With the anticipation of having large amounts of cash in his pockets, Frank Cullotta was ready for his first foray into major crime: he was about to become an armed robber. Along with the potential rewards, there were also greater risks. In the Chicago of that day, it would not have been unusual to encounter a tavern patron who was armed, and may not want to surrender his money without a fight. And if caught by the police, the criminal penalties for the robber were much more severe than pilfering from the paperboy’s moneybag.
Those concerns didn’t deter Frank, though. He contacted Crazy Bob Sprodak about a week after giving up his newspaper stand job and told him he was ready for action. The two decided they would stick up a saloon that same night. But as the score went down, Frank was haunted by his old nemesis: poor eyesight.
Sprodak assured Frank all that was needed for the job was gloves to avoid leaving any prints, a hot car and guns. Getting the gloves and car were no problem, and Bob said he’d supply the guns. Neither man had his picture on file anywhere. Bob was clean and Frank’s priors were all juvenile, so they wouldn’t cause him any grief. He was feeling pretty good about things until he thought about his glasses. His mother always told him that he should be a good boy because wearing glasses made him stand out in a crowd, and people would remember him if he acted up. Recalling that warning, when Frank went to rob the tavern that night he didn’t wear his glasses. It never entered his mind that the bar might not be very well lighted.
Frank and Crazy Bob charged into the tavern. Bob yelled, “Everybody put your hands up and behave.” For emphasis he let loose with a blast from his sawed-off shotgun. The pellets shattered several of the whiskey bottles behind the bar, creating a shower of broken glass and booze. Having gotten everyone’s attention, Bob ordered them to get down on the floor.
Frank was positioned by the door to prevent anybody from running out. He watched as the bartender and patrons obeyed Bob’s instruction and went to the floor, all except one. The obstinate man just stood there. Frank yelled for him to get down, but he didn’t budge.
“What’s the problem?” Bob wanted to know.
Frank started toward the stubborn patron as he answered. “This bastard won’t do what he’s told. But he’s going down now, one way or another.”
After getting a few steps closer Frank realized the guy who wouldn’t follow his orders wasn’t a person at all; it was actually a coat rack. There were hats and coats on it, and with his bad eyes it had looked like a person. Embarrassed, he hit the coat rack and knocked it over. As the robbers ran out of the building with their loot, the sound of Crazy Bob’s laughter was ringing in Frank’s ears.
Although Frank’s first armed robbery had been successful, he was concerned that if word got out about the coat rack he’d never live it down. He swore Crazy Bob to secrecy. Frank continued to shun wearing his glasses on scores, but from then on he didn’t go inside on tavern robberies unless he was sure there would be adequate lighting.