Willie Sutton Jr.
February 22, 2012 by staff
Willie Sutton Jr., William “Willie” Sutton (June 30, 1901 – November 2, 1980) was a prolific U.S. bank robber. During his forty-year criminal career he stole an estimated $2 million, and eventually spent more than half of his adult life in prison. For his talent at executing robberies in disguises, he gained two nicknames, “Willie the Actor” and “Slick Willie.” Sutton is known, albeit apocryphally, for the urban legend that he said that he robbed banks “because that’s where the money is.”
Sutton was born into an Irish-American family in an Irish neighborhood in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. He was the fourth of five children, and did not go beyond the 8th grade of school. He turned to crime at an early age though throughout his professional criminal career he never killed anyone. Described by Mafioso Donald Frankos as a little bright-eyed man who stood at 5 feet 7 inches, he was very talkative, chain-smoked hand rolled Bull Durham tobacco cigarettes, and dispensed mounds of legal advice to any convict willing to listen.
Inmates considered Sutton a “wise old head” in the prison population. When incarcerated at “The Tombs” (Manhattan House of Detention) he never had to worry about assault because Mafia friends looked after him. In conversation with Donald Frankos he would sadly reminisce about the violent and turbulent days in the 1920s and 1930s while he was most active in robbing banks and would always tell fellow convicts that in his opinion, during the days of Al Capone and Charles Lucania, better known as Lucky Luciano, the criminal underworld was the bloodiest.
Gangsters from the time period, and many incarcerated organized crime mafia family leaders and made Mafiosi loved having Sutton around for companionship. He was always a gentleman, witty and non-violent. Frankos declared that Sutton made legendary bank thieves Jesse James and John Dillinger look like amateurs.
Sutton married Louise Leudemann in 1929. She divorced him while he was in jail. Their daughter Jeanie was born the following year. His second wife was Olga Kowalska, whom he married in 1933. His longest period of (legal) employment lasted for only 18 months.
Sutton preferred the name Bill, but police nicknamed him Willie.
He robbed about 100 banks from the late 1920s to his final arrest in 1952-with several prison terms in between; he was also a master at breaking out of prisons.
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