The Peculiar Truth
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The Peculiar Truth

The Peculiar Truth about the Whiskey Robber

Attila Ambrus; terrible goalie, folk legend
  • Attila Ambrus was born in Transylvania, the county of Csik, a region of Central Romania. After years of juvenile delinquency, he escaped to Budapest, Hungary.
  • 1989: The Berlin Wall was dismantled, and then the Soviet Union’s Iron Curtain fell, too. Hungary and many Eastern European nations turned to capitalism. The transition was chaotic.
  • Ambrus earned money through illegally smuggling animal pelts and by digging graves.
  • He tried out for Hungary’s national hockey team. Though he had no talent for the sport, he showed tenacity. So they hired him as a backup goalie, a position that paid almost nothing. They also made him clubhouse janitor. He cleaned the ice with the Zamboni.
  • His teammates nicknamed him the Panther from Csik (pronounced chick), named after his home county. He adopted the nickname the Chicky Panther.
  • Ambrus was a ridiculously inept goalie. During one game, opponents scored on him 23 times.
  • And he was perpetually broke. But he wanted to impress his fiancee.
  • So he secretly started robbing banks.
  • Actually, this first armed robbery took place at a post office. Then he graduated to banks, more post offices, and even travel agencies.
  • He was known to find liquid courage before each heist by drinking whiskey at local taverns. Victims could smell the booze on his breath.
  • The media dubbed him the Whiskey Robber.
  • Ambrus carried out his criminal career for five years throughout the 1990s without being caught. He pulled off nearly 30 heists.
  • He never harmed anyone physically, and he even offered a bank teller roses during the robbery.
  • During the Soviet Union era, such brazen criminal activity was unknown. In post-Soviet Hungary, though, some countrymen rooted for him. The Whiskey Robber became a national folk hero.
  • Though grainy photos and artists’ sketches of him appeared in the news, nobody recognized Ambrus for years, despite being on the hockey team. That was in part because he wore disguises during heists, he rarely appeared in hockey games, wasn’t a popular player, and he wore a goalie’s mask and hockey gear when on the ice.
  • His biggest fear of exposure to crowds came when he operated the Zamboni between periods.
  • Authorities finally captured him in January 1999, and his hockey teammates were shocked to learn that the Chicky Panther was the Whiskey Robber.
  • Ambrus went to prison. He was a model inmate.
  • Then, six months later, he escaped.
  • Instead of going on the lam to another country, Ambrus hid out in downtown Budapest. He robbed more banks. Then the police caught him again.
  • The Whiskey Robber became such a folk hero that songs were written about him, and a flag was created in his honor. It flew over the hockey arena for years after his capture.
  • He was released from prison in 2012.
  • Ambrus took up pottery while incarcerated. His current Instagram feed features his many works in ceramics.
  • A Hungarian movie called The Whiskey Bandit was made about him in 2017.
  • For more, read Julian Rubinstein’s enjoyable book The Ballad of the Whiskey Robber.

Dan is the author of over a dozen novels. His latest is Tight Five. He publishes ‘The Peculiar Truth’ every Tuesday.

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Dan Spencer

Dan Spencer

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Author of over a dozen novels, including Tight Five. I publish The Peculiar Truth every Tuesday. https://medium.com/the-peculiar-truth