When we hear about a nasty crime being committed, the most common reaction is saying, "Oh no, that's terrible!" and then going back to launching birds through the air on our iPhones. But, while most of us think that it's best to leave the crime fighting to those who are actually trained (and paid) for it, sometimes a normal citizen will decide to take the law into his or her own hands ... and end up doing a way better job than the cops.
We're not saying that you should spend your spare time confronting violent criminals -- it ends badly more often than not. We're just saying that it's awesome when it works.
In July 2011, two thieves broke into a house in Fitzgerald, Georgia, and stole all the furniture. The homeowner had died a few years earlier and her family only came around once a year, so the thieves could have probably taken the walls and ceiling, too, if they'd found a sack big enough. By the time the neighbors noticed that the door was open and called the cops, the criminals were long gone ... but they weren't counting on being tracked down, confronted and forced to confess their crime by this master detective:
"And then I kicked him until his head exploded."
That's 12-year-old Jessica Maple, whose late great-grandma owned the newly empty home. Maple asked her mother to take her to the crime scene and found something the authorities had missed: a broken window in the garage and multiple fingerprints. The cops were still trying to process this new information (or pretending to) when Maple managed to locate all the stolen furniture at a nearby pawnshop. At this point, she called the main detective involved in the case and told him, "I did your job again."
"Now you do my homework and tell me what happened on iCarly."
But that isn't the end of our story: The pawnshop owner, who apparently didn't think it was weird when two jackasses came into his store dragging an entire grandma-style living room, also happened to have the pictures and IDs of the two guys. Rather than giving that info to the inept police department, Maple and the single most permissive mom in history drove down to the address on one of the IDs and confronted the 17-year-old robber in front of his mother.
At first, the guy denied having anything to do with the burglary, but Maple kept questioning him until he finally broke down and confessed to the crime, and possibly 9/11 and the Zodiac killings. Eventually, the police got around to arresting him.
Office of the Fulton County District Attorney
Jessica Maple receiving the Please Stop It, You're Making Us Look Bad Award.
In 2006, Celia Blay, a retired teacher from Berkshire, England, came across an online message board for people who want to kill themselves, which is like the 872,982th most disturbing thing we've ever heard about on the Internet. She said she visited the forum out of curiosity, because she couldn't believe such a thing existed.
This is Wiltshire
"4chan? Oh, I love Charlie Chan movies! Bookmarked."
One day, Blay received an email from a 17-year-old Guatemalan girl she had befriended on the forum telling her that she had entered a suicide pact with a 20-something Chinese-American nurse called Li Dao. Blay began to investigate this person and quickly found that she had made dozens of suicide pacts on several forums around the Web, on different dates. Unless she was actually a Highlander, "Li Dao" was not only full of shit, but also a dangerous psychopath trying to scam strangers into killing themselves.
At this point Blay formulated a plan: She got another friend, Kat Lowe, to pose as a depressed person on one of those forums, and soon enough she was being sweet-talked by Li Dao, too. With Lowe's help, Blay proved that "Li Dao" was actually a 47-year-old family man from Minnesota named William Melchert-Dinkel, and being a nurse was the only thing he had in common with his made-up Internet persona.
OK, go wash your eyes before you continue reading.
Lowe and Blay collected all the evidence and testimonies they had of this man convincing vulnerable people to kill themselves online, sometimes even asking them to do it on webcam so he could watch while possibly sporting the world's creepiest boner. By his own admission, Melchert-Dinkel talked at least five people into committing suicide. At first the cops were like "Ew, no" and wanted nothing to do with the case, but after much insistence from Blay, they finally pressed charges against Melchert-Dinkel.
In May 2011, Melchert-Dinkel was convicted of aiding two suicides and sentenced to one year in jail, including spending two days in prison on the anniversary of each victim's death for the next 10 years. Yeah, he got off easy.
Back in 2000, a housewife from Mayfield, Kentucky, named Susan Galbreath learned about the brutal murder of 18-year-old Jessica Currin, mother of a young boy. After watching the local police completely botch the investigation, Galbreath, who never met the victim and had no experience whatsoever catching criminals, decided that she would solve the murder herself.
This was before Netflix or Hulu, so it was faster than ordering all of Murder, She Wrote on DVD.
Literally not knowing where to start, Galbreath began writing to celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and Julia Roberts. The only one who replied was British journalist Tom Mangold, from the BBC show Panorama. Galbreath basically told him, "You think you're hot shit, then come here and help me crack this case." Mangold hopped on a plane to America, and the first thing he did was (seriously) buy two cases of fancy wine to fuel him through the investigation.
Mangold, the manliest of all golds.
Mangold and Galbreath hit the streets and began talking to local drug users, hearing rumors that Currin had been kidnapped by a man named Quincy Cross. Mangold eventually had to go back to England, but kept in contact with Galbreath, who suddenly was being stalked by a certain Quincy Cross. As in, alleged brutal murderer Quincy Cross.
Rather than dropping everything and moving to another state, like most of us would have done, Galbreath actually arranged a meeting at the guy's house, supposedly to help him prove his innocence, and brought a recorder provided by the Kentucky state police. While Galbreath didn't get a confession out of Cross, he did talk about details that had not been revealed to the public about the murder.
That guy's prison has one hell of a barber.
But the authorities still didn't have enough to charge Cross, so for a long time it looked like he would get away with his crime. This changed when Galbreath used Myspace to locate a woman who had been present during Currin's murder and convinced her to confess. With the woman's testimony, five suspects, including Cross, were put behind bars, all because of one housewife, a British TV host and a declining social network.
When Leiby Kletzky, an 8-year-old boy, was kidnapped and murdered in an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in New York City in 2011, the police didn't have much to go on -- the kid had simply vanished. That didn't sit well with property manager Yaakov German. German is a father of 12, and to have that many kids, you must love children at least as much as you hate birth control.
So, he was simply going to do what most of us only experience via grossly unrealistic vigilante movies: find out what happened to the boy, and bring the bastard who did it to justice himself.
Yaakov German, in one of those rare moments in which he isn't fighting crime or conceiving new life.
While everyone else in the neighborhood was trying to figure out which way the kid went after school (he never showed up where his mother was waiting for him), German took a more David Caruso-like approach: He went to the school and asked to check the security camera footage to see what exact clothes Kletzky was wearing, how he was holding his knapsack, and so on.
With that information, German then knocked on the door of every store and home with a security camera in the area and simply asked to see the footage. He sat down and scrolled through hours of recordings, searching for the couple of seconds when the victim might have happened to have walked past. Little by little, clip by clip, German managed to trace the route the boy took that day. To show you that this was no piece of cake, check out how blurry the kid looked in some of the footage:
The end of the route led German to a car leasing company -- when he asked to check the security footage, he saw a video of a man taking the boy to his car. He now had the goddamned murderer right there in front of him.
The car's license plate wasn't visible, though, so they still had no idea who this creep was. But then they noticed that the footage also showed the guy going into a dentist's office across the street some minutes earlier. The cops, who figured that they might as well make themselves useful at some point, talked to the dentist and found out the identity of the kidnapper -- some guy from the neighborhood named Levi Aron.
New York Daily News
Nearly arrested several times before just on account of his face.
Thanks to German's legwork, the cops were able to track down the guy and arrest him, finding the victim's remains in the process. So while it was sadly too late to save Kletzky, we're going to go out on a limb and say that he wouldn't have been the last victim if not for German's amateur CSI skills.
Brad Willman was a young programmer from Canada who was working on a program that allows you to remotely access files from your computer, like for example if you're on your deathbed and you want to delete all your porn before you go. One day, Willman was in a chat room when some horrifyingly awful bastard offered to sell him a 6-year-old girl. At this point, Willman thought of a better use for his little program: messing with Internet perverts.
"They're basically walking, talking, masturbating targets."
Willman went on child-porn newsgroups and posted a Trojan horse that looked like a photo file, presumably named "hot_naked_babes_literally.jpg." Once the scumbags on the other end downloaded the program and opened it, it would pop up a random image from the same directory to throw them off, at the same time giving Willman access to their computers. Willman would then remotely look through their files or photos and anonymously contact child porn watchdog groups with the information.
By his own estimate, Willman's work sent 70 people to jail, but it came to an end when he hooked a particularly big fish: a Superior Court judge in Orange County, California. Willman discovered that Judge Ronald Kline didn't just have a massive collection of child porn on both his home and courthouse PCs, but also kept a written diary of his plans to seduce young boys.
Along with a huge stash of My Little Pony fan fiction, we're guessing.
After he was done puking from what he'd just read, two weeks later Willman passed this info on to the watchdogs, as usual ... but this time, the cops came knocking on his door.
Although they appreciated his efforts -- the judge would be disbarred and sentenced to prison and a lifetime as a registered sex offender -- what Willman was doing was still illegal as hell, and the police told him to cut that shit out or face arrest. Willman agreed and retired from crime fighting at the ripe old age of 19, at least until we come up with a law that says it's legal to spy on your computer if you're gross.
When she's not busting criminals, Tracy has a Tumblr here.
For more awesome acts of crime fighting, check out 6 Real Acts of Self Defense Too Awesome for an Action Movie and 6 Real-Life Vigilantes Crazier Than Batman.
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out 6 Pathetic Attempts by Corporations to Create a Superhero.
And stop by LinkSTORM to discover the best way to get over a holiday hangover.
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