Essay: Bank Bandit Can't Put Phone Down

A cell phone-carrying robber in the Washington, D.C. area strikes several banks. One expert posits the robber is talking to someone who is giving the robber the courage to do the job, but Scott Simon has other ideas.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Security photos of an unidentified young woman appeared in papers across the country this week. She is reportedly 5'2" to 5'6", 120 pounds with dark hair. But she can also be identified by the cell phone on which she's always talking, even as she robs banks. The young woman has robbed four Wachovia Bank branches in northern Virginia over the past month, all while talking on her cell phone. News accounts say that she slides a shoe box onto the bank teller's counter that has a note attached demanding cash. Witnesses say that she mostly seems to listen while on her cell phone, but occasionally says, `OK, OK,' in a mild accent. Actually, it's kind of a relief not to hear someone half shouting, `I'm calling from a bank. Can you hear me?'

Now the police surmise that the cell phone bandit could be talking to a lookout or get-away driver or that she's only pretending to talk on the phone as a distraction so that people cannot so easily identify her face. But Fred Desroches, a sociology professor at Canada's University of Waterloo, who's written a book on the psychology of bank robbers, told The Washington Post this week that he doubts this robber is communicating with a co-conspirator. He says, `Most small-time bank robbers don't have accomplices. The amount of money you can fit into a shoe box isn't enough to entice a lookout or get-away driver into risking the crime.'

Dr. Desroches' ventures that the robber is talking to someone who gives her the courage to go through with the crime. He actually told The Post, `Maybe she's talking to her mother.' Now there's a family calling plan. But, look, I doubt that the cell phone bandit is alerting an accomplice or talking to her mother. I think she's just on hold.

(Soundbite of music)

SIMON: On hold with her cell phone company, waiting 45 minutes and getting switched from department to department so that she can question a spurious $3 charge. Sure, she'd like to hang up, sure she has other things to do, but she'd just lose her place in the calling queue, have to call back and get passed along the phone tree to every four-digit extension in Bangalore. `I'm sorry, but you want the customer concern department.' Or she's on hold with the help desk, the customer satisfaction desk or the quality care division, listening and smoldering while maddeningly mellow music piles up in her head like butterscotch pudding. Or she's on hold with the airlines, the bank card company or with the refrigerator repair service that was supposed to be there between 9 and noon and now it's 1 and she had to get out and rob a bank. She's on hold. Remember, your call may be monitored for our own amusement.

(Soundbite of "Call Me")

BLONDIE: (Singing) Call me...

Back-Up Singers: (Singing) Call me.

BLONDIE: (Singing) ...my love, call me, call me any, anytime. Call me...

Back-Up Singers: (Singing) Call me.

BLONDIE: ...for a ride. Call me, call me for some overtime.

SIMON: Blondie--don't pretend you don't remember--at 18 minutes past the hour.

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