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UCLA Professor Held by FBI - Charged with Possession of Stolen T-Shirts


06:02 p.m. PST  -- 2 February 2003

Howard Besser in happier times

Undated photograph of Besser (second from the right) in happier times.

Howard Besser in Italy 2001

Another Photograph of Besser, taken in Italy in 2001.  A number of T-shirts were reported stolen during Besser's stay.

Paris T-shirt stolen in 1980 and found in Besser's possession in 2002.

Friends say Besser was known to keep his feet well groomed.

Is popular UCLA professor infamous T-Shirt Bandit?

LOS ANGELES (CNews) -- The FBI announced a major success in the war on terrorism with the arrest of UCLA Information Studies professor Howard Besser.  An FBI spokesperson said there is  "absolutely no doubt" that Besser is the "T-Shirt Bandit" who is also known as the "Chameleon." The T-shirt Bandit has been terrorizing tourists worldwide for over 30 years, stealing T-shirts from beach bags, hotel rooms, airports and even right off the backs of unsuspecting victims.  Besser's primary lawyer, Larry H. Parker, laughed at the FBI statement and responded that "he intends to fight for Dr. Besser" and that "not only will I clear his name, I will get him millions of dollars in compensation and let him star in my next TV commercial." Rumors abound that Besser is attempting to reunite the O.J. Simpson "dream team" of lawyers, which will include F. Lee Bailey (as long as the Federal Government does not try the case in Florida).  

French police gave the T-Shirt Bandit  the name of "Chameleon" in 1980 due to his expert use of disguises when committing his crimes.  In a one week crime spree over 200 tourists reported stolen T-shirts to Paris police, most had the shirt slyly taken off their own body without realizing it. In a process similar to pick pockets, the Chameleon would strike up conversations with victims or 'accidentally' brush up against them while in public places and remove the T-shirts without tipping off the victims.  One victim, American tourist Murtha Baca, reported she had been asked the time by a "well dressed older man", she told him the time and had walked one block before she noticed her Getty Vocabulary Program T-shirt had been removed. 

While the victims gave police quite different descriptions of the perpetrator, many had noted that the thief was barefoot or wearing sandals and appeared to have recently had a pedicure. Some victims also noted the bandit had possibly taken photographs of their bare or sandaled feet. Police were able to link all the crimes to one person when they uncovered a bag containing Polaroid photographs of bare feet and the stolen T-shirts in a paris hotel room, apparently left behind by the bandit.  The room had been rented under the name of a Dr. Scholls, whose passport had been reported stolen only a few days before the crime spree. Read this related story

Ironically, it was Besser's own Web site dedicated to his T-shirt collection that provided the FBI with the information to arrest him.  A former student of Besser called the FBI after watching an episode the the crime fighting television show "America's Most Wanted."  The student had noted similarities between Besser's T-shirt collection and T-shirts reported stolen on the television show.  The student, who did not want to be identified, said: "I know that I scanned at least 2 T-shirts that were stolen from tourists in Vietnam. I still can't believe he did it. He was such a nice guy."  The student was referring to a class project where Besser requires students to digitize logos and other images on T-shirts and to add these images to his online T-shirt database.  

Yesterday, President Bush congratulated the FBI for the capture of a "known terrorist of tourists" and "for making travel safe again." Read this related story


February 21

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Related Stories: FBI Wanted Poster | President Bush's Comments | Foot Fetish?

A fictional news story created by Rachel Rose for Howard Besser's Development of Cultural Information Sources Using Digital Multimedia Winter 2002 UCLA Department of Information Studies

Last updated on: February 21, 2002