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July 12, 2012 | 12:00 a.m. CST
America has a long tradition of romanticizing bank robbers. More than half a century after notorious outlaws terrorized bank managers throughout the Old West, people were still so captivated by the stories of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid that they flocked to theaters to see the 1969 film about the duo. In box offices, the movie reportedly grossed more than $1 million, no small amount considering the low rate of inflation at the time.
More recently, 2009’s Public Enemies, starring Johnny Depp as John Dillinger, made more than $200 million in box offices worldwide. Clearly the Depression-era criminal’s swagger and defiance still resonate with today’s audience.
Such films typically portray the criminals as larger-than-life, rakish rebels whose actions can be at least partially justified. But our feature story this week tells a different tale. The gritty account of Thaddeus Thompson, a Columbia man who twice robbed local banks, doesn’t glamorize his actions. Instead, it’s a bald look at the life of a person whose desperation spiraled into personal disaster. Thompson’s obsession with feeding his heroin addiction led him to attempt poorly planned holdups with small payouts in spite of odds against getting away with it. He experienced raw low points; whereas, Hollywood’s robbers seemed to thrive on the danger in their lives.
Aside from the lack of bravado, another important distinction separates Thompson from Cassidy or Dillinger: Thompson can still turn things around. When he’s released from prison, he’ll have a chance to form a new life. Our feature concludes with Thompson in his prison cell, but his story is far from over.