I've never really gotten the whole "romanticizing prisoners" deal. When I read John Waters' book Role Models, what really stuck out to me were his stories of people, generally women, who wrote to an imprisoned Charles Manson to express their adoration for him from afar. I get treating people with compassion, even if I personally would have a mighty hard time extending a loving hand to someone who, like Manson, was guilty of a whole range of unspeakably awful crimes.
(It's worth noting, too, that precious few of the hundreds of thousands of people locked into the prison-industrial complex for relatively minor crimes get any sort of energy put into their advocacy and rehabilitation, which makes all the fawning over "rock star" felons even harder for me to understand.)
But becoming infatuated with someone based only on the fact of their crimes alone, like the way some fans conflate romance with celebrities' pop songs or touchdown-throwing abilities? Nope. No way.
Then I read about the Trophy Thief of the Tristate Area. And more than a week later, I literally cannot stop thinking about him. Or her. (The FBI assumes it's a male suspect, but you know what, I want Michelle Rodriguez to play the lead when this inevitably gets picked up by Lionsgate.)
I know this is nowhere near on the same level as sending nudes to a convicted murderer, but I have read this story probably a dozen times in the last week and every time it brings me new delights. As the Times writes, someone in New York and New Jersey has repeatedly dressed all in black, kicked the door down of a local country club, and calmly made away with a haul that has, to date, included the 1903 Belmont Stakes trophy, a silver Fabergé soup tureen and ladle and a replica of Ben Hogan's Hickok Belt. Not even the belt itself! Just the replica.
The New York Times continues:
"The thefts have caught the attention of the F.B.I. and antiques dealers, have broken the hearts of horse racing and golf enthusiasts, and have prompted theories ranging from the common street crime variety to complex schemes worthy of 'The Sopranos.'"
Every time I get a free minute these days, I find myself wondering about this person. Is he happy? Is she my age? Does he have many hobbies, aside from selective but wide-ranging sports memorabilia thievery? Does her dog even like her that much? Is he more into Reddit or Tumblr?
I am not kidding when I say I have cast several different scenarios for this mysterious thief's possible motivation. They are almost entirely fueled by unrealistic action movies and/or television, and they include:
-The thief is an ex-cop who had to turn in her badge and gun after pulling one too many loose-cannon maneuvers. Left without any way to blow off steam, the trophy-hunting starts as a way to rekindle a spark of that old adrenaline and ends with her keeping her old squad on her toes the only way she knows how. Bonus points if they have to call her in for consultation.
-Or he's a college-age barista who spends his evenings wiping down machines, carefully making sure each milk steamer is free from any solidified gunk before moving onto the next. The girl he closes with can't help but watch him do it, even though she has her own stuff to take care of before they can lock up. His movements are so quick, fingers so long, that she's hypnotized by them. Finally, one day, she asks, "Do you play piano or something?" He blinks at her, then looks down, smiling to himself. "Nah," he says. "Never really got the hang of recitals."
-Or he's actually a group of kids, all around sixteen or seventeen, who are trying to make this year the last, best one before they all go off to college and leave each other forever. They've all known each other since they were children, and they say they'll stay in touch, but they just don't know how they're going to survive without sneaking out their back doors and biking two blocks over, staring up through the dark and just standing there in a side yard, waiting, not even having to say anything, until a light flicks on and a window slides open. Now, they'll have something to really remember each other by.
-Or she's just some bored rando who went to the museum one day and idly thought, "Huh. I wonder if I could steal that." You know, one of those people who gets a kick out of sneaking too-big bottles of conditioner onto planes. And at first it was just a little thought, but she works nights and never got the hang of sleeping in days, so she finds herself there a lot, checking out cameras, smiling at security guards, refusing to think of it as "casing the joint." Until one of her rare nights off work, she gets up, turns off X-Factor, walks to her closet, tugs on a black turtleneck, hops in the car, drives to the museum, kicks down the door, breaks the display case, and is back in her Subaru with Bobby Jones' Grand Slam United States Amateur Championship trophy cradled in her lap like an oversized kitten before she knows it. She doesn't even like golf.
-Orrrr this whole thing is an elaborate marketing ploy for National Treasure 4: Old Man Sports and it'll turn out to have been Nicolas Cage the whole time.
You see where I'm going with this. I didn't even get into the theories that involve some sort of intricate demon-summoning ritual.
Part of my fixation is definitely the "bad boy" (or girl) factor. As an anxiety-prone rule-follower, the idea of becoming involved in any of the above scenarios actually makes me short of breath. I've never even shoplifted a pack of gum. The opportunity to grill someone about the experience, though, could almost be a thrill-by-proxy. "I'd never do it," I could say, marveling, "But damn, you have guts."
The other part of The Tristate Trophy Thief's story that appeals to me, though, is that it almost seems antiquated. I've never really been conscious of a full-scale, Ocean's 11-style heist making the news -- in my lifetime, all the financial crimes have been of the Wall Street hedge fund variety. In our time of fancy security and NSA email tracking, the idea that anyone could just barge into a country club and whisk away with the shiniest prize is almost endearingly old-fashioned. So this barely seems like a crime at all; instead, as you can probably tell from my detective's sketches, it feels like being dropped into a fiction, where every moment has the potential for adventure.
In reality, crime carries consequences, whether they're of the legal or emotional variety. Even in this particular story, the quotes that the Times pulled from a museum rep who seemed genuinely worried for the welfare of these trophies made my heart hurt. The FBI agents who are looking into this are probably sacrificing time they could be spending on more serious, potentially deadly plots. Someone had to repair all that glass that got broken, and I doubt they were making a living wage. Hell, even the Times reporter was likely thinking, "Seriously? I went to journalism school for this?" And I'm sure that'll continue as this drama evolves. If this thief is ever caught, the reality will inevitably be inferior to the fiction.
Still, though, for the time being, I'll entertain myself imagining the identity of the man, woman, or Hollywood actor behind the mask. Maybe, somewhere, she's imagining me too.
Kate is on Twitter: @katchatters