5 Ruthless Dictators Hiding in Plain Sight as Normal People
Countries change leadership all the time via wars, revolutions, and coups. If you happen to be the indisputable ruler of one of those countries when it happens, you're going to have a bad time -- typically, you can expect to be murdered, murdered, or forced into exile and then murdered. But every once in a while, if fate smiles on you, you just might escape punishment ... only to find that you have to try to adapt to being just some regular asshole again.
The President of South Vietnam Ran a Liquor Store
Nguyen Cao Ky began his career in the South Vietnamese air force, but got himself made prime minister of South Vietnam in 1965 after the last guy to hold the title came down with a bad case of assassination. Ky had a reputation as a suave, attractive playboy -- with his stylish purple scarf and porn star mustache, he'd been described as looking like "the saxophone player in a second-rate nightclub," and apparently he once tried to woo a woman by landing a helicopter in her yard, which, to be fair, is a pretty baller move.
Don't think he was just the harmless, happenin' swinger of the dictator scene. Ky once said Vietnam needed "five Hitlers to impose discipline." In a world where even the most brutal dictators try to avoid comparison to Hitler, here's a guy who wanted to be five Hitlers.
In the course of eliminating his rivals, Ky sparked an uprising of Buddhists that left about 300 dead. Man, you have to be a serious dick to piss off several hundred Buddhists.
As you no doubt learned in history class, Ky wasn't able to stop the Viet Cong from marching into his embattled country and kicking its ass, even with America's help. Just before the fall of Saigon, he gave one final speech to the people to inform them that anyone who fled Vietnam was a coward. The next day, he fled Vietnam. Climbing aboard his helicopter, he escaped to an American warship, while presumably shouting, "Do as I say, not as I do!"
Ky and his wife ended up in California, where his lifestyle took a bit of a downgrade. He went from "exotic scarf-wearing multi-Hitler" to "Orange County liquor store manager." That is not exactly a lateral move.
Yes, the former dictator of South Vietnam was working a cash register with a Muppet sitting on it. According to one local, "I don't know about him, but his wife is the best looking doll in the neighborhood."
Well, hell -- he's still got a hot spouse, and at least he's in charge. There are worse fates, right? Unfortunately for Ky, he was overthrown again -- this time in a brutal coup by the open market. His store eventually went bankrupt.
But at least he's got some great helicopter stories to tell in the welfare line.
The Last King of Yugoslavia Worked as a Banker
Growing up in the magnificent Royal Compound in Belgrade, Peter II of Yugoslavia became king at the age of 11, and he penciled in "be God-anointed leader of the Balkans" on every single page of his day planner for the rest of his life. Then World War II broke out, which caused every world leader on the European continent to do a bit of rescheduling.
Yugoslavia was offered the opportunity to join the Axis powers and partake in the glory of a fascist-run Europe, but Peter declined. In response, the scorned nations of Germany, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Italy postponed all their other plans and simultaneously led a massive smackdown on Yugoslavia, forcing Peter to shimmy down the drainpipe of his own palace and flee into exile, where he waited calmly for Yugoslav rebels to take back his country.
And so they did. Unfortunately for Peter, said Yugoslav rebels were communists who, upon liberating the country, immediately declared their own leader, Josip Tito, president and canceled the monarchy.
Suddenly finding himself in a Coming to America-style fish-out-of-water situation, the now broke King Peter bummed around Europe and America, facing such indignities as bouncing checks, presumably while demanding "Don't you know who I am!?"
Eventually, the surviving members of Yugoslavia's government-in-exile were forced to come to terms with the fact that they were just regular folks now. Peter's cousin, Prince Alexander, became a washing machine salesman, while Peter himself got a position at a local savings and loan out in California.
It's always a bit awkward when you ask your new boss to refer to you as "your majesty," but overall the new gig seemed to go pretty well. The king even managed to spin his deposed monarchy to plug his new job, which was probably a first in the hectic world of savings and loans. Sadly, he died of liver failure three years later (you'd probably drink, too). Prince Alexander apparently did all right in the washing machine gig, though -- we will eat our shoes if, at some point, he didn't declare himself "prince of savings" and warn the customers to hurry because "these prices will be exiled soon!"
A Former Sierra Leone President Lives With His Mom
In 1991, Sierra Leone was thrown into civil war. Despite the severity of the 12-year conflict, President Joseph Momoh wasn't terribly worried about such minor concerns as "equipping soldiers" or "paying soldiers." A disgruntled group of young soldiers led by 25-year-old junior officer Valentine Strasser eventually decided to march on the inaccurately named capital, Freetown, to demand their unpaid salaries. They raided the president's lodge and found Momoh hiding in the bathroom in his dressing gown. He promptly surrendered, leaving the perplexed officers standing around scratching their heads. And that's how Valentine Strasser became the world's youngest head of state.
Initially, Strasser was not a terrible dictator: People liked him, and his government cut inflation, waged war against the rebels, and got the national TV station back on the air just in time for sweeps. A ruler's gotta have priorities.
But power eventually goes to nearly everybody's head. Strasser soon took up residence in Kabasa Lodge, an imposing mansion built by a former corrupt dictator, where he held decadent parties. He began to crack down on dissidents, swiftly and brutally.
After his government executed two dozen alleged coup plotters, Strasser was overthrown by his second in command and forced to flee the country in 1996. Strasser left Africa and went to law school in England on a special scholarship arranged by the United Nations (the Bright Futures for Ex-Warlords Program?). After that didn't pan out, Strasser followed the path of most 20-something grad school dropouts. He moved back home with his parents and spent his days playing games and drinking cheap hooch.
Strasser returned to Sierra Leone and shacked up with his mother after angry soldiers burned down his house in 1999. In 2001, the government actually requested that people stop throwing stones at Strasser, who, without a car, wanders around Freetown by foot like a scrub. That's the best definition of pathetic we can think of: when even people who hate you find your plight so pitiful that they have to ask an entire country to stop throwing rocks at you if they see you on the street.
In 2002, an interviewer found Strasser in the midst of the ex-dictator's weekday morning routine: hanging out at a bar, playing checkers, joking around with friends, and drinking cheap booze. As of 2012, Strasser, still living with his mom, received a pension of about $45 a month, which is probably not enough to get her off his case about finding another dictator gig.
The Romanian Royal Family's Slow Descent into Petty Crime
When the Soviet Union swept through Europe, annexing every country around them like the drunken, bearded Borg, many royal families found themselves in exile, often penniless and lacking any applicable job skills outside of "eatin' feasts." Such was the fate of the Romanian royal family, who, within the space of a single generation, wound up descending into a life of crime. And not prestigious, Thomas Crown Affair high-society crime, but, like, "desperate crack addict in the apartment below you" crime.
The former King Michael I held it together the best: He found work as a commercial airline pilot and chicken farmer to make ends meet. Meanwhile, his half-brother Carol ended up selling decorative belts in a London market and once had his house searched on suspicion of hiding the escaped train robber Ronnie Biggs. Carol's ex-wife Jeanne was arrested in New Jersey in 1979 and charged with stealing a rented station wagon. Despite claiming to have a fortune in art and land, the princess was unable to pay the $7,500 bail.
The family's nadir came last year when the king's daughter, Princess Irina, was arrested in Oregon and charged with running a cockfighting ring along with her husband, a former deputy sheriff. Yes, cockfighting, famously never referred to as "the sport of kings." The authorities also reportedly found methamphetamines on the scene, which serves to complete the classy tableau of Princess Meth Cockfight.
A Bosnian War Criminal Went Undercover as a New Age Guru
Radovan Karadzic was the Bosnian Serb president of the Republic of Srpska, which sprung out of the breakup of Yugoslavia in 1992 and immediately underwent a serious, prolonged, and tragic vowel drought. A former psychiatrist, Karadzic later decided to enter politics. One thing led to another, and he eventually found himself ruling a country as what was essentially an evil version of Frasier Crane.
Once he came to power, Karadzic, who obtained the playful nickname the "Butcher of Bosnia," masterminded the genocide of thousands of non-Serbs, including 8,000 Muslims. We're not sure what they're teaching in psychiatry school these days, but we're pretty sure he skipped Conflict Resolution 101.
When the United Nations served a warrant for his arrest on charges of genocide, Karadzic went into hiding in the Serbian capital of Belgrade. It was there that he came up with a plan too crazy not to work. He grew out his beard, changed his name to Dragan Dabic, and embarked on a promising career as a New Age alternative health guru.
Dragan donned a hat, a beard, and substitute-teacher caliber eyeglasses, then began preaching techniques such as sperm rejuvenation therapy, energy flow balancing, and radiesthesia. All of which he almost certainly made up on the spot in a panic. He was also renowned for his ability to read "energy grids" using something he called a Multi-Zap Zapper. Dragan was not the best under pressure.
Karadzic was so good at using fake sorcery to steal from the sick that he became a minor celebrity in Belgrade. He lectured to packed halls and had a column in a Serbian magazine. He nabbed a lucrative deal with a Connecticut vitamin company, firmly cementing his reputation as a remorseless monster. He even teamed up with a prominent sexologist to develop his sperm rejuvenation program. And all this time, while utilizing the old Clark Kent "different hair and glasses" disguise, practically no one noticed he was also the former president and infamous genocidal war criminal.
But eventually some keen-eyed super-sleuth noticed that Dragan Dabic and Radovan Karadzic were never in the same room together, and also looked and sounded completely identical. He was arrested and taken to The Hague for trial, leaving thousands of men to live with the realization that a genocidal dictator had rejuvenated their sperm.
Related Reading: Going into hiding is clearly linked with insanity. For instance, some people will fake their own deaths to get out of breaking up with someone. Or worse, they'll fake their child's death to vacation longer.
There's almost certainly a dictator hiding near someone you love. Click the Facebook 'share' button below and warn them.