Methods of Disguise
“Methods of Disguise” by John Sample (Breakout Productions 1993) is an excellent and extensive analysis of the art of disguise, with a whole chapter (7) devoted to criminal disguises. There is a link to the complete book at the bottom of this page.
For the criminal, disguise is intended to impede future recognition. Unlike Sample, we would argue that it does also help the wearer play a role. As Sample says, successful criminals keep their disguise methods as simple as possible. A simple and effective disguise for an armed robber suggested by Sample is a ski mask and a “211″ jacket (a term used by police on the US West Coast). This is a leather or vinyl jacket long enough to cover below the waist and conceal a pistol tucked into the pants. The jacket is loose, masking the contours of the handgun, and the pockets are large enough to carry a ski mask and the proceeds from the robbery. A stocking mask is a good alternative as it compresses into a much smaller space than a ski mask, but it may be a matter of personal preference and what feels right that in the end determines what the robber will wear. Sample is a fan of the stocking mask, pointing out how easy it is to dispose of, as well as the fact that nylon mesh fabric does not retain fingerprints.
The typical jacket of the 21st century robber is the hoodie. It’s simple and generic. Everybody wears it. Common enough not to stand out in the crowd. Get one with pockets as well as a hood, and make sure it’s not too distinctive or so expensive that you won’t want to discard it after the job. In the UK Primark do cheap hoodies that you won’t think twice about dumping or burning after use.
Sample highlights the problems of ski masks and stocking masks as knowing the right times to put them on and take them off, bearing in mind CCTV and potential witnesses, and the danger of looking conspicuous in public if they are put on too early or taken off too late.
The solution to this is to wear disguises that appear natural; that don’t attract undue attention and yet impede recognition. False mustaches, beards, sideburns, eye-glasses, sunglasses and wigs are all examples. Watch the film Charley Varrick for a good example of a disguise. The trailer is below:
In the movie, Walter Matthau removes a mustache, eyebrows, wart, wig and mouth insert. He also has his foot in plaster and a pair of glasses for good measure. The disguise is that of an elderly man.
Mouth inserts are very useful. They can be cotton wool, plastic, rubber or wadded newspaper. They swell the cheek contours, and if placed under the palate change the pitch of the voice. Nostril inserts widen the nose as part of a disguise to resemble another racial type. In chapter 11 Sample goes into more detail about the various ways of altering the voice, from mouth and nose inserts to electronic voice modifiers (for telephone calls) and voice training.
Padded clothing can make the wearer seem to be much heavier. In the TV drama clip below this is shown to good effect as a group of women rob a cash in transit van:
Sample also talks about adjusting one’s height by wearing a hat or shoe inserts/shoes with higher heels, to make one look taller on CCTV or when witnesses give descriptions.
Falsifying distinctive markings is another way to impede identification, advises Sample (see Walter Matthau’s wart in the picture). Fake or temporary tattoos for example (especially on the face), or fake scars. Also the application of age lines with make-up or mascara pencil.
In chapter 9 Sample deals with casting prostheses. Prosthetic make-up is thought to have been used in several high-profile robberies in recent years, including the Securitas depot raid in Tonbridge England, and the Graff jewellers raid in London. The make-up artist involved in the Securitas robbery testified against the gang during their trial, while the robbers from both of these heists were convicted anyway.
Chapter 13 discusses blending with the crowd, which is what you want to be doing when casing a target, and before/after the crime. Chapter 14 takes this further with the idea of camouflage. And if you’ve committed the crime of the century chapter 15 on plastic surgery may be of interest afterwards, as will chapter 18 on changing identity.
Appendix 1 covers cross-dressing and sex change. The former may be of interest to the potential robber who wishes to pass as the opposite sex. Of course the women in the cash in transit video are trying to pass off as men. They have a head start as it is always assumed that such robbers are men. Padding themselves out and covering themselves up goes a long way towards copying the male stereotype. The video below though shows a man dressing as a woman to gain access to a building and later on after the robbery as the female half of a couple at a drive-in movie:
Finally, appendix 2 looks at falsifying fingerprints. The book was written before DNA became the big headache for lawbreakers, and so everything in it should be considered against this new forensic technology. Nevertheless, fingerprints must be hidden in order to ensure there is one less line of enquiry for the investigators. Gloves are the obvious solution, but in cases where gloves look too conspicuous, there are other ways to disguise fingerprints.
Sample covers sand-papering skin, but warns against full-thickness removal. He also cautions against discarding gloves where they are likely to be found, as it is possible to develop fingerprints from the insides of gloves, especially latex or rubber gloves. He also mentions coating the fingertips with paint or household cement/glue. The drawback is that the smoother skin surface means the finger’s grip is not as good. Finally he considers false prints made from liquid latex – fine in theory but with several practical problems. The video below shows robbers who used the glue method of disguising their prints:
If you want the full book, here it is: