Fun Friday: Old Sheriff's Favorite Dumb-Criminal Moments

Your average lawbreaker ain't exactly Professor Moriarty.

posted on February 3, 2023

Despite what you see on TV and in the movies, law enforcement work is not all about high-speed chases and blazing gunfire. One old-time lawman once said that it was 90 percent boredom and 10 percent sheer panic. However, police work does have its lighter moments—those episodes that make us laugh a bit and keep us from going quite so crazy. Here are three examples that come quickly to mind.

This particular little Texas town had one Mom & Pop convenience store that was burglarized quite a few times. It sat out on the edge of town and in such a location that passersby would never notice that the back door had been opened. Yet in every case, I had solved the crime within an hour and, not only that, I had the burglar in custody.

I know that you are sitting there, thinking, “Wow! This old sheriff must have been quite a detective.” But, while I certainly appreciate the thought, such is not the case.

You see, there was sort of a dim bulb in town—we’ll call him Joe—who committed every one of the break-ins. He knew that the back door could be easily jimmied open. And, once inside, he took only his favorite brand of candy (all of them), and his favorite brand of cigarettes (every pack in the store)! Poor Joe never could figure out how I got onto his trail so quickly.

Another time, our Justice of the Peace died in office and the county court appointed his widow to fill out his unexpired term. Now one of the duties of the JP, in our state, was to visit the jail every morning and arraign all new prisoners—that is, read them their rights and set a bond or fine, whichever was appropriate to the charge.

In addition, it was our duty to fill out an arraignment form that listed the prisoner’s name and the specific charge. I insisted that my deputies list the charge by the exact wording in the Texas Penal Code. For example, what we would call a “house burglary” was actually listed in the statutes as “Burglary of a Habitation.”

So, one morning, our new—and not too experienced—JP sat at the desk with a prisoner before her. “You are charged,” she said, “with Burglary of a Habitation. How do you plead?” The fellow before her said that he didn’t know what that meant.

The judge looked at him sternly and said, “It means you make a habit out of burglary.” It was hard for us to keep a straight face and proper courtroom demeanor, I can tell you that!

My final story also involves a burglar. (I wonder if there is some sort of pattern here?) It happened when I was a young policeman working a patrol shift from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. One of my co-workers was checking on a strip mall in his district when he found that a back door had been forced open. We quickly surrounded the entire building and a couple of us went inside. It was clear that this particular business had been burglarized…but we couldn’t find the offender. Then we noticed that the acoustical tile in the ceiling had been disturbed; the burglar had climbed into the common ceiling that all of the businesses in the strip mall shared.

About that time we heard some screaming from another business that was about three doors down in the same strip mall. The burglar, scurrying to get away, had fallen through the acoustic tile into a florist’s shop. He had landed astraddle of a large cactus! This was one crook who was mighty glad when the cops showed up.



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