Earlier this week, police in Austintown, Ohio, noticed a pickup truck without taillights cruising through the city’s streets in the dark. The driver was an 89-year old man, gaunt of frame, with a horseshoe of wispy white hair encircling his tender, liver-spotted scalp, and a pair of thick bifocals that framed nearly half his face.
The dreaded Silver Burglar was nabbed. Despite shuffling feebly into his arraignment in a neck brace and providing police with the address of a rundown house sporting building permit in the window in the rustbelt steel industry ghost town of Youngstown as his place of residence, Kermit Gabel isn’t quite the sweet, pitiful, old, innocent man he at first appears to be.
Authorities report that Kermit has been on a continuous crime spree (from the 1940s through 2019; interrupted only by long stays in prison) since many of our grandparents were young. He’s spent nearly two decades in jails and prisons, and he’s on lifelong parole for a variety of crimes that include: burglary; theft of silver flatware, furs, and jewelry; aiding and abetting; forgery of bonds and securities; mail fraud; and various parole violations. In fact, as one judge noted, Kermit has only ever made a living stealing the possessions of other people (especially in the communities surrounding Tyler, Texas, and Cleveland, Ohio).
The notion of the aged career criminal is not currently inconceivable, nor even entirely unpalatable, to us. It’s the basis for multiple fictional movies, and we tend to gobble up romanticized theories that true famous escaped criminals like D. B. Cooper may be living out their days quietly in the vast and forgiving midwestern plains. There’s something about the novel juxtaposition of the peaceful, harmless senior image with the edgy rebellious life of the criminal fugitive that appeals to us.
It’s because it’s an anomaly that we find it so intriguing. At a certain point, a single senior citizen stops seeming like a viable threat to society, and it has traditionally happened so infrequently that we’ve been able to afford to be wrong. But the tide of elderly people has begun to rise…