As a young FBI agent in New Orleans, Louisiana I was very excited when my supervisor assigned me a recent bank robbery. As this was my second bank robbery, I was anxious to keep my perfect record. I wish I could say I solved the first one because of my investigative prowess, but the robber turned himself in to a policeman he befriended at a local bar. (A resolution is a resolution.)
The bank robbery took place on the east side of New Orleans close to a freeway exit, one exit from a rough part of town. I had a good picture of the suspect and went straight to the local housing project to see if anybody knew him. Luckily, about five people identified him as Alan Jones (not his real name). Following FBI procedure, I began compiling a photo lineup to show the victim bank teller. Photo lineups consist of five similar pictures including a mug shot of Mr. Jones. As I was diligently working away collecting Alan Jones look-alike mugshots, I got a call from an informant who stated that Mr. Jones was a hard-core heroin addict and currently in the hospital. This explained why Mr. Jones’ mug shot looked nothing like the bank robbery photo. The heroin had obviously taken its toll. While in the process of solving my photo lineup dilemma, the informant called again with the unfortunate news that Mr. Jones had died. Sad as this was, I still had to get the bank robbery off the books.
I could’ve taken a picture of the expired Mr. Jones and shown the teller, but I came up with what I thought was a much more ingenious idea. I decided to have a dead body lineup. For those who don’t know, a dead body lineup is similar to a regular lineup, except of course, you use dead bodies instead of live people. It certainly isn’t a routine procedure (as I had just made it up) but I was very pleased with my epiphany. I explained my novel idea to the hospital morgue attendant. He was very cooperative and said he’d have no problem pulling out four bodies who looked similar to Mr. Jones. I then asked the teller if she could stomach looking at 4 or 5 dead bodies in the morgue, thinking she might be a little squeamish. However, she was all in, and, by the gleam in her eye, seemed she might relish the idea.
So, I was all set. I then made the biggest mistakes of my professional life. I asked for permission. This turned out to be a terrible error. Not only did my supervisor go through the roof, the hospital administrator had about 45 reasons why I couldn’t do it.
This blunder has haunted me ever since. I could’ve been a legend. I could’ve been known as the only guy in the FBI ever to do a dead body lineup. I would have lived forever in the annals of FBI history.
In hindsight, as painful as it was, I learned a very valuable management lesson, which is:
“Tis better to ask forgiveness than permission.”