How often has this happened to you? I recently discovered a pal of mine was once arrested for serial bank robbery. He was called the Plaid Shirt Bandit, a transgressor who had earned his own Wanted Poster.
I first met my friend, Ray Curry, around 1994 at the old Lakewood Starbucks. One of my career responsibilities was serving as a segment host for the TV program, The Sheriff’s Report. Ray performed as one of my guest stars helping me demonstrate how to behave on a traffic stop.
Now let’s flash back to 1974. Ray was running a Lincoln Torpedo-Style electric arc welder helping to retrofit the old Bon Marche’ building in downtown Tacoma for new earthquake safety standards. The building was gutted and wide open. Ray ate his lunch sitting on the third floor ledge with his feet dangling over the side into the open air below. The public could look up and see Ray sitting there in his plaid shirt and welder’s leathers.
After lunch, Ray returned to his perch on a 6’ scaffolding when he heard the unmistakeable sound of a rifle bolt being cycled — a distinctive sound that grabs your attention if you are familiar with military or hunting rifles.
When the rifle bolt slammed home, Ray jerked his head around to face 12 Tacoma Police Officers (TPD) with their guns all pointing towards Ray.
Ray raised his hands slowly. TPD commanded him to drop his welder. He hollered back that he could not that because his welder was still energized.
Had he dropped the welder, the energized welder could have triggered a big fireworks show startling the police, possibly causing them to fire their guns. Additionally, Ray could have suffered an electrical shock while standing on the metal scaffolding, ending up on his head on the concrete below.
TPD turned off the welder. Ray lowered his welder tip and hose to the floor. He then followed their commands to climb off the scaffolding and strip off his welder leathers, hood and gauntlet gloves. TPD handcuffed Ray and patted him down for weapons. The police told him he was under arrest for bank robbery. Ray was rushed off to the County City Building and placed into a secure interview room.
Ray was welding only a block or two away from a Tacoma bank which was robbed during the noon hour. It would have been easy for Ray to take a long lunch break, rob the bank and return to work without needing a get-a-way car.
TPD was excited. It was a time for high-fives. They had successfully rounded up and arrested the infamous “Plaid Shirt Bandit”. The Wanted Posters described this desperado as a 5’ 8”, white male with a tight beard, flattop haircut and plaid shirt. The robber wore a plaid shirt to every robbery which is why he was dubbed, the Plaid Shirt Bandit. The Wanted Poster asked the public to help find the Plaid Shirt Bandit.
Ray, 5’ 8”, white male with a tight beard, flattop haircut and wearing a plaid shirt, was at the right place at the wrong time, allowing the public to recognize him from the Wanted Poster.
Ray always wore Pendleton plaid shirts because a Pendleton did not burn or melt when hit with welding sparks. He was a dead ringer for the Plaid Shirt Bandit, and now he was in custody for multiple bank robberies.
After a solitary hour and a half wait, three stern faced men entered the interview room. All three were dressed in a dark suits, crisp highly starched white shirts, thin ties and shinny wing tip shoes. FBI.
The first question the FBI asked Ray was, “What did you do with the money?” Ray told them he did not know what they were talking about. Ray denied robbing any banks. The Q & A continued into the evening. After several hours of questioning, they gave Ray a cup of coffee. The Q & A continued through the night, like a dog chasing its tail repeating the same questions in a circular manner, including, “What did you do with the money?”
At around 6:30 a.m. the next morning, they broke and treated Ray to a complimentary breakfast at the Pierce County Jail where they also gathered Ray’s fingerprints and booking photos.
After breakfast, he was brought back to the interview room. The Q & A, started again and got no where. “Where is the money?” “What money? I am not a bank robber.” “Come on, just tell us what you did with the money.”
At this juncture, it looked like they had Ray nailed down tight. A 5’ 8” white male with a tight beard, flattop haircut and plaid shirt; arrested only a block or two from the last serial bank robbery.
Ray had to admit the wanted poster was an exact likeness of him. The Plaid Shirt Bandit’s Wanted Poster looked so much like Ray, Ray admitted he could have turned himself in for the reward.
Had this been the end of the story, Ray would probably still be doing hard time in prison resulting in no marriage, no kids, no career, no pal Joe Boyle at Starbucks, no TV guest star status, no Starbucks treats with his lovely wife, and no life.
What happened next demonstrates that when Ray has bad luck, he has good luck. Around 3:00 pm on day two of sitting in the interview room with the FBI, word came down that the Plaid Shirt Bandit had just robbed a bank in Spokane, Washington.
Ray could not have a better air-tight alibi than having three FBI Agents vouching for him. “Ray, where were you when the Spokane bank was robbed?” Ray could confidently report, “I was hanging out with my FBI pals.”
The FBI dusted Ray off, without any apology, and sent him on his way. They told Ray to not leave town in case they had more questions. Leave town? Ray did not even want to leave his house. Ray was so traumatized by the experience, he did not return to work for a week. He had nightmares of living out his life in prison. Ray can laugh now, but it was not funny back in 1974.
Anticipating a question I am certain is on the forefront of my readers’ intellectually curious minds, I asked him, “Ray, do you wear Pendleton plaid shirts these days?” “Absolutely not!”
It is interesting to note that Ray’s wife, Loraine, does all the family banking.
Ray Curry is further proof supporting my theory: Everyone has an interesting life story.
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