Walter Reca: Generous Thief
Carl always recognized the Big Boy robbery as something of a turning point in Walt’s life. It was the point at which Carl’s friend transformed from rowdy troublemaker to serious felon. But perhaps even more notable than his crime was Walter’s unusual generosity during the heist.
In June of 1965, when Walt was 32 years old, he was in desperate need of cash. He had grown up without a father figure and only an eighth grade education. He had struggled to get steady work, been married and subsequently left his wife, served with the United States Air Force Reserve, and worked with the toughest members in the Teamsters union. Walt was broke, tired, and desperate. On the streets of Detroit, his options were slim.
Walt’s friend James came up with a plan. Walt would drive the getaway car, and James would hold up a nearby Big Boy restaurant. At the last second, James got cold feet, and Walt decided to complete the job himself. In the midst of the holdup, Walt paused to give the female store manager a few twenty dollar bills from his spoils.
As he handed over the bills, Walt said something like, “You’ve been very nice to me and I never had a chance to tip you,” and then he disappeared. Or at least, he attempted to disappear. His flight was short-lived.
Walt was almost immediately arrested by a nearby police officer who recognized him from the all-points-bulletin. But Walt’s criminal activity wasn’t such a large deterrent to the store manager, who later visited him in jail, saying she wished they had met under different circumstances.
For Walt, the Big Boy Robbery represented the strongest parts of his character - he hated to be poor, was not afraid of foolish stunts, and never missed a chance to flirt with the ladies. In fact, his generosity towards the Big Boy manager was one of Carl’s first clues that he was D.B. Cooper. The infamous skyjacker had also offered part of the ransom money to an innocent bystander. In the D.B. Cooper case, ransom money had been offered to one of the stewardesses, who politely declined.
When Walt committed the D.B. Cooper skyjacking six years later, he was simply repeating the Big Boy robbery - albeit more elegantly carried out. For his close friend Carl, the similarities between D.B. Cooper and Walt were undeniable. After all, how many thieves would stop to give away part of their plunder?