Classic Royko: The saga of Peanuts Panczko

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Mike Royko pictured in the Chicago Sun-Times newsroom in 1983. | Sun-Times file photo

Mike Royko, who wrote this column in 1965, made the Panczko brothers semi-famous, at least in Chicago. Butch died in 1978, and Pops in 2002. Peanuts testified against an accomplice in a jewel robbery in 1986 and disappeared into the federal witness protection program. No word on whether he gave up his trade.

The moral of Paul (Peanuts) Panczko’s career is that giving a kid too much will only spoil him.

Back in the Depression years, Peanuts’ two older brothers, Pops and Butch, didn’t have any advantages.

They were culturally deprived, socially disadvantaged, and not too smart to begin with. There wasn’t even an Anti-Poverty Task Force team around to tell them that they were in terrible shape.

They couldn’t afford to sit around and ponder their problems. Every day it was the same old grind: get up, get out and look for something to steal.

Simple economics made this a difficult job. Since most people didn’t have too much, there was that much less for Pops and Butch to take away from them. But they did what they could.

There were no such problems for Peanuts. He was just a fat little teenager, whipping around the neighborhood on his motorcycle, keeping the older people awake and impressing the girls.

“Look at that no-good,” people probably said. “Having himself a good time while his brothers are out bringing home somebody else’s bacon.”

When the Depression passed, and prosperity arrived, it was the same thing. Peanuts could afford to better himself.

Not Pops and Butch. They already were getting on in years. It was too late to take up a trade, such as embezzlement, con game, or something in the crime syndicate. They had to stick to being all-around thieves.

For Pops, it might be a department store safe on a good day; a head of cabbage from a produce truck on a bad day. Then a jewelry store. Then maybe a box of nylons from a salesman’s trunk.

For Butch, a cement mixer on a good day, a bag of S&H Green Stamps on a slow day. Then maybe a warehouse burglary.

People called them burglars, but a burglar is a specialist. Even Pops, when asked what his occupation was, said: “I’m a teef.”

Peanuts started as an all-around thief, and he was considered a good one. By the time he was 28, he had been arrested about 50 times and never convicted. His brothers were proud of him.

But then he got uppity and became a specialist — a jewel thief.

That wasn’t enough. He decided to become worldly and travel to far-off places to find jewels.

Not Pop and Butch. They stayed near California and North, along Division Street and Milwaukee Avenue.

They were comfortable that way, knowing which policemen were sincere about arresting them and which ones might be soliciting a contribution for a worthy cause.

Peanuts went off to Nashville, Tenn., and stole $100,000 in jewels, which made his brothers proud. But he got caught, which made them sad.

And he worried them. Butch went around blubbering that the guards in the Tennessee prison were making Peanuts pick cotton and were beating on his head.

When he finally got out a few years ago, people thought he might settle down with his brothers, working steady, stealing a little something every day.

But Peanuts went right back down South again, and was grabbed for a $1,750,000 jewel job in Miami. In that one, he even used a boat for his getaway and nearly drowned.

While he was out on bond, he came back to Chicago and things got worse. He ran around with crime syndicate people, even dressing sharp the way they do. One thing about Pops and Butch, they still look like they stole their clothes in a hurry.

Instead of living in the old neighborhood, Peanuts moved to the suburbs. He was questioned in a murder and a few more jewelry store jobs. Then they got him.

One thing about Pops and Butch — they stay away from the feds. They have enough trouble with the local police. Not Peanuts. He was caught in possession of stolen post office keys.

Yesterday, he got ten years in a federal prison. He’s 41 years old, which means that the most important years in a professional man’s life will be spent behind bars. And when he gets out, there is that Miami case to send him right back in for more cotton picking.

Not Pops and Butch. They’ll be out, plying their trade, breaking into your car, your basement, working steady.

As a great philosopher didn’t say:

He who invests too much in a teenage punk sometimes gets paid off in Peanuts.

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