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Entry date: 5-23-2022 - The Great Columbus Ticket Heist - Letters to My Friends

Dear Friends,

I’ve thought about this day a lot over the almost 35 years since it happened. I’ve laughed about it, been embarrassed by it on several levels, and mostly just wondered how in the hell it happened.

October 24, 1987 was perhaps the most larcenous day of my life.

After we went through our usual Saturday morning routine, Lionel and I got into our civilian clothes and were driven back to Columbus to work at the Oktoberfest again. The first couple hours we were there were a blur of activity to get things ready for people to start showing up at 5pm. It was decided that the two of us would be in the ticket booths on each side of the building selling tickets.

I was paired with a homicide detective from Columbus and stationed in the box office at the main entrance. I wish I remembered his name as he was very funny, and we had a good conversation. Like the Command Sergeant Major, he had a link to Phoenix, so we got the ball rolling quickly by talking about home (well, at least for me).

As people started to show up, it became very clear it was going to be a good crowd. People were in a good mood, and it was really fun to think about getting to mingle a bit before we had to go back to the barracks. It also became clear that I was going to run out of tickets to I had to scoot back to the main office and grab some more while the detective held down the fort.

When I got to the office, it was a bit crazy. The organizers were so excited about the turnout, and I overheard them excitedly say, “We have no idea how many people are here, we are going to run out of tickets.” They asked me to run another batch of tickets over to Lionel and when I got there, he was dealing with a ton of people, too.

I shared what I had heard, and he gave me a look that let me know he was on the same page I was. If there was an opportunity to scam a little off the top, we were both going to do it, even though these people had been so great to us. As I look back, I’m embarrassed by it, but I remember exactly what I was thinking as I plotted how to skim a little with a cop in the booth with me. I was thinking that the army owed me.

I see now that was the immature thought of a juvenile brain. The army didn’t owe me anymore than I owed the army, but it was how I justified what I was about to do. I walked back to the ticket booth with a huge roll of those small, red tickets like the ones they used to use at the fair or at any raffle anywhere and got back into the swing of things to help the detective get through the huge line of people waiting to hit the 80 or so kegs of beer on the other side of the doors.

During the next wave of people, a Captain came to the window with a family of six and handed me a $100 bill. This was it. This was the chance to make a little money off the opportunity but how could I pocket it with the detective right there, so I didn’t do anything.

Except think about how to get that bill in my pocket.

As fate would have it, my new detective friend had to take a leak. Before he left, he said something along the lines of “you’ve got this covered. I’ll grab some more tickets before I come back.” Within about 15 seconds of the door closing behind him after he left, the Benjamin was in my pocket and the stress began.

If I was caught, I was going to jail. Either in Columbus or in the stockade on base. This started screaming through my mind like a banshee. I decided, though, to say, “Fuck it” and kept selling tickets like there was nothing wrong. In a bit, someone paid with a fifty and that became mine, too. By the time the detective came back, I had about $250 in my pocket.

Knowing what I know now about detectives, I was an idiot. I probably had all kinds of “tells” going on to show that I had done something wrong. Rhondi watches a lot of true crime TV and if he would have been looking at me a little closer, I’m sure he would have figured it out.

Luckily, we were so busy that there wasn’t time to dwell on it and our banter was going to all the people buying tickets from us. We were about to run out of tickets again, so it was my turn to make the run. I filled up one of the bank bags we had with all the big bills we had (that weren’t in my pocket) and took it to the office.

I was greeted like a conquering hero when I presented the cash to the AUSA people. They were so happy and excited about the event. Between the tickets and the beer sales, they were going to make a shitload of money for the organization. While I was there, Lionel came in for more tickets and we gave each other the nod. We needed to grab a few things from a different supply closet, so we had a chance to talk about our behavior.

We decided to split whatever we took, and I shared with him that I got a C-note. I was embarrassed about the rest and before I could say anything about the other wad of cash that was now in my sock, he handed me $50 because he had taken $200. I wish I could say I made it right, but I didn’t.

Funny, typing those words just now made me think that I’d like to make it right in some other way now. I guess this is a sort of public apology, but I don’t feel any cleaner.

I think I had about $400 when I got back to the barracks that night. We had some fun after ticket sales were over and could mill around in the festival. Lionel looked a bit older than me and he got a few bought for him over the rest of our time there. I just sort of thought about the cash in my sock and wondered if we had fucked up in any way.

The long ride back to the barracks at midnight or so was a stressful one. I kept waiting for the sergeant to tell us that he knew, and we were busted, but that never came. In fact, he told us that if we needed anything, just to ask, and said he was going to tell Sgt. Kitchen to make sure we had easy duty the next week.

I wasn’t even going to need to cash my next paycheck.

See you tomorrow.

The object of desire on 10-24-87.

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