5 True Crime Stories That Sound Like Wild Acid Trips
These days it's easy to feel like the world has gone mad, and even crime is no exception. Every morning, you probably wake up, log on to whatever cryptocurrency forum or OnlyFans you choose to get your news from, and roll your eyes at headlines like "Scuba-Clad Maniac Emerges From Sewer, Shoots Celebrity Horse" or "Joe Exotic Found Guilty ... Of Winning Judge Judy's Heart." But true crime has always been pretty weird. Don't believe us? Just consider...
Miami's Sleaziest Strip Club Sold A Stolen Russian Military Sub To A Columbian Drug Cartel
Back in the 1990s, Porky's was the sleaziest strip club in Miami, and that's saying a lot. In any other club a pervert urologist constantly asking the dancers to step on his balls might be frowned upon. At Porky's he was considered their best customer. The basement hosted underground gambling and prostitution, drugs were sold openly, half the clients were mobsters and the other half were worse, and patrons regularly fought to pay $5 for a dancer to lie on the floor with her legs in the air while they steered around a remote control toy car with a huge dildo strapped to it. The manager had to carry two guns at all times and customers tended to spray the exterior with bullets as they drove away. Some strip clubs will steal your wallet, at Porky's you were lucky if you left with the same number of kidneys you came in with.
Conveniently located out by the airport, Porky's was secretly co-owned by one of Miami's most prominent and respected businessmen (they named a street after him), but the face of the operation was Ludwig Fainberg, a former Gambino Family thug who answered only to "Tarzan," because of course he did. Tarzan hit on a pretty sweet side hustle when the rapper Vanilla Ice introduced him to a rare car dealer named Juan Almeida, who was raking in cash by installing souped-up engines in speedboats so cocaine smugglers could outrun the DEA.
Together with a part-time Cuban spy and full-time cocaine trafficker named Nelson Yester-Garrido, they hit on a brilliant plan: The Soviet Union had just broken up and corrupt Russian military officers were selling Red Army equipment cheap. It was a golden period for arms dealers, when you couldn't even walk down the street in Moscow without a guy in a trenchcoat offering to sell you a mechanized infantry division, with a cybernetic bomb-sniffing dolphin thrown in to seal the deal. Tarzan suggested using his Russian connections to obtain military hardware for cocaine traffickers. Which is how Porky's, the strip club with the dildo car, wound up under investigation for selling a Soviet military submarine to the Medellin Cartel.
Showtime made a whole documentary about it and good lord we hope this part is exaggerated.
The authorities had a number of inside sources, including a buddy of Tarzan's known as "Cannibal" after he responded to an arrest attempt by biting off the cop's nose. The DEA located Cannibal in a Bulgarian prison and persuaded him to turn informant. Honestly, what are things coming to when you can't even trust Cannibal? Meanwhile, Tarzan was very proud of a phone someone gave him that had been "hacked" to make free calls anywhere in the world (obviously the bill was actually just footed by the cops, who were monitoring every call). The authorities swooped before the submarine could be delivered.
However, the gang did manage to successfully deliver two Russian military helicopters. That deal almost went wrong when enraged Russian gangsters kidnapped Tarzan and demanded a cut. But the situation was defused when Almeida appeared, pretending to be none other than Pablo Escobar himself. Remember kids, if you ever find yourself in a situation where the unexpected appearance of Pablo Escobar makes everything better, it could be time to reconsider some life choices.
Britain's Craziest Chase Involved Latvian Anarchists, Gunfire Between Rival Trams, An Entire Soccer Team Charging Into A Swamp, Spilled Milk, And A Tiny Amount Of Money
The craziest chase in British history started (and ended) in 1909, when Latvian anarchists Jacob Lepidus and Mark Helfeld robbed the payroll of a London rubber factory, escaping with around 80 pounds (roughly 4,000 pounds today). The pair, who had fled to London after Lepidus's brother exploded while trying to assassinate the president of France, escaped through Tottenham, fatally shooting a policeman and a 10-year-old boy as they escaped. This enraged the good people of Tottenham, who turned out to be both very heavily armed and surprisingly good at cardio. They quickly formed an angry mob, who sprinted after the anarchists for fully six miles.
After weaving through a maze of alleys, the anarchists hoped to make good their escape by jumping into a nearby marsh. But the mob jumped right in after them, led by the local soccer team, who had abandoned their match mid-play to join in the chase. The entire chase then began slowly wading through the thick mud, pausing only to exchange gunfire from the cover of tiny islands, while the police yelled encouragement at the swamp's confused duck hunters to blast the thieves with their shotguns.
Somehow the pair made it through the marsh and sprinted onto a busy road, where they hijacked a red double-decker tram. The tram screeched away with passengers leaping for safety, but a policeman also emerged from the marsh and commandeered a nearby horse cart. With the cop pursuing on horseback, Lepidus held the driver at gunpoint while Helfeld raced to the back of the tram "to act as rear gunner," blazing away at the galloping cop. Meanwhile, the rest of the chasing mob commandeered another tram and chased after the first one. All the passengers didn't even have time to get off, and the tram had around 40 people on it as the police exchanged gunfire with Helfeld from the open top deck.
The trams screeched on their circular route through London, much to the bemusement of commuters, who waited ages for a tram only for two to zoom past at top speed while riddling each other with bullets. Recognizing that they were going nowhere, the anarchists eventually abandoned their tram and hijacked a tiny cart delivering milk, which at least didn't run on tracks. Unfortunately it was a freaking milk cart, which promptly capsized under mild speed, spilling gallons of milk everywhere. The pair then jumped on board a horse-drawn carriage and tried to gallop away, unaware that they still had the brakes on. The horse did its best, but Fast & the Furious it wasn't.
The anarchists eventually raced down an alley, where they encountered a fence. The tall Lepidus bravely vaulted over and kept running, leaving his shorter partner stranded. Helfeld sensibly shot himself as the mob of cops, soccer players, duck hunters, tram passengers and enraged milkmen rounded the corner. Lepidus himself ultimately sprinted into a nearby house and tried to hide by crawling up the chimney. It didn't work, but did allow the police to follow a trail of sooty handprints right to him.
A Secret Society Of Wealthy Noblemen Terrorized Museums With An International Wave Of Egg Crime
At the dawn of the 20th century, it was unseemly for a British aristocrat to do anything approaching work, but he was expected to keep himself busy with a respectable hobby, like stamp collecting or assaulting the servants. One of the most popular gentleman's pastimes was collecting rare bird eggs, but then those dreadful conservationists started suggesting that the birds would be a lot less rare if Norfolk's most inbred squires stopped stealing all their eggs. By the 1920s, the conservationists had won the day and in 1954 it became illegal to steal eggs from wild birds.
In a rage, Lord Walter Rothschild left the British Ornithologists' Union and teamed up with a sinister one-eyed reverend to found the Jourdain Society, a rogue league of aristocratic egg collectors who operated outside the law. It was theoretically a charitable society, formed to lobby against the evil influence of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSBP), but it was widely accused of being at the center of a wave of egg theft sweeping the country. The Society held formal gatherings, where tuxedo-clad egg collectors admired antique display cabinets full of rare eggs and competed to produce the rarest specimen. The police regularly raided these meetings, held in swanky hotels across the country, and fully half the members had criminal convictions as late as the 1990s. Again, for egg crimes.
But stealing wild eggs is pretty draining (several poachers fell to their deaths, while another was so overcome with egg madness he charged into an osprey reserve with a chainsaw and was arrested trying to saw down trees) and the thieves soon realized there was an easier target: museums. Britain's natural history collections were soon hit by an epidemic of theft. For example, Mervyn "The Jackdaw" Shorthouse spent three years presenting himself as a wheelchair-bound bird lover while secretly stealing 30,000 eggs from the Natural History Museum for sale to wealthy collectors. Colonel Richard Meinertzhagen was banned from the British Museum's Bird Room for stealing, but managed to get his membership reinstated with Lord Rothschild's help and continued his thieving ways for another 30 years. Another guy had 100 eggs hidden in a secret compartment under his bed, which would be normal, except that his weren't hard-boiled for midnight snacking.
The Society gradually lost the long war against their arch-rivals at the RSBP and now appears to have collapsed entirely. But egg theft is bigger than ever -- although now the focus is the birds inside. Wealthy falconers in the Middle East will pay a fortune for the rarest birds, filched from the nest in their eggs. For years, the most notorious thief was Jeffrey Lendrum, a former South African park ranger who turned to crime, travelling the world to raid the rarest nesting grounds. He was known to dangle from a helicopter to swipe eagle eggs from cliffside nests and regularly smuggled falcon chicks through airports taped to his body. At what point in dangling from a cliff on a quest to become the Carmen Sandiego of birds do you start to wonder if you should just try selling cocaine from home instead?
"Big Bertha Heyman, The Confidence Queen" Briefly Became San Francisco's Most Eligible Bachelorette, Then Starred In A Hit Stage Show Outlining Her Scams
People have always been fascinated with high society con artists, which is why Anna Delvey became such a sensation for lying to a hotel and tricking people into a disastrous trip to Morocco, both things travel agents do on a daily basis. But Delvey had nothing on Big Bertha Heyman, who flourished as the 19th century's most notorious con woman. Bertha was definitely living her best life, although the same couldn't be said about anybody who came into contact with her, and at the end of it all she put on a hit stage show where she recounted her wildest crimes in front of a cheering audience.
Born to a Jewish family in Germany before moving to New York, Bertha became famed for pulling off "I'm just an eligible young heiress in distress" scams, despite being well into middle age and built like Al Capone's bodyguard's bodyguard. Men queued up to lend her money, in the expectation that they'd be repaid with interest once her inheritance came through. At one point, she was imprisoned for stealing a few hundred bucks, then scammed twice as much from inside the prison. But her most famous crime came in 1888, when she arrived in San Francisco, booked into a fancy hotel and started splashing cash all over town.
After scoping out a target, she sought out a childhood friend, who was now chief rabbi at a local synagogue. She informed him that she had married a cruel Christian and inherited a massive fortune, but she hoped to find a Jewish second husband to manage her enormous bank accounts. She even offered a reward to anyone who introduced her to a nice Jewish boy. The news became the talk of San Francisco, and gold diggers swarmed out of every building, probably literally given that this was California in the 1800s. But Bertha had no intention of marrying some gross old prospector (or anyone else for that matter). Her story had been aimed right at the spacious mansion of Abraham Gruhn, a wealthy businessman who happened to be back on the marrying scene.
Duly charmed, Gruhn proposed to Bertha, who was only too happy to accept. Gruhn introduced his new fiancee to San Francisco high society and for the next couple of months she swanned through balls and elegant receptions. She also bought expensive dresses and jewels on credit, with everyone happily assuming that the millionaire heiress marrying one of the city's top businessmen had to be good for it. Meanwhile her "son" from her first marriage had demanded $500 from Abraham to prove he wasn't a gold digger. Shortly before the wedding of the century, Bertha and her son got Gruhn to hand over his collection of jewels so they could be set into jewelry for Bertha. They promptly vanished.
She was eventually caught, but remained unrepentant, telling the cops "The moment I discover a man's a fool I let him drop. But I delight in getting into the pockets of men who think they can't be skimmed. It ministers to my intellectual pride." To add insult to injury, a theater producer later bailed her out of jail to star in a hit stage show, charging patrons 10 cents a head to hear how she ripped off her unsuspecting victims. In poetry form, for some reason.
Scammers Claimed To Be Financing A Hollywood Movie As Part Of A Tax Fraud...Then Frantically Tried To Make An Actual Movie When They Got Caught
Back in the early 2000s, wannabe tycoon Bashar al-Issa thought he had a great idea for a scam. The UK government offers big tax rebates for investing in movies, since it's otherwise very hard to film in a country when there's an hour of sunlight a day and the locals keep stealing lighting equipment to worship as a god. So al-Issa teamed up with an aspiring actress named Aoife Madden and told the tax people they were making a 20 million pound gangster movie starring Liam Neeson, "Michael Kane", and the very dead Richard Burton. They then applied for 2.7 million pounds in tax rebates and waited for the cash to roll in.
They actually got their hands on 800,000 pounds (about $1 million USD). But the authorities quickly realized that something was amiss, especially because no other UK gangster movie has ever cost more than 47.99 (Vinnie Jones will work for free if you let him unroll his sleeping bag in your garage). And of course, Madden and al-Issa couldn't produce any evidence showing it wasn't a scam because they had just been sitting around writing fake receipts for "filming expenses." With the law closing in, they realized that there was only one option: They were going to have to produce an actual movie to avoid prison.
Judging by this trailer, they failed.
That sounds like the setup for a wacky Jack Black comedy, but they really went for it, hiring an enthusiastic amateur director/nightclub bouncer and giving him a budget of 80,000 pounds to make a movie that could pass for a 20 million Hollywood production. Sadly, it proved impossible to reanimate Richard Burton and Liam Neeson probably based most of his monologue in Taken on his response to their phone call, so they had to aim a little lower for their star. It ended up being TV presenter Andrea McLean from Loose Women (the best US comparison would probably be whoever sits next to Whoopi on The View). The rest of the cast was rounded out with a collection of minor soap opera stars and aspiring minor soap opera stars. They just about managed to get a real camera, saving the need to make a fake one out of cardboard boxes.
A Landscape Of Lies shot without permits and borrowed props, under the watchful eye of Madden, al-Issa, and a mysterious Turkish man named Tariq, who turned out to be al-Issa in disguise. The surprisingly resourceful director even managed to borrow sports cars and get product placement deals, even as actors wandered off and the production collapsed around him. The final product, by all accounts hilariously bad, actually played at a film festival in Vegas. Nobody was fooled by this shit and al-Issa and Madden were both arrested. Madden is currently trying to market a movie from prison based on the story. And we're currently trying to collect 7 million in tax refunds for already making it, as far as any of you can prove.
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