In September of 2009 when Robert Maday somehow escaped from two armed guards and surprisingly eluded police during a manhunt that spanned two days and several suburbs, the career criminal from Elk Grove Village captured imaginations and even some pop-culture admiration. Fan pages popped up on Facebook praising the oft-convicted thug for his daring.
That same phenomenon happened a week before Christmas when bank robbers Joseph "Jose" Banks and Kenneth Conley engineered an improbable escape from their 17th-floor cell in a federal prison in Chicago by rappelling down an improvised rope made of bed linens and catching a taxi as they embarked on a similar attention-grabbing odyssey.
"We are a society that is fascinated by crime and by people who commit crimes," explains an email from Kirk Miller, chair of the sociology department at Northern Illinois University and an associate professor who teaches and has written extensively about crime and criminal justice. "The origin of our cultural fascination with people who commit crime has developed over many decades. The media (both news and drama) have certainly helped to cultivate the folk hero aspects of criminals whose stories have somehow captured our popular imagination."
That romance of "clever" crooks on the run as "folk heroes" collided with reality Wednesday for Maday as he sat in a federal courtroom and heard yet another jury return with more guilty verdicts. Already facing 43 years in prison for crimes in which he admitted guilt, these new convictions could very well mean that the 42-year-old lifetime criminal will spend the rest of his lifetime behind bars.
In a letter to his girlfriend written from jail after his capture and introduced as evidence, Maday expressed some regret to the people he hurt. He also wrote about how "I really was close" to making good on his freedom fantasy. In a dose of candor, Maday finally acknowledged that he'll be lucky to spend any time with his girlfriend decades from now "at the end of a squandered wasted life."
The social media that buzzed with the exploits of Banks and Conley immediately after their Dec. 18 escape from the Metropolitan Correctional Center in downtown Chicago didn't keep up with their story. Banks, 37, was caught two days later in the Lincoln Park neighborhood where he used to live and already faces up to 80 years in prison for his bank-robbery convictions. Conley, 38, lived on the lam for 18 days before he was apprehended during a tussle with officers in his old Palos Hills neighborhood, and already faced up to 20 years in prison for his last robbery.
The reality of the harsh sentences expected for Maday, Conley and Banks strips all the romance and daring from their crimes. Rightfully so. As Maday noted, these are sad cases of lives "squandered." The criminal ordeals have been nightmares and heartaches for the convicts' parents, siblings, other relatives and loved ones. The officers in charge when Maday escaped faced harsh disciplinary actions and ended up losing their jobs. The victims of robberies and carjackings suffer the fear and then the memories.
The dawning of the modern "criminal as celebrity" started in the 1930s, notes Miller, who mentions society's fascination with robbers such as Bonnie and Clyde and Charles "Pretty Boy" Floyd.
Bonnie Parker was killed at age 23 in a police shootout that also killed Clyde Barrow at age 25. Floyd, elevated to Public Enemy No. 1 status after the shooting death of robber John Dillinger, made it to age 30 before police gunned him down.
Compared to those "celebrity" criminals, Maday, Donley and Banks are fortunate to just be spending their lives in prison.