Mike Royko is on vacation. In his absence, we are printing some of his favorite columns. This column was originally published in 1970.
SOMEWHERE ON THE WEST SIDE of Chicago there is a young man who has to be one of the world's least competent purse snatchers.
A few days ago, he selected as his victim Mrs. Irene Newsome, who was walking on Damen near Madison in broad daylight.
I will give him credit for picking a likely victim. Little old ladies are the best people to snatch purses from and Mrs. Newsome is a genuine little old lady. She's almost 70, stands 4 feet 11 inches and weighs about a hundred pounds.
Mrs. Newsome, who had car trouble, was walking toward a service station to get help when the purse snatcher jumped out of an alley and grabbed her purse.
Then he started running back down the alley. But he couldn't run fast because Mrs. Newsome screamed, hanging on with both hands.
Being a purse snatcher, he couldn't very well let go of a purse, so he just kept going, dragging the screaming Mrs. Newsome along the ground.
After they traveled half a block this way, Mrs. Newsome lost her grip on the purse, but then she grabbed him by one of his legs.
So they went on that way for several yards, the thief dragging the screaming Mrs. Newsome along by his leg.
Then Mrs. Newsome's grip slipped and she only had him by the ankle. But he kept going.
And suddenly, she was sitting there holding one empty shoe in her hand, while the purse snatcher limped around a bend in the alley and disappeared.
Her screams drew some people and they helped her to her feet and out of the alley.
"He got my purse," Mrs. Newsome said, "but I got his shoe."
Since there was only $10 in her purse, and the shoe was from a pair that cost at least that much, Mrs. Newsome had the satisfaction of knowing the thief had not profited.
As they waited for a police car, a young man came walking up the street in his stockinged feet, carrying the other shoe.
He went right up to Mrs. Newsome and said: "Give me my shoe."
L She said: "I'll give you your shoe if you give me my purse."
"I didn't take your purse," the man said.
"If you didn't take my purse, how did I get your shoe?" Mrs. Newsome answered.
The young man then proved that he was an even worse storyteller than a purse snatcher.
He said he had loaned his shoes to a needy friend for the day, and that the friend returned only one shoe, saying that an old lady had stolen the other one.
"Do you expect me to believe that?" asked Mrs. Newsome, holding the shoe behind her back.
The young man started jumping around angrily, but several men from the neighborhood kept him away from Mrs. Newsome. And that was when the squad car arrived.
Police looked down the alley and found the purse, with most of her cards and papers intact, but the $10 gone.
They started to lead the man toward the squad car.
"Do you identify him as the person who took your purse?" they asked Mrs. Newsome.
She had to admit that she couldn't. "No, I never really saw his face. All I saw were his feet and legs."
That wasn't enough, the policeman said. A man can't be identified by his feet.
"But I have his shoe," Mrs. Newsome said.
That wasn't enough evidence, the policemen said, and they even made Mrs. Newsome give back the shoe.
As I said, he was remarkably incompetent. But he got away with it. In Chicago, you don't need much skill, just so long as you try hard and are crooked enough.