Everyone has their bucket list of things they want to do in life.
Skydiving, swimming with sharks, finally getting Shake Shack for the first time when the line isn’t too long. However, bank robbery isn’t usually something that makes that list. Unless you’re the Libertyville native with the ironic last name, Tom Justice.
Justice was already more than just your average Tom.
A bike enthusiast who frequented the Northbrook Velodrome, Justice was set to – and even started training to – compete in Olympic bike racing. And this aspect of his life was not separate from his bank robberies. His ‘bank robber persona’ was that of a bike rider – unassuming and unaligned with the profile. And his getaway car was more of a, you guessed it, getaway bike – a customized racing bike he bought from RRB Cycles in Winnetka.
Bank robberies may be the great romanticized crime, but outside of the opening scene of The Dark Knight, you don’t hear about a lot of legendary heists happening in Chicago. So when I listened to “Love and Radio’s” podcast interview with Tom justice, it was surreal to hear him talk about all of these familiar Chicago areas that played such a part in his bank robber days.
He explained that being involved in the bike-racing world offered him a sense of identity. But it still wasn’t enough. Out of a mix of fear of being ordinary and feeling uncommitted to the Masters of Education he was studying at DePaul, he kept a list of interests he’d like to pursue and, in a way, people he’d like to be.
One of those people just happened to be “bank robber.”
“I had no need for the money,” he says in a tone that seems to recognize the ridiculousness of the whole risk. “It was just something to go back and visit. Like hey, look what I did.”
And he did. After weeks of practicing everything from how he would hand the teller the note to where he would put his bike to how long it would take to strap on his helmet, he successfully robbed a Chicago Bank for $15,000.
You would think that a young guy robbing a bank would put it towards buying a new TV or speakers, a bike. But a few months after his first robbery, he ended up ditching the money – hiding it in areas where he knew homeless men frequented.
“That entire thing I tossed in the McDonalds dumpster, and another fast food dumpster. All the bills that were like in sequential order, like the 20’s and the 100’s I believed – from being a student of television and crime shows – that they could be trackable.”
Like some millennial Robin Hood – albeit with less giving intentions – he ditched all the money…except for the $2 bills he kept as “cool souvenirs.”
And that’s the intriguing spin on this story that you don’t get from the cut-and-dry articles that give just the facts. Justice wasn’t doing it for the money…he was more doing it to spice things up.
“I was sort of like sad in a general sense, but also bored in that I thought life was gonna be so much more. I thought life was going to be like a book; life was going to be like a movie. And I was sort of coming to terms that it’s not like that. And I decided you know what, I’m gonna use this as a little boost.”
He even ended up rooming with a Chicago Cop just because the dynamic intrigued him – much like two characters on a TV show. Just like the line in the above The Dark Knight, “some men aren’t looking for anything logical like money.”
And he didn’t stop after the first heist, or second. He ended up continuing the streak, gaining the name “Choir Boy Robber” for the way he would politely fold his hands on the teller desk and bow his head.
It wasn’t until he had done repeated heists that he started using the money for dope. And by that time, he had moved to San Diego to start training for Olympic bike racing – which, thanks to an injury, didn’t pan out.
But after coming back to Chicago in 2002, his ‘luck’ ran out. After robbing a whopping 26 banks through Chicago and San Diego, the ‘Choir Boy’s’ streak came to an end – an end that came in the form of a nine-year prison sentence.
Justice has since completed a degree in psychology. And, much like we all did with our emo or Greenday phases, he has put his heist phase behind him. But at the very least, after hearing his story, you may never be able to look at Divvy bikes or the orange bike decorations all over Chicago the same way again.