5 People Who Screwed Things Up for Everybody

People complain about a lack of accountability in today's society -- politicians and bankers alike escape from scandals with no consequences beyond a stint in rehab and a nice book deal. Well, we at Cracked are all about finding the people who have made our lives just a little bit worse. Things didn't have to be as messed up as they are now, and it only takes a few assholes to ruin life for the rest of us.

#5. Ronald Clark O'Bryan Ruined Halloween

If you grew up in America, odds are pretty good that you've donned your costume and done your Halloween rounds just like millions of other children. You may cherish the memories of getting home from a long night of trick-or-treating, pulling off your ninja mask and dumping a huge-ass sack of candy onto the carpet. You may also remember, rather less fondly, waiting for what seemed to be a light-year (concepts of time and space weren't your strong suit) for your parents to finish searching said candy for deadly poison.

"Remember, kids, there are always strangers out to murder you."

If you asked them what they were doing, they'd tell you stories of evil people all across America inserting poison or razor blades or some other horrifying object into the candy they hand out to children. A policeman may even have shown up at your school to lecture you about it, or you may have seen public service announcements on television, warning you to only accept candy from people you knew, and only treats that still had their wrappers intact.

What is it about Halloween candy that turned normal grown-ups into over-protective zealots? It's such a bizarre, improbable thing to worry about, like not letting you jump in the ball pit at Chuck E. Cheese's for fear there might be snakes in there. How many poison-dealing mass murderers can there be in the Western world, anyway?

A little poison is good for kids. Keeps 'em from getting soft.

Actually, it all traces back to one person. The man in question is Ronald Clark O'Bryan, an almighty dickhole who poisoned his own 8-year-old son with cyanide in order to collect on a $40,000 life insurance policy, and who we will exclusively refer to with irreverent nicknames from now on because, seriously, screw that guy.

Asshole O'Bryan slipped the poison into a bunch of Pixy Stix, which he then stapled shut. Yes, we said a bunch -- one just wouldn't do, because following some strange logic accessible to only the criminally insane, Shitbricks O'Bryan decided to poison every child his son went trick-or-treating with. Through either a miracle or, more likely, the fact that Pixy Stix suck balls, none of the other kids were harmed. O'Bryan was caught, found guilty and executed, but the case was widely publicized and so the damage had already been done.

State of Texas
We're pretty sure Texas came into existence just to punish Cocksheath O'Bryan.

And that is how even now, close to 40 years later, a trick-or-treater has to write off every piece of candy with a hole in the wrapper. Which is really sort of unfair, as although there have been a couple of other isolated incidents of poisoned candy since Dick O'Bryan set the trend, not a single one of them has been the doing of a random poison-maniac with a grudge against kids in cheesy costumes.

So, we guess the moral of the story is: If someone is going to poison your child's Halloween candy, chances are it's going to be you.

Wikipedia Commons
Also, stay the hell away from Pixy Stix.

#4. Rich Skrenta Released the First Computer Virus

Nowadays, we're so saturated with warnings about viruses and other malware that we never stop to think about how weird it is that such a thing even exists. We almost treat them like actual viruses, like something that naturally occurs in the world that we just have to live with. But behind every computer virus is an actual asshole with programming skills who is intentionally trying to harm strangers' computers. It'd be like living in a world where every sickness was the result of a weaponized microbe some stranger made and blindly inflicted upon you, for absolutely no reason. Who started this shit?

Steve "Antichrist" Ballmer?

Well, we guess it makes sense that the ultimate form of petty, mindless dickery has its origin in a spiteful teenager. Namely, a 15-year-old called Rich Skrenta.

Spiteful teenagers are also the origin of corpse-camping, 4chan and Goatse.

Skrenta, who was either a dick or just going through a dick phase in his life, had a habit of modifying the games he traded with his friends to display taunting messages on their screens. When this got boring -- or, more likely, when he got tired of getting his ass kicked by the people he'd tricked -- Skrenta set about looking for a way to mess with other peoples' computers without making himself the obvious culprit. He ended up developing something called a boot sector virus, which installed itself on any machine that booted from an infected floppy disk.

(Note: For those of you born past the early '90s, floppy discs are things we used to store data, and we continued to call them floppy discs even though they were square and, later, rigid unfloppy plastic.)

They made pretty fair throwing stars, too, if there wasn't a teacher in the room.

This virus program, named Elk Cloner, had two distinct key features that you can see in its modern descendants even today. First, it was able to breed. Once a computer was infected, every disc you put in it would get loaded with the malicious code, which basically made it herpes for high school computer class. Elk Cloner's other innovative feature was an annoying little message that would pop up on every 50th boot:

"Elk Cloner: The program with a personality/It will get on all your disks/It will infiltrate your chips/Yes, it's Cloner!/It will stick to you like glue/It will modify RAM too/Send in the Cloner!"

For an explanation, we turn to marijuana.

While these days Skrenta regrets letting the genie out of the bottle, he does argue that the basic idea of a self-propagating virus would probably have "gotten out anyway." While he may or may not be right in his argument, that won't stop us from resenting the hell out of him and making cheap, outdated insults about his stupid, stupid face.

Way to go, Four-eyes McWaveyhair.

#3. "Mrs. Geo O. Haman" Created Chain Letter Fraud

Speaking of things some of you are too young to remember, before all of those bullshit scam emails in the form of messages from Nigerian princes, obscure foreign lotteries and suspiciously typo-filled queries from your bank, those scams were carried out with actual, physical chain letters you got in the mail.

"Mail" was that papery stuff people used to shove in boxes in front of your house.

There were always two types -- the kind intended to scam you out of money, and the kind that were just intended to be forwarded and thus spread as far and wide as possible (the latter was the old equivalent of the "Post this on your wall if you want to stand up for abused children" stuff you see on Facebook today).

Both types of chain letter go back hundreds of years. The innocuous ones like this one from 1795 were annoying, but ultimately harmless. But then in 1888 somebody figured out how to make some cash off of it, and the scam chain letter was born.

"My wife will die if I don't forward $50? Little does he know, I hate my wife."

A New Hampshire resident named Ms. Wood received a letter begging funds for educating the poor whites of Cumberlands. We're not sure who exactly was behind this -- our only existing clue to the author is the name "Mrs. Geo A. Haman," which, given fraudsters' notorious disregard of real-name usage, we're going to go out on a limb and assume wasn't the person's true identity.

While today's scams are focused on stealing your bank account information, Haman was dealing with people of the 19th century. They were simple folk who tended to keep their money under mattresses or buried in the backyard. So this enterprising scammer figured out the only way to make real money was with volume, by soliciting small donations from long chains of people. To save on postage, you encourage each victim to forward the letter to multiple people on your behalf.

"Hassling my entire family is a small price to pay for vague promises of future wealth."

This, given the speed and reliability of postal services of the day, meant the payoffs weren't too mind-boggling: "Mrs. Haman's" letter, for instance, solicited exactly five 10-cent donations: from the recipient and four of her friends.

Modern scammers have learned a lot since those early days -- namely, that the appeal to greed is far more profitable than the appeal to charity. And although "Mehmet IV, a Nigerian prince of some importance" might not wipe his royal ass with today's equivalent of half a 19th century dollar, the person behind him would likely give an approving nod to Haman's pioneering spirit of preying on the gullible.

Mrs. Geo Haman, patron saint of scamming the elderly.

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