7 True Crimes Solved By Twists Too Ridiculous For Network TV
A lot has been written (much of it on this very website) about dumbass criminals getting caught by just being incredibly stupid -- we sleep better at night when we think that every wrongdoer out there is a bumbling goofball carrying big sacks with dollar signs on them. Unfortunately, there are plenty of lawbreakers out there who execute their crimes so flawlessly that the authorities would have to be actual goddamn geniuses to solve them.
Well, this article is about those cases. Here are seven crimes that were only foiled by investigators upping their game to near-Sherlock status:
Child Molester Is Identified By Pulling His Fingerprint ... From A Zoomed-In Digital Photo
The silliest technology trope in modern cop shows is the bit where they find a fuzzy security camera photo and shout, "Zoom! Enhance!" until they find the killer's reflection in one of the victim's contact lenses. But real cops do zoom and enhance their way to solving crime every now and then ... and in at least one case, the method was weirder than anything you've seen on TV.
In 2012, Danish police officers arrested a sex offender and found child pornography in his computer. But catching the guy looking at the pictures is only half the battle in situations like this -- they needed to find the asshole who took the photos. No doubt fighting every instinct to just set the hard drive on fire and drink the memory away, the officers examined the images and found a detail that could help catch one of the photographers: a pill bottle with a tiny, blurry name.
The Danish shared this evidence with Homeland Security's Cyber Crimes Center, where special agents used classified technology to undo the blur on the bottle -- to the point that they were able to pull off part of a surname, the name of the medication, and the first two characters of a prescription number. Detectives then used that information to find the owner of the bottle, a human-shaped mound of shit called Stephen Keating.
However, this didn't necessarily prove Keating did anything. Maybe he lent the bottle to a friend, or the real child pornographer had stolen the pills from Keating as part of his mission to just commit every possible type of crime. Luckily, the feds had another impossibly high-tech trick up their sleeves.
One of the photos showed a man's hand, and by putting it through special filters, they managed to get a fingerprint impression. We'll repeat that part: they got his fingerprints off of a digital photograph. If you saw that on CSI, you'd call bullshit and switch to a more realistic crime-fighting show, like The Flash.
The resulting fingerprint was accurate, and perfectly matched Keating. They nailed him so hard, he ended up being sentenced to 110 years in a federal prison. On the upside, by the time he comes out, maybe the way they caught him won't sound so unbelievable.
A Killer's Perfect Alibi Is Foiled By The Bugs On His Car
Vincent Brothers was a bad man. Not Shaft bad, but "commit mass murder on your own family and then smugly lie about it in court" bad. In July of 2003, the elementary school vice principal flew from California to Ohio to supposedly visit his brother, but in reality, the trip was his planned alibi. Once he landed in Columbus, he rented a car, drove back to Bakersfield, CA, and waited for his wife to come home with his three children and his mother-in-law. He then shot and/or stabbed all of them to death, including his six-week-old son. Once he finished staging a break-in at the house, he drove the rental car back to Ohio and enjoyed the rest of his trip like nothing happened.
Brothers was immediately suspected once the bodies were found, but authorities couldn't arrest him thanks to that pesky alibi of his. The flight and car rental records seemed to confirm he was in Ohio at the time of the murders, and knives that long haven't been invented yet. Sure, the car's odometer showed that Brothers could have made a round trip to the West, but there was no evidence of that. Maybe he just liked driving in circles for fun.
But then, Brothers met his nemesis:
What happens when you drive down the freeway for a long time? Your windshield picks up all sorts of gross insects. So do other parts of your car, whether you notice it or not. So, investigators asked entomologist Lynn Kimsey to inspect Brothers' rental car -- where she discovered a paper wasp, two species of true bugs, and the leg of a type of grasshopper, all of which are specific to the Western United States. (Translation: Not Ohio.)
On top of that, the lack of any butterflies and the presence of moths strongly suggested that Brothers had driven at night from Columbus to Bakersfield and back again. Kimsey's testimony helped seal the deal for Brothers, who was convicted of mass murder and currently sits on death row. Moral of the story: Always wash your rental car, you goddamn animals.
Robbers Intimidate Store Clerk With Photo Of Her Home, Cops Use It To Track Down Where They Printed It
When Ben Affleck directed and starred in the crime thriller The Town, he wasn't trying to make a "how to" video on robberies -- but damn if that didn't stop people from using it as one anyway.
Imagine this, but with uglier people.
In the movie, Affleck and Jeremy Renner dress up as cops to infiltrate a bank, then secure the workers' cooperation by telling them their home addresses to threaten their families. Three criminals from New York thought Affleck was onto something there and tried the same thing with a check-cashing business -- they dressed up as cops and, in a detail Hollywood wishes they'd thought of, handed the clerk a photo of her own home to prove they weren't fucking around.
Also inspired by the movie, the robbers dropped bleach on their way out to destroy any DNA evidence and spent thousands of dollars on creepily realistic rubber masks (of regular white people instead of nuns, sadly). The investment paid off: They walked away with $200,000 in cash, and none of their victims had the slightest clue what they even looked like. They pulled off the perfect crime! Chalk one up for the movies! Thanks, Bat-Fleck!
Well, we should say almost perfect crime. They made one tiny mistake: One of them dropped the photo of the teller's house and left it on the floor.
Police officers (real ones this time) found the photo and noticed it had a code printed on the back. While most of us wouldn't know what the hell to do with that, NYPD detectives were able to use the code to track down the local Walgreen's where it was printed.
There, they got the surname of the person who ordered it: Byam. Meanwhile, the cops had subpoenaed the records of high-end mask companies, and one happened to have a recent customer named "Edward Byam." A peek into Byam's phone records revealed that he sure seemed to call his two BFFs a lot -- especially around the day of the robbery. And what do you know, one of those friends had the balls to wear a shirt depicting a scene from a certain Ben Affleck movie:
Byam and his two accomplices were arrested and sentenced to 32 years behind bars. Considering The Town ends with Ben Affleck's entire gang dead, we'd say that's a pretty good outcome for them.
Murderer Scratches Tree With His Truck, Detectives Use The Tree's DNA To Convict Him
In 1992, the body of single mother Denise Johnson was found strangled in a remote area of Arizona. We've all seen crime shows, so we know what investigators look for in these cases, but none of that was present this time: No semen, saliva, or foreign hair was found on her body, or anywhere around it. Whoever did this may have been a degenerate killer, but he was also a lot tidier than all of our college roommates.
The one clue the cops found at the murder scene? A beeper.
The owner of the beeper, truck driver Mark Bogan, said he picked up Denise Johnson hitchhiking and they had consensual truck sex. While basking in the glow of the act of pure love they'd just shared, Bogan claims, Johnson tried to snatch his wallet and beeper and managed to run away with the latter. While the story sounded sketchy for various reasons (foremost among them being Bogan's unfuckable face), the cops had nothing to disprove it. They couldn't place Bogan, or anyone else except Johnson, at the murder scene.
What they could place was a shitload of trees. While going over the scene, the case's detective looked at one of those trees and noticed a scrape on a branch. Just a small scrape, nothing special:
The detective took a photo of the scrape and some beans from the tree, because worst case scenario, hey, free beans. As it turned out, the same type of beans had been found in the bed of Bogan's truck ... which didn't mean shit, unfortunately. There's trees like that all over Arizona. To prove that Bogan's truck brushed against that exact tree, the cops would need, like, a molecular geneticist who specialized in plants or something. So, they got exactly that.
At the detective's request, Dr. Timothy Helentjaris from the University Of Arizona created a whole genetic database of the trees in the area, something that had never been done before. Using that information, they proved that the DNA of the seed pods in Bogan's truck was a perfect match for the DNA of the scraped tree, which was enough to get Bogan thrown in jail for all eternity. Ironically, Bogan's "seed" couldn't convict him, but an actual seed could.
Kidnapping Victim Finds His Captors By Recalling Every Single Detail He Heard While Blindfolded
Besides being the owner of the most amazing nickname of the 1930s, George "Machine Gun Kelly" Barnes was an infamous gangster who would do anything to make a buck. That "anything" included kidnapping one of Oklahoma's wealthiest men, Charles F. Urschel, for a $200,000 ransom.
Kelly's gang, consummate professionals that they were, took every precaution to make sure they wouldn't get caught. They kept Urschel blindfolded at all times, and even filled his ears with cotton and put tape over them at certain points. Then, they forced his family to go through an elaborate series of steps to deliver the money, including placing a fake ad for a farm in a newspaper, sitting on the back of a train to Kansas City taken at 10:10 pm, and checking into a hotel as "E. E. Kincaid of Little Rock, Arkansas." Urschel's family was probably expecting a simple ransom note, not a freaking RPG strategy guide.
Everything went without a hitch. The ransom was paid, and once the gangsters verified that the money was legit, they dropped Urschel off outside a nearby city. Kelly and his wife/accomplice then left the state and dyed their hair ... which, honestly, seems like overkill at this point.
What ol' Machine Gun didn't know was that the middle initial in Charles F. Urschel's name apparently stood for "FUCK ANYONE WHO TRIES TO KIDNAP ME." Despite being rendered blind, half-deaf, and sleep-deprived, Urschel kept track of details like how many oil fields they drove past (he recognized the smell of gas and the sound of the pumps), the exact times when planes flew overhead, and even how many steps they made him take. He also provided approximate time between these landmarks, which enabled FBI agents to estimate the distance between them and painstakingly cross-reference Urschel's recollections with maps of the nearby areas.
Thanks to Urschel's Rain Man-esque attention to detail, the feds were able to pinpoint the kidnappers' hideout and raid the hell out of it. Kelly himself was arrested in Memphis after a manhunt. He was sentenced to life imprisonment, and to having his identity usurped by an awful rapper decades later, because justice can sometimes be a little too vindictive.
A 40-Year-Old Fingerprint Exposes A Beloved Archbishop As A Nazi War Criminal
Valerian Trifa was the Archbishop of the Romanian Orthodox Church in the United States, a much beloved father figure, a respected gentleman, and an all-around great role model. Oh, except for that whole pesky thing about being in the Iron Guard in World War II and inciting riots that killed scores of Jewish people in Romania.
Trifa had lied about his past to gain U.S. citizenship and had lived his double-life for over 40 years. Once charges started swirling around him about what a steaming pile of shit he had been, he vehemently denied them, and his followers believed him. It was his word against ... well, most of his alleged victims were dead, so not many people's, actually. The West German government provided postcards that Trifa had allegedly written to prominent Nazi chums (including Heinrich Himmler) in 1942, but a shocked and appalled Trifa insisted that he'd never written them. Come on, would an Archbishop lie?
Yes, he absolutely would lie his Nazi-loving balls off -- and they proved it with motherfucking lasers. While the handwriting in the postcards was being analyzed, FBI investigators noticed one with a big blank space in it:
Wondering if there could be a decades-old fingerprint in that space, the FBI asked West Germany if they could dust it ... which was met with a resounding "nein." The Germans didn't want the postcard to be damaged, since making sure that evidence of Nazi atrocities exists forever is kind of their thing. However, the FBI came up with a way to look for fingerprints without touching the postcard: by exposing it to a laser that, when in contact with human oils, makes them visible to the naked eye. The result was a big, fat, 40-year-old thumbprint that perfectly matched Archbishop Trifa's.
Soon thereafter, Trifa gave up his U.S. citizenship and agreed to be deported to spare his congregation from "the financial burden" of his trial. Wow. If the Nazis had a saint, it would be this guy.
Italian Police Follow An Incredibly Complex Chain Of DNA Samples To Solve A Murder
Yara Gambirasio was a 13-year-old gymnastics enthusiast who went missing in Italy in November of 2010. Her body was discovered three months later in a field. Someone in Italy had done this, and the authorities were going to find that someone even if they had to test every goddamn person in the country. That is not hyperbole.
DNA had been collected off of the girl's body, and when no matches were found in the existing database, authorities simply expanded that database -- they took close to 22,000 voluntary DNA swabs from people living in the area.
Eventually, they got a partial hit: Damiano Guerinoni was not an exact match, but testing indicated that someone in his family might be. Unfortunately, that family was larger than some entire towns: his father had 11 brothers and sisters. The investigators kept looking, until they finally got a closer match from Damiano's uncle, bus driver Giuseppe Guerinoni. Case closed, right? Not really, since Guiseppe had died 11 years earlier (they got the sample from a postage stamp). His children were tested and cleared, and he had no other offspring that his wife knew of.
Note that we said "knew of."
Apparently, our driver friend had a rather "active" social life outside the bounds of his marriage, and had a secret son somewhere along the way. Authorities were now looking for a bastard, both figuratively and literally. After putting together an exhaustive list of 532 living women who "Casanova" Guerinoni had or could have slept with, they tested all of them, twice, and found a match with 67-year-old Ester Arzuffi. It turned out that her oldest two children, twins, had been fathered by ol' Giuseppe. The female twin was quickly ruled out, which left Ester's son: 43-year-old Massimo Giuseppe Bossetti.
Police quickly got a DNA sample from Massimo under the guise of a breathalyzer test -- it was a match to the DNA found at the crime scene. He was sentenced to life in prison and, we can only hope, to being punched in the nuts by every single one of the 22,000 people he inconvenienced.
Think Nana and Pop-Pop's loving 60-year monogamous relationship is quaint and old-fashioned? First off, sorry for that disturbing image, but we've got some news for you: the monogamous sexual relationship is actually brand new relative to how long humans have been around. Secondly, it's about to get worse from here: monkey sex. On this month's live podcast, Jack O'Brien and the Cracked staff welcome Dr. Christopher Ryan, podcaster and author of 'Sex at Dawn', onto the show for a lively Valentine's Day discussion about love, sex, why our genitals are where they are, and why we're more like chimps and bonobos than you think. Tickets go on sale soon!
For more crimes Sherlock probably couldn't solve, check out 8 Unsolved Crimes That Were Clearly Committed By Satan and 5 Creepy Crimes That Raise Endless Unanswered Questions.
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