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Doug Clark: This burglar deserves his stroll to prison

Doug Clark (Colin Mulvany)
Doug Clark (Colin Mulvany)

The bad news is that justice must cool its heels another month before the boom is lowered on one of Spokane’s most prolific miscreants.

The good news is that Fred “Strollin’ ” Nolan will continue to call the Spokane County Jail home until his latest brush with justice is settled.

Nolan’s Tuesday sentencing in federal court was postponed until 9 a.m. April 21. This should be a mere formality since a plea agreement has already been reached for this serial burglar with 38 (going on 39) felony convictions and a catchy nickname for a brazen Houdini-like escape.

Nolan, 46, stands to receive 48 months in prison with credit for the time he’s served since his arrest for busting into the Flour Mill mailroom on May 26, 2013, and absconding with one duffel bag of mail.

Let’s hear it for the United States Postal Inspection Service and all the good work this unsung investigative agency performs.

I wandered over to the county hoosegow Tuesday afternoon to pay Nolan another visit but he wouldn’t see me.

That hurts. The last time Nolan practically talked my ears off while I stared at him through a smudged security glass window at the jail.

Of course, this was nearly 20 years ago and Nolan was definitely feeling his Wheaties.

Our confab came a couple of weeks after he outwitted his captors at the Public Safety Building and became part of Spokane law enforcement lore.

Nolan earned his memorable moniker on Oct. 6, 1997, the day he strolled away in handcuffs from a police interrogation room.

Once on the outside, he tracked down a handcuff key and then mailed the cuffs back in a legal-sized envelope plastered with maybe a dozen stamps.

“I didn’t mean it in a malicious way,” Nolan, then 27, told me in our jailhouse interview. “I guess I could have pitched the handcuffs over a bridge, but they (police) were just trying to do their job.”

Nolan went on to reveal the secrets of his vanishing act.

After detectives dumbly left the room, he said he slipped his coat over his bound mitts and stepped carefully into the hallway.

In a display of theatrics, Nolan then bent over and clutched his ribs, feigning some gastrointestinal malady. Still in this state, he asked a passing Samaritan if he would be so kind as to open the door to freedom.

The good soul obliged, of course. We Spokane residents have always been known for our helpful ways.

Exit one chronic burglar.

“I saw the opportunity to prolong my freedom a little longer,” he told me, “and I took it.”

Normally a thief so crafty would be in Olympia running the statehouse.

Truth is, Nolan positively sucks at committing crimes. If he were any good he wouldn’t be getting caught over and over and over …

Take the Great Handcuff Adios. Ten days later Nolan was back in a cramped cell.

And come April, barring another delay, Nolan’s 39th felony conviction will be an official part of his extensive resume.

“Pathetic,” Nolan said in an interview after his 2013 arrest. “Really, pathetic. I cannot emphasize how stupid I feel.”

Don’t be conned by the contrition.

Nolan’s never had trouble being contrite – after the fact.

But going straight?

That’s a whole ’nother fish fry.

“It’s more fun. It’s more entertaining. I enjoy what I’m doing,” observed Nolan on his illegal ways in the same story.

But I’ll admit it. He almost had me nearly 20 years ago. The introspection. The candor. The more he spoke, the more I started entertaining delusions that someday Nolan just might be able to turn his life around.

Maybe a leopard really can change his spots, I mused.

Right. And Martin O’Malley still has a shot at becoming the Democratic presidential nominee.

History has shown that Nolan is a classic example of what criminologists call a “recidivist.”

Once his time is served, according to the plea arrangement, Nolan is supposed to undergo three years of supervised release.

Good luck.

A better plan would be to stick him on his own private island surrounded by hungry sharks.

That’s about the only way society will ever stop Strollin’ Nolan from taking stuff that isn’t his.

Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or by email at dougc@spokesman.com.


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