7 Wanted Criminals Who Made Mocking Police Into an Art Form
Despite what the media would have you believe, most of us do in fact know that Grand Theft Auto is just make-believe. You don't commit outlandish crimes in plain view and then brazenly escape the cops. In the real world, crooks get caught unless they hole up somewhere and disappear.
Well, most of the time. Here are some guys whose stories would have gotten cut from a GTA campaign for being too over-the-top.
Crazy "Lazie" Lynch Escapes Jail, Publicly Mocks Police
When Craig "Lazie" Lynch escaped from custody in Suffolk, England, after being arrested for burglary, one of the first things he did after getting to a place with Internet access was log on to Facebook. He then figured, "Hey, I may as well screw with my former jailers while I'm at it."
Unfortunately all his shirts were recaptured by police.
So he began posting pictures of himself with middle fingers raised to the cops. When he made it to Christmas without being caught, he posted: "Yes! Yes! I fuckin made it to Xmas. I beat their fuckin system and I love it!"
But he didn't stop there. He continued posting Facebook taunts to the police. For months.
Including this picture, accompanied by the heavily London-accented words, "If any of you was doubtin my freedom. Here's proof. How the FUCK could i get my hands on a bird like this in jail. Ha ha."
You're gonna get garland all over your freedom bird, dude.
And this picture:
We're not sure "pull my finger" jokes really translate to Facebook.
And this picture:
Lost kittens, yard sales, dangerous wanted men ... the poster board sign knows how to get the job done.
This went on for more than four months, interspersed with several interviews with news stations that Lazie Lynch conducted by phone for the hell of it. By the time authorities eventually caught up to and nabbed Lynch, he had nearly 40,000 Facebook friends, a YouTube song in his honor, and T-shirts bearing his image, so it was obviously worth it, because that's seriously a lot of Facebook friends.
Train Robber Hides Out by Throwing Barbecues, Recording Songs
The Great Train Robbery is one of those events that all of us have heard of but few of us can recount in any detail. It went down in 1963 when 15 robbers boarded a Royal Mail train between Glasgow and London and made off with today's equivalent of $70 million. Some of them were eventually arrested, one of them escaped from prison and was later caught, and a couple of them were never captured at all. And then there was Ronnie Biggs.
Now that's a wanted poster that deserves a frame.
Biggs was first arrested a year after the robbery when 9 of the 15 robbers were swept up in a raid. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison, but could only be contained for 15 months before he broke out by scaling a wall with a rope ladder, thus setting off a 36-year life on the lam. And by lam we mean a multi-continent party. He first moved to Australia because, you know, no one had ever done the U.K.-to-Australia route, and who would expect such a thing? Biggs' idea of keeping a low profile involved getting a day job at Melbourne's Channel 9 news, which was convenient, because he was able to get the heads up in October of 1969 when Channel 9 ran with the headline, "Ronnie Biggs Reported to Be Hiding in Melbourne."
"Could you rewind the teleprompter? I'm pretty sure it just said 'Get your shit and leave tonight.'"
Biggs then fled to Brazil, where he took audacity to whole new levels, doing things such as boarding a British Royal Navy ship to attend a cocktail party and hosting fundraising "fugitive barbecues" at his home in Rio, where he entertained paying tourists by regaling them with tales of his role in the Great Train Robbery. In 1980, Biggs recorded two songs for The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle, a mockumentary about the Sex Pistols.
It takes a lot to make Sid Vicious' life choices seem sensible by comparison.
This kicked off Biggs' fugitive musical career, which included vocals on the song "Police on My Back" (which they were) with the German punk band Die Toten Hosen in 1991, three more songs for an Argentine punk band in 1993, and finally a 1997 collaboration with an American bass player on "Mailbag Blues," a musical narrative of Biggs' life (we're assuming the title song referred to the stolen mailbag full of $70 million).
If you're thinking that all of this was embarrassing for U.K. authorities, you are correct. In 1981, a team of British ex-soldiers kidnapped Biggs in Rio and attempted to haul him back to the U.K. on a ship but failed when the ship broke down off the coast of Barbados, drawing the attention of the coast guard. The Barbadian authorities weren't very sympathetic to the whole "We're just trying to bring a British fugitive to justice" cause (they saw it more as kidnapping), so Biggs was set free to return to Rio. The leader of the botched kidnapping operation would later hint that they'd been working under the direction of MI6, which actually sounds about right.
In 2001, Biggs was finally arrested in just about the only way he was likely ever going to be captured: by returning to the U.K. and surrendering, at the age of 69. He served a third of his 30-year prison sentence but was released early on compassionate grounds, despite being "wholly unrepentant."
"Robbed a train, got kidnapped, and became a punk icon. Time to throw a rude gesture and call this a life complete."
Jean Claude Lacote Evades Police by Openly Becoming a TV Producer
Jean Claude Lacote was charged with hustling $10 million from unwary Belgian citizens by way of an investment scheme. In addition to scamming investors, he most likely murdered one of them (a British man) in 1996 on top of it, but was released on bail without being charged for the murder due to lack of evidence. But Lacote knew that absence of evidence was not evidence of absence, so he quickly absented his ass from Belgium and fled to South Africa in 1999.
We're assuming that's where he got that kickass vest.
In Johannesburg, Lacote's idea of keeping a low profile involved producing a local reality TV show (a true crime series; truly, you can't make this stuff up) titled When Duty Calls.
It's a half-hour thrill ride of stock crime photography!
He did his hiding out in a mansion with his wife and a fleet of Ferraris, because the first thing you want to do when you're hiding out from the planet is put your name in the credits of a popular reality TV show and party it up in a high profile setup. Eventually, back in Belgium, the evidence that Lacote likely knew was out there turned up: In 2006, Belgian police found themselves with a solid case for Lacote as the murderer of the British investor, and Johannesburg police decided it was time to move in because, you know, harboring a fraudster is one thing, but a murderer is another.
After being arrested by South African authorities for having balls (as in parties, although it works the other way as well) in violation of several of Johannesburg's city ordinances, Lacote escaped from custody by arranging for two of his friends to show up at the jail wearing fake police uniforms and bearing counterfeit warrants to spring him from custody.
Is it still valid if the warrant is printed on the back of a Muffler King flyer?
Lacote is still on the run to this day and is one of Forbes' "World's 10 Most Wanted Fugitives," right up there with El Chapo Guzman. We're sure he's bound to stick his neck out again soon, probably producing a show called Getting Away With Murder.
Embezzler Steals Big, Spends His Loot Buying Up the Country He Flees To
Kobi Alexander is the former CEO of Comverse Technology, a telecommunications company he started back in 1982 and which is still doing quite well for itself today. Back in 2006, the Department of Justice decided to let Alexander know that they were on to the fact that Comverse was always doing a little too well for its CEO, as it turned out that Alexander had been swindling investors out of tens of millions of dollars for years, to the eventual tune of $138 million. Charges were filed, and Alexander, instead of sticking around to do his white collar crime time, decided to take off, family in tow.
Presumably to one of the half dozen places left where he could still smoke indoors.
Edward Snowden has taught us that, when skipping the country to flee the authorities, it's very important to choose the right nation. Alexander picked Namibia, an African country best known for its lush, sprawling deserts. Why Namibia, you ask? In short, its lack of an extradition treaty with the U.S., and its susceptibility to being bought off. And buy off Namibia he did.
Alexander got the ball rolling right away by purchasing a mansion in Namibia for $500,000 U.S., which is worth a cool 5 million in Namibian bucks. This was to let Namibia know that he planned to stay a while. He then went straight to Namibian government leaders to tell them that he would be establishing an annual educational scholarship for Namibian grade school students, as well as commencing construction on a solar-powered housing project for 100 low-income Namibian families.
Alexander had the Namibian government at "Hello."
Seeing as how the U.S. will likely never manage to get Namibia to turn over Alexander, he has settled in and made himself quite comfortable, putting on several displays of incredible audacity, such as suing the company he founded (and robbed) for $72 million, claiming the company still owes him severance, bonuses, and back pay.
Then, just a few months later, Alexander flew 200 guests in from New York and Israel to attend the bar mitzvah of his son. The nation of Namibia had a rather meager Jewish population until the day of the bar mitzvah, when Alexander instantly tripled it with his Jewish guests, who partook of a four-day celebration that included a popular Israeli hip-hop artist and a Namibian pop star. What we're saying is that being a fugitive is slightly different for rich people.
Kevin Poulsen, Hacker to the Stars
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.
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.
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.
John Joe Gray Goes on the Run and Then Stands Off ... Indefinitely
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.
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: Thief, Internet Hero
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.
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.