Two recent cases of true crime

February 26, 2022 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: journalism.

Each day the annals of true crime thicken with cases that are largely clichéd, mundane, and altogether blah. Occasionally, however, a true crime event arises that, for us readers of true crime and fictional crime, reaches the level of interest.

Two such cases that you might have missed have come to my attention over the last couple of weeks.

One is the case of the 80-year-old nun in California who pleaded guilty to stealing more than $800,000 over a period of years from the school of which she was the principal. This nun had a gambling problem. She would take the money that was meant for the school and use it to finance her trips to Tahoe and Las Vegas, where she would, presumably, have a great time and gamble the money away. When she was caught, she tearfully admitted her wrongdoing and expressed her remorse in religious rather than criminal language. “I have sinned,” she said.

One arresting aspect of the case was the way the judge agonized over what sentence to give to her. The prosecution had recommended two years in prison. Many of her former students and many parents of her former students had written to the judge saying she was a good woman, and prison would not be appropriate. There, too, was the fact that she was 80 years old.

In sentencing her to a year in prison, the judge was overcome with emotion. No case that he had heard, he said, had affected him like this one. “I haven’t slept well in God knows how long,” he said. The judge’s lot is not an easy one.

You can read more about this case in a story in The Guardian found here.

The second case is one of a Home Depot employee in Arizona who stole more than $350,000 from the company. His job was to gather the cash from the cash register, to count it, put it in bundles, and then put those bundles in bags to await transportation. (Here’s a New York Times story about the crime.)

As he was doing his job, he realized that no one was watching him—or so he thought—and no one was checking up on him. Although there was a video camera watching what he was doing, no one else was checking very closely.

The man realized that he could slip counterfeit money into the bundles, and no one would be the wiser. He began purchasing play money from Amazon. That play money looked enough like real dollar bills to go into the bundles and not be detected.

He carried on these activities for about four years. Finally, Home Depot auditors, accountants, and investigators realized why they were coming up short in their cash receipts and what the source of that shortage really was. They turned things over to the Secret Service, which is in charge of investigating counterfeit claims. Further investigation revealed that this man, whose salary was not great, had acquired an increasingly lavish lifestyle.

What is interesting about both of these crimes is that they depended on the trust of other people. They also involved some level of intellectual activity on the part of the criminal. The people who perpetrated these acts had to be aware of what they were doing, the environment in which they were operating, and the possibilities of taking advantage of their environment.

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