By Scott A. Grant
On Tuesday, July 25, 2017, just after 3 p.m., Alexander Sperber parked his red Mustang in the parking lot and entered a branch of the Regions Bank on Third Street in Fort Lauderdale. He approached a teller and extended his left index finger. He told her that he had a gun and demanded that she put money into the bag he was carrying.
The teller filled the bag with $4700 and a red dye pack. Sperber fled on foot. The dye pack exploded. His clothes, face, and a cast on his left hand were stained. He proceeded to run down Los Olas Boulevard, stripping naked and tossing fifty- and hundred-dollar bills into the breeze. Observers were shocked. “Was he naked?” a dumbfounded observer asked. Another man commented that he thought the philanthropic streaker was an escaped mental patient.
The police arrested Sperber after he had run a few blocks. They put a yellow tarp over his nudity and brought the bank teller to the scene to make a positive identification. They then took the bank robber to Broward Health Medical Center for evaluation. The FBI came to interview him. Sperber waived his Miranda rights and told the FBI the whole story.
He had woken up that morning and decided to rob a bank and run naked down the street throwing money away in order to jump start his career as a comedian. It turns out he wasn’t an escaped mental patient. He was a graduate of Lehigh University and a graduate student at Florida Atlantic. He also claimed to be an inventor. He was working on obtaining a patent for a new type of automated awning. Something to protect people from the hot Florida sun.
Sperber was held in jail and faced up to 10 years in prison if convicted. In January of the following year, a federal judge found Sperber not guilty by reason of insanity. The trial lasted just 25 minutes. It seems that everyone involved, including prison psychiatrists agreed that the would-be bank robber-comedian was so mentally ill that he could not be held responsible for his actions. The prosecution told the judge that Sperber believed “that a chip installed in his head compelled him to commit the bank robbery to further his career as a comedian.”
At the time, the story was presented as just another classic Florida Man tale and in some ways it is. But as more facts came to light, the story became more tragic. Sperber had a long history of mental illness. He suffered from schizophrenic hallucinations and often stripped naked under stress. He also had a history of autism. In the end, he received the treatment he needed and was released.
Scott A. Grant is a local columnist, author, speaker, and historian. By day he is a fiduciary asset manager and president of Standfast Asset Management. He welcomes your comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.