By Betty Rehberg
Cue the music…the opening theme from the old TV show Dragnet. Dum de dum dum…dum de dum dum dummmm…
The story you are about to hear is all true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent, well not really, as this writer did not know their names, lets just call them Twiddle Dumb and Twiddle Dumber.
Date: 1965, or there about. Scene: An auto parts store in the 900 block of West Broad Avenue. Not just any auto parts store, it was the store that my Dad was the manager of. This was a building that was, shall we say, a little less than clean and lovely. It was nothing like the franchise auto parts stores of today. No, this was a place were the greasiest of grease monkey’s hung out to shoot the breeze, chug down a Coke-a-cola (in the little bottle) while waiting to get brake shoes ground down, or to see if that special part they needed could be found way back in the gloomy warehouse section of the store. There was a game the visitors and workers would play called “bet on the bottle”. The idea was whoever got a Coke out of the machine had a bottle made in a city the farthest from Albany, won a dollar.
The older man whose job it was to clean this store was usually found in the back sitting on an upturned bucket against a wall snoring, broom propped against the wall beside him. It was also very hot in the spring and summer, with only a couple of old revolving fans, almost no windows that could be opened. The front doors were usually propped open hoping a stray breeze might find its way inside. The counters and the floors were covered with a greasy sort of dirt that I never saw anywhere else. As children, the store was a playground for us on weekends or at night when Dad would go open up for a customer. We kids would come home filthy after running around playing hide and seek in the back of the store. The restroom in the back was unusually disgusting, rightfully named by the employees “the hole.” One did not use that restroom unless it was in desperation.
Another unique “feature” in the store was the roaches. What you may ask is unique about roaches in Georgia? Well I must say these roaches must have been exposed to atomic radiation (this was the cold war days!). These were the largest, noisiest roaches on the planet. When I say noisy, I mean you could hear them walking around. These creatures could have been given collars and named as pets, they were so big. Oh and then there were the mice and the rats, lots of them. Yes, I think you now have a good mental picture of the scene, or shall we say…the scene of the crime.
I assume the would-be criminals, in early 60’s vernacular, had “cased out the joint” for awhile, maybe they had even come inside as customers at some point. There had to be a lot of cash inside. No one used credit cards back then, maybe store credit if you were a regular, otherwise it was cash.
It was a night, like any other in Albany in the early 60’s.The television station would have gone off the air somewhere around midnight. Most people would be in bed, but not Dumb and Dumber. Apparently these Einstein’s had put an extension ladder up in back of the building. They made their way across the flat roof of the warehouse section to the skylight directly over the “office” corner. The office consisted of only one large dusty cluttered old desk with chair, and a heavy duty old safe. The robbers carefully took apart the skylight, rather than breaking it. There were very few burglaries back then, almost none were what we now call “smash and grab.” Few stores even had burglar alarms.
Cue the music again, this time the theme to Mission Impossible…the two Brainiacs lowered the ladder down through the now dismantled skylight. It would make a better story to imagine them dressed all in black rappelling down into the store, but nah I better not push it. They spot the safe, first they tried to drill the tumblers off, they were out of luck. The safe measured roughly 3’ by 4’, the walls were at least 3 inches thick and it had fireproofing inside. They made things really well back when that safe was produced. So they struggle to pull it away from the wall and lay it down on the floor. They were nothing if not prepared; they used some kind of gas torch to burn a small hole into the bottom of the safe. They then pried the rest of the bottom of the safe open to reach their ill-gotten goods. They must have been so excited, treasure was just within reach.
Now, this is when I imagine two grown men started to cry like babies. These two thieves had spent the better part of a night hacking their way into a safe. The safe is now finally open and what do they find inside? A mountain of cash, some bonds maybe? No… only a few stale Moon Pies and some toilet tissue. Both were kept inside the safe because it was the only place in the store impervious to the roaches, mice, and rats. All of that long hot sweaty that work for nothing.
Oh and where was the money? My father was no fool; the money was almost in plain sight, where no one would think to look for it. It was on a shelf among the car parts in a rusty little tackle box, all safe and sound.
Dum de dum dum…the moral of the story could be, to make sure to rob cleaner, pest-free stores.