“It is a rather pleasant experience to be alone in a bank at night.” –Willie Sutton-Bank Robber
William Francis “Willie” Sutton Jr. was born on June 30th, 1901 in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, a poor tenement neighborhood known at the time as Irishtown. He was the son of a blacksmith and the fourth of five children.
His mother was a devout Irish Catholic who suffered from depression, which was said to be caused by the early death of a daughter. His father, William Sr., traveled for work and was absent more times from home than not.
It was a tough time for the US, but for Irishtown in particular. Willie, a small child who was always fast, wiry, and quick-witted, left school before the eighth grade, but didn’t give up on education entirely. Brooklyn in the early twentieth century was a master-class in crime for a guy who knew how to apply himself, and if Willie Sutton was anything, it was industrious.
He tried his hand early on at gainful employment, but honest work didn’t seem to suit Willie. He toiled as a store clerk, a gardener, as well as a driller, but said in an interview later that his longest period of “legal” employment was 18 months.
Sutton, W., & Linn, E. (2004). Where The Money Was: The Memoirs of a Bank Robber (Library of Larceny). New York: Broadway Books.
Sutton, W., & Reynolds, Q. J. (1999). I, Willie Sutton. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Duffy, P. (2002, February 17). City Lore: Willie Sutton, Urbane Scoundrel. The New York Times.
Kiernan, J., & Desmond, J. (1952, February 19). The Day Willie (the Actor) Sutton, prolific bank robber, was arrested in Brooklyn in 1952. The New York Daily News.