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CRIME: Rich Man, Poor Man

4 minute read

His first message was found last February on the windshield of his abandoned car: “I’m a rich man.” That he was, emphatically. Richard Charles Rees had just walked off his job in San Mateo, Calif, as a guard on a Brinks armored car, and he had $516,305 in a champagne case tucked under his arm. Last week, after eleven months on the lam, Rees, 27, was under the strong arm of the law. FBI agents finally caught up with him in the tiny New Mexico town of Villanueva (pop. 300). His cash supply: just $390.

How did Rees blow the rest? Before his arrest he told “My Story” in a remarkable communique to the world, revealing in disillusioning detail an unsuspected peril in stealing a fortune: your new friends can be as larcenous as you, and as dangerous as the cops. Rees’ 17-page letter was sent to San Francisco Chronicle Columnist Herb Caen, who mentioned it in an item this month and sent the manuscript to the FBI.

Rees described how he had to pay a whopping $5,000 to a former bootlegger to drive him to Santa Cruz. Eventually Rees landed in Fort Worth, where he frequented the topless nightclub circuit and met the lady known in his letter as “L.”

She nearly did him in. They invested in a nightclub, and he gave her a ’76 Pacer, “TV and sound” equipment, “a wardrobe worth thousands,” a $7,500 bond and a $9,000 bank account. He also bought her brother a new truck and her mother a color-television set.

For himself, Rees purchased a $16,000 plot of land, and he met a bookie who would let him play the ponies at $2,000 a crack. But, he claimed, he “found out that it was a scam [a con game] and had the guy beat up. They broke one side of his rib cage. He had taken me for a bunch.”

When Rees finally decided to split, he wrote, “I had left pretty close to $250,000 in Fort Worth.” With the nightclub and her loot, L “could have been set up for life, but she chose to have me hunted down.” Rees claimed his old girl friend sent three “hit men” to stalk him in Austin, Texas, where he took the girl he called “K.”

No Fight. K turned out to be little better than L. She got a cabin cruiser, but Rees left her, too, when he found out that she was a “lesbian swinger and crazy.” Eluding the purported gunmen —he did not explain how—the fugitive moved on, alone, to Albuquerque and Santa Fe, “where every time I looked around the FBI was on my trail.”

By the time Rees mailed his letter, his life had changed: “I never stay in one town more than two days, and since my money has all but run out… I guess I have gone the way of the hippy. Of all the life-styles I have been through, I like this one the best.” His plans for the New Year: to see the rest of the U.S.

Rees left behind in northern California a bride of eight months named Renee, who was baffled by his sudden turn to crime. She described him as a dependable, gentle sort who likes to “putter around the house and fool with plants.” Said she: “I felt we had everything going for us. He never really complained about lack of money. I still cannot understand why he did it.”

Nor can the FBI. Said one agent: “He was a Marine. He had been in Viet Nam. He didn’t have a record. How do you figure it?” As for why Rees wrote his confession, the FBI’s Charles Bates, chief of the San Francisco bureau, speculated before the capture that either Rees wanted to be caught or wanted to let those who might be pursuing him know that the law was close by and they had better be careful.

The FBI, which had been tracking Rees for months, finally found him visiting friends in Villanueva, 45 miles southeast of Santa Fe. When the agents strolled in, Rees was armed with a .22 pistol and a hunting knife, but put up no fight. Indeed, he had an expression of relief on his face. Later Rees told reporters, “I have no regrets, except that I am here. I bought a bar and had a party.”

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