SPRINGFIELD, MASSACHUSETTS — The sun did not shine on the day that the seventy-five year old famed crime boss best known for his nickname The Cat in the Hat was found dead of unknown causes in prison. Hat was known for his infamous gang, The Things, which included Thing One, Thing Two, and suspected, though never apprehended, Red Fish, Blue Fish, and the Lorax.
Born in 1940 and left orphaned on the steps of an ASPCA, Hat was raised by a loving veterinarian dentist, Dr. De Soto, who formally adopted him when Hat was small. De Soto gave Hat the name Richard Geisel-Spaulding, and for much of his youth, Hat was nicknamed both Dick and Jane because of his perpetually androgynous appearance, which accompanied him into later life.
De Soto was declared unfit to care for Hat when he developed Parkinson’s disease and was taken to a care facility not far from his home in Springfield, Mass. Unwilling to enter the foster care system, however, Hat quit school at sixteen with several friends who later became his accomplices. Drifters without income, Hat and the others began to break into homes to steal cash, jewelry, and any other valuables they could find.
While it is impossible to know which of the spate of break-ins in Massachusetts in the late 1950s was the responsibility of Hat and co., there is one infamous case that changed the nature of The Things’ operation forever after. On a rainy day in 1958, Hat made the mistake of breaking into a house with occupants still in it, two children, a boy and a girl. Instead of running away, Hat, Thing One, and Thing Two decided to pretend they were there to entertain the children. The gang proceeded to ransack the house but put everything back as they found it after having stripped the place of its valuables, trusting that the children’s parents would never believe their story of a tall man with cat-like features and gloves and two unthreatening Things coming into the house.
That house was also the only one that Hat and The Things struck twice, but their method of breaking and entering became ever more sophisticated as they trained themselves as clowns and wore increasingly ridiculous costumes. They began to target houses only when they knew that children were in them, believing — correctly, as it turned out — that the kids would know the layout better than anyone and would unwittingly lead the gang to the most prized possessions and hiding places.
Hat’s disguise, which he was wearing when caught, was convincing cat makeup, gloves — to prevent fingerprints — and a striped top hat, which he had received as a final birthday gift from De Soto and which spawned his nickname. His gang had been breaking and entering for forty years at that point, without ever being caught, but in 1998, The Things chose the wrong house. There were two children in it, just like the first recorded break-in involving The Things, but only one led the entertaining group around, while the other was emailing his grandparents who had just bought a computer and dial-up for the purpose of keeping up with their grandchildren. The grandparents immediately called 911, and Hat, Thing One, and Thing Two were caught red — or in the case of Hat, white — handed.
The trial was relatively quick, as Hat made a full confession, laughing at the exhausting years he’d spent as a burglar, always planning and paranoid of being caught. Refusing a lawyer, his only defense was, “My tricks are not bad.” Sentenced to twenty years in a minimum security prison due to the length and breadth of his thieving but nonviolent career, Hat died before his sentence was up and his body was taken from Western Massachusetts Correctional by De Soto’s surviving niece, Sally, and buried near her father’s plot. His grave reads: “I KNOW SOME GOOD GAMES WE COULD PLAY..”