In December 1974, Australian police arrested a man they believed was Lord Lucan, a British peer who had fled a murder investigation in London.
They were mistaken. It wasn’t Lord Lucan — it was British MP John Stonehouse, who had faked his suicide a month earlier.
In December 1976, the television program The Six Million Dollar Man was shooting an episode at California’s Long Beach Pike amusement park when a crew member discovered a wax dummy hanging in a funhouse gallows. When he tried to move it, its arm broke off — it wasn’t a dummy, but in fact a mummified human body. Stranger still, its mouth contained a 1924 penny and a ticket from the Museum of Crime in Los Angeles.
After much investigation, it turned out to be the body of Elmer McCurdy, an inept outlaw who had been killed in an Oklahoma gunfight in 1911. When no one claimed his body, an unscrupulous undertaker had embalmed it and charged a nickel to see “The Bandit Who Wouldn’t Give Up,” and for 60 years thereafter McCurdy’s corpse was traded among wax museums, carnivals, and haunted houses.
Elmer was finally buried, fittingly, in the Boot Hill section of Oklahoma’s Summit View Cemetery under two cubic yards of concrete. Ironically, his last words had been “You’ll never take me alive!”
In March 2004, 35-year-old Alice Regina Pike entered a Wal-Mart in Covington, Ga., gathered $1,671.55 in goods, and paid with a $1,000,000 bill.
The clerk called her manager, and Pike was arrested for forgery. She told the sheriff that her husband had given her the bill, but police found two more of them in her purse.
In 1996, a pipe broke in an apartment building in the Siberian town of Novokuznetsk. The plumber traced the leak to the flat of Sasha Spesivtsev, who lived with his mother and a dog. He knocked, but no one answered, so he broke open the door.
The flat was an abattoir. The walls were covered with blood, and bowls in the kitchen contained pieces of human bodies. In the bathtub was a mutilated, headless body, and in the living room were a human rib cage and a 15-year-old girl, mutilated but still alive. She survived for 17 hours, long enough to tell police what had happened.
Spesivtsev’s mother had lured three girls into the apartment, where he raped and beat them, killed one and forced the other two to cut her to pieces, which the mother then cooked for dinner. The dog killed the second girl.
Spesivtsev was captured trying to rape a woman in another apartment, and he was eventually put to death. His diary records the murders of 19 girls; the Russian authorities suspected him of 12 more but ran out of money to investigate.
Joshua Gardner may be a sex offender, but he’s a creative one. Last year the 22-year-old visited Minnesota’s Stillwater Area High School three times, claiming to be Caspian James Crichton-Stuart IV, the Fifth Duke of Cleveland. He spoke in an English accent and insisted that students, staff and even the principal call him “your grace.”
Student journalists caught on when he misspelled the name of his “castle,” and they soon discovered Gardner was on probation after having sex with a 14-year-old girl in 2002. He now faces up to 21 months in prison.
Four-year-old Joseph Rodriguez had been playing outside his aunt’s residence in East Harlem in September 1936 when he disappeared.
A few days later, his aunt received the following telegram:
Pauline, Joseph will be back on Wednesday. Doctor will not let me move him.
But Joseph never reappeared. His disappearance is one of the oldest unsolved missing persons cases in New York City.
The first known serial killer was actually a woman, known as Locusta, a professional poisoner who lived in Rome during the first century A.D.
In 54, she killed the Emperor Claudius with a poisoned dish of mushrooms, and the following year she was convicted of a separate poisoning. Hearing of this, Nero rescued her from execution — so she could poison Britannicus for him.
They made a good partnership, Nero guaranteeing her safety during his lifetime, but when he died the Romans took an awful revenge. According to legend, Locusta was publicly raped by a specially trained giraffe, then torn apart by wild animals. Talk about cruel and unusual.
In 1964-65, a mysterious killer murdered six prostitutes around London, leaving their nude bodies in various locations around the city or dumping them in the Thames.
His identity has never been determined, but he’s known as Jack the Stripper.
In 1893, five years after Jack the Ripper disappeared from London, someone began attacking and raping women and girls in the Swedish city of Norrköping.
He struck in the early snowy months, all over Norrköping and always after dark, alarming the city, which came to know him as Långrocken, “the Longcoat.” As many as 18 undercover policemen patrolled in women’s clothes in an attempt to trap him, to no avail.
The attacks stopped suddenly in the spring. The crimes have never been solved.
FBI age progression of D.B. Cooper, who ransomed 36 airline passengers for $200,000 in 1971, then ordered the plane into the air again and jumped out somewhere over southwest Washington.
No trace of him has ever been found. It’s still the world’s only unsolved skyjacking.
A. Neil Diamond (“Love on the Rocks”)
B. Nelly (“Hot in Herre”)
C. Smokey Robinson (“Tears of a Clown”)
D. B.B. King (“The Thrill Is Gone”)
E. Cornelius Goss (beat a Dallas homeowner to death with a board)
F. Gerald Mitchell (shotgunned two customers during a Houston drug deal)
G. James Collier (shot two Wichita Falls residents while stalking his daughter)
H. James Powell (raped and murdered a 10-year-old in Beaumont)
I. Paul Nuncio (strangled a 61-year-old in Plainview)
1. BBQ chicken wings, chips, fruit, ginger ale
2. 1 apple, 1 orange, 1 banana, coconut, peaches
3. One pot of coffee
4. Enchiladas, burritos, chocolate ice cream, cantaloupe (whole, split in half)
5. Chinese takeout, coffee
6. 1 bag of assorted Jolly Ranchers
7. Baked salmon, french fries, fruit platter, salad, soda
9. Thirty jumbo shrimp, cocktail sauce, baked potato, French fries, ketchup, butter, one T-bone steak, one chocolate malt, one gallon of vanilla ice cream, and three cans of Big Red
In Britain during the 1700s, pickpocketing was punishable by death … but the public hangings became prime targets for pickpockets.
On Nov. 25, 1809, British diplomat Benjamin Bathurst was preparing to leave the small German town of Perleberg. He stood outside the inn, watching his portmanteau being loaded onto the carriage, stepped out of the light, and was never seen again.
A nearby river was dragged, and outbuildings, woods, ditches, and marshes were searched, but no trace of Bathurst was ever found. A reward was offered for information, but none came forth.
Bathurst had been urging Austria into war against the French, but Napoleon swore on his honor that he had played no part in the disappearance. The mystery has never been solved.
v. to rob (someone) while a partner hustles
“The French, however wretched may be their condition, are attached to life, while the English frequently detest life in the midst of affluence and splendour. English criminals are not dragged, but run to the place of execution, where they laugh, sing, cut jokes, insult the spectators; and if no hangman happens to be present, frequently hang themselves.”
– Memoirs of Lewis Holberg, quoted in The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction, July 28, 1827
French forger Vrain Denis-Lucas must have had a golden touch. His customers bought “manuscripts” from all of the following authors:
- Robert Boyle
- Isaac Newton
- Blaise Pascal
- Judas Iscariot
- Pontius Pilate
- Joan of Arc
- Dante Alighieri
… even though all of them were written in contemporary French. All told, Denis-Lucas sold 27,000 manuscripts before the French Academy of Science realized something was wrong. He spent two years in prison and then disappeared.
Account of an execution by guillotine, recorded in The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction, July 7, 1827:
Arrived near the fatal machine, the unhappy man stepped out of the vehicle, knelt at the feet of his confessor, received the priestly benediction, kissed some individuals who accompanied him, and was hurried by the officers of justice up the steps of the cube-form structure of wood, painted of a blood-red, on which stood the dreadful apparatus of death.
To reach the top of the platform, to be fast bound to a board, to be placed horizontally under the axe, and deprived of life by its unerring blow, was, in the case of this miserable offender, the work literally of a moment. It was indeed an awfully sudden transit from time to eternity. He could only cry out, ‘Adieu, mes amis,’ and he was gone. The severed head, passing through a red-coloured bag fixed under, fell to the ground-the blood spouted forth from the neck like water from a fountain-the body, lifted up without delay, was flung down through a trap-door in the platform.
Never did capital punishment more quickly take effect on a human being; and whilst the executioner was coolly taking out the axe from the groove of the machine, and placing it, covered as it was with gore, in a box, the remains of the culprit, deposited in a shell, were hoisted into a wagon, and conveyed to the prison. In twenty minutes all was over, and the Grande Place nearly cleared of its thousands, on whom the dreadful scene seemed to have made, as usual, the slightest possible impression.
You can fool some of the people all of the time.
Perhaps inspired by Thomas Chatterton, the teenage Samuel William Henry Ireland (1777-1835) “found” an old deed with Shakespeare’s signature.
His father, a collector, was overjoyed, so Ireland went on finding more Shakespeareana — a promissory note, a declaration of Protestant faith, letters to Anne Hathaway and to Queen Elizabeth, books with notes in the margins and “original” manuscripts for Hamlet and King Lear.
Amazingly, these were all authenticated by experts of the day. Ireland wasn’t caught until at age 18 he wrote an entire “lost” play, which was mounted at Drury Lane Theatre. As a playwright, he couldn’t match the Bard, and Vortigern and Rowena closed after a single performance on April 2, 1796.
Sadly, his father took the blame, as no one could believe such a young man could pull off such a forgery. His son fled to France and died in obscurity.
Kidnappers don’t always target humans. On Feb. 8, 1983, a group of men abducted the Irish racehorse Shergar, winner of the 1981 Epsom Derby.
A local radio station received a ransom demand for £1.5 million, but the horse was never recovered, and to this day his fate is still unknown.
Lady Henriette Felicite must have been surprised to learn that her drowned son was alive and working as a butcher in Wagga Wagga, Australia. Even more strangely, he had grown fat, his black hair had turned brown, and he no longer spoke French. But she was desperate to reclaim him, and in 1865 he joined her in Paris.
It was a fruitful reunion. “Sir Roger” accepted an allowance of £1,000 a year and resumed his life, winning the support of the Tichborne family solicitor, his former companions in the 6th Dragoon Guards, and several county families and villagers.
But his fortunes fell when Lady Tichborne died and he was accused of imposture. Though more than 100 people vouched for his identity, he ultimately lost his bid for the inheritance and served 10 years in prison for perjury.
We’ll never know who he really was — but his grave is marked Sir Roger Charles Doughty Tichborne.
Admire it while you can — this is the most frequently stolen street sign in Austria.
On Oct. 16, 1906, small-time criminal Wilhelm Voigt became a big-time criminal … for one day.
Wearing a secondhand captain’s uniform, he appeared at the local army barracks, where he dismissed the commander. Then, with 10 grenadiers and a sergeant in tow, he took a train to Köpenick, east of Berlin, and took over city hall.
There he confiscated 4,000 marks and 37 pfennigs and ordered the town secretary and the mayor sent to Berlin on charges of crooked bookkeeping. He told the remaining soldiers to guard the building for half an hour and then left for the train station, where he changed back to civilian clothes and slipped away.
Why? Why not?
Identities assumed by virtuoso impostor Stanley Clifford Weyman (1890-1960):
- U.S. consul representative to Morocco. Arrested for fraud.
- Military attaché from Serbia and U.S. Navy lieutenant (so the two could use each other as references).
- “Lt. Cmdr. Ethan Allen Weinberg, consul general for Romania.” He inspected the U.S.S. Wyoming and invited its officers to a dinner at the Astor Hotel. On being arrested, he was heard to complain that they should have waited until dessert.
- “Royal St. Cyr,” a lieutenant in the U.S. Army Air Corps. Arrested on an inspection tour of the Brooklyn armory.
- Company doctor in Lima, Peru. Threw parties until arrested.
- State Department naval liaison officer. Introduced himself to Princess Fatima of Afghanistan and promised to arrange a meeting with the president. She gave him $10,000 for “presents” to State Department officials. Weyman got appointments with Secretary of State Evans Hughes and with Warren G. Harding. Indicted for impersonating a naval officer.
- U.S. secretary of state. Interviewed Queen Marie of Romania for the Evening Graphic newspaper.
- Personal physician to Pola Negri, Rudolph Valentino’s grieving lover. Established a faith-healing clinic and issued regular press releases.
- Arrested during World War II for telling draft dodgers how to feign various medical conditions.
- Journalist for the United Nations. Caught when he asked the State Department whether he could remain a U.S. citizen if he became the Thai delegation’s press officer.
Ironically, Weyman’s most honest act may have been his last: He was shot trying to stop a robbery in a New York hotel. “One man’s life is a boring thing,” he once said. “I lived many lives. I’m never bored.”
“The accompanying picture is no imaginary instance, but is actually taken from an official document. The figure is supposed to represent one of these Deal boatmen, and the numerals will explain the methods of secreting the tea. (1) Indicates a cotton bag which was made to fit the crown of his hat, and herein could be carried 2 lbs. of tea. He would, of course, have his hat on as he came ashore, and probably it would be a sou’wester, so there would be nothing suspicious in that. (2) Cotton stays or a waistcoat tied round the body. This waistcoat was fitted with plenty of pockets to hold as much as possible. (3) This was a bustle for the lower part of the body and tied on with strings. (4) These were thigh-pieces also tied round and worn underneath the trousers. When all these concealments were filled the man had on his person as much as 30 lbs. of tea, so that he came ashore and smuggled with impunity. And if you multiply these 30 lbs. by several crews of these Deal boats you can guess how much loss to the Revenue the arrival of an East Indiamen in the Downs meant to the Revenue.”
– East Indian smugglers’ scheme to evade English customs officers, circa 1810. From E. Keble Chatterton, King’s Cutters and Smugglers, 1700-1855, 1912