15 July 2014

Criminal Savants


by Jim Winter

About a decade ago, several businesses on Cincinnati's east side suffered break-ins, almost always on a Sunday night. Police could not get a handle of the suspects. They would break in, lift the safe, and leave absolutely no evidence behind. By the time they had an arrest, they had found several safes in the nearby Little Miami River, and businesses had lost well over $100,000.

Surprisingly, two of the safe crackers worked for cigarettes. So how did the police find out?

Ring leader Jimmy Godfrey liked to walk into an East End bar and brag about his heists to his buddies.

Yes, the man smart enough to hit safes when they would hold the most money and insist on his fellow thieves wearing gloves while not allowing them to spit or use the bathroom was not smart enough to keep his mouth shut. The story of how the police busted this ring is straight out of a Tarantino film.

You would think Godfrey was a criminal mastermind. He forbade his fellow thieves from eating, drinking, smoking, or going to the bathroom to avoid leaving any traces behind for forensic technicians to find. See, Godfrey was a fan of CSI, and he actually learned something from the show. He even avoided wearing the same shoes twice on a job. Why? He didn't want anyone tracing the shoe prints.

Godfrey was also persuasive. He convinced his girlfriend and two relatives to work for cigarettes while Godfrey himself pocketed the cash. The problem was how Godfrey disposed of some of the swag he stole. One neighbor in East End, a rundown neighborhood along the Ohio River known at the time more for its Confederate flags and rusty cars than anything else, took a big-screen TV from a nearby shop and mounted it in his apartment. In 2004, big screens and LCD's were about as common as electric cars are today. Godfrey's girlfriend helped herself to a handful of expensive Christmas tree toppers.

Worse for Godfrey, some of his relatives were more than willing to sell him out to the police for very little. One woman received $35 in exchange for information about Godfrey's nocturnal activities. But they weren't the only ones. Godfrey's own worst enemy was Godfrey himself.

He paid very close attention to detail on his jobs: Taking care to leave no evidence, using rubber gloves, even timing his jobs for maximum take. However, he did two things wrong. His own cohorts sold him out since he would keep all the cash. But that was not his worst mistake. If you wanted to know who robbed Mt. Lookout Television, City Beverage, or the Sky Galley restaurant, just ask anyone living along Eastern Avenue, the main drag through East End. Godfrey would brag about his crimes to anyone who would listen.

To add insult to injury, Godfrey would have been done in by his own brother, who was sloppy by Jimmy Godfrey's standards. The younger Godfrey would frequently leave traces of himself behind, and once banged his head during a job. The injury bled which gave evidence technicians a nice DNA sample to use just in case Jimmy Godfrey clammed up.

5 comments:

Fran Rizer said...

Our crime specialists and David Dean, retired police chief, would probably agree with me that some criminals are done in by their personalities. Jimmy Godfrey seems a prime example of that. One of my sons is a parole officer, and he has dealt with some offenders who actually brag to him about themselves and their abilities, but, as he says, they got caught.

Eve Fisher said...

Or as a prisoner once told me, sitting in prison, "wherever I am, I always know I'm the smartest guy in the room." Which is why he got caught, I guess. I've never yet run into a Moriarity, or a Zeck, or any of the other criminal masterminds of fiction. But then, I may be hanging out with the wrong crowd...

Louis A. Willis said...

Jimmy Godfrey could be the poster child for stupid criminals.

Leigh Lundin said...

Nice of those crooks to make life for the cops as easy as possible!

David Dean said...

My uncle Jimmy, of whom I've written before on these pages, led a life of crime. He also spent more than half of it in prison. The time he spent "outside" was characterized more by luck and a talent for terror, than by careful planning and intelligence.

During my career in law enforcement, like Eve with her prison work, I never met a Moriarity.