe, the gang probably has connections in the east.

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
October 01
1910—Los Angeles Times Bombed
A massive dynamite bomb destroys the Los Angeles Times building in downtown Los Angeles, California, killing 21 people. Police arrest James B. McNamara and his brother John J. McNamara. Though the brothers are represented by the era's most famous lawyer, Clarence Darrow, of Scopes Monkey Trial fame, they eventually plead guilty. James is convicted and sentenced to fifteen years in prison. His brother John is convicted of a separate bombing of the Llewellyn Iron Works and also sent to prison.
1975—Ali Defeats Frazier in Manila
In the Philippines, an epic heavyweight boxing match known as the Thrilla in Manila takes place between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. It is the third, final and most brutal match between the two, and Ali wins by TKO in the fourteenth round.
September 30
1955—James Dean Dies in Auto Accident
American actor James Dean, who appeared in the films Giant, East of Eden, and the iconic Rebel without a Cause, dies in an auto accident at age 24 when his Porsche 550 Spyder is hit head-on by a larger Ford coupe. The driver of the Ford had been trying to make a left turn across the rural highway U.S. Route 466 and never saw Dean's small sports car approaching.
1962—Chavez Founds UFW
Mexican-American farm worker César Chávez founds the United Farm Workers in California. His strikes, marches and boycotts eventually result in improved working conditions for manual farm laborers and today his birthday is celebrated as a holiday in eight U.S. states.
September 29
1916—Rockefeller Breaks the Billion Barrier
American industrialist John D. Rockefeller becomes America's first billionaire. His Standard Oil Company had gained near total control of the U.S. petroleum market until being broken up by anti-trust legislators in 1911. Afterward, Rockefeller used his fortune mainly for philanthropy, and had a major effect on medicine, education, and scientific research.

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