Origins: Bank robber Willie Sutton
Yet for all his success, Sutton wasn't a typical thug. He was instead described by those he encountered as polite and even a gentleman. (One victim said witnessing one of his robberies was like being at the movies, except the usher had a gun.)
In 1950, Willie Sutton earned himself a place on the FBI's brand-new Ten Most Wanted list, becoming the
He lived for eleven more years after his parole, and during that span he traded on his notoriety by appearing in a television commercial for Connecticut's New Britain Bank & Trust Co. to tout that institution's new MasterCharge credit cards, the first in the state to carry the holder's identifying photograph. "They call it the Face Card," said Sutton, peering out from the screen and holding a card with his photo on it. "Now when I say I'm Willie Sutton, people believe me." An announcer wound up the commercial with the pronouncement: "Tell them Willie Sutton sent
Sutton co-authored two books during his lifetime: I, Willie Sutton (1953) and Where the Money Was (1976), the latter a play on the catchphrase he'd never uttered.
Which brings us to the meat of the matter. Sutton is famous for two things: His fascinating career as an illegal withdrawals specialist (bank robber, that is) and for a pithy rejoinder supposedly uttered in response to an interviewer's query about why he robbed banks. While lore would have it that the bank robber replied "Because that's where the money is" to that common question, Sutton denied ever having said it. "The credit belongs to some enterprising reporter who apparently felt a need to fill out his copy," wrote Sutton in his autobiography. "I can't even remember where I first read it. It just seemed to appear one day, and then it was everywhere."
The earliest print sighting of the coined phrase dates to
As to what actually motivated Sutton to hold up banks, as he said in Where the Money Was: "Why did I rob banks? Because I enjoyed it. I loved it. I was more alive when I was inside a bank, robbing it, than at any other time in my life. I enjoyed everything about it so much that one or two weeks later I'd be out looking for the next job. But to me the money was the chips, that's all."
Barbara "sutton placed" Mikkelson
|Willie Sutton (FBI)|
Keyes, Ralph. The Quote Verifier. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2006. ISBN 0-312-34004-4 (p. 143). Krebs, Albin. "Willie Sutton Is Dead at 79." The New York Times. 19 November 1980. Shapiro, Fred R. The Yale Book of Quotations. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006. ISBN 0-300-10798-6 (p. 739). Show, John. "Life Savings." Time. 23 August 1976. Time. "Willie Sutton, Bankers' Friend." 26 October 1970.