OK, so he turned out to be 59 years old, not yet ready for retirement, but the arrest of alleged Center City "senior-citizen" bandit Jerry Lee Stanton raises an interesting question: Where do all the criminals go when they get old?
Stanton was arrested a little more than 24 hours after he allegedly walked out of a Citizens Bank branch with a dirty pillowcase and an undisclosed amount of money. When the FBI at first pegged Stanton as "in his 60s, maybe 70s," it sounded like the cops would be staking out every early-bird special in town.
Stanton's alleged misdeeds make him a rare elder statesman among local offenders. Crooks of his age aren't the ones committing the sensational violent crimes we read about every day. (The suspect in yesterday's shooting at the Holocaust Museum is 89 years old.)
The "mature" Bernie Madoffs of the world usually find themselves involved in white-collar transgressions. Though bank robberies are on the rise, the FBI has arrested only one perpetrator north of 60 since 2006.
VIOLENT CRIME and daytime bank robberies are "typically a younger person's game," according to Frank Farley, a professor of psychology at Temple University.
Farley differentiated between "lifelong criminals" and "the more short-term or situational criminals often suffering such problems as failure of impulse control." Stanton, he said, seems to fit the latter bill.
"A pillowcase, dark glasses and identifiable baseball cap make it seem poorly thought-out, or at least very 'unprofessional,' " Farley told me. "A rather casual senior-citizen heist, not a knock-down or threatening robbery."
Stanton is an atypical arrestee. "Clearly, this was unusual," FBI Special Agent J.J. Klaver said earlier this week. "He was on the older side of what we usually see."
Indeed, the Daily News reported that Stanton lived a lonely and depressing life in a West Philadelphia shelter. His housemates speculated that the alleged robbery was Stanton's way of breaking out of his blues.
But what about the garden-variety criminals, much younger than Stanton?
Do they all end up dead, in prison - or something else?
According to Lawrence Sherman, director of the Jerry Lee Center of Criminology at Penn, many do what we do: retire.
"Most active criminals," Sherman said, "eventually age out of crime" after they hit 30. Many ditch life on the lam in favor of a job or - believe it or not - marriage, Sherman said.
Indeed, in a study published in 2006, Robert Sampson, chairman of the sociology department at Harvard, documented the paths of 500 at-risk men from adolescence to adulthood. Among its findings: a 35 percent reduction in the probability of crime when the men were married.
Of course, some criminals stay in the game longer than others, Sherman said. Some never get out. Others are forced from it by a 20-year prison sentence or an untimely death.
"As more people live past 60 and stay in better shape, we should expect to see more crimes committed by older people," Sherman told me. "But that does not mean that we need to expand prison sentences to keep more offenders in for life. For every one offender who keeps robbing banks after 60, there will be at least 20 bank robbers who give up the game long before."
Which brings us back to the curiousness of Stanton's alleged heist. Farley surmised that the distressed economy and dearth of jobs might have been what pushed Stanton back into the game. Stanton's housemates suspect that he wanted to move out of the shelter, but his Social Security check wouldn't sustain that ambition.
Unfortunately, given a choice most thieves don't have - Social Security or a cellblock - Stanton allegedly chose wrong.
And, if found guilty, he'll have at least one thing in common with the rest of the city's convicted criminals: Time to pay back his debt to society. *
Listen to Michael Smerconish weekdays 5-9 a.m. on the Big Talker, 1210/AM. Read him Sundays in the Inquirer. Contact him via the Web at www.mastalk.com.