Mary Vespa
January 12, 1976 12:00 PM

She looks like a tired waif—or a witless tourist—resting on the steps of a street-level Manhattan fire escape. A harmless derelict slumps in the doorway behind her, too drunk to mind the cold. Two young men walk by, glance around furtively, then grab for the woman’s purse and camera. Suddenly six burly plainclothes cops run out of the darkness and collar the two muggers.

The happy ending to this street drama (shown on these pages) is no hapless victim’s fantasy. The woman “hit” was Mary Glatzle, 33, a New York City detective (shield 3190), who is affectionally known as Muggable Mary. Her six rescuers were members of the police backup team.

The 5’2″, 110-pound Mary is a decoy. Since joining the anticrime unit three and one half years ago Mary has been mugged more than 300 times. She has been attacked with guns, knives and baseball bats and was once almost dragged over a 14-foot wall by the throat. During one 24-hour period in the summer of 1973 she was mugged five times. Through it all Mary has sustained only a broken pinky finger.

For her undercover exploits Mary last year received a certificate of appreciation from Mayor Abraham Beame. “My friends think this is a glamorous job,” says Mary, hopping gratefully into a police car after spending 45 uneventful minutes sitting on outside steps in the arctic cold. “They don’t know about this part—the cold and the waiting. It’s brutal. You can’t really keep gloves on your hands because—God forbid—you may need that gun.”

The protean Mary has made street appearances as a prostitute, a nurse, an old woman, a blind woman, a cripple and even a bearded man. She owns blond and gray wigs and an assortment of hats, dresses, pants, sweaters, jackets, pocketbooks, shoes and canes.

Once in a stakeout in Greenwich Village she became so exasperated at her awkwardness with crutches that she threw them down, then picked them up and stomped away from a stunned audience of usually blasé New Yorkers.

The New York neighborhood which is the most dangerous for Mary and the other 133 members of the decoy unit is the South Bronx. Last year in that area a 6’2″ convicted rapist-mugger pulled a .25 automatic on Mary and aimed it at her head. “I was really afraid my backup men didn’t see the gun,” recalls Mary. “With all my training and experience, I still was petrified out of my mind. My legs started shaking.” Luckily one cop was alert, and, playing drunk, stumbled toward the couple. The mugger lowered his gun, giving Mary time to draw her .38 from her jacket pocket and help arrest him.

Mary’s life began tranquilly enough on suburban Long Island. Her parents were divorced when she was 8, and she and her older brother were raised by their father, a captain in the New York Fire Department. Mary worked in the office of an electronics company for nine years, attending Queens College at night and majoring in accounting. By 1964 she was bored. “I knew I would be balancing books the next year,” she says, “and 10 years from then.” She spotted an ad in a newspaper for police department candidates and applied. Five years later she was appointed. By then she was married to a German-born electrician. A short time later they were divorced, and Mary got custody of their son, Eric.

“The job,” Mary says candidly, “offered me everything that my husband couldn’t, unfortunately. My son was born with water on his brain and I could not get medical insurance. He’s had six operations.”

The surgery (which the police medical plan helped pay for) has allowed Eric, 7, to lead a normal life. “He’s a dynamite kid,” Mary beams. He also is old enough to worry about his mother’s job—if he realized what it was. “I just tell him,” Mary says, “that I sit in an office and type. When he’s older he’ll be able to understand.”

Mary has bought a home on Long Island, and a friend babysits for Eric when Mary is on duty nights. Off the job Muggable Mary is a homebody who says, “I like to cook and sew.” She dates—mostly policemen—and hopes someday to remarry and have another child.

Three and a half years of playing street crime victim have turned Mary into an expert on how not to be one. She advises pedestrians to use the buddy system at night and to walk near the curb. If mugged, she says, don’t resist.

She has had to use her gun only twice, and missed both times. “I’m a lousy shot,” she confesses. It hardly matters. Once the arrest begins, Mary is supposed to get out of the way and let the backup cops subdue the mugger.

Her fellow cops are quite protective. “She’s a gutsy little girl,” says detective Joseph Failla, “and she gives us the drive to work.”

You May Like