October 6, 1967 |
Fitod, Transylvania, Romania
|Other names||Whiskey Robber, Chicky Panther|
Attila Ambrus (October 6, 1967), alias Whiskey Robber, is a Hungarian former thief and professional ice hockey player. He became notorious during the 1990s for committing a string of undercover "gentleman robberies" in and around Budapest, Hungary while working a day job as a professional ice hockey player. He became (in)famous in Hungary as a folk hero symbolic of the times in the decade after the introduction of capitalism to the former Communist state. Ambrus was eventually caught and imprisoned for about 12 years, released in 2012. His story was made into a book, Ballad of the Whiskey Robber (2004), by author Julian Rubinstein, which has been optioned by Johnny Depp for a possible adaption to film.
Life and work
Ambrus had trouble with the law from a young age for committing petty thefts. In 1988, Ambrus illegally crossed Romania's borders by riding underneath a freight train and applied for political asylum and citizenship in Hungary, the latter of which he obtained in 1994.
Ambrus made a living through a variety of odd jobs, including being a gravedigger and a pelt smuggler, after which he tried out for the professional hockey team Újpesti TE. Despite his abysmal performance, he was admitted to the roster as goalie while doubling as the team's janitor. Ambrus' hockey teammates gave him the nickname "Chicky Panther." Ambrus's income continued to be insecure as he worked a variety of side jobs, and he committed his first robbery of a post office in 1993. After this success, Ambrus continued a string of 27 robberies of banks, post offices, and travel agents that ended with his arrest in 1999, stealing in all about 100 million forints (about half a million US Dollars).
He became known as the 'Whiskey Robber', because he was often seen drinking whiskey at a nearby pub prior to the robbery. While he later carried a gun, Ambrus never harmed anyone in his robberies, and was famous for his outlandish disguises, for presenting female tellers with flowers prior to robberies, and for sending the police bottles of wine. Immensely popular at the time of his arrest on January 15, 1999, a flag honoring the "Whiskey Robber" was flown at the UTE stadium for years afterwards.
Ambrus escaped from prison on July 10, 1999 using a rope made of shredded sheets, electric cords, and shoe laces. Nobody had ever escaped from that prison before. He evaded police custody for three months while living in a downtown Budapest apartment and was caught again after another robbery when police located his hideout after Ambrus accidentally left a piece of evidence behind at the crime scene. Ambrus was sentenced to 17-years in a maximum security prison. He was released early on parole because of good behavior on January 31, 2012.
His accomplice on one of his earlier heists, Károly Antal (also a Romanian of Hungarian ethnicity) was caught at the Romanian-Hungarian border in 2004 and was sentenced to two and a half years of prison. His accomplice on most of his latter heists, Gabi Orbán, served an eight-year sentence in a medium security prison.
Ambrus was the subject of the award-winning book, Ballad of the Whiskey Robber (2004) by Julian Rubinstein. Rubinstein's book was adapted to audiobook with a full cast starring Eric Bogosian, Demetri Martin, novelist Gary Shteyngart, HBO Bored to Death's Jonathan Ames, novelist Arthur Phillips, singer Tommy Ramone and others; it was noted for its new approach to the medium. There have been Hungarian and German theater productions of scenes from the book. The book was optioned for film by Johnny Depp and Warner Bros. of which a screenplay was written that was named to Hollywood's 2008 Black List of best unproduced scripts of the year.
A film has been rumored on and off to be in production by Clifford Thurlow and writer-director György Dobray. It reportedly stars Luke Goss, Jonas Armstrong and Andrea Osvárt with a production by Kornél Sipos and Bill Chamberlain with music by Mike Moran.
Attila has been the subject of six songs.[clarification needed]
- Julian Rubinstein (2004). Ballad of the Whiskey Robber. ISBN 0-316-01073-1.
- "Hajnalban szabadult Ambrus Attila, a viszkis rabló". hvg.hu (in Hungarian). 31 January 2012. Retrieved August 21, 2012.
- MOTOKO RICH (July 5, 2006). "Authors Take a New Approach to Audio Books: Do It Yourself". New York Times. Retrieved August 21, 2012.
- Jessica Anthony (July 10, 2009). "The Ballad of the Whiskey Robber: The Rumpus Interview with Julian Rubinstein". The Rumpus. Retrieved August 12, 2012.
- The Whiskey Robber talks - interview with Salon.com
- The Great Escape - article in the Central Europe Review
- Worst Pro Goalie Ever Still in Jail--For Robbing Banks - Article in USA Today, Oct. 4, 2007
- YouTube Prison Interview - Author Julian Rubinstein Visits Attila In Prison