Stupid criminal story cracks my top-40 list

As I count down to retirement, this is No. 29 on my list of top-40 favourite stories I have written for the Toronto Star.

Having split time between being a sports writer, a police reporter and an online breaking news writer, I have been posting mostly sports stories in my countdown.

However, sometimes it’s the dumb little stories that make my day and can still make me laugh years later as I re-read them.

Stories of stupid criminals make for rich story-telling.

N0. 29 on my list is pretty stupid, but that’s the point. It’s about a suspected bank robber. On the day he pulls the heist, he decides, what the hell, I might as well get a hair cut too.

So he goes to the barber shop and gets into a fight with the barber. The fight spills out into the street. The cops come, arrest the guy with the loot and you’ve got to wonder, What was he thinking?

As a journalist, I love meaty stories. I love interesting people stories. I love investigating stories. But sometimes I like the nutty ones too.

At the time, I was working in the Star’s radio room where we would listen to police scanners for breaking news. I would also sign up for all the police releases from Toronto and the neighbouring jurisdictions.

Many of those press releases go nowhere, but sometimes, one will jump out at you, and this one certainly did. The spare details in the release told me there was something here.

You have to alert the editor as early as possible that this story is worth chasing.

Once they give the go-ahead, I try to track down the main subjects of the press release.

The police don’t release victims names so you have to find this out on your own. When I find out the victim, I try to get an interview if they don’t mind talking to me and giving me their name.

This time I remember calling the barbershop and getting the barber on the phone. He was willing to talk.

The fact that he was 69 and the crook was 44 made it even more juicy.

As a journalist, sometimes you strain to get creative if there is little meat on the bone, but I didn’t have to stretch for this one.

On stories like this, I tell myself: Tell the story as it happened, and don’t try to muck it up. It’s a simple storytelling rule. If the story’s good enough, it will almost write itself.

Here, then, is No. 29 on my top-40 list as I count down to retirement. The story and the headline (Bank robber gets snippy with barber) were pure gold.

The story ran on Oct. 18, 2004.

I am protecting the name of the barber this time. He’ll be Joe Blow.

Headline: Bank robber gets snippy with barber

By Curtis Rush

Police caught a suspected bank robber yesterday when he went for a haircut and instead got into a fight with the barber.

The brawl spilled out onto the sidewalk, and when police arrived to bust it up, the man had $2,500 stuffed in his pockets — many bills that were traced to the holdup earlier that day, police say.

At 2:20 Tuesday afternoon, a man walked into a barbershop on Dundas St. W., puffing on a cigarette. When barber Joe Blow asked him to butt out, the man became angry.

“I told him to take the cigarette out. I had some food in my mouth and he said, ‘You’re spitting on me.’ He sort of attacked me. Somebody else called police,” Blow, 69, said yesterday.

The barber wasn’t giving an inch to the 44-year-old man.

“I was mouthing off, he was mouthing off,” Blow said. “The guy wasn’t scared. I wasn’t scared. What the hell, if he kills me, it’s okay … I’ve lived long enough.

“We started to brawl outside. He hit me with a stool. I knew he meant business because he was grabbing anything outside to hit me with.”

Earlier that day, at 9: 45 a.m., a man entered Banco Comercial Portugues on Dupont St. west of Lansdowne Ave., gave a teller a note saying he had a gun and demanded money, police said.

With the cash in hand, the suspect fled in a green pickup truck.

Despite the fact that Blow took a lump to the head, he decided not to press assault charges.

“No use. He’s got enough trouble on his hands,” Blow said.

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