Ingenuity and mystery are the vital elements for any consideration of artistry that may be given to a robbery. After all, any dull-witted slug can grab a gun, terrorize customers or take a hostage in trying to knock over a bank; the bank genre is particularly low and loathsome these days. In the case of the missing golf balls at Uniroyal, there is no terror, no guns; all of it is as clean as a cuttle bone in a canary cage. The police only know how it was done.
They—a minimum of three—presumably came through the Uniroyal front gate, made their way up to the storage area by a freight elevator, cut a lock and went to work. Using an electric forklift they moved each skid of balls (14 in all) to the elevator, where they were loaded and taken to the shipping platform one floor down. Here they were put on the truck, skids included. Officials say there is reason to believe the complete operation took an hour, more or less.
Roughly 48 by 37 miles at its extreme boundaries, the whole state of Rhode Island could be stolen in an hour. But 144,000 golf balls? Time, it appears, was of no consequence, and most likely the burglary took much longer than an hour, which brings one right down to the matter of exercising good taste. The burglars picked only top-grade Royal Plus 6, which retailed for $1.25 each (now $1.35) and are guaranteed to give a golfer the longest flight in the land.
Not without a sense of humor, the plant superintendent agreed that the flight of these golf balls was one to be remembered. "It's embarrassing, though," he says. Especially so when one considers the high-security reputation of Uniroyal.
The company is wary of spies who may be looking to pry away whatever secrets Uniroyal thinks it has; no face is a familiar or trustful face. "It's an old-line, tough, conservative outfit," says McQueeney. "It's like working in a bank vault out there. Best security I've ever seen. They catch an employee with two, three balls in his pocket, he's fired on the spot."
The chief himself is not without crimson cheeks either. "Why, we have one of the highest apprehension rates in the country," he says. "But this has been a long and tedious case with a lot of men on it, not to mention the state police. We've even sent men out of town. All those golf balls. I don't like it one bit. Can you imagine!"
That, of course, is the mystery. It is one thing to steal 144,000 golf balls, but what do you do with them afterward? Fencing this amount of golf balls in Rhode Island is like trying to fit Moby Dick into a fish tank. Also, the longer they are immobile, say, in a warehouse, the probability of discovery of burglars and balls increases. So the crucial part of this heist was the advance preparation for disposal by bulk for a quick return. Chances are the balls have been sold at $4 or $5 a dozen (they retail at $15) and are now being whacked about on cruise ships and in South America.
Chief McQueeney thinks otherwise. He thinks they may still be in the state. If so, the crooks ought to be put in the slammer for congenital idiocy alone; how long can you conceal seven tons of anything in Rhode Island? Which leaves the ultimate question: Who hooked them? Who knows?
How about organized crime? You know, the whole thing plotted over a glorious fettucini in some obscure restaurant. Quite possible, says the chief, for the mob has the distribution reach. Uniroyal is of a different opinion. It believes the burglary was the work of amateurs, that it might have been done by former employees who knew every detail about the plant. This theory paints a picture in the mind. Since food always seems to color crime stories, try imagining this: all of them at McDonald's working out the details over a Big Mac; it has a nice middle-class ring to it.