5 Supposedly Badass Criminals Caught in Embarrassing Ways
Criminal masterminds do exist; there are bad guys who have gotten away with their deeds for decades without ever leaving enough evidence behind for the cops to make a case. Yet, when these guys eventually get caught, the reason is usually exactly as stupid as that time your neighborhood meth head got nailed for trying to steal a cop car with the cop still sitting in it. It makes you wonder if these guys aren't just lucky after all.
The BTK Killer Asks the Cops for Advice in Eluding Them
Dennis Rader was one of those special kinds of asshole who believe they're smarter than everyone else. He was also the kind of asshole who enjoyed torturing and murdering innocent victims, terrorizing the residents of Wichita, Kansas, with a string of unsolved murders from 1974 to 1991. Not content to simply get away with murder, he followed up his crimes with an endless stream of taunting letters sent to local law enforcement and television stations. In short, he was a total dick.
And probably had this really obnoxious monogram sewed onto all his towels.
After his first murder in January 1974, Rader left a letter in an engineering book at the Wichita public library. In it, he described in graphic detail the killings of his first victims, the Otero family. Unhappy with the lack of attention that resulted from his brazen act, he followed it up by sending another letter in 1978, this time taking responsibility for additional murders and demanding media attention. He also picked out a shiny new name for himself ... BTK. The letters stood for "bind, torture, kill," which was Rader's preferred means of killing.
"Bill Thomas Killman" is kinda undercut by that happy little train stamp.
Ordinarily, a chatty criminal is one who will get himself caught, unwittingly giving away details the police can use to track him down. But for a while at least, Rader proved to be every bit as smart as he thought he was, avoiding capture by making several photocopies of his letters before finally mailing them, and otherwise making sure to leave no evidence in his correspondence that could be traced back to him. He would fall into bouts of silence for years at a time before reinitiating contact with police, until finally, in 1991, the killings and the letters just stopped. If it had ended there, Rader might have remained free for the rest of his life.
But then, in 2004, he started right back up again, leaving untraceable letters and packages around the Wichita area. Rader had apparently grown tired of all the tedious photocopying that went into sending an untraceable letter to the police, and decided to look into this newfangled "computer" stuff that seemed to be all the rage. In the trademark fashion of a person who has little to no idea how computers or the Internet work, he literally sent police the following message:
"Look, be honest with me. If I send you a disk will it be traceable? Just put [the answer] in the newspaper."
He may be a bloodthirsty, sadistic killer, but by God the man has a sense of fair play.
Yep, he came right out and asked them if they could trace the disk back to him. This was information he just as easily could have Googled on his own, but somehow, that never crossed his wicked-smart mind.
The police, naturally, lied and said the disk could not be traced, and lo and behold, Rader's next package contained a 1.44 megabyte floppy disk. Metadata on a deleted Word document on the disk indicated that the last person who modified it was a man named Dennis and had information pointing toward a church where he volunteered. After that, it took just a scant amount of investigative work before police were able to arrest Rader and charge him with several murders.
With his arrest, the ailing floppy disk industry finally collapsed.
After being taken into custody and told how he was finally found, Rader expressed his disbelief at the shady tactics employed by Wichita police, going so far as to ask why they had lied to him about being able to trace the disk. Like he thought the whole thing was a goddamned video game and the computer AI police had just "cheated."
Wu Gang Goes on TV
Wu Gang is not the the name of a Chinese gang, it's the name of a guy. But, a guy with a name like that is pretty much destined for a life of crime, and in 1998 he murdered a man in Jilin, China.
And then rapped about it in an influential '90s hip-hop group. Maybe.
Then, like a Chinese Keyser Soze, he vanished, seemingly never to be seen again. For 13 years, not a single lead surfaced in the case. The public was mystified, as were the police. As shocking as his ability to completely vanish off the face of the earth may have been, we're guessing the stupidity that led to him finally being caught took people even more by surprise.
Viewers of a Chinese dating show called Happy League were taken with a bubbly contestant by the name of Liu Hao, who sang like a bird and did an adorable version of the Running Man to a techno song. This is apparently considered cool over there, and Hao's lighthearted antics and adorable button nose landed him a date with a female contestant, who chose Hao out of eight possible bachelors competing for her love.
This is a damning verdict on the average Chinese bachelor.
But a viewer watching at home noticed something a bit less adorable about Liu Hao ... he looked almost exactly like Wu Gang. Concerned that they were literally watching an unknowing woman being set up on a date with a cold-blooded murderer, the observant viewer notified police, who apparently don't view television dating shows as something that needs to be monitored for possible criminal activity.
The fact that they're on screen is usually criminal enough.
For a month, police looked into the striking resemblance. Sure enough, the dancing weirdo from Happy League was none other than their fugitive. He had grown so comfortable with his ability to evade capture that appearing on national television no longer seemed like much of a risk. Amazingly, this turned out to be a massive miscalculation on Wu Gang's part, as he was quickly arrested and charged with murder.
As incredible as that story is, Wu Gang wasn't the only fugitive to be captured after appearing on a Chinese television show that year. That December, Ji Siguang, an actor playing a monk/crime fighter in a TV show called Shaolin Tigers, was arrested for an assault that happened 13 years earlier. And Siguang's brazenness makes Wu Gang look downright careful in comparison. Whereas Gang just made the mistake of appearing on one show, Ji Siguang did the only reasonable thing a person on the run from the law would do and took up a career in acting. Working under the name Zhang Guofeng, he managed to hide in plain sight, right on the television screens of millions of people for over a decade.
What we're saying is we should probably go check on those creepy-looking CSI: Miami guys.
He probably figured that after all that time, the authorities had surely forgotten about his crime. After all, it's not like the cops would hold a grudge over -- wait, what was his crime again? "Assault on a police officer"? Oh, shit.
Eric Rudolph Is No Rambo
Hosting the Summer Olympics is a big deal for any city, and Atlanta got to do just that in 1996. Unfortunately, that meant they also had the less desirable honor of hosting a terrorist bombing. At the time of the bombing, suspicion fell on the guy who found the bomb, a security guard by the name of Richard Jewell, who was understandably less than enthusiastic about all the newfound notoriety. But that suspicion gradually lifted as similar bombs kept exploding in places like abortion clinics and gay clubs. Soon the authorities discovered who they were dealing with: ex-soldier, survivalist and crazy badass Eric Robert Rudolph.
Our software sometimes replaces "raving psychopath" with "badass." It's a known issue.
Rudolph's profile read like the way they described John Rambo in First Blood. He had been in the army and received training for airborne operations and survival. Not just military survival education, but lifelong "I know the woods of North Carolina like the back of my hand" type of survival. Authorities said that finding him would not be quick or easy, and it looked like they were right -- by 2003, Rudolph had managed to elude state and federal manhunts for five years without a problem.
"We checked under our desks and looked out the window. That -- uh, that's as far as we're going."
Dogs, hundreds of men, helicopters and infrared sensors all proved useless in tracking down the domestic terrorist. It was going to take something extraordinary to bring this manhunt to an end, and would surely result in Sheriff Brian Dennehy getting shot.
Ha, no, not really. On June 1, a rookie patrol cop named Jeff Postell spotted a strange person behind a Save-A-Lot supermarket wearing camouflage and carrying a big flashlight at three in the morning. As Postell approached, the figure jumped behind some milk crates and tried to hide. Unfortunately for the villain, Postell was simply a rookie and not, say, a small child. The cop ordered the mysterious figure out from behind his poorly chosen hiding place.
"If you can't see me, you can't arrest me!"
Amazingly, that dirty, loitering hobo turned out to be Eric Rudolph. The same Eric Rudolph they said would never be found, and even if he was, needed to be approached with caution, meekly submitted like a kitten. Turns out he also had an empty backpack, leading the cops to believe he was there on a dumpster diving mission. Hey, why didn't you think of that, Rambo? Ain't no need to go hunting in the wilderness when there are perfectly good expired Ding Dongs in the dumpster behind Save-A-Lot.
"Oh, you might kill to eat, Mr. Bloodbath, but I'm not as heartless."
Robert Phillips Removes His Fingerprints, Marking Him Forever
Robert Phillips left a string of baffling crime scenes for police in the 1940s, due to his ability to never leave behind fingerprints. Before DNA tests came along and made crimes harder to get away with and prime time television infinitely more difficult to enjoy, fingerprinting was the only surefire way to prove that a suspect was actually present at the scene of a crime. Fingerprints are both unique and damn near impossible to remove -- John Dillinger tried using acid to get rid of his in the 1930s and failed completely.
"Hey, baby, is it my smoldering gaze or -- oh no, my fingers are just burning. Yeah."
So, likely taking special notice of Dillinger's idiotic ploy, career criminal Robert Phillips came up with a much more well thought out plan for fingerprint removal in 1941. Phillips simply convinced a doctor to graft skin from his abdomen and surgically sew it where his fingerprints were. Just like that, Phillips went down in history as the only known successful case of someone permanently blanking out their fingerprints.
With that achievement under his belt, there was only one thing left to do ... get back to stealing shit. Phillips went on a crime spree that left police clueless. For a while.
"I wonder why that guy didn't want fingerprints. Welp, back to stabbing myself in the head with a scalpel."
See, there was a problem: Fingerprints are generally attached to something else that leaves impressions on whatever it touches. That, of course, being a hand. While police found no fingerprint evidence, what they did find were several prominent palm prints with anatomically incorrect blanks where the fingerprints should be. This would end up being vitally important a few weeks later when Phillips was arrested. Shockingly, it seems that a person with no fingerprints sticks out like a non-fingerprinted sore thumb when it comes time to book people into jail. It's not like there are millions of fingerprintless people walking around out there. It was pretty much just Phillips. So his printless fingers were just as damning as a matching set of prints would have been.
Blaming the deformity on an "industrial accident" while pointing to his crotch was unsuccessful.
And, when police compared the crime scene palm prints to the palm of the almost-brilliant-but-not-quite Robert Phillips, they were a perfect match. Phillips was subsequently tried and convicted of several crimes, and the rest of the world's thieves decided to just keep wearing gloves.
That said, the screen of Phillips' iPad would be the cleanest in all the land if he were still around today.
If he was able to grip it.
Joe Hunt Leaves Behind a Murder "To Do" List
Joe Hunt was undoubtedly the most intelligent person on this list. He'd managed to pass the California exam for CPAs at the tender age of 19. Not only that, he'd started an investment firm called the Bombay Bicycle Club that was raking in money and making him a wealthy man, well before the age of 30. Who knew there was so much money to be made in bicycles? He'd also accumulated a group of followers who thought he was the messiah of money, and years later the whole venture would become the subject of a miniseries starring Judd Nelson.
We should point out here that all of that money he was making had actually been embezzled from the funds he was supposed to be using for investments. So there were clouds in his future, in the sense that someday he'd need to explain what happened to the cash. That's where a man named Ron Levin came in.
Levin had picked up on Hunt's bullshit investment scam right away. Being a con man himself, Levin knew a rookie when he saw one and decided to have a little fun with the punk. Levin had given Hunt an investment account with five million dollars in it for Hunt to invest and grow. After some initial difficulty, Hunt managed to get the balance up to around 15 million bucks, four of which were supposed to be for him.
You know, he casually made 10 million, like how we'd casually go into space or casually become Spider-Man.
To celebrate his newfound riches, he bought expensive cars and threw lavish parties he planned on covering when the payment came through. Except there was one minor detail Hunt didn't know about ... there wasn't actually any money. The whole account and all of the investments supposedly made with it were phony. Levin had been pulling a fast one on Hunt. Not to steal money or anything -- purely to make Hunt look like a fool, purely for the shits and giggles of it all.
Hunt didn't think it was funny, especially since he took Levin at his word, now looked like an idiot in front of his boys and was suddenly looking at a lot of bills that Levin's amusement could do nothing about. Hunt wanted his money and Levin's life. He made out a detailed written plan, which included planting letters and a contract in Levin's files talking about how the seven-figure check to Hunt was totally legit. Then he and the friend set about killing Levin's ass and disposing of his mortal remains.
"Now who's most likely to become a Q-tip, huh?"
It was beautiful; they'd never find his corpse, and on top of the money, Levin would learn not to mess with Hunt (at least he would have if he wasn't dead at the time). The disposal phase turned out to be a complete success; Levin's body was never found. Elsewhere, the plan appeared to be working, too; the police located the planted letters as expected. Hunt had pulled off the perfect crime ... but damn if there isn't always one more minor detail with that Ron Levin guy.
As planned, police located the letters indicating that the check written to Hunt was indeed legitimate. In fact, they were found not far from the fucking to-do list Hunt put together prior to committing his crime.
It all went a bit weird after "kill dog."
That's right: Hunt made a list of things to do in order to pull off the perfect murder, and then left that list of things to do right at the goddamn murder scene. We haven't seen the actual list, but we have a hard time believing that "leave this list for police to find" was anywhere on it.
For more criminal buffoonery, check out The 7 Most Baffling Criminal Defenses (That Sort of Worked) and 6 Baffling Mistakes Criminals Apparently Make All the Time.