You may know Kevin Poulsen as a writer and editor over at Wired.com, but before that he was quite the badass hacker-turned-fugitive.
At the age of 17 (in 1983, the same year that WarGames came out, not surprisingly), Kevin "Dark Dante" Poulsen used his ancient TRS-80 computer to hack into the U.S. Defense Department's Arpanet. Five years later, when the feds realized that Poulsen had struck again by hacking into the database of one of the FBI's major investigations, they set out to arrest Poulsen, kicking off a fugitive chase that lasted 17 months.
"Let him go; you rookies captured early '80s Nicolas Cage again."
Instead of laying low, Poulsen laid in on the hacking harder than ever, pulling one spectacular stunt after another. He continued bringing the pain straight to his pursuers for the next several years, hacking into more federal databases, including several FBI front companies. The whole time he managed to always stay one step ahead of his pursuers. Later, while still on the run in 1990, Poulsen and two friends swindled KIIS-FM's "Win a Porsche" giveaway by hacking the phone lines and guaranteeing they would be the 102nd caller. Needless to say, they ended up collecting a Porsche.
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Reason Number 14,381 to pay attention in computer science class.
The coup de grace came when Poulsen was featured on the show Unsolved Mysteries: The 1-800 hotline mysteriously went dead as soon as Poulsen's face appeared on the screen. Prosecutors would later refer to him as "the Hannibal Lecter of computer crime" (so he ate his computers?) and managed to get him sentenced to nearly five years behind bars in 1991, the longest in history for a hacker at the time. He was released in 1996, with a court order to not so much as touch a computer for three years.
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Too bad. 1998 was a bad year to miss.
It was an agreement that Poulsen honored to the best of the authorities' knowledge, until 1999, when he started working his way up in the online writing world, all the way to the position of editor at Wired, which, it's safe to say, is right where we all prefer that he remain at this point.
Quick: What was the longest running standoff in U.S. history? There was that cult in Waco, Texas, that was holed up in their compound for 51 days ... but they're not even close. There's one standoff that's still going on, 13 years later. Meet John Joe Gray, fugitive from the law and best kept secret in the annals of crazy.
Nothing says "not crazy" like living on a compound.
On Christmas Eve of 1999, Gray was pulled over by two state troopers in Texas. When ordered to step out of the vehicle, Gray refused, and when one of the troopers attempted to push him out of the vehicle, old Gray did what any normal crazy person with a death wish would do: He lunged for the trooper's gun, kicking off a struggle for the officer's weapon that culminated in Gray biting the officer.
Miraculously, Gray managed to survive the incident and was indicted on two felony counts -- assaulting a public servant and taking a peace officer's weapon. When the judge set Gray's bail, he made a mistake, because Gray isn't the type to come back after getting out on bail.
Jared Judd / Lakeside News / Gun Barrel City
Militia or 2004 lineup of the Shins? You make the call.
What followed was Gray fleeing from the law and holing himself up in his Trinidad, Texas, compound in early 2000 with his six children and wife, after mailing a letter to the local authorities advising them to "bring extra body bags" if they planned to pay him a visit. Since then, law enforcement officials have occasionally caught glimpses of members of the Gray family strolling around behind the barbed-wire fence with rifles slung over their backs, but that was the closest look any of them would get of the Gray family, because John Joe Gray doesn't do surrender.
In fact, he's still holed up in that compound right now, with that same arrest warrant outstanding. A type of anarchist, Gray rejects the authority of governments, and so far he and his clan have outlasted four sheriff administrations, none of whom have wanted to expend the energy to confront him for fear of the loss of life on both sides of the eventual conflict. And you can't blame them; if there's a decent chance people are going to die, is it really worth the cost just to bring a goofball to justice? So if you want to avoid arrest, you just have to be crazy enough.
Pictured: Crazy Enough.
Colton Harris-Moore's first criminal conviction for theft came at the age of 12, and his rise to spectacular folk hero status proceeded logarithmically from there. From ages 12 to 17, Harris-Moore went from stealing bicycles to stealing automobiles, speedboats, and, finally, light aircraft. He also robbed a hundred or so private residences of things such as bear mace and night vision goggles, presumably anticipating his future of hiding in the wilderness with search helicopters whizzing overhead.
You have to be prepared if you're going to spend a lot of time hiding under ferns.
In May of 2010, police in Raymond, Washington, found $100 and a handwritten note outside of a veterinary clinic that read: "Drove by, had some extra cash. Please use this money for the care of animals," signed by Harris-Moore. Of course, the car he drove by in had been stolen, as well as the cash, but at least he proved himself to be compassionate when it came to the welfare of animals, if not to the people whose shit he couldn't stop stealing.
It was after finding that note that the feds connected Harris-Moore to a string of auto thefts in Idaho, South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, and Illinois, and the hunt was on. Around this time, news of his antics started to spread and a Facebook fan page was launched that gained 60,000 members and 100,000 likes. He became an Internet sensation, and people started selling T-shirts with his picture on it and the caption "Momma Tried." He became known as the "Barefoot Bandit" for reportedly committing some of his crimes while barefoot, but also for taunting the police by drawing 39 cartoonish chalk outlines of bare feet at a crime scene with the word "c'ya."
We give him an A+ for cryptic, but a C for penmanship.
Harris-Moore knew the heat was closing in on him in the U.S., so he did what any 19-year-old kid who had only ever flown a plane in video games would do: He stole a Cessna 400 single-engine plane from an airfield in Bloomington, Indiana, and flew it to the Bahamas.
Miraculously, he did not die during any of this, even managing to survive a crash landing in the Bahamas, where he would thereafter steal a speedboat. He was finally arrested there by police, who shot out the engine on his boat, prompting a dramatic scene in which Harris-Moore threw all of his stolen money into the ocean and put a gun to his head.
He threatened to kill himself, but the police talked him out of it, putting the final touches on the story that we all know we'll end up seeing in a theater. And indeed, 20th Century Fox bought the movie rights not long after the handcuffs closed around Harris-Moore's wrists.
AP Photo/Elaine Thompson
Don't commit crimes, young people, or strangers will put you on a T-shirt and make you very popular.
Nathan J. Ringroos runs the site Taking Sense Away, which chronicles life on the run from his former employer, the Transportation Security Administration.
Related Reading: With so many bad guys on the lamb, sometimes it's nice to see a criminal repaid by instant karma. And if stupid outlaws are your passion, these selfie-taking phone burglars should be everything you need. Of course, those amateurs don't hold a candle to the man who applied to work at a convenience store and then immediately robbed it.