The Crummy

The first case on the day’s Juvenile Docket listed the defendant’s last name as “Crummy”. The District Attorney, Andrea Price, asked the arresting officer, “What led you to believe that a Crummy committed this burglary?”

The young cop glanced at me, where I sat on the bench in the small courtroom reserved for juvenile cases. He looked down at his hands and then replied, “By the evidence they left. They leave distinctive evidence at each job they do”.

Judge Tom in the courtroom

“The Crummy’s” would become a familiar name in my courtroom over the years, but this was the first case I’d heard as a judge that involved the family. Most of the ten percent of our population that engage in antisocial behavior–otherwise known as criminal behavior–are just plain dumb. Sometimes TV and the movies bestow extraordinary capacities on these low-functioning folks.

If the truth be known, many of us in the “criminal justice” business looked forward to our encounters with the smart criminal. Though they tended to be sociopathic, character- disordered people, at least they gave us respite from the 99.5% of dumb criminals that came our way.

In my third of a century of dealing with criminals I have not come across many with the smarts of Willy “The Actor” Sutton. For sure, I have seen some smart, mean guys that would just as soon kill you just for the thrill of it but these were few and far between. Most of the ten percent of our population that engage in antisocial behavior–otherwise known as criminal behavior–are just plain dumb. Sometimes, TV and the movies bestow extraordinary capacities on these low functioning folks.

Jack Rau, an ex-marine, tough-minded criminal defense attorney I crossed legal swords with on many occasion routinely advised his young hapless clients, “Son, you are just too dumb to be a criminal. You need to find something else to do in life or you will spend most of your time in jail.”

The Crummy’s–yes, that was their real name, which aptly described their characters–belonged to the other 99.5% of the criminal population I came to know. Providence had blessed the whole family with room temperature IQs. A nest of them lived in Marrero, Louisiana near the Johns Mansfield Asbestos Production Plant. I always wondered if this location had something to do with their unfortunate genetic condition.

The Crummy’s practiced burglary and theft, but not very profitably. They did not operate on a grand scale, or with the finesse of “The Dutchman” Ernst, a professional burglar that I’d known in my days as an Assistant District Attorney. They restricted themselves to burglaries of unoccupied houses where the pickings were slim, and theft of bicycles. We saw their kids in Juvenile Court on a regular basis.

Some of the smartest criminals were the old time burglars like Hiney “The Dutchman Ernst”. Stealing was a business for them and they expected to get caught from time to time. They kept a stash of money with someone, often a trusted girlfriend, to help them get through the criminal justice system.

The first money from their stash would go to a bondsman to set them back on the bricks so they could “earn” more money. A criminal defense attorney who would arrange the best plea bargain he could get for his client was the recipient of the second batch of money. The balance of their dollars would go to influence the Pardon and Parole Board to look favorably upon their petition for an early release from prison.

To their credit, these professionals would never think of carrying a weapon on a job. This was mere self-preservation on their part. They understood that the system would punish much more harshly for an Aggravated Burglary than for a Simple Burglary, and their attitude was “After all, this was just business anyway. Nobody needed to get hurt.”

Most of the professional burglars worked alone or with another trusted professional. But sometimes they screwed up, as happened with Hiney “The Dutchman” Ernst. Hiney, a handsome man who attracted hoards of women, had peeled safes (opening them with oxyacetylene torches) for many years. All law enforcement agencies in the New Orleans area knew Hiney’s signature well.

A Hiney Ernst Style Safe

However, once “The Dutchman”, hungry for revenue, made a mistake. He partnered with a young, hotheaded punk. Unknown to Hiney, his young partner carried a gun on the job, things went wrong and they got caught. Now, Hiney faced an Aggravated Burglary charge.

When the case fell to me as an Assistant District Attorney, I watched as the virile Hiney, dressed in blue suit with carefully Brylcreamed hair,  appeared with his attorney G. Ray Gill before Judge J. Bernard Cocke to plead guilty.  Judge Cocke, who knew Hiney’s reputation well, sentenced “The Dutchman” to the minimum sentence of five years. I am sure that Hiney’s being sixty years old at the time had something to do with the minimum sentence.

A couple of years later I met Attorney Gill in court again. In casual conversation I inquired about Hiney.

“The Department of Corrections made Hiney a chauffeur at Saint Gabriel’s Prison, just up river from New Orleans”, Gill replied, smiling slyly.

“Saint Gabriel’s”, I exclaimed, “that is the Women’s Prison.”

As Mr. Gill nodded his head in agreement,  I lamented, “My goodness”, I have helped send Hiney to stud heaven”.

“Yes you have, son”, The wily old G. Ray grinned in agreement.

Experienced detectives could recognize a perpetrator like Hiney by the way he peeled a safe. The police take immediate note of the signatures that many criminals leave at crime scenes. “The Dutchman” had a distinctive way of cracking a safe. The James brothers of New Orleans took the valuables from a home, then had a meal from the refrigerators of their victims. Will Pratt, an electrician by trade (who grew up with me in my neighborhood), could defeat they most sophisticated alarm systems.

So, I leaned back in my chair with no expectation of the next words out of the mouth of the youthful patrolman, standing first on one foot and then on the other in his nervousness at appearing in Court for the first time.

“What evidence did this Crummy leave?” ADA Price persisted.

“Ma’am, the defendant defecated in the premises he burglarized. The whole Crummy family does this each time they commit a burglary,” the Sheriff’s Deputy replied.

Since this behavior seemed so bizarre, I thought maybe the enthusiastic young officer was exaggerating. Two subsequent burglary cases where Crummy juveniles were involved soon dispelled my doubts. All the Crummy’s defiled the premises they burglarized with their excrement.

Having spent about half my life dealing with people lying outside social norms, that world seemed somehow normal to me.

When I moved to Paradise, for a while, the silence, serenity, and lack of crime seemed unnatural to me. “Don’t my new friends in my new world realize that this is not the real world?”, I often thought to myself.

Eventually, I came to realize that Paradise is the real world and my old world was this bizarre existence created by the 10% of our population who, for very complicated reasons, are calamity driven and require a daily amount of chaos in their lives.

I prefer living in Paradise.

Living in Paradise


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One Response to The Crummy

  1. Dan Fox says:

    Tom, “The Crummy” is very informative (and entertaining). Gives me better perspective on petty crime. Thanks.
    When are you going to post something about Venezuela?
    Cousin Dan

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