Inside the Mind of the Bookstore Bandit

PHOTO: In 1990, John Nelson was dubbed the bookstore bandit by the Los Angeles Police Department for a crime spree that began with bookstores and ended at his fifth bank.

These days, when John Nelson sees an online video of an ink pack exploding purple mist all over a hapless bank robber, he cringes a little.

"Sometimes they're hard to look at," Nelson said in an interview with ABC News correspondent John Berman. "You really do look foolish, your actions are foolish, your decision-making has been foolish. Everything about it is just -- the joke's on you."

Nelson knows all too well the embarrassment of being caught in public with a pocketful of money exploding into a purple mess.

In 1990, at 24 years old, John Nelson was dubbed "the bookstore bandit" by the Los Angeles Police Department for a crime spree that began at bookstores and ended at his fifth bank.

"I was standing on the street corner not 60 feet from the bank," he said, recalling that last bank heist, "and I felt a loud snap in my pocket, and it was sprayed up into my nose, and the pink and purple smoke was billowing up all around me, and I looked like a Vegas showgirl. And this clump of money that was in my pocket was now on the ground."

The only thing Nelson could do was run and hide, seeing as the explosion knocked the keys to his getaway car out of his pocket. He ran to the parking lot where his car was, found a bush and dove under it as LAPD officers swarmed the area.

The end of Nelson's crime spree was near. All that was left was to contemplate how a casual conversation with a former girlfriend sent him on a downward spiral of armed robbery and prison.

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