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Arts & Culture

Criminal: Bank Robbery Is An American Tradition

A drawing of a bank bag and money before a Texas flag.
Julienne Alexander
Texan Clay Toumey robbed at least three banks.

Bank robbery is an American criminal tradition, with heists laying the scene for some of Hollywood's most exciting movies.

In this week's Criminal podcast, host Phoebe Judge talks with Clay Tumey, a Houston man who became a real-life bank robber. That's the subject of this week's episode of Criminal, a podcast recorded at WUNC.

Clay Tumey had always been fascinated by bank robber: For him, it was a romantic, exciting crime. His friend Audrey Fernandez recalls Tumey chatting about plans to rob a bank, even as a teenager.

"He says things that can or can't be true with a straight face, and you don't know if it's a joke or not, 'cause it could very well be true," she said.

Tumey did a lot of research before every going through with it, and he learned that half of bank robbers are never caught.

He stayed close to home for his first heist, sidling up to the counter at a bank in his hometown. It's where he opened his first checking account. He wrote his demands on an envelope and handed it to a teller.

"I thought a lot about what that note would say," Tumey says. "Three things I wrote: Give me your $50s and $100s. I'm not going to hurt you. Don't look at me."

It worked. He walked out with about $11,000.

He admits to two more bank robberies, all relatively low-key.

Tumey says he didn't really  need the money. Had a good job as a turbine mechanic.
But he liked the thrill.  His mother said he was mischievous. Tumey says he's a narcissist.

He ultimately decided to turn himself in while his child was still very young.  Tumey served 36 months in prison.

You can hear the rest of the story today at the Criminal website, or by tuning in to WUNC on Sunday afternoon.


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