By John Leaf Special to Published Nov 26, 2011 at 11:14 AM

In these economically challenging times, have you ever thought about robbing a bank?

If you have, it's likely your first two questions might be, "How much money can I get?" and second, "Will I get caught?" Actually, the second question is more important than the first. But a third question may very well determine if you do end up getting caught. And that question is, "How nickname-able are you?"

For years, people in law enforcement and the FBI have known that the odds of catching a bank robber improve dramatically if they assign a nickname to the assailant. How it works is pretty simple. Bank robbers who are given a nickname can generate instant media coverage, and instant public awareness, which can often times accelerate capture and arrest. It's a lot easier to find the "Mr. Magoo Bandit" than a guy named Scott Larson, or someone nicknamed "The Geezer Bandit" who was recently featured on America's Most Wanted.

As I understand it, FBI agents get together with local and state police across the country, to discuss bank robberies and other unsolved crimes that they believe aren't getting adequate publicity. So what they do is identify leading suspects with nicknames to grab the general public's attention — which in turn can add bit of levity to their daily grind of crime solving.

Eventually, these nicknames appear on wanted notices that are then sent to news media outlets. Believe it or not, then the FBI also posts them on Facebook.

Some of the more well-known bank robber nicknames in U.S. history include "Pretty Boy" Floyd and "Baby Face" Nelson, as well as "Slick" Willy Sutton. Nothing like a good Depression in the 1920's to motivate people to start robbing banks.

More recently, there has been a lot of bank robber nickname visibility in Colorado. It seems as though Colorado is one of the top bank robbery states, averaging 150 a year. In the past year or so, the FBI's Rocky Mountain Safe Street's Task force has nabbed "Super Sleuth" and "Tom Thumb" and "The Shaggy Bandit." All of these captures were directly aided by the bandit nicknames.

But the bank robber nickname game also occurred recently in Dallas when they finally caught up with none other than the notorious "Ear Lobe Bandit." Yep; not even kidding. It turns out Anthony Blue had a penchant for wearing big earrings when he robbed a bank, hence his nickname. But it wasn't the FBI or the local cops that busted him; it was his mom, according to the feds. Mom saw his photo on the Bandit Tracker website and turned him in. Some tough love indeed, but for a worthy cause.

Lastly, the FBI recently nabbed a very prolific bandit nicknamed "The Shootist." This former data processor is accused of robbing 56 banks over the past eight years in Washington, Texas and California, but had no resemblance to John Wayne. He was ascribed his nickname for allegedly firing pistol shots into the ceilings of every bank he robbed. It looks like he netted about $800,000 from 1986 until his last bank robbery in the Washington area earlier this November.

John Leaf Special to

John Leaf was born in western Illinois, a mile east of the Mississippi. College in Chicago. He holds a B.A. in Political Science and Philosophy. Leaf was goalie on the soccer team and captain of the golf team in college. He cut class to ride the "L" to see Cubs games, hung out for hours at the Art Institute and bent the brain doing graduate school in Theology.

He spent three mind-blowing summers in coastal British Columbia, as a resort photographer. He worked and lived in Minneapolis. He did hard time at a bank on LaSalle Street in Chicago and learned about PR, working at big firm a block off Michigan Avenue, while living in Evanston.

Now Leaf is just living the dream, under the radar, in Cedarburg. He's passionate about nicknames and launched his website three years ago.

He dabbles in yoga and cycling. Fishtailing as always, and taking a whack at life, like everyone else.