The New York Times’ Michael Wilson wants to know, and now, so do we.
The police forms call him Advanced Silhouette SP-83A; in some gun shops, he is B-60. He is widely known in police and gun-club circles as the Thug, a life-size, two-dimensional paper target that every New York City police officer has shot at since the early 1960’s.
He has not changed over the decades, a husky white guy, maybe a little German, maybe a little Italian, some Irish, with his pug nose and his thick head of dark, wavy hair. His hands are hairy, his jowls clean shaven. He favors a white-on-white track suit that is a little snug in the middle. Whatever the Thug wants with that gun, he seems to be eating well.
As with many tools of police work, a certain lore has grown up around the Thug, giving birth to multiple theories on whether he is based on a real person, and just exactly who that man is. Each different theory attaches a different real name to the crouching bad guy.
He’s the Worell. He’s the Bruno. He’s Ernest Borgnine.
The truth may surprise a few people who thought they knew the answer. The image was created in New York City, but over the years, police departments in other states, including Connecticut, have used it, and anyone can buy one in gun stores. It is the official target used by the Department of Homeland Security.
Vermeer had his girl with the pearl earring. Da Vinci, if you believe what you read in a little novel that is getting around, hid images of Mary Magdalene in his work. So, who was the muse behind the Thug? How to crack the Thug Code?
First, the Worell Theory.
The department’s outdoor firing range is located at Rodmans Neck in the Bronx. Officers with enough years remember a sergeant named Fred V. Worell, who taught thousands of New York City police officers how to shoot in his 35 years on the job. The resemblance to the Thug, they say, is too close to be coincidence.
“It was always alluded to, he was the one this target was modeled on,” said Detective Stephen Albanese, 48, moments before pumping his 15 rounds into what he believed was the image of the man he once worked with.
Sergeant Worell retired in 1987, and died Feb. 8, 2003, at age 66. Pictures of him at work indeed bear a resemblance to the target, especially the hair.
“Up until the end, he still had it,” said John Cerar, 60, a former commander at the range for nine years, until 1994. “Whenever he wrote a report, you saw the words ‘vis-Ã -vis.’ That was one of his trademarks, I guess.”