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College Professor Has Been Robbing Students Who Say That They Can't Pick Him Out of a Lineup


Sam Holland | Left Handed Photo Editor

Penn professor Frederick Watkins was arrested last week after successfully pulling off a string of heists over the past three years. The robberies had baffled even Philadelphia’s most experienced police detectives, who admittedly are a bit out of their element in a situation that requires them to do anything besides grease street poles with Crisco.

The cognitive science professor, who now faces up to 80 years in prison after being charged with 192 counts of larceny, had seemed impervious to the law, plundering Canada Goose jackets and unattended laptops with reckless abandon and without repercussion. It turns out, one piece of information had shielded Watkins from justice: the knowledge that none of his students could pick him out of a lineup.

The now-disgraced Watkins once had a flourishing career at Penn. An award-winning, well-respected voice in the field of computational neuroscience, Watkins spent much of his time at Penn working closely with groups of highly-motivated and brown-nosing graduate students. Unfortunately, as the University began a push towards strengthening the relationship between its professors and undergrads, Watkins was forced to engage with Penn’s unwashed masses of freshmen.

The experience of teaching Cognitive Science 001 in the spring of 2015 became something of a fall from grace for Watkins. In particular, his greatest insult came one day, when he was standing in line to get a coffee from Williams Café. Watkins had been listening in on a conversation between two freshmen, whom he recognized as the talkative pair that sat in the back row of lecture during the first week of classes. 

While waiting for their iced mochas, the students had been talking about how they no longer attended his “useless” intro course, and were practically bragging about the fact that they “literally couldn’t pick what’s-his-face” out of a lineup. The rudeness of the words stung, but they acted as a catalyst for Watkins’ spree of perfect crimes.

The plan was simple and Watkins' execution was nearly flawless. All he had to do was scroll down his class list on Canvas: Every name was a potential target.

After each one of his robberies, Penn Police was perplexed; eye-witness accounts of his crimes were absolutely useless. Despite having direct sight of the offender three times a week in lecture, witnesses found it impossible to recognize Watkins' face or match it to a name. For years, Watkins flew under the radar, but his hubris ultimately resulted in his downfall. This past Thursday, he attempted to rob a student who had watched eight hours of his recorded lectures in preparation for an upcoming midterm.

In the days since Watkins’ arrest, students unanimously "still feel pretty safe about skipping class."