That Time I Teamed Up with Dick Tracy to Catch a Federal Fugitive

Back in 2005 I was working as a manager at Barnes & Noble in Tucson, Arizona. One day a man in a standard-issue “detective” suit and tie — you know, the “I dress like this because I have to, not because I want to” look — comes in and identifies himself as United States Marshal Richard J. Tracy. He’s an affable guy, and immediately makes a Dick Tracy joke before anyone else can. The way he’s calm and relaxed makes me initially think that he’s there as a customer, about to ask for help finding a book, and he’s just sort of used to announcing who he is out of habit. But no. He’s there seeking a fugitive, and he’s asking for the staff’s help.

James Hogue is most famous for lying his way into Princeton University. He lied about his name, his background, pretty much everything on his application, and somehow no one at the university figured it out. He got in, and was a good student and a track star. Unfortunately, he also received scholarships, and that’s fraud. He was convicted of “theft by deception”, and not only kicked out of Princeton but had his whole record there erased. Officially, he never went there. The university remains incredibly angry and embarrassed about the whole episode.

Since then he’d moved to Colorado and was working as a handyman. I don’t think any other college would touch him, even though he reportedly was brilliant. Apparently he was stealing from clients, or casing their homes and businesses and coming back later to rob them, or something. Whatever the circumstances, he’d stolen a lot of stuff, and when he got caught he fled across state lines. Enter the U.S. Marshals.

Tracy gives us some wanted posters, the kind you see hanging in the post office, with a photo of James Hogue and what he’s wanted for. He says they guy’s not dangerous, and he’s not violent. They’ve tracked him to this area, and they’ve been keeping track of his online activity. Recently he’d been in the store’s cafe, using the free wifi. If he comes in, could we give Tracy a call?

Well of course we will. He tells us not to approach him or do anything to tip Hogue off, just call him and he’ll handle everything. And again, there’s nothing to worry about, he’s not a threat to anyone, but he’s slippery and keeps evading them. No problem, Marshal Tracy! We’re on it!

For the next couple of days, management lets all of the employees know what’s going on. We’ve got the wanted posters hanging in the break room, and we let all of the employees know what to do — if you see him, alert the manager on duty. We’ll call Tracy. Don’t mention it to the customers, don’t talk about it out on the sales floor, odds are the guy is long gone by now if he has any idea they’re onto him, but let’s not do anything that might tip him off in case he’s still around.

A few days later, on Sunday afternoon, a bookseller named Andy (I won’t use his full name for privacy reasons) comes up to me and says “Hey, I think that guy is here”. Sure enough, there’s James Hogue in the flesh, sitting in the cafe with his laptop, deeply engaged doing who-knows-what.

I take off my nametag, and advise Andy to do the same, so customers don’t walk up to us with questions and draw us away. I ask Andy to keep an eye on Hogue from a distance, outside the cafe, and to intercept any other booksellers or cafe workers if they try to approach him. I head to the nearest phone, and I call Tracy.

It’s Sunday afternoon, and Tracy’s with his kids. If I recall correctly, he’s not far away, up at the local water park. He asks me where, specifically, Hogue is within the cafe. He tells me to stay put, keep an eye on him, and just wait.

The store is attached to a mall, and there are three entrances. There’s an entrance leading into the mall. There’s a front door that faces the parking lot. And there’s a door directly into the cafe. A few minutes later, I see Pima County Sheriff’s deputies come in the front door and the mall entrance, and move quickly but calmly toward the cafe, purposefully but not in a way that would make anyone thing something was up. No guns drawn or hands on holders or anything dramatic like that. As they get closer, I see a single deputy come in the cafe door and go directly to Hogue — he knew exactly where he was, based on what I told Tracy. No drama, he just walks up to him and talks to him. Where Hogue is sitting, the bulk of the store is to his back, and he doesn’t see the other deputies covering the exits from the cafe onto the book floor.

Hogue stands up, turns around, and the deputy cuffs him. Another deputy smoothly walks over, picks up the laptop, and they all calmly walk out the door. None of the other cafe patrons even notice that anything has happened. It was quick and quiet. I only know it happened because I watched it; if I’d have blinked or turned away, I would have missed it.

A few minutes later Tracy shows up. He’s wearing a t-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops. I have no idea where his kids are — maybe they’re teenagers and still at the water park, maybe they’re in his car, I don’t know. He’s a combination of excited (Hogue’s been caught), annoyed that his day with his kids was interrupted, and amused that he’s, you know, in shorts and flip flops on a major arrest. He asks me some questions, he asks Andy some questions, and he leaves.

I insisted that Andy get all of the credit. He’s the one who spotted Hogue, I was just the manager on duty at the time. Andy got a reward (I have no idea how much, but he’d gotten married recently if I remember correctly, and the cash influx was welcome), a really nice plaque from the U.S. Marshal Service acknowledging his contribution to capturing a fugitive, and was even interviewed by the local TV news.

Hogue was convicted, but in 2012 was released on parole. As of November 2016 he was apparently back to his old tricks, and was arrested again for theft.