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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting and then some, 20 Jun. 2010
This review is from: Wanted: Gentleman Bank Robber. the True Story of Leslie Ibsen Rogge, One of the FBI's Most Elusive Criminals (Paperback)
This is the kind of true crime story that you seldom get to read since it is essentially written by the perp himself, and perps usually don't bother putting their tale to print because convicted felons by law can't benefit financially from their stories.

I say "essentially" since onetime top ten most wanted criminal, "gentleman" bank robber Leslie Ibsen Rogge's writings have been organized, edited and annotated by his--let's face it--adoring nephew Dane Batty. Batty writes an intro, and comes on page from time to time to give some information or to set a scene amidst the fascinating narrative written by Rogge. I read the book in two settings. More devoted true crime readers will stay up until two in the morning and do it in one setting!

So here we have a guy who has several gifts. Obviously he has the gift of gab and is really a first class con artist as he proves again and again by talking people into doing things they normally would never do. Rogge is especially good at negotiating "deals" with cars, boats, house trailers--anything that can be traded or resold. He talks one idiot into helping him escape for a promise of $50,000 that Rogge says he has buried in California and will send to him (right). He talks his way across borders and out of scrapes and into the hearts of strangers. But he saves his best spiel for bank managers--always female, by the way, since Rogge realized (correctly) that they are less likely to feel the urge to play hero and try to stop the robbery in progress. His MO was to call ahead and arrange a meeting with the bank manager. He would arrive in a nice neat suit and tie with a fancy briefcase, sit down, take out a robbery note and hand it to the manager. He would say something like "don't turn this into a homicide" and part his suit coat enough to show a gun handle. He would set a police scanner on the desk and advise against tripping any alarms under the threat of getting shot. Amazingly enough this worked almost thirty times to the tune of over $2-million.

Another of Rogge's gifts is that of the consummate handyman. He's the kind of guy who can figure out how to operate or fix just about anything mechanical or electrical. He taught himself how to hot wire cars and drive them when he was just a kid. Later apparently taught himself how to fly airplanes and sail sailboats. He managed to fix boat and car engines, even airplane and one helicopter engine with no formal training. Too bad he didn't just concentrate on using that one skill. Actually he does, near the end of the book, while on the run in Guatemala. He becomes "Mr. Fix It" in the ex-pat gringo community in Antigua, where he and his common law wife Judy are living an idyllic life. At this point one begins to feel real sympathy for Rogge. He has given up robbing banks and is ripping off no one because in such a tight knit ex-pat community everybody knows everybody and you can't afford to get a bad rep.

A third Rogge gift is just pure ballsyness. He literally has the nerves of a burglar. In a sense his bank robberies were more con jobs and burglaries than holdups. He conned his way inside, had what he wanted put in bags and he carried it out. The key was his very careful casing of the banks and his careful planning of how to get away. He always had at least two vehicles for the escape. One was the getaway car (usually stolen), which he and his sometimes accomplice would quickly abandon for the second vehicle which might be an SUV, a motor home, a boat or even an airplane. He would listen on the police scanner (which he had practiced listening to days before the robbery) to know just what the police were up too, when the alarm had sounded and where the police thought he was going.

Finally Rogge had great natural social skills. He knew how to make people like him and trust him. Nobody ever turned him in, not even for the $25,000 reward money. Friends sent him money when he was in need and helped him out when he was on the run, no questions asked. Les Rogge is the classic example of a criminal who could have been a great success in life pursuing any one of a number of other careers.

Another of the ironies of his life is that he often got into trouble for his generosity. Once he befriended an out-of-work hitchhiker who went on to steal his money and his car. And friends would sometimes inadvertently help the FBI reconnect to his trail. In the final insult, he helps a kid in Guatemala set up his computer connection only to have the kid spot him on the Internet as one of America's Most Wanted. The kid clicks on a site, the FBI is alerted and the kid tells all he knows and not long after Rogge (in order to save his beloved Judy from an aiding and abetting charge) turns himself in.

This is not your polished Ann Rule or Edward Humes true crime sort of tale, but for all that it is just as interesting as something from the masters of the genre. Dane Batty has done a great (if somewhat amateurish) job of allowing his uncle to present himself in a way that turns his first-person escapades into a rounded tale of human strength and weakness, of a life well and poorly spent, about a man part hero and part villain. The only weakness in the book is what is missing. Relying almost entirely on Rogge's recounting of events ensures that the deeper, darker side of his life reminds untold.
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