By Joe Zingher
The murder of Natasha Cleary and her two children last April had one clue that is all too common: a picture of a stranger using her ATM card.
No one knows how often someone is killed for their card and PIN, but the problem clearly exists.
In 2005, House Bill 4155 would have made forced ATM withdrawals a distinct felony, thus allowing the police to connect Crime A to Crime B before Crime C occurs. Crime C being Natasha and her children and god only knows whoelse statewide and around the country.
H.B. 4155 was blocked by the banking lobby, as was Full Text House Bill 1963 in 2009. (Making a forced ATM withdrawal a distinct felony has the same benefit as making bank robbery a distinct felony, so the police can distinguish between bank robbers and robbers of liquor stores, grocery stores, etc. We even have laws to protect banks from debit card fraud, 720ILCS5, because tracking crimes against banks is so important. Mere fraud against the rest of us isn’t.)
The Chicago police in 1989 and the then Office of Banks and Real Estate in 1999 formally recommended tracking the problem in reports they issued, which are no longer online.
In fact, information about this crime trend is available online through a Google News search for the key words “ATM” and “murder.” The crimes tend to begin as home invasions (Cleary) or as carjackings (Wilber Harnden, 2007). The killers often hide the bodies to delay the cards from being reported stolen. This allows them to clean out the bank account over several days.
If the banking industry wanted to protect their customers as they claim they always do, they would have insisted on such a bill long ago; they would not have blocked the bills that were proposed, and after this publication, they will clamor for the General Assembly to pass such a law immediately. Don’t hold your breath on that happening.
Thanks to an upgrade in software since Jan. 1, 2006, it’s possible to search police reports for key words and overlay crime codes against the results. Since Jan. 1, 2006, there have been 10 homicides where “ATM” appears in the narrative. (In case you’re wondering, if the ATM were not relevant to the case, “ATM” would not appear in the report. You don’t see “On the way back to the station, I stopped at an ATM and used the cash to buy doughnuts for the squad.”) That means of the last 120 murders in Rockford, 10 were ATM connected. Natasha Cleary, her children and Wilber Harden account for four forced withdrawals. The remaining six cases are still confidential and are withheld. That works out to 8.3 percent of all homicides being ATM connected. Statewide, that extrapolates to 59 murders in 2010, and nationwide, more than 1,230 murders.
If anyone objects to those numbers or conclusions, then it is up to them to provide better, more reliable data. It is easily available to Rockford City Hall. Mayor Larry Morrisey (I) could order an analysis of the same data that I already got from my Freedom of Information Act request. That’s 112 robbery cases, seven rapes and four missing persons. He doesn’t respond to my phone calls.
My own interest in this topic came about because I came up with the idea of an emergency PIN system based on “human factors” principles. By giving the victim a way of remembering the emergency PIN when needed, even under duress and years later, you would deter these crimes from even starting in the first place and change the outcome from murder to straightforward robbery. By typing your PIN in backward, you instruct the computer to dispense the cash and call the cops. It was made mandatory in January 2004 by Electronic Funds Transfer Act, Section 50 (i), but was then gutted by House Bill 4652 just eight months later. The General Assembly gave these victims a theoretical chance to call for help, then snatched it away from them seven years ago.
Anyone who wants to verify what I am saying can read up on them in person. I have the case numbers and you can go read up on them yourself. You can get them directly from the police as well just by asking for them.
Joe Zingher is a resident of Gurnee, Ill.
From the Nov. 30-Dec. 6, 2011, issue