Totally WTF Criminal Schemes (You Won't Believe Are True)
Tiger King proved that real life is always weirder than the movies. But what about all the crazy criminals who didn't have cameras filming them 23 hours a day? Well, you're in luck: we've been bringing you ludicrous crime stories for years and we're nowhere near running out.
Versace's Murder, Pirate Radio, And A Secret Conspiracy To Fake The Fake Passports Of The World's Most Famous Fictional Country
During World War II, the British built a bunch of sea forts in the middle of the English Channel, to both ward off a Nazi invasion and test exactly how bored a soldier can get before he tries to marry a pelican. Flash-forward to the 1960s, when the old-fashioned BBC held a monopoly on UK radio, playing nothing but patriotic humming and polite discussions about the weather. Pirate radio stations quickly sprang up in the old forts, which were the perfect spot to beam rockin' tunes to the mainland. The forts became hot property, with the stations fighting armed battles to control the most lucrative spots.
The Bates family originally controlled a fort called Knock John, before conquering Roughs Tower from a competing pirate radio station with a combination of backstabbing and Molotov cocktails. After the fort opened fire on a British Navy ship, everyone got hauled into court, but it turned out that Roughs Tower was slightly outside UK territorial waters, meaning the court had no jurisdiction. This prompted Roy Bates to rechristen the tower "The Principality of Sealand," a supposedly independent country ruled by "Prince Roy" himself. The unrecognized new monarch quickly became known for wacky stunts, like issuing his own knighthoods and diplomatic titles.
In 1997, serial killer Andrew Cunanan shot himself on a Miami houseboat. Cunanan, notorious for murdering Gianni Versace, had a Sealand passport, while the owner of the houseboat proclaimed himself a Sealand citizen with diplomatic immunity. The investigation revealed that Sealand passports and bank documents had been used in a vast web of financial scams all over the world, taking in millions of dollars. So did police storm the fort? No, because Sealand had nothing to do with it -- the passports were forgeries. That's right, forgers produced painstaking forgeries of fake passports from a fake country.
The forgers worked for a fake Sealand government, based in Spain and led by Francisco Trujillo Ruiz, who claimed to have been appointed by Prince Roy. Trujillo Ruiz sold fake Sealand passports and bank certificates all over the world. He was particularly successful in Hong Kong, where locals, nervous about the impending Chinese takeover, bought over 4,000 Sealand passports for at least $1,000 each. But his main business was selling to fraudsters, who used "Sealand" documents to defraud unsuspecting businesses from Morocco to Australia. He was also using Sealand documents to run guns from the Russian Mafia to Sudan. While only Trujillo Ruiz was convicted, strong ties exist between him and Alexander Achenbach, a German guy who staged an armed invasion of Sealand in the '70s, kidnapping Roy Bates's son before Prince Roy himself rappelled down from a helicopter wielding a sawn-off shotgun and retook the fort.
The CIA, Howard Hughes, The King Of Jordan's Secret Son, Human Pituitary Gland Injections, And The Barbell Killing That Shocked Hollywood
Susan Cabot was a 1950s B-movie actress known for starring in low-budget Roger Corman flicks like The Wasp Woman, in which she transforms into a giant murder bee, and Sorority Girl, in which she sadly doesn't. In the 1980s, her mental health deteriorated and she became a recluse, living in a decaying Encino estate surrounded by rotting food and stacks of ancient newspapers, all guarded by gigantic, near-feral Akita. She shared this Grey Gardens-style squalor with her son Timothy, a martial arts enthusiast who claimed to have been left with severe mood swings by an experimental treatment for his dwarfism. The pair survived on regular support checks from King Hussein of Jordan, who had been introduced to Cabot by the CIA in 1959.
Hussein had become king at 17 after his father was overthrown due to his apparent schizophrenia. A few years later, the young king was on a state visit to the US and asked the CIA to obtain "female companionship" for his trip. Eager to ensure the king had a "successful visit," the agency turned to Robert Maheu, the notorious right-hand man of reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes. The CIA had originally hired Maheu to connect them with Mafia leaders in order to assassinate Fidel Castro, but figured he could do a little royal pimping in his spare time. Maheu introduced the king to Cabot and the pair hit it off, continuing to meet in secret whenever the king visited the US. A handsome young Arab king and a beautiful Jewish movie star is actually a pretty good star-crossed love story, although few Nicholas Sparks novels feature the CIA footing all the bills.
The relationship ended in the '70s, but not before the birth of Timothy, almost certainly the king's secret son. Timothy was born with a growth hormone deficiency, but ultimately grew to be 5'4 after his mother enrolled him in a trial where kids were regularly injected with hormones extracted from the pituitary glands of dead bodies. Susan Cabot reportedly took some of the hormones herself in the hope that they would slow the aging process. Taking experimental injections in a desperate attempt to restore youth is the exact plot of The Wasp Woman, and it didn't end well in real life either: The program was discontinued in the 1980s after it turned out to have given a small number of patients a degenerative brain disease, transferred from an infected cadaver. It's unclear if Timothy was affected, but Susan Cabot suffered a fresh mental breakdown on hearing the news.
A year later, Susan was found beaten to death with a barbell. Timothy initially claimed a man in a ninja mask had broken into the house, knocked him unconscious and killed his mother. Prosecutors disagreed, saying that his minor cuts and bruises did not support "a death-defying battle with a ninja warrior" and that said ninja would definitely not have vaulted over the savage Akita to hide the murder weapon in Timothy's bedroom. Timothy then changed his story, claiming his mother was abusive and the killing had been self-defense, mitigated by the possible effects of his treatment. He was ultimately sentenced to four years for manslaughter. The Jordanian royal family declined to comment.
Doomsday Cults, Mysterious Earthquakes, And Australia's Creepiest Sheep Poisonings
Banjawarn Station is a desolate ranch in an incredibly remote area of the Australian outback. In the early '90s, police became aware of suspicious activity at the ranch, which had been bought by a group of youthful Japanese scientists. They arrived to find the landscape littered with the twisted bodies of numerous sheep, who appeared to have died suddenly and horribly. The absolute best case for that scenario is an attempt to summon a vampire god, and the reality was somehow worse. After strapping on their shoggoth-proof vests, the cops burst in and discovered what appeared to be an abandoned chemical weapons factory.
As it turned out, the ranch belonged to the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult, which had just become notorious after releasing deadly sarin gas on the Tokyo subway, killing 13 and injuring thousands. The previously obscure Aum Shinrikyo turned out to be arguably the most terrifying cult in modern history, with secret facilities pumping out massive quantities of chemical weapons. At least 10 of Aum's critics were murdered with VX nerve gas, while others were abducted, killed, and burnt to ash in giant microwave ovens specially built on cult compounds. They tested sarin in other attacks, including one that killed eight people. And they also repeatedly tried to buy a black market nuclear weapon. Banjawarn, the innocuous clapboard ranch, turned out to be one of their labs, where chemical weapons were tested on sheep.
Can things get creepier? Yes! In 1993, a mysterious seismic event was detected deep in the outback around Banjawarn. At the time, nobody had a reason to suspect Cthulhu, so it was initially classified as an earthquake. But the readings never really supported that explanation. After a cult compound was discovered right at the center of the mysterious event, speculation grew that they had tested a crude nuclear device out there. Which is less crazy than it sounds -- the cult was making serious efforts to acquire a nuke and their documents mention mining uranium around Banjawarn.
Fortunately, a more detailed investigation revealed that the cult didn't actually buy Banjawarn until days after the event. It's much more likely that it was simply a meteor impact. So it's actually nothing creepy at all! Just a mysterious meteor strike on a site that was immediately purchased by a death cult to build doomsday weapons. Let's just all hope that Australia's spiders are deadly enough to take down an Elder God.
Murder-for-Hire, 800 Kilos Of Cocaine, And Massive Hollywood Financial Fraud
In 1993, a former child actor named Remington Chase was arrested in Florida for trying to sell 20 kilos of cocaine to an undercover DEA agent. That happens to every former child actor, but the story got crazier from there. That same year, an Armenian immigrant named Stefan Martirosian was also arrested in Florida, after making a separate deal with undercover DEA agents to transport 800 kilos of cocaine from Costa Rica. Both men had long criminal records, but secured reduced sentences by becoming informants. In 2011, they suddenly popped up as big-time Hollywood producers, spending hundreds of millions of dollars to produce movies like Lone Survivor, End Of Watch, 2 Guns, and Broken City.
Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone usually unite to battle cocaine dealers, not to star in their terrible action movies. So what happened? Well, following their Florida adventures, both men had somehow become investment advisors to Armenian oligarch Vitaly Grigoriants, who provided most of their funding. They had apparently pivoted to action movies as an easy way to make up for losing money in Hawaiian real estate investments (always a good sign). Most of their movies also lost money, but bigger problems came when Chase was arrested for social security fraud in Nevada and once again tried to inform his way out of trouble.
Chase cut a deal with the cops by claiming his bodyguard, a convicted murderer named Istvan Kele, was behind a recent jewel heist. From prison, Kele called Martirosian and swore to get even by ensuring Chase spent the "rest of his life in a gulag." Shortly afterward, Kele began claiming that Chase was behind the murder of businessman Kasca Kalandarishvili, who was gunned down in Moscow in 2009. According to Kele, he had been hired to watch Chase's back during a series of shady African diamond deals. Chase then offered him $100,000 to murder Kalandarishvili. Kele claimed he was just stringing Chase along for cash and had no intention of going through with it (it's so hard to find a reliable hitman, as Joe Exotic will tell you).
At this point, the stories start to get really unbelievable. Kele now claims that the whole thing was a misunderstanding and he had merely been fooled by a doppelganger pretending to be Remington Chase. And Chase himself says that Kele was good friends with an "Afghani terrorist" and that he hired him and set up a fake Namibian diamond deal as a front for a top-secret government investigation. Which sounds like a bad action movie plot, although prosecutors did drop the cases against both men in order to protect an FBI informant (presumably Chase), so who knows. Either way, the film studio quickly collapsed due to the bad publicity. Last we heard, Stefan Martirosian is currently in prison in Armenia, charged with stealing at least $50 million of Grigoriants money through the production company, although we can think of a pair of aging action stars could team up to break him out.
Top image: Laurinson Crusoe