Ironic criminals get unmasked


“All crime needs is a chance. Don’t give crime the chance: ” McGruff the Crime Dog.

File this case under “irony.” Readers may recall the 2011 arrest of John R. Morales of Galveston, Texas. Morales was speeding when he was pulled over by police. A drug detection dog alerted on Morales’ car. Police investigated and found diagrams for two marijuana growing operations. They subsequently searched Morales’ home where they not only found 1,000 marijuana plants, but also 27 weapons — including a grenade launcher — and 9,000 rounds of ammunition.

Morales pleaded guilty on Monday and was sentenced to 16 years in prison. During his sentencing Morales insisted he was “non-violent.”

U.S. District Judge Vanessa Gilmore seemed to have a different perspective as she responded to Morales’ protestations: “Everything I read about you makes you seem like a scary person.”

Gilmore’s conclusion appears to be supported by a tantalizing aspect of Morales’ work history: Morales used to be employed by the Harris County Sheriff’s Association as McGruff the Crime Dog.

If you were in school or the parent of school-aged children anytime since in the 1980s, you likely remember the trench coat-wearing hound dog crime fighter. McGruff is the “spokesdog” for the National Citizens’ Crime Prevention Campaign. The character has been featured in numerous public service announcements, billboards, comic books. His famous tagline, “Take a bite out of crime” has become a part of the popular culture lexicon. Today, McGruff’s current focal topics include volunteering, bullying, Internet safety, and identity theft.

McGruff was also personified by actors in oversized mascot suits. Police officers and private citizens all over the country — including here in Pine Bluff — wore the big brown McGruff head, paws, feet and trench coat. McGruff was a mainstay of school assemblies and public festivals.

During the 1990s, this was Morales’ job. He helped McGruff fight crime — or so we were led to believe.

Whether Morales was driven by hubris, psychopathy or just stupidity, this absurd scenario goes to larger point about trust. While we have no insight into the vetting process used by the Harris County Sheriff’s Association, it appears that something important about Morales was overlooked. Then again, he may have been completely law-abiding and a stalwart citizen during his time as the crime dog. Nobody knows.

Perhaps if Morales had applied for the job in the current age of social media and Internet confession, Harris County would have been able to pick up on his proclivities. Perhaps not.

People do bad things every day and many get away with them. Every once in awhile we get these little prompts for greater diligence.

Many readers will remember John Wayne Gacy. Gacy worked in a chain of fast food restaurants owned by his father-in-law. He was an active member of the Jaycees. He also enjoyed dressing up as “Pogo the Clown” to entertain sick children, often appearing at children’s parties. He also enhanced his public façade as a fun-loving and generous neighbor, throwing popular parties and barbecues.

In 1980 Gacy was convicted of murdering 33 people, a record at that time. Gacy was sentenced to death and executed in 1994.

Herein lies the moral of the story: People, like books, aren’t easily judged by their “covers.” Sometimes it goes the way of Morales and Gacy. More often it goes the other way — a seeming bad actor whose persona may mask innate goodness. This then is our collective charge: We should look for the good, remain vigilant against the bad; and make informed decisions.