2/18/1952 - A tragedy begins when twenty-four-year-old crime buff Arnold L. Schuster spots bank robbing fugitive Willie "The Actor" Sutton riding on a New York Subway and informs police (the nickname is picked up due to the elaborate costumes and disguises he uses on many of his jobs). The trigger is a dead car battery that sets the deadly dominoes of Fate falling.
Going to a service station around the corner from one of the apartments he uses as a hideout, Sutton discovers that the mechanic that replaces batteries is late for work for the first time in ten years ... and the other attendant can't drive the tow truck around the block to help with a charge because then there would be no one available to watch the station. Not wanting to miss a meeting in Union Square he has scheduled with his criminal partner Tommy Kling to discuss the upcoming robbery of an armored car, Sutton decides to get there by way of the subway, a short, fifteen minute ride. At the meeting, Kling is surprised when Sutton shows up on foot as he wants his friend to drive him on to a meeting with a lawyer that owes him money. Sutton agrees to get his battery fixed and return, and heads back to the subway, barely getting on the next ride to the station near his home ... a ride Schuster is also on.
A robber that had plucked over $2,000,000 out of banks, stores, and armored cars over the course of a career begun in the 1920s, and an escapee from numerous jails and prisons, Sutton is a notorious criminal wanted by authorities across the country, on the loose and in the news since his departure from a life sentence at the Philadelphia County Prison at Holmesburg five years and one week before. Because he is known to like expensive clothing, his photo has been sent to tailors up and down the east coast ... one of which has been looked at daily by Arnold Schuster for the two years he has pressed pants in his father's shop.
Sutton has less than a minute left until his home destination when the subway stops at Delkalb, and Schuster, who has been shopping in downtown Brooklyn, gets on and instantly recognizes the outlaw. Unobserved, Schuster follows Sutton to his car, where to save time, the bandit has decided to take the battery out of the vehicle himself prior to going around the corner for a charge or replacement. Location noted, the citizen crime fighter then goes in search of the nearest cop. He finds two in a nearby cruiser, Patrolmen Donald B. Shea and Joseph McClellan. Investigating, Sutton shows identification and sweet talks the officers, convincing them he is just a law abiding citizen trying to service his broken vehicle. The men drive off, but when they mention to Detective Louis Weiner (a man that has been harassed by a friend for years about why doesn't he do something of value and catch Willie Sutton) that they just came from a false alarm involving a Willie Sutton look-a-like, the police investigator decides another look might be in order. Another look indeed! Chat and papers produced again, the officers convince Sutton to stroll down the block to the police station to resolve his identification so there will be no more future mistakes, and the outlaw goes, believing he can con his way past handcuffs (although armed with .38 pistol, unlike many of the desperadoes of the 20s and 30s, Sutton keeps his weapon holstered). He is wrong, and when fingerprints are taken there are no more doubts as to who the police have in custody.
Interviewing "The Actor"
In the wake of the arrest, Schuster becomes a celebrity and is held up in print, on television, and over the airwaves as an example of what good citizenship should be. It is a concept that Murder, Inc. boss Albert "The Mad Hatter" Anastasia finds alien and repugnant. Known throughout the underworld for his explosive temper and murderous ways, despite having no personal connection to Sutton, the mobster goes ballistic and orders a hit on the crimebuster for being "a squealer." Contract given, Schuster has only eighteen days left to live.
For Sutton, the arrest is the end of his criminal career. Found guilty of the 1950 robbery of a branch of the Manufacturers Trust Company in Queens, the outlaw is sentenced to 30 to 120 years in the Attica State Prison.
On his best behavior throughout his stay at the facility, Sutton will eventually be released on Christmas Eve of 1969. Finally free, he will spend the last years of his life speaking up for prison reform, giving banks tips on how to prevent robberies, penning a best-selling autobiography called Where the Money Was: The Memoirs of a Bank Robber, and even making a credit card television commercial for a Connecticut bank. Suffering from emphysema and circulation issues in his legs, in 1980, the legendary bandit will pass away at his sister's home in Spring Hill, Florida at the age of seventy-nine.