Everyone loves a good fugitive story -- it's one of the mainstays of Hollywood action movies, right up there alongside heaving bosoms and pun-based deaths. But we all know that real-life fugitives are nothing like the crazy, resourceful badasses we see on screen, right? Right. Mmmmostly. Every so often, reality produces a criminal escape so awesomely ballsy that Bill Die-Hard and Mike Expendables would break down in tears just reading about it.
#5. The Mad Trapper of Rat River
In 1931, a mysterious man calling himself Albert Johnson built himself a cabin up in northern Canada, well inside the Arctic Circle, to better pursue his lifelong dream of dying in a cabin in the Arctic Circle. When Mounties arrived to issue a friendly warning about trapping without a license, Johnson pulled the old "If I can't see you, you can't see me" stratagem. Johnson would not reply to the Mounties' questions; he wouldn't so much as glance in their direction. When the ruse failed (as it usually does, for all but toddlers and Predators), the authorities became suspicious and returned with a warrant. Johnson opened fire through the cabin door. So what did those polite Canadian Mounties do? Probably they sent him a thank you card for the free bullets, right?
They dynamited Johnson's cabin.
Feeling a draft in there?
That's the danger of relying on stereotypes, folks: Sometimes you get your ass exploded by a man in a silly hat. Somehow, Johnson survived and fled into the wilderness, while temperatures around him plunged to -50 degrees. Despite being entirely without supplies and on foot, Johnson consistently remained ahead of his pursuers, at one point covering 85 miles in under three days. When the police closed off the only passes out of the province, Johnson climbed over a 7,000-foot mountain in a blizzard to continue his escape.
Legends told of a magical thief who would test the boundaries of Canadian decency.
He really, really did not want to apply for that trapping license.
Johnson left behind multiple false trails and habitually wore his snowshoes backward to give the impression that he was heading in the opposite direction. At one point his footprints seemed to split up. When the police disbanded to follow both sets of tracks, they eventually found themselves facing each other again -- both paths had been false. This is starting to sound less like the pursuit of a dangerous fugitive and more like Elmer Fudd tracking Bugs Bunny.
Eventually the Mounties recruited Wilfred "Wop" May, a World War I flying ace, to hunt down Johnson from the air.
The T.S. Quint of this hunt, except he isn't eaten alive. Or is he? (He's not.)
May spotted Johnson walking along a frozen river (he was using the tracks of a herd of caribou to cover his own footprints) and killed him in an ensuing shootout. Johnson was never fully identified. However, he was carrying a small fortune in cash when he died and had some extremely expensive dental work. To add that extra touch of creepy, from the start of the incident up until he died in a mound of frozen caribou crap, Johnson never spoke a word. The only sound anyone ever heard him make was laughter.
Right after he shot a policeman.
#4. Basil Embry
In 1940, RAF fighter pilot Basil Embry had just been promoted to a desk job at headquarters. He decided to fly one last sortie for old times' sake (because facing death for a bit of nostalgia is the very definition of the stiff-upper-lip British spirit). Ironically, or perhaps not ironically at all (it's a tricky word), Embry was promptly shot down over occupied France. He was taken prisoner by the Germans. But did he give up in defeat? No! Did he harden his heart and vow to persevere through this terrible experience! Also no!
Within moments of being captured, Embry grabbed the wheel of the car transporting him and tried to crash it. The Germans probably should've seen that as foreshadowing.
Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-022-2926-07/Wolff/Altvater/CC-BY-SA
"Told you letting him ride shotgun was a mistake."
"He called it; what was I supposed to do?"
A few days later, after joining a column of prisoners marching to an internment camp, Embry slipped unnoticed into a ditch and lay motionless for several hours until he was sure the coast was clear. Not realizing that the British were already hightailing it out of Europe at Dunkirk, Embry headed south to try to rejoin the Allies. This caused a few problems. First he had to swim across the Somme, which he somehow managed without much issue. Next he was picked up by a German patrol that locked him in an abandoned farmhouse. Embry came up with a devastatingly brilliant plan for escape, decided that sounded hard, and just punched his way out instead: When a guard came to bring him water, Embry knocked him out with his bare hands, then took his rifle, which he used to club two other guards who stood between him and freedom. He then hid in a nearby pile of manure for several hours, because if there's one thing Embry does well, it's sitting immobile in an unpleasant place. If there are two things he does well, it's the immobile bit and getting captured by Germans.
Three things, if you count his Biff impression.
After performing surgery on his own leg to remove shrapnel, Embry was captured again, but this time persuaded his interrogators that he was an Irish IRA operative wanted for a bombing in London. He was released after "proving" his story with his ability to speak Gaelic (he couldn't, and was actually asking for a whiskey sour in Urdu, but friggin' nobody understands Gaelic, least of all the Germans). Embry then built a bicycle out of spare parts, cycled all the way to the South of France while avoiding detection, and smuggled himself into Spain in the trunk of a car.
The British immediately appointed Embry to a high-ranking command position, where he was presumably captured by Germans after sitting in a portable toilet for 14 hours.
Embry is the one on the right, during one of his rare moments not hiding under piles of stuff.
#3. The Ballarat Bandit
In August of 2003, a group of thrill-seeking tourists were exploring a remote and unforgiving section of California's Death Valley ... in an air-conditioned jeep. Seriously, it is literally the hottest place on Earth. Like hell were they going outside: It's called friggin' Death Valley -- that sounds like a Zelda level. A particularly hard one! Nobody can survive out there on their own for very long. Which is why it was so odd when they spotted a mysterious figure entirely on foot, apparently with no supplies, and no vehicle in sight.
The tourists stopped to see if the stranger needed any help, but he, like Albert Johnson, completely ignored them before vanishing into the desert.
We're guessing they cut the tour short after one of them pointed out that this was the set-up to at least 200 slasher films.
A few weeks later, local cabin owners and ranchers reported a series of burglaries by a thief who never left fingerprints and always erased his tracks. In January alone, he committed over 30 robberies, leaving law enforcement baffled. The media dubbed him the Ballarat Bandit after a local ghost town, either because they assumed he was hiding out there or (more likely) because it was a slow news day in Death Valley and it sounded kinda cool.
When authorities went out in force to find the bandit, they found a series of camps and fallback positions laid out with military precision. At a hideout near an old cabin once used by the Manson Family, they found the bandit himself, who immediately took off into the desert. One particularly fit ranger gave chase -- he could, and did, sprint full-bore for over a quarter of a mile.
Unfortunately, the Ballarat Bandit sprinted at full speed for a mile and a half.
Men's Journal / Jason Kersten
You may not be able to fight the law and WIN, but you can make it look wheezy and out-of-shape.
When the rangers set a trap to pin the bandit against a supposedly unclimbable mountain, he went straight over it -- no problem. With enough energy left over to cover 60 miles in two days in the blazing heat. Jesus, was this guy a Skyrim character, or just a Kenyan marathon runner? Who can do this kind of stuff at all, much less in the hottest place on the friggin' planet?!
Eventually, after calling in the FBI and the National Guard and having the fleet-footed (but still petty) robber declared a national threat by the Department of Homeland Security for some reason, authorities surrounded the fugitive. He took his own life. And then they discovered the identity of this supernaturally fast, nigh-unkillable criminal and undisputed master of the desert: He was a Canadian marijuana farmer.
Brand X Pictures/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images
Legends say his spirit still haunts the valley, robbing unsuspecting tourists of their Funyuns.
Pro Tip: If you meet a strange Canadian in an unforgiving wasteland who pretends like you don't exist, just leave him the hell alone. It is not going to be worth the trouble.