#3. A Romanian Spy Puts on a Murder Charade
Not everyone is cut out for the life of a Cold War spy. Matai Haiducu, for example, was a Romanian spy who was never meant to do murder. And he knew this because when he got the orders to assassinate two dissident writers living in France, he just couldn't go through with it. Steal nuclear secrets from the French government, yes. Inject people with poison that simulates cardiac arrest, no.
One problem: Haiducu's boss was Nicolae Ceausescu, the Romanian leader who could be described as "Stalin-ish." Coming home with a case of the assassination jitters wasn't going to go over with a man who modeled his governing style after North Korea's.
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Hey, you can't deny the happy results it produces.
Step 1: Confess everything to French officials. He was a spy stealing industrial secrets, he was there to kill some dissident writers, all of it. Throw himself at their mercy and hope for the best.
Step 2: Fake doing the things Ceausescu ordered him to do.
Step 3: Grab his family, change his name, and live in exile forever.
"Note to self: Gonna need more laptop batteries."
It was that middle step that was tricky, but Haidacu had the French government to help pull it off. First up, poisoning dissident No. 1, Paul Goma. The plan was to squirt a poison into Goma's cocktail, which Haidacu totally did, but a clumsy dinner guest "knocked it over" before it got to Goma. That guest was a French agent who gave Haidacu an out for failing at his job. Next up: kidnapping dissident No. 2, Virgil Tanase, in front of as many witnesses as possible. For three months, Tanase hid out in a countryside cottage while Haidacu scooped as many members of his family as he could grab.
The plot came to a head in August 1982, when all three men -- Goma, Tanase, and Haiducu -- held a press conference announcing A) not dead! and B) espionage! Tada! Or something to that effect. The bad news was that all three were sentenced to death in absentia by Ceausescu. The good news was that they lived out their lives peacefully in the country that staged the coolest fake foiled murder/kidnapping ever.
They then erected the classiest middle-finger-shaped monument and sent him postcards of it every Christmas.
#2. A Chess Master Executes a Masterful Gambit
If you were a Soviet kid growing up during the Cold War, there were only a handful of ways to leave the country. One was to be a very tiny, flexible girl from Romania; another was to be amazing at chess. Igor Ivanov was the latter. By 1980, Ivanov was so good that he was given a job as a professional chess player and invited to compete at the Capablanca Memorial Tournament in Cuba.
Now, Ivanov had a dilemma. He wanted to defect from a country that was pretty oppressive, despite the bonus of scoring the job of professional chess player. On the other hand, communist "Like Russia, but Latin Americaner" Cuba wasn't going to embrace a Soviet runaway with open arms.
Remember, this was the same time that Castro told 125,000 Cubans to get the fuck out of the country.
Ivanov was a chess master, a man with a brain built for complex strategy that can see two dozen moves ahead. If he pulled off a Keyser Soze-style escape from under the noses of the authorities, well, the only surprise would be that it took him so long.
Once the tournament was over, Ivanov's plane was scheduled to fly directly back to Mother Russia. But the plane had to make an unscheduled stop for fuel in Newfoundland, Canada. At this point, Ivanov set his clockwork plan into action. As best as we can construct it, it went like this:
A. Open the door of the plane.
B. Run like hell.
It's almost devious in its diabolical simplicity. And so, with nothing but the clothes on his back and his mini chess set, Ivanov went sprinting across the tarmac while Benny Hill saxophone played in the background. The KGB watchers just stood there dumbfounded for a second, then hopped off the plane and went after him. The air traffic control tower must have thought they were watching a poorly made spy comedy, with this lone bespectacled man clutching a chess set and running from KGB goons.
The goons were too late. Ivanov asked for and got asylum. He lived the rest of his life playing chess for Canada.
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Or as they call it, "checkerboard hockey."
#1. Defectors Stunt Drive a Sports Car Under a Barrier ... Twice
The Tank Guy from earlier was hardly the only one to make it to the other side of the Berlin Wall over the years. About 5,000 people managed to escape through, above, under, or around the wall, no two people using the same plan.
Unless you're Heinz Meixner and Norbert Konrad, two unrelated defectors who somehow managed to use the exact same car to escape East Germany.
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"No, sir, I didn't think it was abnormal. I just assumed he got lost from the track."
Heinz Meixner was an Austrian who worked in East Berlin, so he had traveling privileges -- it was his East German girlfriend who wanted to defect. His idea was to hide her in the car as he drove through the wall ... but there were a few problems. First you had to pass multiple checkpoints, including a customs official who searched your car. And by 1963, the custom guys were thorough.
On the other hand, once you got past the passport guys, there were sections of the wall that were just steel beams. Meixner did his homework: Those beams were only 37.5 inches above the pavement. With the right car, he could just drive under them, right?
Via Roger Wollstadt
Now that we think about it, he should have just ramped that bitch, Dukes of Hazzard style.
Love makes you do crazy things. Meixner rented a tiny Austin-Healey Sprite sports car, took out the windshield, and did some measuring. From tire to top, the car was only 35.5 inches off the ground -- two whole inches to spare under the metal beam! Good enough!
On May 5, 1963, Meixner stuffed his girlfriend and her mother in the backseat floor of the car. Then he covered them with bricks. The bricks, he figured, would conceal them, protect them from gunfire, and give him an excuse for the extra-low car. Plus, when would he get another chance to cover his future mother-in-law with bricks? After making it past the passport check, Meixner was directed to the customs officer. Instead of stopping, he gunned it and ducked. By the time he slowed down on the West side of the wall, there was a 96-foot-long skid mark behind him. Oh, and the tires left a trail, too.
From the lack of flames, we're assuming it never reached 88 miles per hour.
And here's where it gets ridiculous: Three months later, a man named Norbert Konrad was in the same pickle. He lived in West Berlin and had an East German girlfriend and no hope of getting her out. By this point, Meixner's story was news, so Konrad knew it could be done, but he never actually got around to reading the details. So what Konrad didn't know was that when he rented a sports car for the escape, he rented the exact same car Heinz used, with the same plates and all.
He followed the exact same plan. And it worked, again.
Unfortunately, the East Germans had an answer to getting double bamboozled by a midget sports car: Fool us once, shame on you; fool us twice, we'll add welded bars to our steel barriers and you'll never fool us again. To be fair, who would have thought somebody would try something like that twice?
"OK, new plan. First, we turn ourselves into snakes ..."
When not running precariously across international borders, Evan V. Symon is a workshop moderator and can be found on Facebook.
For badasses that belong in movies, check out The 5 Most Insane Rescue Missions That Actually Worked) and 6 WWI Fighter Pilots Whose Balls Deserve Their Own Monument.