A Fugitive American Drug Lord Built A New Life As An Australian Legend
For 40 years, Dennis Lafferty ran a beloved ecotourism company in the Daintree Rainforest, the most crocodile-infested part of the most crocodile-infested region of Australia. The company was a major local employer, and Lafferty a local legend, the kind of man "who can make a fire out of nothing in a rainstorm." He spent his time fighting to preserve the local rainforest and personally saved hundreds of fruit bats from barbed wire. So when Lafferty tragically crashed into a tree in 2015, the community was surprised that a man a tough as him could even die. They were extra surprised when they found out that this was the second time he had died.
He was in truth Raymond Stansel, the onetime king of Florida marijuana smugglers. By 1973, his drug empire had run aground, and Stansel was caught by the feds. But right as he was about to stand trial in Miami, his lawyer announced his client had died in a "mysterious scuba accident." This may seem suspicious to you, but it's actually the third most common cause of death in Florida, behind "meth lab explosion" and "lost a fight against a reptile."
Not everybody bought it, but even an international manhunt failed to track the man down. That is, until weeks after Stansel's second and final death in Daintree, when his widow told The Tampa Bay Times the whole story, and the paper informed the police -- or at least, the very few investigators who were still alive themselves.
Related: 4 True Crime Stories Starring Famous Historical Figures
A Disgraced Roller Coaster Tycoon Tried To Smuggle Drugs In His Rides
Norbert Witte built a small them park empire off the back of his prized Catapult, "the world's fastest roller coaster." But like any good roller coaster, things quickly went downhill. In 1981, Witte personally caused Germany's worst carnival tragedy when the repair crane he was operating collided with an attraction, injuring 15 and killing seven. In true carny fashion, Witte wasn't going to let a few destroyed lives get in the way of doing his job.
After the Berlin Wall fell, Witte bought the former East Berlin's biggest state-run amusement park ... and then ran it into the ground. By 2001, Spreepark had ruined the Witte dynasty, and almost $20 million in debt, he had to abandon his rusting dream. It still stands today, serving as both a testament to his failings and Berlin's premier creepy goth makeout spot.
Abigor/Wikimedia CommonsWhat kind of squares could possibly want to go to Disneyland when getting devoured by nightmare wolves was a option?
Now, a guy haunted by a circus bloodbath with an abandoned communist amusement park is clearly a prime candidate for a Scooby-Doo villain, but Witte's criminal career went much darker than that. After losing Spreepark, Witte packed up his coasters and moved to Peru, hoping to open Lima's biggest theme park. But with no proper plan, cash, or coasters (customs was keeping his rides for inspection), Witte's wild ride had seemingly come to a halt. Desperate and out of ideas, he agreed to ship a Ferris wheel back to Germany -- with $10 million in cocaine hidden inside.
Witte had reached out to his shadiest carny contacts (which is saying something!), and signed up himself and his 21-year-old son Marcel to mule 167 kilos of cocaine into Germany. Unfortunately, Witte was as stupid and careless about smuggling drugs as he was about ride safety, and was easily caught by undercover cops. Fortunately, he made it all the way to Germany before being arrested, and only wound up serving four years in a cushy minimum security prison. Marcel wasn't so lucky, and got sentenced to 20 years in the most brutal and terrifying prison in Peru, only being extradited in 2016 after nearly dying several times.
With his family refusing to even speak to him, Norbert ended up living in a dilapidated trailer in the overgrown ruins of his beloved Spreepark, surrounded by rotting attractions and dreaming of opening one last ride.
OK, so now he's a Scooby-Doo villain for sure, right?
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