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Willie Sutton

Once one of the FBI's Ten Most Wanted Fugitives, Willie Sutton was the master of disguises until his final capture in 1952.

Image courtesy FBI.gov

Disguises and bank robbers go together like rama lama lama, ke ding a de dinga dong. Most of the time, the bad guys seem to go for something theatrical (think of the evil clown masks donned by the Joker and his buddies in "The Dark Knight"). But every now and then, a talented thief can get the job done with subtlety and charm.

That was the MO of one Willie Sutton, a celebrated American bank robber known as "the Actor" and "Slick Willie" because of his proclivity for disguises. He frequently posed as a Western Union messenger and arrived at a target bank or store just as it was opening. Other favorite getups included a maintenance man, a policeman, a diplomat and a window cleaner. Once, in 1947, Sutton escaped the Philadelphia County Prison in Homesburg, Pa., in the guise of a prison guard. When searchlights caught him trying to scale the prison wall, he yelled, "It's OK," which fooled the real guards and allowed Sutton to escape.

In the end, though, Sutton's cleverness couldn't keep him from doing hard time. All of his crimes earned him a life sentence plus an additional 135 years. After his final capture in 1952, Sutton remained behind bars until 1969. He was released due to illness, but he lived until 1980. He died in Spring Hill, Fla., at the age of 79.

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