An Adventure in Sailing And Robbing Banks
Bruce Von Stiers
Dane Batty has an uncle whose occupation is a bit unusual. And dangerous. And very, very illegal. What does the uncle do for a living? He robs banks. At least he used to until he finally surrendered and was sent to prison.
The uncle’s name is Leslie Ibsen Rogge, better known in the mainstream press as the “Gentleman Bank Robber.” Rogge eluded the FBI and state authorities for a number of years.
Rogge’s story has now been documented in a book by his nephew Dane. The title of the books is Wanted: Gentleman Bank Robber: The True Story of Leslie Ibsen Rogge, One of the FBI’s Most Elusive Criminals. It is being published by Nish Publishing Company, a small footprint publishing house founded by Batty.
The book begins with an introduction. It tells the reader about Les Rogge having stolen over $ 2 million dollars from banks around the U.S. during a twenty-year period. The introduction also explains Dane’s association with Les and why the book was written.
With a few exceptions, the book is told from Les’ perspective. There are a couple times during the book where an attorney or friend is quoted. There are also remembrances from Judy, who was Les’s common law wife. And the author interjects some tidbits once in a while.
The book begins with Les describing the details of a bank robbery in the Baton Rouge area. Along with a partner he robbed two banks within an hour of each other. The two banks were on opposite sides of town, making it confusing for the police. This retelling of the robberies pretty much sets the tone for the book; detailed descriptions of what happened and the results; loot wise and otherwise.
The book takes the reader through a bit of Les’s history, growing up with an alcoholic father who was a sometimes too strict disciplinarian. We learn how Les stole his first car and how his father messed him around on others. Then he got into stealing cars and reselling them. That type of crime led to the first of several times Les would end up in prison.
Then the book begins its roller coaster ride of the years of bank robberies that Les committed. Along the way we learn about how he had his own family, whom he later lost through divorce. The wife apparently couldn’t deal with a husband whose occupation was robbing banks.
The techniques that Les employed for robbing banks were pretty much non violent. He would threaten to have a bomb and on occasion would show the butt of a gun or the like to infer that he was a dangerous man. Les would fake out the bank personnel with boxes that had lights on them and other electronic looking things. Les would claim that the boxes were alarm scanners and he would know if someone in the bank tripped a silent alarm.
But Les was not all work and no play. It seems that somewhere down the line Les learned to fly a plane. And he also became an astute sailor. In fact, he loved being on the water so much, that he owned several boats of different sizes over the years.
We learn about loves lost and found for Les. He picked up a second wife and lived with her in eastern Washington State for a while. Then later Les took up with a southern waitress named Judy and her son Lee. As he was quite the charmer, Les became a member of Judy’s family, a surrogate son to her parents.
Speaking of being a charmer, Les didn’t seem to be lacking for friends. The book shows how Les had friends who would hide him from the police and lie about even seeing him. People gave him money and shelter and sometimes even sold him stuff that ended up being used in his robberies.
Les seemed to be one of those criminals who can hide in plain sight. He didn’t have hideouts and secret lairs. For the most part, Les lived out in the open. Most of his neighbors never knew about his bank robbing background.
But the reader finds out that the longer Les stayed at large, the more dangerous things were becoming. For not only him, but for close friends and family members who were being constantly questioned about him. Not only were there law enforcement flyers distributed about him, Les ended up on the FBI’s Most Wanted List. And the television show America’s Most Wanted seemed to have picked Les as their favorite criminal to spotlight.
The stories in the book tend to put Les in a somewhat favorable light. Although he wasn’t like Robin Hood and giving away to the poor, there was a certain amount of enjoyment that people had when finding out their buddy Les was robbing banks.
That’s what’s particularly wrong with Les Rogge’s career choice. As long as nobody gets hurt or killed in a bank robbery, the general public doesn’t think too much about it. A certain element of the public might even revel in the fact that a bank got robbed in light of the banking collapse and subsequent financial scandals. And this book pretty much glamorizes Les’s bank robbing days. But at the end of the day, Les Rogge was still a criminal; a career criminal at that. The author just doesn’t dwell on that side of the coin for any length at all.
Wanted: Gentleman Bank Robber is an entertaining true crime story. Dane Batty did a good job with Les’s retelling of his life as a bank robber. The reader gets to see that not every bank robber is a hyped up junkie or some soul so desperate to keep his family afloat that robbing a bank is the only option. Les Rogge was cool under pressure and had a pretty smart playbook for robbing banks.
Wanted: Gentleman Bank Robber: The True Story of Leslie Ibsen Rogge, One of the FBI’s Most Elusive Criminals is available at traditional bookstores and online retailers like amazon.com
© 2011 Bruce E. Von Stiers