The FBI's new secret weapon: Snide prose

In the bureau's wanted-poster department, a budding poet blooms.

Douglas Cruickshank
June 3, 1999 8:00PM (UTC)

As Marshall McCluhan, the great Canadian supporter of lawn odor, once put it, "Art is whatever you can get away with." Recently, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has embraced the late media masseur's colorful dictum with gusto. The traditional wanted poster has been a static and constricted literary form for over a century, but the Department of Creative Writing at the FBI is now working overtime in an effort to give its staff prose stylists a greater degree of freedom, and, perhaps, elevate the familiar fugitive-seeking broadsides from mere law-enforcement utility into an avenue of personal expression.

For example, take the wanted poster for one Dennis Nathaniel Rabbit, published by the bureau earlier this year and currently on exhibition in post-office lobbies across the land. Mr. Rabbit ("Bunny Rabbit," inevitably, is one of his listed aliases) is bad news. He's been convicted of assault, forgery and burglary, and is now being sought on a federal warrant for unlawful flight to avoid prosecution as St. Louis' "South Side Rapist." The bureau is offering a $25,000 reward for his apprehension. But it's also employing subtler methods, which are clearly concocted to flush the felonious flop-eared brute from his briar patch.


Mr. Rabbit's wanted poster begins, conventionally enough, with date and place of birth, color of eyes and hair (fur?), and height and weight ("250 pounds" -- that's a weally weighty wabbit). Then comes the entry for "build," and here we start to see evidence of the bureau's new emphasis on authorial subjectivity. Rabbit's physique is described as "dumpy." Then, a few lines below, after the FBI writer has wisely let the renegade Rabbit's Social Security and driver's license numbers speak for themselves, comes a bit of trenchant jocularity. Next to "Remarks" the wry scribe has seen fit to include this telling dental characteristic: "buck teeth." (What? No poofy tail? No weakness for root vegetables?) What self-respecting mega-fauna thug -- bunnylike though he may be -- who, through no fault of his own, is saddled with the moniker of Rabbit, can stay out in the cold for long when such snide, grade-school taunts are being leveled?

My guess is that the FBI's sly trap will prove effective on Mr. Rabbit and he will soon come hopping right into the bureau's parsley patch, proving the success of the Hooverians' latest crime-fighting innovation and opening up a whole new revenue stream for creative writers with axes to grind.

Meanwhile, when recently scanning news stories at APB Online, I thought I had come across a caper right up Mr. Rabbit's alley (or burrow), but, no, this one -- call it the case of the Pilfered Partial Pepperoni -- can't be pinned on St. Louie's lapin michant. According to an article by APB staff writer Valerie Kalfrin, last week, 45-year-old Donald Fullmore "allegedly attempted to shoplift half a stick of pepperoni" -- not a whole stick, mind you. Fullmore, who may be a thief, but is certainly no glutton, then "allegedly struck one police officer, broke free from another, jumped a seawall into the Halifax River and waded through the shoreline muck for nearly 40 minutes Sunday before police -- aided by a helicopter and an officer from a neighboring department -- persuaded him to surrender himself and the ill-gotten sausage," Kalfrin writes. "The guy was certainly acting in a bizarre fashion," said Lt. Mark Barker of the Holly Hill, Fla., Police Department.


Uh, excuse me, Lieutenant, but speaking of acting in a bizarre fashion, how would you characterize chasing half a sausage with a helicopter? No comment? Don't blame you.

And on the other side of the world, Monday's Times of London reported that an American murderer named Bloodgood, Claude Bloodgood, is about to sit down to a game of a chess with a kindly lay preacher from the village of Burntwood in Staffordshire. John Walker, a Methodist "councillor," has been meeting Bloodgood across the chessboard virtually for decades. No, the prison is not Internet-equipped; the pair have been dueling by correspondence sent via the two countries' intrepid mail services. This tradition has been kept up for 30 years, except during a brief period when the convict was an escapee. When Walker travels to the Powhatan Correctional Facility in Virginia this summer, they'll have their first face-to-face match.

"He is very nice, a real gentleman," Walker says of Bloodgood in the Times article. "He asks me about the church and tells me about his health." Bloodgood claims to have matched wits on the chessboard with Charlie Chaplin, David Niven and Humphrey Bogart. Of his murderer buddy's talents on the board, Walker remarks, "He is like a dog with a bone. He will never let go. He is a hustler ..."


Walker, a man of deep and abiding faith whose close connection to a higher power apparently hasn't done much for his gaming skills, explains that the duo's "friendship is fueled by the love of chess. It does not matter to me that he is in prison for killing his mother." Well, right, good of you, and why should it? But the question, Mr. Walker (for you and your God), is why in heaven's name you are traveling all the way across the Great Water to play chess with a man who in three decades you've never beaten, not ever, not once, not even almost?

Douglas Cruickshank

Douglas Cruickshank is a senior writer for Salon. For more articles by Cruickshank, visit his archive.

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