I’m juggling a pair of true-crime yarns at present, and thus taking a keen interest in the contortions of an ambitious robber’s mind. What I’m starting to surmise is that even the sharpest crooks often lack a key mental skill: the ability to plan an endgame. Though their schemes may be brilliant on paper, criminals seldom put much thought into the details that truly matter. In other words, Dalton Russells are rare in the non-celluloid realm.
There is perhaps no greater illustration of this fact than the curious case of Eastern Air Lines Flight 393. In June of 1972, this Greensboro-to-Atlanta flight happened to be carrying $3 million worth of untraceable securities. A quintet of men somehow got hip to this fact, and plotted what seemed to be the perfect crime:
When Eastern Air Lines Flight 393 took off from Greensboro, N.C. at 9 p.m. Tuesday night it carried in its cargo hold $3 million in securities and a box containing a 39-year-old man. The latter, say the FBI, planned to steal the former…
Grant Clyde Cralley had been shipped prepaid in a cardboard and wood box about three-feet square, FBI agents said. The box had a removable door and was equipped with oxygen in case he needed it.
Alas, as it would later emerge during legal proceedings, the conspirators didn’t realize that cargo is stacked in the belly of planes, with the biggest items on the bottom. And so the door to Cralley’s crate was held shut by heavy mail sacks, and he was never able to emerge from his hiding place during the short flight.
The question then is why criminal minds typically make such basic miscalculations, even when their larger schemes exhibit a flair for intelligence. Dishonesty may be a thief’s primary shortcoming, but carelessness ranks a close second. I reckon a civil society should be grateful for that fact.