My Only Weakness is a Listed Crime
To Heist is Human
I have such smart tv-watching friends, and sometimes they will text me, what have you been watching, or, have you seen this smart, interesting television show everyone is talking about, what do you think, do you love it? And I, ashamed and embarrassed, must admit that, no, I have not seen The Last of Us or Wednesday or South Side, but I have seen all of Murder Among the Amish and, as a result, am getting regular updates from Amish sellers on eBay, letting me know that various three-piece dresses (one piece is an apron), bonnets and straw hats have come down in price. I have watched all of Web of Death as well as Wild Crime. I certainly was never like this before my husband – who is taking a four-hour exam to become some sort of investigator as I type this – came into my life. Before finding the appropriate sleep medicine, he would drift off to the soothing sounds of Forensic Files flickering out from his television; spending the night at his place was a tad grisly, but I was there for it. Repeated exposure has led to normalization, as it does, and now, at the end of a long day of parenting and whatnot, when we are exhausted and know we only have about another hour or so of functional consciousness left, nothing sounds as good as cuddling up in bed with popcorn and/or a Tony’s Chocolonely and watching an episode of something tragic on I-D Discovery.
Recently we were looking through the various true crime offerings other networks were hosting, and noticed a show called Heist. Nah, I said, I Don’t Care About A Heist. We scrolled past. But then, this week, a text came in from Vera: Do you know the story about Heather Tallchief?? I just listened to a true crime pod about her She’s a modern scarlet woman to a modern fake-aleister Crowley He hypnotized her and used sex magic and manipulated her into helping him rob the Circus Circus!!
Dear Diary is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
A few months ago Vera and I recorded a two-part episode for our Your Magic podcast where I told her the stories of Aleister Crowley’s Scarlet Women – various ladies of yore he somehow persuaded to embark upon wild sex magick love affairs. I say somehow because he was kind of intense, and to take a lover in the early 1900s, let alone with a dude proclaimed by the press to be the wickedest man in the world; a man who incorporated all sorts of gnarly, sadistic, occult sex practices into his repertoire - this al seems like a deal breaker for even the most liberated femmes of today (one Scarlet Woman made ceremonial love to a goat), let alone back then, when the standards for female behavior were so strict. As one would imagine, these were not ordinary women who consented to be Crowley’s mystical mistress. They were living wild, unconventional lives, had their own interest in magick and sex, and their stories were super fun to tell. What felt possibly even more fun than detailing their youthful escapades was sharing the fact that many of these women ended their lives as church ladies with scores of grandkids, dying peacefully in nursing homes, no one around them knowing that these sweet grannies were once the conduit for the Thelemic goddess Babalon, also known as The Whore of Babylon made famous in the Book of Revelations. Anyway, these episodes we recorded were so fun and interesting, and we were both so inspired at the sluttery of these long-ago femmes that we are currently using them as the pilot episodes of a Your Magic spin-off podcast called Historical Sluts (maybe Sluts of History is better?) and working feverishly to get some podcast network bought into our vision-and our delightful on-air charisma – so we can go about making it with some sort of path towards monetization ahead of it. Podcasts are hard work and we are all slightly burnt from the effort of producing Your Magic, but also, Historical Sluts is such a great idea, and the promiscuous ladies we’ve unearthed through the most casual of Google searches so fascinating, we really want to do it no matter what. No one likes when capitalism stands in the way of a great art project, especially a couple punk queers. But, anyway. Heather Tallchief!
I gave this modern-day Scarlet Woman a quick search and learned that she is profiled in the Netflix Heist show I recently poo-poo’d. I told TJ we would have to take a break from our usual diet of straight-up murder, and watch some high-level thieving instead. We even set up in the living room to watch on the big TV, rather than snug in bed with a laptop. I made my normal gallon of popcorn, snowed under heaps of both nutritional yeast and my new favorite condiment, the Trader Joe’s Everything But the Elote seasoning, and started watching Heist.
Heather Tallchief met her poor-man’s Crowley, Roberto Solis, in a bar in San Francisco in the early 90s. She wasn’t doing awesome – a crack habit had gotten her fired from her nursing job, and the Buffalo, NY native was on a downward spiral. She accepted a drink from Solis because she was broke and drinking, but the pair quickly hit it off, escaping into the bathroom to do some lines. Apparently, Solis was quite a charmer – a career criminal who’d done time for a murder in an armored money truck robbery gone awry. While in prison he’d found poetry, and found himself prolific, producing more poems than Bukowski on a bender, publishing a handful of books and getting out early for his good, literary behavior. Heist showed much footage of Solis performing his work in the dramatic, poetry-voiced intonations of the era, and I tried to figure out whereabout he was reading – Café Barbar? The Paradise Lounge? The possibility that we’d shared a stage, both of us drunkenly delivering our self-righteous rants in classic 1990s, slam-poem style, was real.
“Aren’t you glad I was a lesbian?” I asked my mom, who was sitting, as she does, in her armchair, half-watching the show between re-posting random shit on her Facebook on her phone. “This could have been me. I could have let him by me a drink and wound up getting programmed by a hypnotism VHS and robbing a Brinks truck in Vegas.” She laughed. And, this is what happened to Heather Tallchief – after her shitty childhood, raised by drug dealers, actively un-loved by the people in her life, she was swept of her feet by Solis, who, what with his occult obsessions, goddess-worship altars full of animal bones, Thoth tarot-deck reading, theatrical poetry readings and intense interest in sex magic, criminal proclivities and addict nature, I’m sure had the magnetism of the baddest bad boy in town. Like, no doubt they had totally amazing sex. They moved to Las Vegas, and Heather got a job driving a Brinks truck. In the throes of a super intense, highly charged love affair, both of their addict, drug-addled brains secreting oceans of dopamine and norepinephrine, the juice that makes even the tidiest person do crazy shit for love, Solis, inspired by the fact that Heather was left alone in the Brinks truck for twenty minutes each week while the fucking dipshits she worked with went and changed out the money in the ATM machines, masterminded a plan. Rather than driving the truck around to the front of the casino to pick up the guys – whose crummy personalities are on full display during some interviews – Heather would simply drive off, bringing the truck to a warehouse Solis had rented in some scuzzy Vegas alleyway. They’d box the cash up and ship it off, then fly a chartered plane – with Heather incognito as a little old lady, replete with wheelchair – to Colorado, where they would then take a train to New Orleans, and then Miami, where they recovered the cash, and holed up in a hotel room. Heather especially. Was forbidden to leave as she was most wanted; Solis went out about town taking care of business, getting them fake passports and finding another lady to bring into their situation – who ever heard of a monogamous sex magician? One day Heather, who is 21-years-old, was going fully stir crazy, and decided that, after pulling off the biggest heist in Vegas history, she deserved to go shopping and get a haircut. She bought herself a Moschino bag, and when she arrived at a salon, was told by the stylist that they were doing hair for a fashion show that day, and didn’t have time for her. Unless she wanted to walk in the fashion show, which, of course she did. In the vein of the Match-Game Killer, who fully appeared on national television as a creepy guest on The Match Game while wanted by the authorities for some pretty gross murders, Heather Tallchief, the most wanted fugitive in America, got her hair did and hit the catwalk. And if you don’t believe sex magick is real, check this out – while she was clomping down the runway with her new, gamine hairdo, the FBI bust into her hotel, and most definitely did not find her. From there, it’s off to St. Maarten, to shack up on the beach, get new fake identities, hoard guns, get pregnant, have a baby and finally leave Solis, who is pretty much over her and collecting stream of Spring Breeeak-style babes to impress with his shiiiit.
The best part of watching all this is Heather Tallchief’s recounting of it all. She is lit up, thrilled and enthralled as recounts the early days of occult love with Solis, the wonder at making off with 13 million dollars, feeling like Bonnie and Clyde. There’s, like, no remorse. And you learnt that the rest of the country likely saw her as a criminal folk-hero, too. Her roguish, charming younger brother recounts hoping she was doing well, and how everyone at school thought his big sis was a baller, asking him if he thought she’d send any cash his way. A taxi driver in Miami observed, You got away with it. Even the FBI admittedly respects Heather, so young, pulling off such an intricate crime without hurting anyway. Hearing them talk about trying to catch her they’re kind of giddy, like kids playing Pokémon Go.
Sadly, the woman talking about her wild time isn’t actually Heather Tallchief, but a really, really likeable actress Lisa Lord, as Heather, after turning herself in in order to get citizenship and a stable life for her son, is living a quiet life, having done five years in prison (authorities liked that she turned herself in, and sort of imagined she was under the manipulation of Solis the whole time). Lisa Lord is so good as Heather Tallchief, I really hope this leads to e leveling up in her acting career, catapulting her out of the realm of waitress, police officer, nurse.
Well, now Heist is my new favorite show. The next episode has us in Miami, embedded with a tight-knit group of Cuban immigrants, tow-truck drivers and low-level drug dealers, who get inspired to knock off a warehouse at the Miami airport where a shitton of cash is delivered every week at the same time, flown in on a Lufthansa flight from Germany (no one explains why). The warehouse is strangely vulnerable; poorly ventilated, the corrugated door is rolled up to allow for a breeze as workers count the cash, and the guards that are there are not allowed to have guns; in the case of a robbery, workers are told to just cooperate with the crooks. One kid who works there sees that this place is obviously begging to get robbed, and so he tips off a friend in a desperate place, Karls, who has very sparkly eyes and a wife who can’t stop miscarriaging. He wants the cash so they can buy a Russian baby and start a family – American dream stuff. He ropes in his wife’s uncle, a super charismatic dude named Pinky who has negative zero regrets about the whole thing, and whose joie de vivre made me want to go out and rob some shit or sell some drugs – whatever is giving this man his sunshine, I want it. They bring in Karls’ brother, a career fuckup, to drive. They bring in a dude who can get them a stolen car and then torch it. Someone to do lookout. They pull it off no problem and wind up with literal duffel bags of cash, 7 million dollars, all which is distributed along the group quite fairly. The plan is to lay low, not flaunt the money, duh. Karls stuffs his in PVC tubing, to protect the paper from the elements, and buries it in his backyard. Dudes are chill, except that fuck-up brother, who seems like a bad alcoholic with a stripper problem. He’s sending monsoons of cash into the club – it is nice that some sex workers benefitted from this, I like when crime serves the larger community – hanging multiple watches off his wrist, just like textbook stuff. Karls employs some thugs to kidnap and rob him, to scare him straight. It doesn’t work. This guy might be physiologically unable to access his rational brain at this point in his life. Karls send the thugs back a second time, tells them to beat him up a little this time. They nearly kill him, landing him into the hospital. By now, the thugs are aware that there is a lot of money floating around these dudes, and they go independent, kidnapping the brother for their own benefit, demanding Karls bring them money or they’ll kill him. Karls by now has lost his mind. Summoned to the kidnappers, he stops on the way to pick up a few semi-automatic weapons at a gun boutique, as one can do in Florida, and sets off with the intent to kill fucking everyone.
By now, the authorities have closed in on them. They offered a cash reward for tips, and a guy who had declined to participate in the heist goes to the cops. Tapping Karls phone, they learn that not only his he the heister, there’s a kidnapping in progress and bodies threatening to hit the floor. It’s all very exciting. I feel super bad for these dudes, who did an awesome job stealing the money and clearly got a lot of joy from it. The silver lining, is, they’re out of jail now, and the feds were never able to find the majority of the stolen loot. When asked if they know where it is, each guy insists he has no idea, and you can see that they totally fucking know where the money is, and that’s about as much of a happy ending you get in a show like this.
I didn’t think I’d care about episode three, a bunch of white bros in Kentucky stealing barrels of high-end (like, high-end) whiskey and selling it to local rich folks, but even that was good. Amusingly, the producers work to show us where the ringleaders were in their lives right before they jumped into crime with both feet – Heather Tallchief being a crack-addicted recently-fired nurse; Karls and his wife, Cuban immigrants, enduring a succession of late-term miscarriages. The drama in the whiskey thief’s life is, after having a couple kids, his ambitious, real-estate-agent wife tells him he has to stop spending all his time playing softball, and help out with the kids. Lolz. White dudes and their problems.
The ease and entitlement that all the thieves profiled in Heist display is causal, natural. Laboring your whole life under capitalism, always giving more than you get, it makes sense to want to steal. Who cares if you grab a case of beer from work? People can spend so much time at their job, it’s more of a home than their home is. Pulling some bottles from a cabinet, stuffing them into your bag and bringing them to share with your friends feels as normal as pulling a six-pack from your own fridge. This was probably especially true for the Kentucky bro, who stole products, not cash, and from his place of employment. The ease and entitlement with which the community around him purchased the stolen goods is also interesting. Is it the above-the-law feeling of entitlement of rich jerks? Or did it just seem like, with so much abundance everywhere, who really cares if you scrape a little off the top?
While the messaging is a familiar crime doesn’t pay, pretty much everyone is shot in such a way to make them eminently sympathetic, if not heroic. It definitely made me feel good about my own shoplifting problem – not that I was feeling badly about it, not that it’s a problem. Well – it could be. I know that my shoplifting is enabled by the whiteness of my skin I’m a white lady, nobody is looking at me as I tie a pair of Pumas or zip a pair of boots to my feet and stride out the store. If I get caught, my performance of apologetic confusion is likely to be believed, courtesy of both my whiteness and femaleness. This is gross, and it’s important to recognize; does it require that I stop what I’m doing? I’m not sure, and as I wait to feel more certain, I continue to shoplift. The good vibes a successful swipe gives me last a long time – putting on a jacket or hat and wearing it out into the street; dropping items, bar codes unscanned, into my bags at the self-checkout. My mom recently shared an angry Facebook rant posted by a friend of hers incensed that he was asked to show his receipt after self-checking out. In his opinion, the store first treated him like an unpaid employee, and then like a potential criminal. It was all a bunch of bullshit, and he stormed out of the store without complying. Self-checkout makes me think of Nikki Finn, Madonna’s madcap character in Who’s That Girl. A regular shoplifter, she theorizes that the little things she steals from the shelves of jewelry stores are put there to prevent thieves from stealing the more valuable jewels inside the case. I imagine a corporation making a similar cost-benefit analysis – sure, they’ll take some loss from ladies like we who are only pretending to weigh their potatoes on the scale, but they’ll save so much money by having unpaid customers do the paid work of check-out, it’s worth it.
I began stealing in junior high, from the little carts selling random shit up and down Faneuil Hall Marketplace – keychains with fat, plastic hearts; shoe laces printed with unicorns, earrings with dangling pieces of fruit. You couldn’t get stuff like this in Chelsea, and even if you could I didn’t have any money. That’s why I stole, at first. I just wanted things. I learned I liked the way my body responded to the threat of stealing – getting close to big trouble but never hitting will prove to be my favorite form of athleticism, be it in petty crime, sex or drugs. The closer you get to a consequence, the higher you get as you bounce back, free. Accumulating things I didn’t actually want, I would sell them to the kids at my Catholic school, for a fraction of what it cost in Boston. Eventually an undercover Kmart security guard caught me with a Maybelline Kissing Potion slid up the sleeve of my winter coat, and I was busted. I was scared out of stealing for quite some time, though I did make myself go into an Osco Drug and steal a lip balm, just one more time, just to get the last word. Even though I couldn’t articulate a sense of wider injustice in the world, I felt it, and stealing felt like a tough, satisfying little punch at an unfair force I could feel bearing down on the world around me.
When I was more active in 12-step-recovery, especially earlier in my sobriety, I took very seriously the no shoplifting rule, and it was good for me. I was struggling with scarcity issues made much more acute by a lack of nerve-dulling alcohol and a coinciding move out of a day job and into freelance. The urge to steal was coupled to my deep fear of falling financially apart. In 12 step you’re encouraged to trust that god has a plan for you, a bit of magical thinking / psychological delusion that come naturally to me, actually, and so refraining from stealing wasn’t so much because I didn’t think a corporation didn’t deserve it, or fear of getting caught, but more to push myself to trust that I would really be okay in this world, and didn’t have to resort to crime or vice to get me through it. I’m really grateful for this period. I’m also really grateful that my scarcity issues, ever-present, have mellowed considerably, and my urge to steal is now more akin to the gleeful, upbeat bass of Jane’s Addiction’s Been Caught Stealing, a love letter to sticking a shirt under your skirt and getting away with it. Well, it’s just a simple fact / When I want something / I don’t want to pay for it. Again, the fact that it inevitably trades on my whiteness makes me uneasy – but that’s all that makes me uneasy. I have a thieves’ code of honor about never stealing from anything but the biggest of corporations; I’d never want to hurt a business owned by an actual human, non-corporate person. If ceasing to swipe somehow helped dismantle racism, I’d stop, but I can’t see that it does. Being white, however, I’m soaking in it – white supremacy brings a bazillion blind spots. A quick Goog brought me to a YouTube video titled Shoplifting from Walgreens to Fight Systemic Racism, as well as a pdf of a piece titled Opulent Servitude: Shoplifting in a Culture of Material Excess and Systemic Racism, which I did download and look forward to reading. Maybe I’ll change my ways before I piss in my knickers like Ari Up of The Slits at the end of Shoplifting, or feel a hand on my shoulder like that fucker Morrissey. Six months is a long time. I’ll let you know how it goes.
Dear Diary is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.