We've written articles about crooks who failed in stupid ways and ones who were a little too successful for our comfort. But what about the ones who did both? As in, the ones who planned a spectacular crime, executed it flawlessly, got away with it ... and then messed up by simply not leaving well enough alone?
Here are five brilliant/stupid criminals who would probably still be free today if they'd simply cashed their (considerable) chips while they were ahead. We like to believe there's a lesson here for all of us.
Steve Snowden / iStock
Ren Xiaofeng was working as a vault manager at the Agricultural Bank of China when he came up with a get-rich scheme straight out of a Coen Brothers screenplay: steal 200,000 yuan (around $25,000) from the vault he was supposed to be managing, use it to buy lottery tickets, and then replace the stolen money with a fraction of the winnings. Now, this might sound like a great idea if you give it absolutely no thought, but it really, really wasn't. If your odds of winning the lottery are already infinitesimal in the U.S., in China they're the thing that comes after infinitesimal.
China's population buys hundreds of billions of lottery tickets every year. The advantage Ren gained by buying thousands was practically nonexistent. But it fucking worked! It's unclear exactly how much money Ren won, but it was enough that he happily returned the original 200,000 yuan to the vault and no one suspected a thing. Against all odds, he got away with it. He won the lottery of crime, and also won the actual lottery.
So of course he decided to do it again, except with way more money this time.
"I just can't stand the sight of an unbalanced pile of cash."
Ren and another vault manager, Ma Xiangjing, "borrowed" 32 million yuan ($4.3 million) from the bank and spent a whopping 31 million of it on lottery tickets. And that's when the laws of probability decided to start working normally again. That is, they didn't win shit. Panicking, they helped themselves to another 18 million yuan, but again, the only thing they accomplished was making some ticket vendors very happy. In total, they stole/spent the equivalent of $6.7 million and made back only $12,700. They pulled off one of the country's biggest bank thefts ever for the amount of money you might get from stealing a single used car.
Eventually, bank officials couldn't help but notice that the place was a lot draftier than usual, and the thieves were found out. Sadly, this story has a not-so-hilarious epilogue. Because this was China, instead of getting sent to a mandatory decade-long spa and being played by Leo DiCaprio in a film, the two white-collar criminals were executed.
When the body of Polish businessman Dariusz Janiszewski was found in a river in 2000, the cops had practically no clues to follow. Janiszewski wasn't suicidal, never pissed off any mobsters, and had no known enemies. In fact, he was the raddest, chillest dude anyone knew.
To answer your questions: Yes, he had a band, and yes, they probably covered "Free Bird."
The press called it "the perfect crime." Short of the murderer himself coming up and telling the whole world he did it, there was nothing anyone could do. Fortunately, that's exactly what the guy ended up doing when he published a novel about the murder.
Five years after Janiszewski was killed, investigators came across a 2003 book titled Amok, which describes (among other lovely things) the murder of a woman whose hands are bound behind her back and tied to a noose around her neck. Janiszewski was found with his hands bound behind his back and tied to a noose around his neck. Maybe the writer was inspired by news reports of the crime? Could be, if he hadn't also included details which the police never divulged -- like the fact that an object connected to the case (a knife in the novel and the victim's cellphone in real life) was sold on Poland's version of eBay a few days after the murder. The cops were able to track down the user who sold the phone, and it was one Krystian Bala ... the author of Amok.
"By the way, each copy of the book also comes with a complimentary sample of my DNA."
After questioning Bala's ex-wife, police learned that Bala had accused her of having an affair with Janiszewski and went into a jealous rage shortly before Janiszewski's death. And what do you know, in the book, protagonist "Chris B." repeatedly mentions having killed a guy out of jealousy. There's one glaring difference between the novel and the real thing, though: Chris B. got away with it, while Krys B. got a 25-year prison sentence.
"The judge is willing to shave off a couple years if you give him a shout-out in the addendum."
Bala says he's working on a sequel from behind bars. So if you're the guy's cellmate, don't turn your back on him.
We've talked before about Jonathan Tokeley-Parry, the Bizarro clone of Indiana Jones. He was the British smuggler who carried thousands of ancient artifacts out of Egypt by cleverly covering them in plastic to make them look like cheap trinkets.
"Why yes, I did meet my wife here in Egypt, officer. How did you guess?"
Not so clever: the way he was caught. Tokeley-Parry was an educated man (he has a degree in moral sciences from Cambridge, and one in ironic degree applications from Oxford) and had experience restoring antiquities. However, figuring out a good market price for the 5,000-year-old dildos you nabbed from a crypt can be tricky, even for someone as knowledgeable as him. So after stealing 27 older-than-Jesus papyri out of an Egyptian government storeroom, Tokeley-Parry decided he wanted to have them assessed and authenticated by someone else, thus increasing their value. And where better to do that than the British Museum?
"Literally anywhere else," it turns out. Especially since Professor Henry Smith, the man who first discovered the papyri back in 1966, happened to work at that museum and recognized them. It also didn't help that when the authorities were alerted and paid a visit to Tokeley-Parry's house, they found meticulous photographic and written records of all the ancient shit he'd gotten away with stealing. The guy had compulsively taken photos of himself posing with his loot, and he didn't even have the excuse of being a millennial.
We think he's recreating the end of Raiders Of The Lost Ark in this one, judging from his face.
Tokeley-Parry spent three years in prison for stealing and selling thousands of Egyptian relics, and then had the balls to write a book called Rescuing The Past: The Cultural Heritage Crusade. Sadly, he's not allowed to enjoy said heritage in Egypt anymore, unless he's willing to serve the 15 years of forced labor that await him there first.
In 2001 and 2002, the St. Louis area seemed to have an alarming epidemic of prostitutes turning up murdered. Police suspected there was a serial killer in the area, but didn't have the faintest clue who he was. In fact, one newspaper article speculated that whatever sick bastard was doing this could be responsible for the deaths of "up to nine women."
This didn't sit well with the murderer. You see, he'd actually killed 17 women -- and he wanted the world to know, dammit.
EgoAltere / pixabay
"I feel like I never got enough credit for that cat I strangled in the fifth grade, either."
The killer sent an anonymous letter to the writer of the article, reading: "Nice sob story. I'll tell you where many others are." That wasn't mere talk, since the letter also included directions to what he claimed was his undiscovered 17th victim. He was even helpful enough to provide a map of an isolated location near the town of West Alton and marked the spot with an "X." The police went there and confirmed that the letter was accurate. The guy was a murderous asshole, but he wasn't a lying murderous asshole.
The problem (for him) was that the killer printed out the map from Expedia, and Expedia is on the internet, and the internet never forgets. Now, if he'd killed someone in, say, the middle of Times Square, it would have been a little tricky for the cops to track down his IP, but luckily, this wasn't exactly a popular tourist hot spot. When the cops subpoenaed Expedia for a list of all IP addresses which had downloaded a map of that specific location, the number of matches they received was ... one. The address was registered to a man named Maury Troy Travis. That's right: He had a middle name, so the cops could rest assured that they'd found their guy.
"Uh, would you believe I was just booking an all-inclusive vacation to West Alton?"
When police searched Travis's home, they uncovered evidence which might be considered incriminating, such as blood spatters, a basement torture chamber, and friggin' videotape of him torturing and killing his victims. If Travis had simply pulled out some crayons and drawn that damn map himself, who knows how many more victims there would have been?
Scott Rothstein / iStock
Stella Nickell of Auburn, WA was broke and hated her husband, Bruce, so she decided to kill two birds with one stone by literally killing one man. Since Bruce suffered from headaches, Stella added some cyanide to his extra-strength Excedrin and waited for the inevitable. And her diabolical plot ... went pretty well. The coroner found no trace of poison in Bruce's system, and the cause of death was ruled to be emphysema (which is apparently code for "Eh, dunno"). No one suspected a thing, and Stella was set to collect $71,000 from the insurance company.
The Nickell Family
"Imagine how many more Roy Rogers shirts I can buy with that."
But there was one problem: $71,000 is less than $105,000, which is what Stella would get if Bruce's death was ruled accidental, and emphysema didn't qualify as that. Murder, however, did. So Stella did the most logical thing a person should do when they're trying to get away with a crime: cause a mass panic which made front-page news and attracted more attention to herself.
Taking a page from the notorious "Chicago Tylenol murders" case, Stella placed a couple bottles of her personal Excedrin formula on store shelves. Sure enough, a woman named Susan Snow purchased one of the bottles and was poisoned. When Snow's death made the news, Stella came forward and claimed her husband had also taken some Excedrin before his untimely death. Everyone assumed there was another mad serial poisoner on the loose, Excedrin products were pulled off the shelves, and Stella began planning her next home renovation.
J.smith / Wiki Commons
Reminder that it's because of shitheads like this lady that it takes you an extra 30 seconds to open a pill bottle today.
But here's the thing: It's a lot easier for a murder plot to fall apart once you cause a public scare and get the FBI involved in the investigation. It wasn't long before Stella's daughter from a previous marriage told authorities that her mother frequently talked shit about Bruce and had expressed a desire to murder him. Investigators also discovered that Stella checked out some library books about poisoning prior to Bruce's death (one of which was never returned), and her fingerprints were all over the pages about cyanide. This was essentially the 1986 equivalent of typing "how to poison your husband" into Google.
In the end, for flying too close to the Sun, Stella was charged with the two deaths and received a 90-year prison sentence (and presumably a hefty library fine for that overdue book).
This is why remakes are always inferior, kids.
Find Britni Patterson on Facebook, or Twitter as @BritniPatterson, or find her website at britnipatterson.com. If you enjoyed these true crime stories, check out Robin Warder's new true crime podcast, "The Trail Went Cold."
For more people who probably should've quit before they even started, check out The 6 Stupidest Things Done By Criminals In Front Of Cops and The 9 Most Hilarious Ways Criminals Were Caught.
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