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When to Rob a Bank

Here’s a story about a guy who robbed six banks in New Jersey but only on Thursdays. “No reason was given for choosing that particular day,” notes the A.P. article. Perhaps he knew something about how the banks did business; perhaps his astrologist told him Thursdays were lucky; perhaps it simply fit his schedule.

In any case, it reminded me of a story I once heard about an Iowa bank employee named Bernice Geiger, who was arrested in 1961 for embezzling more than $2 million over the course of many years. The bank happened to be owned by her father. Bernice was reportedly very generous, giving lots of the money away. Upon her arrest, the bank went bust. Sent to prison, she was paroled five years later, and moved back in with her parents, who apparently were forgiving types.

Geiger was reportedly exhausted by the time she was arrested. Why? Because she never took vacations. This turned out to be a key component in her crime. As the story goes — this was told to me by a retired Sioux City cop, though I’ve never been able to confirm it — the reason she never took vacations was that she was keeping two sets of books and couldn’t risk a fill-in employee discovering her embezzlement. The most interesting part, according to the cop, is that after prison Geiger went to work for a banking oversight agency to help stop embezzlement. Her biggest contribution: looking for employees who failed to take vacation. This simple metric turned out to have strong predictive power in stopping embezzlement.

I wish I had more details, and/or I wish I knew how true this story may be. But the point is that, like cheating schoolteachers or colluding sumo wrestlers, the people who steal money from banks sometimes leave telltale patterns — whether it’s a lack of vacation or a string of Thursdays — that point the finger right at them.