By the way, this sort of thing works on the other side of the law, too ...
We like to think that we're pretty astute when it comes to figuring out if someone is wearing a costume. We know that Big Bird isn't a real bird and that Grimace isn't a real whatever it is that he's supposed to be. But then there are times when people have been fooled by the dumbest disguises imaginable, raising the question of whether any of us are ever actually paying attention.
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In the early '90s, agents of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service were on the verge of a major bust. The perp was Victor Bernal, the director of zoos and parks for a Mexican state. The Toluca zoo's gorilla had died, and Bernal was desperate to replace his star attraction, even if it meant turning to the illegal exotic animal trade and bribing customs officials to look the other way. Unfortunately for him, the underground Miami animal dealer he contacted was actually running a sting operation for the FWS.
But the agents still had a problem: In order to secure an arrest, they'd have to actually make the handover with Bernal. But not even the federal government can just grab a gorilla and take it to Mexico. The problem appeared intractable until the guy in charge thought "Screw it," went down to a local costume shop, and bought a gorilla suit.
"Closer. Try it without the boxing gloves, and maybe put on the lower half of the costume."
Wildlife officer Terry English was chosen to get into the suit, on the basis that "the agent was fairly proficient at ape-like sound effects." The cage was then wheeled down to the airport and loaded on board Bernal's plane. They even scattered a few lumps of actual gorilla dung around the cage, partly for verisimilitude but mostly in the hope that the stench would keep the Mexicans from looking too closely at their purchase. And it worked -- totally fooled by the store-bought disguise, the smugglers transferred 95 grand to the suppliers, who immediately revealed themselves as undercover agents and placed Bernal under arrest.
And that's when things got really hilarious. Now that the ruse was up, English had no more need of a sweaty, shit-encrusted gorilla costume, so he simply opened the door of the cage and walked toward Bernal, who reportedly lost his shit. Even after English had removed the mask, the prisoner still thought a real gorilla was actually coming to rip his head off and punt it onto the runway. In the end, Bernal wound up with a relatively light 70-day prison sentence, possibly because it was felt that he'd suffered enough.
"Great work, everyone. Now let's get Well-Endowed Tommy out here so we can nab the snake buyer."
By the way, this sort of thing works on the other side of the law, too ...
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When you're on the run, it's important to try to blend in. So when Maximilano Pereyra and Ariel Diaz escaped from prison in the rural farmlands of Argentina, the only way they could think of to fit in with the locals was to dress up as sheep. Why not? It's worked before in like 30 or 40 cartoons.
Strangely, getting out of the maximum security prison was apparently the easy part -- the hard part was evading capture in a vast expanse of empty fields surrounding it. So they reasonably decided to steal some sheep hides from a local ranch and spent days wandering around the countryside draped in the disguises, dead sheep heads lolling around ridiculously. We can only imagine how confusing it was for the actual sheep. Oh, and did we mention that this totally worked?
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"Psst. Hey. You. Come 'ere. I've got a weird freakin' tip for you."
For a while, anyway. Amazingly, the escapees moved through the flocks undetected for over a week, despite the authorities dispatching 300 officers to comb the area. The manhunt was unsuccessful until locals started making reports of bizarre sheep-men frolicking around among the livestock. When the criminals were finally captured, one officer remarked, "They can't pull the wool over our eyes forever," because apparently everything in Argentina is just light-hearted whimsy.
By the way, this was far from the first time that someone had escaped prison under the guise of local wildlife. In the 1800s, Australian prisoner George Hunt bounced out of Port Arthur prison wearing a kangaroo hide. Incredibly, his disguise worked a little too well. He was hopping around the Outback when he was spotted by peckish guards who didn't see a man so much as a particularly buoyant entree, because in 19th century Australia, when you got hungry, you just grabbed your rifle, stepped outside, and ate the first thing you saw.
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"Aim for the zipper! Wait, are those ... human balls?"
They started shooting at Hunt, who promptly pissed his pouch and surrendered, which, given the country he was in, probably didn't prevent anyone from eating him anyway.
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Back in the 17th century, the venerable West African kingdom of Kongo was engaged in a huge countrywide Game of Thrones re-enactment. The king, Pedro III, had come to power after murdering the previous ruler and burning the capital to the ground, probably while laughing hysterically. This understandably annoyed the dead king's brother Manuel de Nobrega, and a decade-long civil war between the two ensued.
But by 1680 things weren't looking up for de Nobrega. His forces had been defeated, and he was reduced to hiding out in the neighboring kingdom of Soyo. So that's when he decided to get creative. Through intermediaries, he got in touch with Pedro and offered to bury the hatchet. To seal the bargain, he even agreed to let Pedro marry into his family. The king, knowing a good deal when he saw it, quickly agreed and started making preparations for a wedding. Little did he know that his arranged "wife" was de Nobrega himself in a wedding dress.
The ensuing boners were barely containable.
Finally the big day came, and Pedro set out from his capital with his wedding party to meet his blushing new bride, confident that there was no way something unbelievably, fatally humiliating was about to happen to him. Arriving at the ceremony itself, he was perhaps a little concerned at how butch his wife-to-be appeared as she strode toward him. Still, he didn't say anything, because while he might have been a king-murdering, city-burning tyrant, that would just have been rude.
Amazingly, no one in Pedro's entourage noticed that the man they'd been fighting for over a decade was now wandering around in a dress. Or maybe they just thought the family resemblance was uncannily strong. Either way, as soon as de Nobrega got within range of his nemesis, he whipped a huge-ass flintlock pistol out from under his garter and blew Pedro away. He then managed to escape before any of the king's bodyguards worked out what the hell had just happened. History hasn't recorded how long it took before someone cracked a "speak now or let him hold his piece" pun, but we'd put our estimate at around 37 seconds.
"That's a weird-looking bouquet. Wait, what are you- Oh shit."
Brazilian drug trafficker Ronaldo Silva wasn't about to allow himself to rot in jail for his crimes, even if he had to make the least dignified escape in history. In what probably sounded like a much better idea at the time, Silva arranged for his wife to smuggle a set of women's clothes and a wig into the prison, and he would walk out with her, along with the rest of the visiting wives.
The perfect crime? Well, the prison guards apparently weren't much for discriminating, or perhaps the women of Brazil aren't as attractive as we've heard, because Silva wound up escaping looking like this:
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We've all been there, right, ladies?
Silva donned a bra and blue dress and even shaved his arms and legs and applied makeup for the getaway, and he still made it out looking less like a woman than Tim Curry. And we mean regular Tim Curry, not even the version from Rocky Horror.
Unfortunately for Silva, the only hitch in his plan was the decision to try walking out in high heels (at this point, our female readers are nodding in somber understanding). After forcing his meaty man-feet into dainty stilettos, he wound up hobbling out the gate like a preteen girl at her first middle-school formal. So right before he could make it to his getaway vehicle, the only sober prison guard thought he should take a closer look at the gorgeous woman who had just left the prison with a trail of broken hearts in her wake.
And that's why they now make the guards watch Big Momma's House as a daily requirement.
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In February of 1942, the Allied forces were having a spot of trouble with a German POW named Lieutenant Ulrich Steinhilper, who was being held in a camp in Canada. We say "being held" in the sense that he'd already escaped twice before, so at this point he was pretty much using it as a holiday retreat.
Under the circumstances, you'd think that they'd be keeping a pretty close eye on the guy, but he was already planning his next daring escape. He approached fellow prisoner Albert Waller with a scheme so harebrained, it's a wonder Waller didn't die of laughter (probably the preferred way to die, all things considered): They were going to steal some painters' uniforms, put them on, and just start painting shit.
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"Why do we have the feeling that those guys weren't professionals?"
Even with a forged work order, it was a pretty ballsy bluff. If some guys just showed up and started painting the prison gate, assuring you that you totally told them they could, you'd be a little suspicious, right? Especially if one of them happened to look quite a lot like one of your prisoners that you kept having to throw in solitary for repeated escape attempts, because Steinhilper and Waller didn't even bother disguising their faces.
With the other prisoners watching eagerly to see if their plan would work, Steinhilper and Waller began painting the fence along the perimeter of the camp. When the time was right, they slipped away into the Canadian wilderness, where they presumably had more wacky hijinks accompanied by a jaunty piano tune before they were detained in New York.
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"Hey, when we're done with booking, if you need the bushes trimmed at the station, I'm also a gardener."
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There are probably five people alive who don't know who PSY is, and they all live on a space station. But if you're one of the uninitiated, he's the chubby Korean pop star responsible for "Gangnam Style," the song that was stuck in your head through all of 2012. So guests at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival were understandably stoked when the face of the biggest Internet meme in history turned up to the party. The only problem was that PSY was in Singapore the entire time. The guy who showed up in France for the film festival was actually Korean business consultant Denis Carre.
After the picture, he consulted her business.
To make things more embarrassing for the celebrities he bumped shoulders with, Carre is neither a cunning master of disguise nor an eerie lookalike. He didn't even try -- the extent of his preparation for the role was being a chubby Asian and wearing eccentric sunglasses. In an uncomfortably racist turn of events, Fake PSY was never questioned as the guy that most of the world had seen dancing in a stable about 20 times each.
He was even allowed into the secret celebrity orphan-punching room, where he scored a perfect 129.
Eventually, a video of Carre obviously lip synching his most famous song got back to the actual PSY in Singapore, who tweeted that the PSY in France wasn't him, and the festival's organizers didn't have much to say beyond "We got duped."
So that put an end to the charade, right? Hell no! It was only a few days later when Carre showed up at the Monaco Grand Prix and pulled the same exact stunt again. The only person who saw through his disguise, randomly enough, was David Hasselhoff, evidently the only white person who can tell Koreans apart.
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Never, ever question David Hasselhoff's anti-racism powers.
You can read more from Amanda at Mannafesto or follow her on Twitter. Alex has no Internet presence whatsoever, but would like to thank Gash and Lao Wai for their joke-based consultancy and support. Sam can be found on Facebook, and especially Twitter.
For more stories of imitation, check out The 6 Most Impressive Cases of Identity Theft Ever Pulled Off and The 8 Creepiest Cases of Identity Theft of All Time.
Extra Credit: Wartime disguises can get pretty crazy, too. Ever hear about the time British sailors disguised their warships as cruise vessels (complete with sailors in drag) to hide from German U-boats? Read this article and you'll know the whole story. Follow up with some disguises courtesy of Mother Nature -- like the spider that disguises itself as bird shit. Finally, scale up your expectations of deception and read about massive secret operations hidden all around you.