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1995 | 06 | 08 | Articles | The News & Observer | Features
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The News & Observer (Raleigh, NC)
June 8, 1995
Page E1
The Uzi of office supplies
By Stewart Ugelow

RALEIGH - Thanks to Ricky Rose, the phrase "This is a stick-up" has a whole new meaning in the Triangle.

Rose, a 34-year-old homeless man, will appear in court today on armed robbery charges. Police say Rose took $19.31 from a Raleigh lawyer at a South Blount Street gas station on the night of May 24.

The weapon?

Not a gun. Not a knife. Not even a broken beer bottle.

Out of either extraordinary gumption or extraordinary stupidity, Rose is alleged to have sneaked behind the 65-year-old man and held him up with a beige office stapler.

The tactic ultimately failed when an off-duty Highway Patrol officer who happened to be filling his own tank chased Rose down. Rose now faces charges for "robbery with a dangerous weapon."

That’s what you get for committing a crime with office supplies.

It happens more often than you might think. A surprising amount of crime is committed each year with office supplies. And as in Rose’s case, not just the white-collar variety either.

Across the nation, staplers have been used in at least one murder, one attempted murder, three armed robberies, a police beating of a suspect and a prison uprising since 1981.

They have also been used at least once in self-defense. A Pittsburgh woman foiled a robber at her dry-cleaning store in 1988 by repeatedly beating him over the head with a stapler.

In many respects, office supplies are the perfect tools of crime. There are no licenses required and no waiting periods. They’re readily available and nearly impossible to trace. Office supplies are cheap and, in many cases, free: Everything you need is probably available at your workplace. And there are so many different office supplies for criminals to choose from.

The cliched weapon is the letter opener, of course. When it comes to crime, letter openers are pretty flexible; you can use them to slash, slice, maim or murder. Maybe that’s what accounts for their use in at least five attacks nationally since 1989. Two were robberies, the other three disputes among business partners whose deals had gone sour. One was fatal.

A less-conventional criminal murdered the mayor of Clearwater, Fla., in 1989 by strangling him and then hitting him over the head with a hole punch. The suspect’s attorney explained that his client had downed two pitchers of beer and two glasses of wine the night of the murder. But when the case came to court, the jury decided his punch-drunk defense was, well, full of holes. It recommended a life sentence.

But the up-and-coming criminal office supply is the stapler. Unlike the others, it can be used as a blunt object close up or fired from a distance. Staplers are easy to conceal and, with the wide variety of colors available, easy to accessorize. Criminals, you just don’t have to clash any more.

Staplers clearly have a versatility that other office supplies lack. Maybe that’s why they are used more often in crimes than letter openers, hole punches or any other office supply.

In a January plea bargain agreement, Baton Rouge, La., prosecutors dropped armed robbery charges against 35-year-old Gerald James Joubert for robbing a hotel by holding a stapler to an employee’s neck. In return, he pleaded guilty to robbing a motel and an inn of a combined $428 by putting his finger in his pocket and pretending to have a gun. Joubert claimed he needed the money to pay a court-ordered fine for a previous drug conviction.

A Dallas 18-year-old was convicted in 1993 on charges that he murdered his grandmother with a stapler, a steering wheel "club" security device and a bottle of hot sauce. The motive? He wanted his grandmother’s Cadillac and feared he had been left out of her will.

In New York City, which GQ magazine suggests the Triangle emulate, government agencies have had orders not to leave staplers on desks or countertops for fear that angry citizens might use them to attack bureaucrats.

Well, we’re doing our best to catch up. Just think of Rose’s alleged attack as an act of civic pride.