4 Famous Crimes Everybody Gets Wrong
There are some crimes so famous that they'll never, ever leave the public consciousness. And if we could make one suggestion, could we maybe, y'know, bother to understand them first? After all, despite what you might think ...
The Tate-LaBianca Murders Weren't About Starting a Race War
You already know the story of the Tate-LaBianca murders. During the summer of '69, Charles Manson was preparing for what he called "helter skelter" -- an apocalyptic race war in which all white people would be destroyed, and after which Manson and his followers would emerge from their doomsday bunker/underground city to rule over the remaining black population of the United States. But when the predicted violence didn't occur, Manson decided to accelerate matters by ordering his followers to embark a two-night long murder spree in the foothills of Los Angeles that left seven people dead.
But there's a distinct possibility that Manson never sincerely believed in "helter skelter" -- especially considering how when Manson ordered his followers to commit the the Tate-LaBianca murders, they just so happened to be committing a series of crimes that just so happened to distract the law from two earlier killings in which Manson was heavily implicated.
In May '69, Manson shot a drug dealer named Bernard "Lotsapoppa" Crowe during a drug deal that went south. Two months later, Manson and one of his followers, Bobby Beausoleil, kidnapped Gary Hinman (a, uh, friend of Manson's) with the intention of holding him hostage -- a series of events that ended in Beausoleil killing Hinman. In the aftermath, Manson and Hinman attempted to frame the death on the Black Panthers by writing "Political Piggie" and a Black Panther symbol in blood on the wall ... a plan which ended in spectacular failure after Beausoleil was arrested for murder on August 6.
Fearing that Beausoleil would crack and implicate Manson, Manson ordered his right-hand man, Charles "Tex" Watson, to take a group of his "family" up to Tate's house and "totally destroy" the inhabitants in such a way that the killings looked like the work of the Black Panthers. The goal was to make Beausoleil look innocent, which they did the following day, even going so far as to write "pig" on the house's door in blood, just to tie things together nicely.
It was the same deal the next night, too. Manson accompanied his followers to the home of Leno LaBianca. After those murders, Manson and his acolytes wrote similar phrases on the wall including "rise," "death to pigs", and "healter skelter" [sic] on the walls. Honestly, we're surprised they didn't go the whole hog and just leave a note saying "IT WAS US WHO DID THE MURDERS. SIGNED, THE BLACK PANTHERS."
Despite Manson's efforts, the police didn't even pick up on the connection between the Tate and LaBianca murders, never mind the connection between these murders and a murder for which they'd already arrested the perp. They were literally too incompetent to trick, which is something we guess. It was only after Manson and his "family" were arrested in October '69 for stealing cars that the police figured that there might be a connection. (Or at least, that's what the Black Panthers wanted them to think.)
Harvey Milk's Assassin Didn't Blame Twinkies for His Actions
On November 27, 1978, San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk were assassinated by Dan White, a disgruntled former city employee. At his trial, White was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter. The verdict outraged practically everyone, as everything about the murders screamed "PREMEDITATED."
White successfully dodged a charge of first-degree murder. In the aftermath, people struggled to understand why White had received such a lenient sentence for such an awful crime -- and they found it in the "twinkie defense," in which White's lawyers argued that he committed the murders because he overindulged on sugary snacks.
Except, it's bullshit. At trial, White's lawyers did indeed argue that White was suffering from diminished capacity. And not because he'd gone on a sponge cake binge, but because he was suffering from severe depression as a result of his dismissal, which left him incapable of moral judgments and ergo, premeditation. This depression manifested itself, according to a psychiatrist testifying for the defense, by White casting aside his healthy, clean-cut lifestyle to dress slovenly, grow a beard, and indulge in junk food ... a series of choices which made White even more depressed, and (according to the defense) resulted in him killing two people as payback.
While the defense did mention junk food, this was all only done in the context of proving White was suffering from depression. He didn't eat a snack and then go on a murder spree (and we don't think any snack is capable of doing, save for the Popeye's Chicken Sandwich).
In nutshell, White got off with a lesser charge of manslaughter because the defense successfully demonstrated to the satisfaction of the the jury that White -- who they even acknowledged as being guilty in their closing argument -- was suffering from diminished capacity and had only acted in "the heat of passion [...] which fogs judgment." The idea of the "twinkie defense" later emerged as a counter-narrative (and hack comedians' go-to anecdote about how the legal system is a sham).
D.B. Cooper Wasn't Named D.B. Cooper
On November 24, 1971, a passenger plane traveling from Portland to Seattle was hijacked and held to ransom by an unnamed mastermind calling himself "D.B. Cooper." After landing and getting his money, Cooper ordered the plane to take to the skies and jumped out somewhere over Pacific Northwest. To this day, we don't know where (or even if) he landed, we don't know his motive, and we don't know what he looked like -- meaning that in exact terms, we know the square root of fuck-all about him.
Including his name, apparently, because it wasn't D.B. Cooper. It was actually Dan Cooper -- or at least, that's the (presumable) fake name he bought his plane ticket with.
So where did we get the name D.B. Cooper, then? That's a good question, and it involves a journalist, James Long, who at the time was working for a daily newspaper in Portland. When the news about the hijacking came down, Long reached out to a contact at Northwest Orient Airlines, who told him that the suspect's last name was "Cooper." Due to what was likely a poor signal, interference on the phone caused Long to note down the hijacker's first initials as D.B. Figuring this was better than nothing, he quickly turned this into a news report and sent it away, confident if nothing else, that this whole story would blow over by lunch time.
As it happens, the newspaper was housed in the same building as UPI, whose reporters would often swipe story details to flesh out their wire reports -- including, in this case, the name "D.B. Cooper," which made its way into the first wire story on the hijacking.
Lorena Bobbitt Wasn't a Knife-Happy Crazy, She Was a Victim of Domestic Abuse
Outside of OJ Simpson and Bill Clinton, Lorena Bobbitt was one of the most well-known tabloid personalities of the 1990s. On June 23, 1993, Lorena severed the penis of her sleeping husband John Bobbitt with a carving knife before throwing the appendage down a roadside embankment. What followed was a never-ending slew of jokes, parodies, tawdry headlines, stand-up routines, and sketches depicting Lorena as a crazy woman who castrated her husband because of hysteria or feminism or bitches be crazy.
In the media sprawl after the crime, Lorena confessed that she'd attacked John out of anger after suffering years of abuse at his hands -- a fact that was known while Jay Leno, SNL, and Robin Williams were ripping the piss out of her. It was only when she went to trial, however, that the full, horrific details of her life with John were revealed. On the stand, Lorena described how throughout their marriage, John had abused her physically, emotionally, and sexually, so much so that expert witnesses for both the defense and prosecution stated in clear uncertain terms that "he had mentally and physically battered her; that the abuse was escalating; and [...] she lived in constant fear of him."
All this, according to her defense, resulted in Lorena to suffer clinical depression and post-traumatic stress disorder -- which came to a, um, head on the night in question when, according to Lorena, John came home from work and raped her before falling asleep in the couple's bed. Enter, the knife. Exit, the penis.
At trial's end, Lorena was found not guilty of malicious wounding. by reason of insanity causing an irresistible impulse to sexually wound John, after which she was remanded to a psychiatric facility for over a month for observation. The couple then divorced because duh.
As for John, his joy at having his penis successfully reattached was soon tempered after he was later put on trial for rape. (He was later acquitted despite having given the police and court differing versions of that night's events from "there was no sex" to "that she tried to initiate, but he was too tired" to "there was sex, but he slept through it" to "there was consensual sex.") Nevertheless, John went onto have as successful a reality career making appearances on The Howard Stern Show (where he was gifted $250,000 for his medical expenses), WWE, and two porn movies (titled John Wayne Bobbitt: Uncut and John Wayne Bobbitt's Frankenpenis, because it's not like had anything else to offer the world). When everyone stopped paying attention, he was left with four subsequent convictions for battery for attacking two partners.
As for Lorena, she has since remarried and gone onto found a charity which helps prevent domestic violence through family-oriented activities, and in 2019, assisted in the production of Lorena, a true crime documentary produced by Jordan Peele ... which ends on the note that, despite all their history, all the pain, and all the bullshit, John is still harassing Lorena with love letters containing such quotables as "I miss you very much and if there was a choice to have any woman in the world, it will be you. I love my wife, I love your heart, and I love you very much."
But, yeah, sure. She's the crazy one.