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Chapter XX – Willie Sutton

December 1983


Marino had long dreamed about robbing a bank. If you had asked him why, he would no doubt have said, “Because that’s where the money is.”

Marino, like everyone else, attributed that line to Willie Sutton, and the infamous bank robber fit Marino’s idea of what a criminal should be: smart, disciplined, professional. Unlike most criminals – who, in Marino’s view, were either slobs too lazy or incompetent to earn a legitimate living, or, worse, depraved animals preying on the weak – Sutton and he belonged to a fraternity of men who took their work seriously and took pride in a job cleverly done.

In “Where the Money Was: The Memoirs of a Bank Robber,” Sutton confessed to never having made the “that’s-where-the-money-is” retort that became integral to his public persona. “The credit,” he wrote, “belongs to some enterprising reporter who apparently felt a need to fill out his copy...”

But how Sutton went on to describe the psychology behind his criminal life could just as easily have been articulated by Marino instead: "Why did I rob banks? Because I enjoyed it. I loved it. I was more alive when I was inside a bank, robbing it, than at any other time in my life. I enjoyed everything about it so much that one or two weeks later I'd be out looking for the next job. But to me the money was the chips, that's all."


When Marino pulled his one and only bank job – when he pulled any score – he wanted the money, all right. But you can bet he also was in it for the sheer thrill of it, and because he could fancy himself a real Willie Sutton, a hard-working professional whose expertise happened to be appropriating other people’s money and valuables.

* * *

“I had someone I knew very well who worked in the Reliance Savings Bank, located on Utopia Parkway in Whitestone, Queens. What an appropriate name for the street from which I hoped to reach utopia, cash-wise. This person told me it would be very easy to rob this joint; in fact, it would be akin to taking candy from a baby, if done properly.

“My source gave me intricate details about the inner workings of the bank branch: I learned who the manager was, what time she arrived to open up, where she lived, where she parked her car; what time the time lock allowed the bank vault to open; how many tellers would be coming to work and what time they arrived; what time customers usually arrived to wait on line outside for the doors to open up; where the alarms were located. But my planning had just begun. Now I needed to decide when to hit the bank; how exactly to do it; whether I needed a partner; which getaway route to use; what kind of disguise, if any, to wear. I needed to know when the police radio sector cars made their rounds and where the cops where usually located.

To do a bank job properly is a difficult endeavor. Any bum can walk into a bank, pass a note, show a gun. But what do they get? Just one teller’s drawer of money, maybe two – and a lot of times an exploding dye pack that stains their hands, faces, and the cash. Alarms are activated, sometimes with the dopey bastard not evening realizing it. That is not the way to rob a bank. Willie Sutton would be looking up and shaking his head saying, ‘What a fucking idiot, a disgrace to my profession.’ I wanted Willie looking up at me and saying, ‘That a way kid, I’m proud of you.’

* * *

“The first thing I decided was I’d need another guy. There would be too many employees for me to take and watch alone, especially because I would go for the vault. For a partner I chose Joe Baird, a former Newark cop who had been thrown off the force in disgrace. He was on the balls of his ass, living in a motel, using cocaine. I liked Joe, and I thought he needed a break. But mainly I knew he would stand up if the shit hit the fan. He could handle himself physically, and, as an ex-cop, he knew what to watch for and could spot any potential danger coming our way.

“Now came the tedious work of sitting on the bank and learning everything that possibly could to help me. I sat on that bank for about five weeks, six days a week, for about 45 minutes around opening and closing time. It wasn’t necessary to sit there all day; plus, that would set off alarms in the neighborhood.

“The bank was open on Saturdays from 9 to 12, and I decided that was the time to strike. Fewer people would be on the street. The bank was in a one-block commercial strip surrounded by garden apartments and homes. The neighborhood radio car (109th Precinct) had a huge area to cover and rarely got near the bank, except when the patrolmen went for coffee and bagels every morning at 8:05 a.m., the start of their 8-to-4 shift. By 8:20, they were gone, and they didn’t work their way back to the area for another hour, by which time I would be long gone.

“The branch manager typically arrived at 8:35, 25 minutes before opening. The plan was that I’d take her just as she opened the front door. I’d wear a business suit, so I could get close to her without raising suspicion. Joe would watch from the phone booth next the gas station across the street. He’d wait until I got inside, then come in a few minutes later. The vault lock was programmed to open at 8:45. Joe would handle the tellers as they arrived for work; I’d empty the vault of all the large bills. We’d be out of there shortly after 9, walk casually to our rental car, which was parked around the corner, and follow our escape route: about five blocks away was the entrance to the Cross Island Parkway, and less than a mile from there was the on-ramp to the Whitestone Bridge. I rehearsed this escape route a dozen times. I knew even that even if we caught the one light before the parkway, we’d be on the bridge within four minutes, in the Bronx two minutes after that, and, within another seven or eight minutes, we’d be sitting in my Skipper’s social club, counting the cash.

* * *

“I had everything planned down to the last details: I’d carry an attaché case, into which I would pile the cash from the vault, and I’d identify myself as Bob Barker, as in the ‘Price is Right.’ But when we got to the bank, Joe turned white as a fucking sheet as he realized it was really going to happen. ‘Kenny, you’re fuckin’ nuts,’ he said. ‘I can’t do this.’

“But I didn’t give a flying fuck whether he came with me or not. I had put too much time and effort into this score to back out now. I called him every fucking curse word I could think of. I told him buy a paper and cup of coffee at the luncheonette next to bank and sit in the car, motor running, reading the paper (so as to not raise suspicion). I told him to back the car up as close to the car behind him as he could (to obstruct the license plate), and to leave the trunk open a cunt’s hair (so that when I came out with the cash, I could just throw it in). I told him if he left me there, I’d track him down no matter how long it took and cut him into a thousand pieces. I didn’t want to be left there holding a case full of money in one hand and my dick in the other.

“Taking the manager went off without a hitch. I just walked up to her as she put the key into the lock, told her I had a gun (I didn’t) and not to worry, all I wanted was the money. Once inside, I kept talking calmly to her, putting her at ease. She shut the alarms off as instructed. It was 8:35 a.m. As three of the four tellers working that morning arrived, we let them in together. They were calm even when they realized I was there to rob the place. ‘Don’t do anything stupid and you won’t get hurt,’ I said gently. I had my finger in my pocket, telling them, ‘Don’t force me to take out this gun because then I’ll have to shoot you all.’ They obeyed. They were young kids anyway, three girls in their early twenties and the guy the same. I herded them all into the back room near the vault, told them all to lay face down on the floor, and when the vault opened, the manager and I went in and within minutes emptied the shelves of the large bills and put them into my case.

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“When that vault door opened, I think I actually got a hard-on, such was the feeling of pure unadulterated ecstasy. ‘All right, Willie,’ I said to myself, ‘I got this under control.’ I pulled the office phone wires out. I told the manager to lie on the floor next to her tellers, took the keys to the front door from her (to let myself out and lock the door from the outside). Before I left, I told them my partner outside would shoot them all if they didn’t give me five minutes to get away. Who knows if people obey those kind of orders, but I’m sure most people would lay right on that floor before moving. I know I would, and I’m a street guy.

“I let myself out of the bank, locked the door, and turned the corner walking at a brisk pace to the car. The few people I passed had no idea I had just heisted the bank. Joe was there, thank God. I opened the trunk, threw the case with the case inside, and jumped into the front passenger seat. ‘Obey the speed limit and let’s get the fuck home.’

Away from the bank we drove. We even caught the light on green – Willie was looking out for us. In less than five minutes we were in the middle of the Whitestone Bridge. Joe, who’d been checking the rear-view mirror all the way, started shaking like a hula girl. ‘They got us,’ he said. ‘Here comes flashing red lights at the bottom of the bridge, closing on us fast. What should I do?’

“I pulled down my visor and looked in the make-up mirror. Sure as shit, there were lights flashing. I could hear the dim but growing sound of a siren approaching. ‘You’re the cop – you want to shoot it out?’

“As the lights and sirens got nearer, Joe was sweating his balls off. I was thinking, ‘I wonder if I’d live if I jumped off the fuckin’ bridge into the water and swam to the Bronx.’ I kept watching through the mirror, my body growing more taut with each passing second. As the vehicle drew closer, I made out the writing on the front: Ambulance.

“I laughed and started singing, ‘Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is…’ Joe thought I had lost it and gone completely off my rocker. ‘It’s a fucking ambulance, Dick Tracy,’ I told him.

* * *

At about 9:15, the Skipper met us at the club as planned. ‘You all right?’ he asked as soon as he opened the door. ‘Everything went okay?’

“Before counting the cash, I changed my clothes and washed the dye I had used out of my hair. We’d been told there could be upwards of 500 grand in the vault, but the haul was only $160,000. Not a bad score, but by no means a great one, especially after all the time I put in on it. I gave Joe 25 grand for his work. He was overjoyed and thought he hit the Irish Sweepstakes. I gave the Skipper 20 grand. And I gave 20 grand to the person who gave me the score. So I was left with about 95 grand for myself.

* * *

Joe, by coincidence, was staying at the residential motel in Jersey where one of my goomarahs was living. About a week after the bank job, I was headed to the motel to pick her up for a date. I’m driving along, and all of a sudden I think some looney bird is behind me. It was dark, and the guy was flashing his brights and blowing his horn. I finally pulled over. It was Joe. He told me the motel was surrounded by cops. ‘Beat it out of here – quick,’ he shouted.

“Somehow, the cops knew I had hit the Queens bank. I went on every back road in Jersey and got to a friend’s house 25 miles away. I put my car in his garage and took his car back to New York. I needed to lay low.

* * *

“It wasn’t until much later did I hear what had happened. I thought I had pulled the ‘perfect score.’ But unbeknownst to me, the fourth teller working that day, a guy, was one of the people I passed on the way to the getaway car. He recognized me as a friend of another bank employee, my inside source, who was off that Saturday. The FBI, helped by an informant who knew about my goomarah in Jersey, staked out the motel. Joe might have been a shitty bank robber, but he knew enough to spot the surveillance and, to his credit, alerted me. I spent a good eight months on the lam, moving back and forth between the Bronx and New Jersey.

* * *

“During the heyday of his career, Willie Sutton was nabbed by the feds after getting a tip from an ‘honest citizen,’ a Brooklyn guy named Arnold Schuster. One of the most feared men in the annals of organized crime, Albert ‘the Lord High Executioner’ Anastasia, was so livid that a ‘scumbag civilian’ had given up Sutton that he had Schuster murdered.

“The FBI caught up with me in September 1984. I was given up by a civilian too – my girlfriend, Mary, whom I was living with in the Bronx. She got pissed when she found out I was living with another woman when I was hiding out in New Jersey and called the cops.


Where the Money Was: The Memoirs of a Bank Robber (Viking Press, New York, 1976).

For additional information on the FBI case history page, click here

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