5 Outlandish Criminals Who Sound Like The Stuff Of Legend
When a criminal breaks every known rule and changes our idea of what is even possible, top minds in law enforcement gather for a matter of the highest priority: assigning the crook a nickname. Today, we tell you about some of these outsize personalities and celebrate how mad the world can be.
"The Barefoot Bandit," The Hermit Who Stole Airplanes
Here's a typical start for a criminal. Absent father, drunk unemployed mom, constant visits from child services. Diagnosed with such conditions as intermittent explosive disorder (which isn't as cool as it sounds), drops out of high school, starts stealing. Gets caught and is sentenced to juvenile detention. But since the time he was a young kid, Colton Harris-Moore had also been used to staking out into the wilderness of Washington state. So once he ran out of his halfway home, that's what he decided he'd do full-time.
Colton sustained himself by breaking into people's homes, starting by just seeking out food and a bath. His police nickname came from the footprints he'd leave in his bare feet, easily recognizable since the late teenager now stood six-foot-five. It built an image for him as a sort of Huck Finn, though he did graduate from slipping into homes and stealing ice cream to getting on people's computers and ordering expensive stuff online. Stuff like night vision goggles and premium bear mace -- Colton wasn't screwing around when it came to being a survivalist. One time, he broke into a vet's and left money, saying to use it for the animals. Possibly, he got the money from the time in 2009 when he robbed a bank.
Then he moved on to stealing vehicles. He stole Fords and Cadillacs (in the end, he wouldn't be charged for these; we guess he never took them far). He stole a 34-foot boat and sailed to Oregon. And he stole airplanes -- five different airplanes. One of these, he flew during the Vancouver Olympics, and after bringing it to ground, he celebrated by breaking into an organic grocery, leaving a chalk outline of his bare feet and a note reading "c yah." You might well ask how this troubled youth had ever got around to flying lessons. He hadn't. Apparently, he'd taught himself using Microsoft Flight Simulator, but he didn't teach himself all that well, because he ended up crashing every single plane he stole ... and yet he walked away from the wreckage unharmed each time.
The final time he stole a plane, he had moved from Washington to Indiana, and he flew the Cessna he hot-wired all the way to the Bahamas. He crash-landed it in the water around Great Abaco island. He stole a boat, stole a second more discrete boat, and made his way to a resort. A guard spotted him and disabled the boat, so he stole yet another boat and headed back into the water as police gave chase in speedboats of their own. They stopped him by shooting his engine out.
The Barefoot Bandit was sentenced to six years in prison, which means he's free now. He even set up a GoFundMe to learn to fly for real. Tragically, probation officers shut that down, claiming he still owes six figures in restitution to various victims, because the authorities have no sense of fun at all.
"Whipping Tom," London's Serial Spanker
In times of yore, London's Fleet Street was home to a mysterious criminal who stalked women by night. He'd hide in alleys and courtyards, and then when an unaccompanied victim came in view, he'd attack. Those of you well acquainted with the history of crime know we're not talking about that amateur Jack the Ripper but of his far more skilled predecessor, Whipping Tom. Tom's MO consisted entirely of lifting women's dresses and spanking them on the buttocks.
Tom's spanking spree took place in 1681. He'd sometimes use a rod for his spankings but would otherwise stick to his bare hands. One witness reported that he concealed himself before striking by pretending to urinate against a wall. Often, upon delivering his spanking, Tom would loudly yell, "Spanko!"
Whipping Tom went down in history not merely because of, well, "Spanko!," but because he worked so quickly and disappeared so successfully each time that people attributed to him supernatural powers. Keep in mind, dresses in those days could be bulky, so everyone figured lifting one above waist-level using a single hand with any sort of speed required skill.
Women in London took to arming themselves with hidden razors and penknives. Men dressed themselves as women in hopes of being attracting Tom's attention -- not, as already discussed, because they wanted to be spanked themselves but because they were vigilantes looking to whip his Tom. Some sources say Tom was never found. Others say they finally arrested a haberdasher, whose experience with clothes might explain his talent for lifting dresses.
Either way, the attacks ended, and the women of London were safe. Until 1712, when another man known also known as Whipping Tom emerged, and his beatings tended to be much more severe. This Tom claimed he was taking revenge on all women because one had rejected him. His plan was to whip a hundred women by Christmas, take a break for the holidays, and then whip some more. Oh, and this one's actual name turned out to really be named Tom, in fulfillment of the prophecies.
"The Unknown Person" Jailed In Canada
We reached pretty far back into the past just now, and if we next told you that at some point hundreds of years ago, a man was jailed and we don't know his name, that might not be something to be so surprised about. But the man we're about to talk about, who Canadian courts have dubbed "The Unknown Person," is still in jail today. He's in immigration limbo, but this is no confused refugee.
The Unknown Person flew into Montreal in 2012. He presented a French passport with the name Herman Emmanuel Fankem, and as a French citizen with money, a return ticket, and a reasonable story about coming for a friend's funeral, he easily received a 10-day visa. He did not leave within 10 days as required.
Instead, he hatched a scheme in which he duped a victim into believing he'd smuggled millions out of South Africa and just needed to launder the money. Literally launder it: He claimed he had bills coated in a black chemical and needed a counter chemical to clean it off. He demonstrated with few counterfeit bills that he'd treated with washable dye, and if the victim put up money for the expensive chemical, he said they'd wash the money and split the result. The victim ponied up $450,000 before finally getting wise and calling the police.
Rather than charge him, authorities turned him over to Border Services for deportation. But Border Services couldn't deport him to France because a quick check revealed that he wasn’t French -- or at least, he wasn't Herman Emmanuel Fankem, and his passport was fake. They couldn't deport him anywhere without knowing what country he really came from, and The Unknown Person refused to answer their questions. A fingerprint check revealed that he was a citizen of Cameroon, according to colleagues in Britain ... who then also said that his fingerprints matched a different real man from Cameroon, and a different real man from Haiti.
The Unknown Person has now been in jail for seven years. You ever hear of those stories of immigrants waiting endlessly for hearings that do not come? That is not the Unknown Person's story. The courts have scheduled dozens of hearings for him, but he refuses to attend. "Go fuck yourselves," (that's an exact quote) he tells Border officials who try to talk to him. A couple years ago, a judge actually ordered him released simply because they'd held him so long, but a higher judge quashed that because The Unknown Person was playing them all for fools and must not be surrendered to.
Investigations suggest he really is from Cameroon, though not the man the British identified him as. Some commentators say that he must be enjoying getting room and board on the taxpayer's dime instead of going back to Cameroon, a faraway country that the average Canadian can only assume is an awful place. But his maximum security cell is hardly a comfortable retirement home, and this was never a desperate guy ready to choose anything over poverty. Before he was arrested, he was looking to be a millionaire. We're left to speculate on what mysterious dangers or criminal enemies he fears so much that he chooses endless prison over returning.
"Leonardo Da Toenail," Who Kept Painting Women's Toes
The University of Southern California has a library named after Edward L. Doheny. Doheny, an oil tycoon, lost his son in a mysterious unsolved shooting, and so he turned to philanthropy and made a massive donation to the university. But that shooting was nowhere as brazen and evil as the crime spree that would eventually occur in the library that bears Doheny's name.
In 1980 and 1981, an outsider infiltrated the college. Over and over again, he would sit in the library, pretending to be a student. Then he'd duck down, as though to retrieve something he'd dropped, and he'd quickly paint the toes of an unsuspecting female student also seated at the table. The campus nicknamed him "Leonardo da Toenail."
This caused much consternation among the community, who demanded, "What kind of a stupid nickname is 'Leonardo da Toenail'?" If he painted someone's little toe and they named him Leonardo da Pinky, we could get behind that. Vincent van Toe would have also been a better choice, or Michelangeltoe, or if they really wanted to mention nails, maybe they could have done something with "toenail" and "Monet." Plus, this historical Leonardo wasn't even a confirmed foot fetishist, while most other artists are.
Police finally did catch Leonardo da Toenail, and they found 15 bottles of nail polish on him when they completed their search. They charged him with misdemeanor battery. Authorities did not disclose his true name. We have no choice but to assume it was Tom.
"The Schemer," Who Handcuffed Cops To Crates Of Illegal Beer
Vincent Drucci was a Chicago Depression-era gangster, and he checks all the boxes for what makes a mobster legit. He was in repeated shoot-outs with Al Capone's gang and Capone personally, and police eventually shot him fatally taking him in (in fact, he's said to be the only mob boss killed by police). But he didn't earn his nickname from breaking into a politicians offices or from killing a rival in a barbershop. He got it from his "schemes," bizarre acts of trolling.
One time, he broke into Capone's warehouse and replaced all the whiskey with water, a move worth of the Antichrist. When police entered a different warehouse filled with his gang's beer, Drucci impersonated a federal agent. He got the officers to stand still as his associates handcuffed them to the crates. Then he left them there, and left the beer as well. Which must have cost him, but it humiliated the police department, which was the important part.
The Schemer starred in an old timey porno called Bob's Hot Story. Also embracing his inner pervert, he'd repeatedly dress as a priest and call out to couples. "Nice ass!" he'd say. And then, when the woman would look shocked, he'd say, "Not you, lady. Your fellow!" Still in his priest's costume, he once got fellow gangster Dean O'Banion to pretend to beat him up. While the actual goal behind some of his schemes was unclear, he sure enjoyed them.
And you ever see a movie where our heroes drive a car across a bridge just as it's rising, leaving their pursuers far behind? Drucci actually pulled that stunt. It was 1922, the police were chasing him, and The Schemer slammed on the accelerator and got his car over the rising Michigan Avenue Bridge. It would have been an amazing escape, except that the cops then did the exact same thing and caught up with him.