Smile

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mona_Lisa.jpg

In 1911, Argentine con man Eduardo de Valfierno found a way to steal the Mona Lisa six times over at no risk to himself.

First he made private deals with six separate buyers to steal and deliver the priceless painting. Then he hired a professional art restorer to make six fakes, and shipped them in advance to the buyers’ locales (to avoid later trouble with customs).

In August he paid a thief to steal the original from the Louvre, and when news of the theft had spread he delivered the six fakes to their recipients, exacting a high price for each. Then he quietly disappeared. The flummoxed thief was soon caught trying to sell the red-hot original, and it was returned to the museum in 1913.

05/27/2020 UPDATE: This is false but extraordinarily widely retailed. The painting was stolen in 1911 by an Italian criminal named Vincenzo Peruggia, but the original was recovered and returned to the Louvre two years later. There is no evidence that Valfierno ever existed, and none of the six supposed copies has ever surfaced. The myth was conceived by a writer named Karl Decker and retailed as fact in a 1932 issue of the Saturday Evening Post, which was still havering equivocally as to its falsity as recently as 2013.

Table for One

Last meals:

  • Ted Bundy: Steak (medium rare), eggs over easy, hash browns, coffee. (He refused it.)
  • John Wayne Gacy: Fried chicken, fried shrimp, french fries, fresh strawberries.
  • Gary Gilmore: Hamburger, eggs, a baked potato, coffee, three shots of whiskey.
  • Timothy McVeigh: Two pints of Ben & Jerry’s mint chocolate-chip ice cream.
  • Adolf Eichmann: Half a bottle of Carmel, a dry red Israeli wine.
  • Bruno Hauptmann: Celery, olives, chicken, french fries, buttered peas, cherries, and a slice of cake.

Victor Feguer, executed in 1963 for shooting a doctor, asked for a single olive.

Sorry, Wrong Fugitive

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.

Elmer McCurdy

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!”

The Rich Are Different

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.

Sasha Spesivtsev

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.

Nice Try

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.

Joseph Rodriguez

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 Gentle Sex

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.

Copycat

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.