Minor Theft

https://www.google.com/patents/US5079541

In 1955 Carolyn Wharton became the youngest person ever kidnapped — 29 minutes after she was born, she was abducted from the Baptist Hospital in Beaumont, Texas, by a woman disguised as a nurse.

This might have saved her — in 1992 Thomas Moody proposed adding anti-theft devices to hospital baby diapers. The diapers would bear a distinctive pattern so that any attempt to remove or replace them would be spotted by hospital workers.

“In addition to sounding an alarm, the system may be coupled to the doors or elevators of the secure area to prevent egress by would-be abductors or to other security measures such as television recorders.”

Lending a Hand

http://books.google.com/books?id=aswXAQAAMAAJ

The tricks by which a shop-lifter succeeds in plying her profession without being caught are many and ingenious. The most successful of all tricks is the false arm and hand, shown in one of the illustrations. While the shop-lifter’s hands are apparently in sight of the store clerks, one is at work stowing away articles. The false hand is, of course, gloved and thrust through one of the sleeves. The real hand works under cover of the bodice and coat. The second illustration shows one of the pockets in which stolen articles are secreted.

Popular Mechanics, September 1908

Victimized

As he enters the room, he knows what awaits him. Resistance is useless. He cannot escape; there are simply too many of them, and there is nowhere to hide anyway. Hands take hold of him and strap him tightly. Now he cannot move. They have total control over him. They set to work quickly, efficiently, and without malice. They follow a strict protocol, their actions being exquisitely coordinated toward a single end. They begin to kill him, deliberately and methodically. This is not their first time to take life. They make no attempt to conceal their intentions or their actions. On the contrary, they do everything in public, before an audience who watch as his life ebbs away.

“If premeditation is central to the handling of homicide, this killing ought to evoke considerable severity. But it does not,” write University of Georgia sociologist Mark Cooney. “In fact, the law tolerates it, and some people even praise it highly. The words ‘homicide’ and ‘killing’ are rarely used to describe it. Instead it goes by another name: ‘capital punishment.'”

(From Cooney’s 2009 book Is Killing Wrong?)

Stick Up

http://www.google.com/patents/US292389

John Van Zandt’s “combined cane and burglar alarm,” patented in 1884, is low-tech but effective: The head contains a percussion cap, and the ferrule contains a spring clamp.

“The operation is as follows: The occupant of the room simply takes the cane and suspends the same over the top of the door, as hereinbefore explained. On the door being slightly opened the support for the cane is released, whereupon the cane drops and, striking the floor, explodes the cap, thus frightening away the thief and arousing the occupant of the room.”

Pandora’s Divorce

In June 1946, 44-year-old Fern Bowden filed for divorce from her husband James, charging him with “cruel and inhuman treatment” and asking $100 a month to support their two teenage daughters. James filed an answer denying the charges and accusing his wife of keeping company with other men while he had been in Alaska on war business.

In mid-July, James began working with a small trunk which he kept locked in the basement of their Oregon home. He refused to tell the family what it contained but warned them repeatedly not to try to open it; when the girls came upon their father working on it he shouted at them to get out. Only he and their mother, he said, had the padlock combination.

On July 27, alone at home, Fern opened the box. “The cellar of the Bowden residence was wrecked by the explosion,” reported the Associated Press. “Small pieces of flesh and bone found scattered throughout the shattered parts of the home have been identified by the police criminal laboratory as human.”

Detectives determined that the trunk had contained six sticks of dynamite rigged with tacks, wire, and a small battery.

James was charged with illegal possession of explosives and first-degree murder.

Special Delivery

On June 23, 1908, a messenger delivered a bottle of ale to the door of Philadelphia doctor William Wilson. “We are taking the liberty of sending a few physician’s samples of our new product,” read an accompanying letter, which bore the name of a well-known Philadelphia brewing company. “As the beneficial qualities of our ale is to be our strong talking point, we have decided to cooperate with physicians as far as possible in the introduction of our goods.” It asked him to sample the product and to respond if he felt he could recommend it to his patients.

Three days later, Wilson sampled the bottle. Within 30 minutes he was dead of cyanide poisoning.

On June 29, coroner Rush Jermon received a typewritten letter:

Dear Mr. Coroner:

I want to write you regarding the death of Dr. W.H. Wilson.

In some way he induced my wife to become a patient of his. As a result of poisonous injections he used, she died a few weeks ago. In order to protect her name, I did not give the last attending physician all the facts, and she was buried with another cause assigned.

To rid the community of this wholesale killer, I have removed him like a weed from a garden. …

Now that this service to the community is rendered and the death of my dear wife avenged, I am going to quit this part of the world. I don’t think you will ever find me but I don’t care much what happens anyhow.

My only regret is the grief caused his wife and child but I believe they are better off without him. I say let those who live by poison die by poison.

“By the time you get this on Monday morning, I will be far from here,” it concluded. It was signed “An outraged husband and father.”

An investigation showed that the killer must have mailed the first letter from a West Philadelphia postal station at 1 a.m. on June 23, but no one remembered seeing him there. A clerk at the messenger service described a clean-shaven, neatly dressed man of about 40 wearing a black derby, and a station agent at Bristol, Pa., recalled a man of that description jumping briefly off a train to mail a letter on June 27, the day after Wilson had died. This man had apparently bought a ticket at Torresdale, a small station between Philadelphia and Bristol, earlier that day.

But there the trail ended. The mystery became a nationwide sensation, but no further progress was made. An inquest on July 10 returned a verdict of death by cyanide of potassium poisoning at the hands of a person or persons unknown. The killer was never found.

Professional Monster

Issei Sagawa took an unlikely path to fame — after killing and cannibalizing a Dutch woman in Paris in 1981, he wrote a fictionalized account of the crime, In the Mist, that sold 200,000 copies in his native Japan:

There is a loud sound and her body falls from the chair onto the floor. It is like she is watching me. I see her cheeks, her eyes, her nose and mouth, the blood pouring from her head. I try to talk to her, but she no longer answers. There is blood all over the floor. I try to wipe it up, but I realize I cannot stop the flow of blood from her head. It is very quiet here. There is only the silence of death.

Since his release from a Japanese psychiatric hospital in 1985, Sagawa has parlayed his reputation into a ghoulish industry. He has produced four novels, written a weekly column for a Japanese tabloid, appeared on the cover of a gourmet magazine, and is a regular subject of television documentaries. His crime inspired the Rolling Stones’ song “Too Much Blood.”

“The public has made me the godfather of cannibalism, and I am happy about that,” he said. “I will always look at the world through the eyes of a cannibal.”

Methodical

In April 1922, 17-year-old Ernest Albert Walker, the footman to an English colonel, approached a policeman in Tonbridge and said, “I believe I have done a murder.” At the house, investigators discovered the body of messenger Raymond Charles Davis and a handwritten agenda on black-edged notepaper:

  1. Ring up Sloane Street messenger office for boy.
  2. Wait at front door.
  3. Invite him in.
  4. Bring him downstairs.
  5. Ask him to sit down.
  6. Hit him on the head.
  7. Put him in the safe.
  8. Keep him tied up.
  9. At 10.30 torture.
  10. Prepare for end.
  11. Sit down, turn gas on.
  12. Put gas light out.
  13. Sit down, shut window.

Walker had also left a note for the butler:

I expect you will be surprised to see what I have done. Well since my mother died I have made up my mind to die also. You know you said a gun-case had been moved and I denied it. Well, it had, I got a gun out and loaded it and made a sling for my foot to pull the trigger, but my nerve went and I put it away. I rang up the Sloane Square office for a messenger boy and he came to the front door. I asked him to come in and wait, and I brought him to the pantry and hit him on the head with a coal-hammer. So simple! Then I tied him up and killed him. I killed him, not the gas. Then I sat down and turned the gas full on. I am as sane as ever I was, only I cannot live without my dear mother. I didn’t half give it to that damned boy. I made him squeak. Give my love to Dad and all my friends.

“I don’t know what made me do it,” he told police. “I came to Tonbridge as it would give me plenty of time to think and tell the police here.” He was judged “guilty but insane” and committed to the Broadmoor psychiatric hospital.

Homework

Twenty-nine-year-old James Landis was operating a currency-wrapping machine at the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing when an idea occurred to him. He went home and cut ordinary bond paper into pieces the size of U.S. currency, and wrapped them to resemble the bricks of $20 bills that he produced at work. On Dec. 30, 1953, he smuggled these packages into work with him and hid them in a locker room. Then he wrapped two bundles of real $20 bills in kraft paper and carried them to a storage area. There he unwrapped them, saving the labels, put the bills into two paper bags he had brought from home, and hid these.

He worked the rest of the morning at his station, then returned to the dummy bundles he had brought from home. In a toilet stall he affixed the labels to the ends of the dummy bricks, using glue he had brought from his station, and he rubber-stamped each “HA 12-31-53,” indicating that a bureau employee with the initials H.A. had wrapped the packages on Dec. 31, 1953. Then he carried the dummy bricks to a storage skid on the first floor, where he left them among packages of genuine $20 bills.

At 3:10 p.m. he finished work, changed clothes, and retrieved one of the paper bags from the dead storage area, using a pair of dirty trousers to conceal the $128,000 that the bag held. And he walked out of the building.

Landis and three friends set about buying inexpensive merchandise in order to shed the stolen money and get change, but it wasn’t to last long. When he returned to work on Jan. 4, a stockman picked up two bricks of currency and noted that one of them felt light. When the dummy bricks were discovered, the Secret Service began an investigation; Landis drove to Virginia and tried to hide the money with his father-in-law, who turned him in the following morning. Landis and his friends pleaded guilty on May 3, and all were sent to prison.

Inside Job

I hope this is true — Charles Whitehead’s Lives and Exploits of English Highwaymen, Pirates, and Robbers (1883) recounts a notable heist by one Arthur Chambers. Chambers rented a room from a wealthy landlord, and after winning his confidence, approached him one day with the sad news that he had just witnessed the death of his brother, who had enjoined him to convey his remains to Westminster Abbey. The landlord, moved by Chambers’ story, agreed to safeguard the coffin overnight in his own house, and Chambers arranged to have it delivered there.

That artful rogue was, however, confined in the coffin, in which air holes had been made, the screw-nails left unfixed, his clothes all on, with a winding-sheet wrapped over them, and his face blanched with flour. All the family were now gone to bed, except the maid-servant. Chambers arose from his confinement, went down stairs to the kitchen wrapped in his winding-sheet, sat down, and stared the maid in the face, who, overwhelmed with fear, cried out, ‘A ghost! a ghost!’ and ran up-stairs to her master’s room, who chid her unreasonable fears, and requested her to return to bed and compose herself. She, however, obstinately refused, and remained in the room.

In a short time, however, in stalked the stately ghost, took his seat, and conferred a complete sweat and a mortal fright upon all three who were present. Retiring from his station when he deemed it convenient, he continued, by the moving of the doors, and the noise raised through the house, to conceal his design: in the mean time, he went down stairs, opened the doors to his accomplices, who assisted him in carrying off the plate, and every thing which could be removed, not even sparing the kitchen utensils.

“The maid was the first to venture from her room in the morning, and to inform her master and mistress of what had happened, who, more than the night before, chid her credulity in believing that a ghost could rob a house, or carry away any article out of it,” Whitehead writes. “In a little time, however, the landlord was induced to rise from his bed, and to move down stairs, and found, to his astonishment and chagrin, that the whole of his plate, and almost the whole of his moveables, were gone, for which he had only received in return an empty coffin.”