29. A Lifelong Petty Criminal’s Audacious Plan
Wilhelm Voigt spent most of his life as a vagabond, drifter, and petty thief. Born in 1849 in Prussia, his first recorded brush with the penal system occurred in 1863. Fourteen-year-old Voigt was arrested and prosecuted for stealing, convicted, sentenced to two weeks behind bars, and kicked out of school. It was the start of a long career on the wrong side of the law. Not a particularly successful career, though, as Voigt was no master criminal, and kept getting caught. In the 27 years from 1864 to 1891, for example, he racked up sentences of 25 years for various offenses such as burglary, forgery, and theft. Then he received his longest sentence yet, 15 years, for armed robbery.
He was released in February, 1906, and supported himself for a time in Berlin as a shoemaker, until he was expelled from the German capital as an undesirable. So he reverted to his old ways. While in prison, he had mused to a fellow inmate: “with some soldiers, you could really do some business“. Now, he decided to turn such musings into action, and rob a suburban town hall by deceit that involved the use of unwitting soldiers. He scouted several municipalities and finally settled on the small town of Kopenick, near Berlin. His plan was to simply waltz in, and order town officials to hand him their town’s treasury. As seen below, it worked.