We're living in a golden age of true crime TV, with shows like The Jinx, Making A Murderer, and The Great British Bake-Off. (That ginger science kid was robbed. Robbed!) But even with this glut of killer television, there are still some fascinating crimes that will never see air time. Not because they're too grisly, but because audiences wouldn't believe for a second that they actually happened. For example ...
Michael Thevis made his fortune the American way: via pornography. A child of penniless immigrants, Thevis pioneered the peepshow, those sticky coffins that played 15-second clips for a quarter. The machines were designed by Roger Underhill, a genius former phreaker and a buddy of Thevis. By the late '70s, the duo were both multi-millionaires, distributing 40 percent of the porn in America (roughly one of Ted Cruz's hard drives). The secret to their success? Innovation and hard work.
Also, they killed a lot of people.
Federal Bureau of Investigation
When a former employee made his own peepshow machines, Underhill built a massive car bomb and blew him to pieces. He then brought the guy's splintered bones back to Thevis, who joked about turning them into a paperweight. On another occasion, Thevis lured a rival to his warehouse, shot him in the head, then accidentally locked the corpse in his car with the keys in the dead man's pocket, prompting slapstick panic.
But you can't remain a rich porn warlord forever. When he was arrested for arson (his usual method for dealing with competitors), Thevis became paranoid that Underhill would rat him out. From prison, he sent numerous hitmen after Underhill, which turned out to be a mistake. Underhill survived the attempts on his life, but sending assassins after someone tends to hurt a friendship. He agreed to become an FBI informant, wore a wire, and took Thevis down.
Realizing he might not talk his way out of this rap (because he had just talked his way into it), Thevis used his massive wealth to buy enough favors to escape prison. This sparked an enormous manhunt, landing him on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list. Thevis was mere inches away from a new life, with a million dollars in jewelry and one of his mistresses on his lap. But then he found out Underhill had used the escape to sue Thevis for his fortune, figuring one of the most wanted men in America wouldn't show up for the court hearings.
Thevis turned the car right around and started hunting Underhill, who was days away from disappearing into witness protection himself. With the help of a dirty cop, he caught up with Underhill as he was trying to sell his house to a local grocer. Thevis murdered both men with a shotgun, then stuffed them into trash bags. But as the previous hitmen had learned, Underwood was too tough to just drop dead. Clinging on to life until his wife found him, he fingered Thevis for the murders with his dying breath. The porn king was arrested a few weeks later at a bank, and while he denied all wrongdoing, 1,000 boxes of evidence, 300 witnesses, and his best friend turning on him were pretty damning. He died in jail in 2013.
In 1883, James Reavis rolled into Arizona like he owned the place. Because he did. Reavis claimed he was the heir to the "Barony of Arizonac," an 11 million acre land grant issued by the Spanish crown to 17th-century conquistador Miguel Peralta. Reavis had married the last heir of the Peralta family, Carmelita, and had bought the deeds to the grant. Arizona, by right of law, was his, which is why to this day Arizona is the only state that is still technically part of the old Spanish Empire.
Even though this claim sounded ridiculous, the U.S. government couldn't risk an international incident by dismissing it without proof. But to everyone's shock, when investigators went to the royal archives in Guadalajara and Madrid, they found clear evidence of the grant existing. While the government was scrambling to get rid of him, good Baron Reavis wasted no time enforcing his newly minted birthright.
He declared some old ruins the Peralta castle, and built himself a fortress-like mansion nearby. He then started squeezing his subjects for money, sending thugs to collect rent from companies and homesteaders on his land, and gathering investors for his many building projects to make the Barony of Arizonac Great Again. Before long, Reavis had squeezed millions out of the locals. With his new wealth, he and Carmelita toured Europe, where they were honored by the Spanish court and even met Queen Victoria -- the endgame of every good old-timey scammer.
Let's state the obvious here: Reavis was lying. There was no barony. And no land grant. There wasn't even a Peralta family. For years, Reavis had been carefully forging documents and planting them in archives around the world. He had even pulled an Anastasia and convinced a poor orphan girl she was Baroness Carmelita Peralta, giving her "family heirlooms" that he had actually bought in antique stores.
But the fake fairy tale was not to last. The plan eventually fell apart when Reavis got too cocky and tried to sue the federal government for $6 million. His forgeries were exposed, including a botched attempt to create a birth record for Carmelita. The baron went to jail, Carmelita divorced his broke ass, and the denizens of Arizona got a great reminder of why they shook off European overlords in the first place.
Radovan Krejcir was a successful businessman in the Czech Republic. And like many successful Eastern European businessmen, he eventually had to flee to South Africa after trying to have a customs agent murdered. In 2007, South African authorities arrested him, but it turned out they liked bribes slightly more than justice, so they declined to extradite him.
That was unwise. After Krejcir posted bail, he quickly became a major crime boss in Johannesburg, ruthlessly destroying rivals like he was Walter White with extra consonants. Seemingly unstoppable, rival drug dealers had to get very creative in their assassination attempts.
One time, they modded a Volkswagen with remote-controlled shotguns that "popped out" from behind a fake rear license plate. (We weren't kidding with that Walter White comparison. Except the gadgets were aimed at him instead of devised by him, and, if possible, they were even more absurd.) But Krejcir escaped unharmed by ducking behind his own bulletproof Mercedes. Rumors that both cars then turned invisible and engaged in a high-speed chase across some ice fields are sadly untrue, because the shotgun car immediately caught fire for unclear reasons.
Eventually, the Johannesburg police realized they shouldn't have let a budding supervillain waltz free, and re-arrested him for murdering a rival (we're just going to assume with some kind of diamond-powered laser). Krejcir made at least five attempts to break out of prison, each crazier than the last. His final attempt involved hiring a team of ten guys to storm the prison with assault rifles. The plan was to wage "full-on war" with the guards, break Krejcir out, then distract the police by strategically murdering a bunch of innocent civilians while he skipped town.
That, uh, "ingenious" plan did not account for one thing: a single undercover cop. Everyone got arrested, but Krejcir did indeed manage to get out. Soon he'll be released from South African prison ... into a Czech prison. Guess they finally had enough of his antics.
Edwin Wilson was a CIA agent who specialized in setting up fake companies. In 1971, he quit his thankless government job and chose the glamorous life of an arms dealer, serving such, um, prestigious clientele as Muammar Gaddafi. Never big on checking up on ex-employees, the CIA basically ignored Wilson selling weapons to the enemy ... until he sold him theirs.
Wilson was Gaddafi's go-to guy for everything American. For a cool $1 million a year, he even recruited former Green Berets to teach Gaddafi's hitmen how to bomb people more productively. He also sold Gaddafi plans for a nuclear bomb. Of course, the plans were fake; otherwise you'd probably be too busy fighting off ghouls in a destroyed subway tunnel to read this.
But then Wilson flew too close to the sun. In 1977, he sold Libya 20 tons of C4 explosives. Specifically, the American government's 20 tons of C4. Which was, incidentally, all of America's C4.
Franco Origlia/Getty Images
The U.S. government finally managed to catch Wilson in 1982. While in jail, they also recorded him hiring a hitman to kill the prosecutor, all the witnesses, and his wife Barbara (he said he wanted his ring back, preferably with her finger attached). Once again, the "hitman" turned out to be an undercover FBI agent, which meant he showed Wilson a different finger than the one he wanted. Between the C4 and the assassination plot, it was obvious that Wilson would never see the outside of a solitary cell ever again. But in 2004, he walked out of prison a free man, with his arms dealing conviction thrown out. How was that possible? Here's the twist: He'd been a CIA agent the whole time.
When Wilson was arrested, he of course told the authorities he was still working for the CIA, but the agency swore up and down they'd had no contact with him for years. But in 2003, his lawyers finally unearthed documents proving the CIA was lying, and that Wilson had continued working for them even after officially leaving the agency. In fact, the agency had contacted him suspiciously close to many of the Libyan deals. The CIA admitted to the cover-up, but denied knowing anything about the arms shipments. The evidence of perjury was still enough to get the conviction overturned. As one expert put it: "They framed a guilty man."
As for all the assassinations he said he wanted done? He was just ... super pissed off, we guess?
William Hitchcock was a scion of the Mellons, one of the wealthiest families in American history. He had a trust fund worth $15k a week, a sweet legacy job at Lehman Bros., and all the recreational drugs 15 grand a week could buy (that is a lot of drugs). In the 1960s, the straightlaced Hitch discovered LSD and turned his ancestral mansion into a hippy hot spot, containing not one, not two, but three warring acid sects. He also became buds with Timothy Leary, the single greatest pioneer in the field of totally losing your shit.
In 1967, inspired by all the groovy vibes, Hitch decided to use his business skills to spread the gospel of LSD. He moved to California, where he became the money man for a religious organization called the "Brotherhood of Eternal Love," later dubbed "The Hippie Mafia." He hired two chemists and built a secret lab in Sausalito, which was soon pumping out half the LSD in America. And in case you thought this article needed more Breaking Bad references, the Hippie Mafia's trademark "Orange Sunshine" acid was distributed by a gang of Neo-Nazi Hell's Angels.
The profits were funneled into secret offshore accounts and dodgy European mutual funds to support Hitch's dream. That dream? To create a new sovereign country where drugs would be legal and the vibes were always chill. To that end, he tried to buy Clipperton, a tiny island in the Pacific whose only previous colony had been forgotten by the world and went all Lord of the Flies. Definitely a great place to drop acid.
A bit of the money was also used to pay the Weather Underground to break Timothy Leary out of prison, then smuggle him to the safety of a Black Panther base in Algeria. The Panthers later turned against him for promoting drug use (they had not read his Wikipedia page), and Leary had to escape to Switzerland, where an arms dealer abducted him in order to steal the film rights to his life. The '70s were wild, guys.
But before LSD Island could be made a reality, Hitch was arrested for tax fraud, and he ratted out the rest of the Brotherhood in return for a reduced sentence, destroying the entire enterprise. And that's why you never trust a Wall Street guy, hippies.
Back in the early '80s, Jacques Perrot had it all. He was one of the best-known lawyers in Paris, BFFs with Prime Minister Laurent Fabius, and had just married celebrity jockey Darie Boutboul. Her mother was another high-society lawyer, Elisabeth Cons-Boutboul, and her father was Robert Boutboul, who had sadly died in a plane crash when Darie was a child. Perrot eventually discovered that the family he'd married into had a dark secret. Or to be more specific, the entire family was one big dark secret.
Perrot wasn't the best husband, and had slightly more affairs than were deemed acceptable in France. Against the wishes of her mother, who had made her fortune working for various Catholic organizations, Darie filed for divorce. During the vicious custody battle over their three-year-old son, Perrot hired an investigator to dig up dirt on his wife. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, he became frightened for his life. He instructed his friends to insist on an autopsy if he died. Only days later, on his way to meet with his mother-in-law, Perrot was found shot to death. Two bullets in his head, one in his heart.
Didn't need an autopsy to figure out what happened there.
The murder gripped Parisian high society, but police couldn't find enough evidence to arrest anyone. Until 1989, when they found a known hitman floating in Le Havre harbor. And who did this killer have in his address book? None other than Madam Elisabeth Cons-Boutboul ... 's butcher. As it turns out, Cons-Boutboul had been using his phone for clandestine deals. The police finally figured out what had scared Perrot so much: everything about the Boutbols. Everything.
Elisabeth Cons-Boutboul, fabulous Parisian lawyer and card-carrying member of the bourgeoisie, was in truth a pathological liar. For starters, she wasn't even a lawyer, having been disbarred after conning missionaries out of millions. She was also involved in serious money-laundering, had faked five separate cancers, and had fabricated a dead brother as part of a convoluted scheme to avoid tax inspectors. Meanwhile, Darie's prestigious alma mater had no record of her attending, and the "wealthy American" who funded her racing turned out to be a cousin in disguise. But the biggest lie of all had to be Robert Boutboul, who wasn't actually dead. Because Elisabeth couldn't afford the optics of a very un-Catholic divorce, she bribed him to fake his own death, then had him moved into a house a few minutes away. You know, way more sensible than some crazy divorce.
Cons-Boutboul realized Perrot had discovered her web of lies and got rid of him. When the assassin then started running his mouth, she got rid of him too. But even when she was on trial with a mountain of evidence in front of her, the lies only kept coming. She blamed Perrot's death on the Vatican, Opus Dei, the P2 Masonic Lodge, and whoever had left banker Roberto Calvi hanging from a bridge in London. She also faked several heart attacks in front of the judge. She was sentenced to 15 years, but only served five. She was released from prison due to her severely poor health in 1999.
She turned 94 last June.
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