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The VICE Guide to Outlaws & Food

Outlaws can be a picky lot. Jesse James, a chili head, refused to rob the Lone Star Bank in McKinney, Texas because his favorite chili parlor was there. Billy the Kid was allergic to dairy products and the Sundance Kid wouldn't eat an egg unless it was...

by Susan Musgrave
Dec 1 2001, 12:00am

photos by angela brown

Outlaws can be a picky lot. Jesse James, a chili head, refused to rob the Lone Star Bank in McKinney, Texas because his favorite chili parlor was there. Billy the Kid was allergic to dairy products and the Sundance Kid wouldn’t eat an egg unless it was served to him sunnyside up. Chances are, wherever you find crime, you’ll find something cooking. Ma Butterworth, mother of seven, operated a successful counterfeiting ring right out of her own kitchen. The “Cucumber Bandit” ate the evidence afterwards. Two Toronto pickpockets squirted ketchup on unsuspecting targets before leaving them penniless. Then there’s the Great Train Robber who got caught by leaving his fingerprints on a cookie jar.

It’s not just well-known outlaws and crooks with connections in the culinary underworld. Even Shakespeare was once prosecuted for poaching a deer, and Katherine Hepburn’s distinguished career as an actress was preceded by a shorter more undistinguished stint as a burglar. She stole a pair of crocodile nutcrackers before her life of crime came to an end. The cook caught her.

Here are some more.

As every self-disrespecting gunslinger’s moll will tell you, the way to any outlaw’s heart is through his mouth. In January 1930, Clyde Barrow, who started his criminal career stealing turkeys, met 90lb golden-haired nineteen year-old Bonnie Parker, who was “sort of married” to a convict serving 99 years for murder. They formed an odd relationship — he a repressed homosexualist and she a woman of great appetites.

When Clyde’s attempts to support Bonnie by playing the saxophone failed, they turned to robbery. They knocked over grocery stores, luncheonettes and a few small-town banks. They killed at least thirteen people, eluded police, slept under the stars and lived on peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches.

On May 23, 1934, near Gibald, Louisiana, Bonnie and Clyde were killed in an ambush. A posse fired 187 bullets into their bodies. Clyde had been driving in his socks and Bonnie had one of her sandwiches in her mouth.

Sam Bass’s career began when he and two cronies took their loot from some “easy rustling” and opened a whorehouse in Deadwood, Dakota Territory. Described as “the most degraded den of infamy that ever cursed the earth,” the brothel did a thriving business.

But Bass and his gang (including Canadian Tom Nixon) could not be accused of having had beginner’s luck when they drifted into the hold-up trade.

They robbed the Deadwood stage four times from July to August 1877. Their total loot consisted of $50 and seven ripe peaches. The gang split over an argument about how to divvy up seven peaches four ways.

These days most crooks can cook, and they love to eat. They eat while planning crimes, after committing crimes and, when nothing’s happening, they eat while waiting for a crime to happen. They eat as if they’re going to the chair, like Donald Snyder, who arrived on Death Row weighing 150lbs and then turned glutton, gobbling up huge portions, always demanding seconds. His plan was to get so fat he wouldn’t fit in the electric chair.

He fried weighing 300 lbs.

Mobsters are big on sauces: lots of butter and heavy cream. The theory was that any meal could be their last, so it better kick ass. Big Jim Colosimo (1871-1920) was head crime lord of Chicago for a time, providing protection for a couple of whorehouse madames. When a problem arose Big Jim would arrive juggling jars of spaghetti and his own home-made tomato sauce. While the girls gave him the 411, he would make them a pasta they couldn’t refuse. Then he sat down with them to “swallow the clothesline.”

Al Capone had plates of steaming sausages delivered to his hotel room every day. But there were also times when the gangster liked to do his own cooking, as well as his own killing. At one dinner party he hosted, 30 of his guests had more than just their digestive juices stimulated. Big Al served his homemade sausages-on-toothpicks, devouring a dozen or more himself, while making an impassioned speech on the subject of gang loyalty and team spirit. To drive home his point, he produced a baseball bat and beat to death two suspected traitors who, the moment before, had been unsuspecting dinner guests.

John Scalise and Albert Anselmi, two cut-throats who became known as the Mutt and Jeff of the late 1920s underworld, brought to Chicago the old Sicilian custom of coating bullets with garlic. They mistakenly believed that if their shots merely grazed a target, the garlic would kill the victim by causing gangrene to set in. Though their combined IQs were less than blood temperature and their medical knowledge somewhat off-target, the same could not be said of their homicidal prowess.

“Prime Minister of the Underworld” Frank Costello (1891-1973), did a short stint in the Atlanta Pen. Frankie continued to enjoy his steak “ebony on the outside, claret on the inside” just as he’d always ordered at his favorite restaurant. No one ever uncovered the source of the steaks.

While prisons are notoriously full of crooks, a lot of crime goes on under the table too. Ever wonder about that parsley garnish you get with every meal you order at your favorite family restaurant? It started in New York: restaurants were forced to serve parsley with every meal and even with a number of mixed drinks. As the Mothers And Fathers Italian Association (MAFIA for short) jacked up the price of parsley, some restaurants found their parsley bill running as high as their payoffs to the police.

Since most diners push their parsley aside, a few restaurants began trying to cheat the mob by washing the parsley off and reusing it. But the suppliers weren’t fooled. A count of tablecloths and napkins by mob-connected laundries proved which restaurants were scrimping on greenery. They were given a gentle warning in the form of a firebomb.

Dan White, the murderer of Harvey Milk and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone, pleaded guilty by reason of insanity, invoking the now-famous Twinkie Defence. His lawyer said White had gorged on sugar-loaded Twinkies, which induced a rush of temporary insanity. He had a much better lawyer than the Oklahoma con-artist who launched a suit for $2 million against Coors brewery, claiming their product had pickled his brain.

Two men were arrested and charged with theft after making off in their getaway car with a statue of Ronald McDonald from outside the chain’s restaurant in Canonsburg, Penn. A ransom note demanding 150 hamburgers, 150 milkshakes and one diet soda, to go, was delivered to the drive-thru window. The note threatened to melt the clown into ashtrays and sell them to a competing restaurant.

A gang of thieves in Montreal were foiled when one its members, a man well-known to police, was spotted carrying an armload of take-out food into a warehouse on a Sunday. When police called for backup and conducted a search they discovered a tunnel leading into the main vault under a Brinks depot. But the tunnel was bare. The thieves had vanished, leaving behind a police scanner, four cheese pizzas and $60 million dollars in cash.

A man apprehended outside a meat warehouse in Denver, Colorado was found in possession of boxes full of inedible rectal tissue known as rennets, which are used to cure cheese.

While being driven to jail, the suspect learned what he’d stolen. “If I go to jail for stealing 1 200 assholes, I’m really going to look stupid,” he said, and the statement was used against him at his trial.

Gordon Fawcett Hamby, executed in Sing Sing in 1920, ordered a lobster salad for his last meal saying, “At least I don’t have to worry about indigestion.”

James Donald French, electrocuted in 1966, turned to a newsman on his way to the chair. “I have a terrific headline for you in the morning. French Fries.”

As George Appel, electrocuted in 1952, was being strapped into the chair, he quipped, “Well, folks, you’ll soon see a baked Appel.”

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