4 True Crime Stories That Crank The Crazy
As everyone knows, real-life crimes are always more interesting than the movie equivalent. The average movie heist involves backflipping through a grid of lasers while firing a gun at the deadly supermodel who betrayed your crew. Whereas the average real heist involves a sweaty guy with his foot stuck in a mop bucket waving a "Federal Money Inspector" card at bank officials and somehow running off with $2 million in treasury bonds. Which would you rather hear about? Let's hope it's the second one, because we've assembled yet another collection of the dumbest, weirdest crimes known to man.
A Fake Spy Agency Almost Scammed Its Way Into US Intelligence And A $3.7 Billion Payout
Back in 2012, rumors began to circulate through the murky world of American espionage. They involved a secret new CIA project called Alpha-214, which was supposedly carrying out shadowy special operations around the world. Before long, major defense contractors began to be approached by representatives of the program, with an intriguing proposal. To carry out their secret missions, Alpha-214 agents needed cover jobs with legitimate private companies. Obviously, the CIA couldn't create a paper trail by directly paying the company for this. However, if they would agree to put an Alpha-214 agent on the payroll at $10,000 a month, the government would reward them by quietly granting them priority status when bidding for lucrative contracts. Over a dozen companies jumped at the opportunity. Which was unfortunate, because Alpha-214 was actually a fake operation run by a former TMZ reporter named Garrison Courtney.
After leaving TMZ, Courtney found himself at a bit of a loose end. So he started pretending to be a CIA spy, introducing himself as a former special forces operator with "hundreds of kills" under his belt. He regaled contacts with stories of daring intrigue, like the time enemy agents slipped ricin into his food. In reality, Courtney was never even in the military and his only previous government service was a stint as a media guy for the DEA. But his act was apparently so convincing that multiple companies agreed to give him a lucrative no-show job as "cover" for his CIA work. Before long, he was raking in millions and enjoying a life of luxury in Washington. And then things started to get crazy -- Garrison Courtney got so good at pretending to be a spy that he started to fool the government itself.
Many of the defense contractors Courtney was scamming were retired military officers or intelligence agents. And naturally, they started introducing him to their friends who still worked for the government. Before long, everyone was convinced that Alpha-214 was real. Courtney even started "recruiting" actual intelligence officials to assist with the program. The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency let him use their high security conference rooms for meetings, while the Office of the Director of National Intelligence was happy to vouch for him. And when his "employers" started asking for the lucrative government contracts they had been promised, Courtney simply informed the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that the CIA had chosen them to funnel payments to Alpha-214 participants. The NIH was on the verge of granting $3.7 billion in "classified contracts" to Courtney's employers when the FBI swooped in.
The feds had been tipped off by a former associate of Courtney, but their investigation quickly ran into trouble, since most of the victims still believed Alpha-214 was a top-secret CIA program that they were forbidden from discussing. Meanwhile, Courtney had his contacts in the intelligence agencies lean on the FBI to drop the investigation (one official even threatened to have the agents arrested). He also came very close to getting official security classification for Alpha-214, which would effectively have immunized him from prosecution. Fortunately, he was arrested before this could happen and is currently serving 7 years in a (hopefully real) prison.
According to Courtney himself "So many people believed in it and were determined for the 'program' to succeed. It seemed to me like the program was actually on the verge of becoming real or legitimate." Bear in mind, this wasn't an incredibly well-planned scam. Courtney was literally using his real name and just making up the details as he went. But it turns out the American intelligence community is so confusing that even the people running it can't tell what's real and what's fake anymore.
Pirate Radio, Screaming Lord Sutch, German Mercenaries, And Britain's Most Shocking Shotgun Murder
During World War II, the British built dozens of sea forts, rising out of the ocean on concrete legs to ward off the Nazi menace. One of the most formidable was Shivering Sands, a network of forts guarding the mouth of the Thames. But even Shivering Sands had its weaknesses, which were exploited by a handpicked strike force led by an eccentric major and a mysterious woman in black, who stormed aboard and forced the occupants to surrender. It was actually a perfectly planned attack, with the minor caveat that it took place in 1966 as part of a dispute over an illegal radio station.
In the 1960s, the BBC had an official monopoly on UK radio, even though most of their programming was just the Queen Mother whistling patriotic songs. Naturally, rock-loving music fans quickly set up illegal pirate radio stations. Since many of the sea forts were just outside of British waters, they were technically beyond the law, making them the perfect spot for broadcasting forbidden tunes to the mainland. Shivering Sands was initially occupied by Screaming Lord Sutch, who became well-known in the UK after standing for parliament as founder of the Monster Raving Loony Party. Radio Sutch was later sold to a businessman named Reg Calvert, who rebranded Shivering Sands as the slightly more cheerful Radio City.
Meanwhile, the sea fort/pirate radio scene was taking a weird turn. A fort called Knock John was home to the Bates family, who decided to upgrade by attacking and conquering the rival Roughs Tower, which they declared an independent country as the "Principality of Sealand." Sealand itself was later stormed by a group of German mercenaries, but they were repelled by the ruling prince, Roy Bates, who jumped onto the fort from a helicopter wielding a sawn-off shotgun. Meanwhile, Shivering Sands was under pressure from a retired major named Oliver Smedley, who claimed to own the station's transmitter. In 1966, Smedley attacked the fort with a group of armed longshoremen, seizing control of Radio City.
And that's where the story took a tragic turn. Enraged by the loss of Radio City, Reg Calvert tried calling the police, but they refused to intervene, noting that the pirate radio station had been set up on a sea fort precisely because it was outside their jurisdiction. Instead, he drove to Smedley's house and somehow got into a wrestling match with his housekeeper, who was guarding the door. At which point Smedley produced a gun and shot him dead. Which is a truly sad outcome to a dispute over the right to broadcast songs like "Nut Rocker" by B. Bumble and the Stingers to British teens. Smedley was acquitted on self-defense grounds, but the death did help prompt the UK government to shut down the pirate radio stations. Ironically, it was then discovered that Shivering Sands had been in UK waters all along. And that's why you pay attention in geography class, kids.
A Guy Fell Out Of A Plane's Wheel Well And Went On To Become The World's Greatest Hotel Thief
Back in the early 2000s, the world's fanciest hotels were hit by a wave of daring thefts. The culprit was a con man so good that he might as well have been an actual shapeshifter. At one point, he impersonated a wealthy guest to gain access to a penthouse suite, only for the actual guest to walk in while he was robbing the place. Most people would panic and start trying to flush themselves down the toilet in that situation, but the thief didn't even bat an eye. He simply introduced himself as an undercover hotel employee, performing a quiet security check following a threat. The guy apologized so smoothly for the disruption that the guests were completely fooled and just let him leave. On his way out, he even stopped in the lobby and sent them up a bottle of champagne -- charged to their own account at the hotel.
A typical theft occurred at the Four Seasons hotel in Vegas, where the thief hung around the lobby drinking coffee until he identified a wealthy guest named Daniel Gold. He then walked up to the front desk, introduced himself as Gold and asked for a new room key to replace a lost one. The thief then let himself into the suite, where he heard Gold's nanny and kids in one of the rooms. So he just hid and called the room impersonating Gold, asking the nanny to bring "his" children downstairs. Bear in mind, he had never met Gold, just briefly eavesdropped on him in a hotel lobby. And his impersonation was so perfect that the nanny was completely fooled and hustled out with the kids. The thief then called down to reception, explaining that he couldn't get his room safe to work. They helpfully sent someone up to open it for him, allowing the fake Gold to walk away with $200,000 in real gold and jewelry.
With duchesses screaming "My diamonds!" in every hotel lobby from Monaco to Vail, the cops became determined to take the thief down. But who was this mysterious chameleon? And where did he come from? Well, after a long investigation, they finally found their answer: His name was Juan Guzman Betancur, and he literally fell out of the sky. Specifically, he fell from the wheel well of a Colombian cargo plane landing at Miami International Airport in 1993. This was a nearly miraculous story, since the sub-zero temperatures in the wheel well should absolutely have been lethal. He was actually declared dead on the runway, but quickly made a full recovery and introduced himself as a 13-year-old orphan named Guillermo Rosales, fleeing extreme poverty in Cali.
The story made "Rosales" a minor celebrity, although his new foster family noticed some troubling behavior, including a tendency to disappear and reappear without explanation. A trip to a hotel pool ended badly, when the kid was found with $200 and a gold chain stolen from other guests. Meanwhile, news arrived from Colombia that "Rosales" was really Guzman Betancur, a 17-year-old with a living, fairly middle-class family. He was quickly deported, but soon vanished again to begin his life of high-class crime.
So how was this criminal mastermind finally taken down? It might be the weirdest part of this whole story. A Scotland Yard detective had unravelled Guzman's life story while investigating a series of heists at London's fanciest hotels. But the thief had vanished like a ghost after each crime. Until one day, when the detective ran out to the supermarket and literally walked right into Guzman, who was reaching out to buy an apple, wearing the same luxury watch he'd swiped from a hotel room weeks before. Seriously, after a global investigation and countless police hours, a complete coincidence took him down. We guess he used up all his luck in the wheel well of that plane.
A Mysterious Diamond Caused Chaos In Wisconsin Before Being Stolen By A Gang Of Murderous Playboy Surfers
A mysterious, possibly cursed gem with the power to fascinate people is such a tired fictional trope that it's surprising how common it is in real life. The 752-pound Bahia Emerald was fought over for years by a complete Coen Brothers cast of swindlers, private eyes, Spongebob superfans, and nefarious plumbers until an entire SWAT team had to be deployed to retrieve it from a shady Mormon financier's storage locker. The Pearl of Lao Tzu was at the center of numerous scams, at least one murder, and an attempted sale to Osama bin Laden, despite being objectively worthless. And at least five Saudi diplomats have been murdered while hunting for the fabulous royal blue diamond stolen by a Thai cleaner in 1989. But perhaps the most fascinating of all is the Eagle Diamond, which appeared mysteriously in a Wisconsin land scam, before vanishing again following a daring surfer heist.
The story started in 1876, when some guys in Eagle, Wisconsin were digging a well. But wait, it gets even more exciting! A local farmer's wife named Clarissa Wood was hanging around perving on the diggers when she spotted a mysterious yellow rock lying in a pile of dirt. Finding herself strangely drawn to the object, she picked it up and kept it in her home for years, until someone told her it could be a topaz. Delighted with her good fortune, Wood sold the stone to a local jeweller named Colonel Samuel Boynton for one whole dollar. This was unfortunate, since the stone turned out to be a massive uncut diamond. Boynton declined Wood's offer to buy the stone back for the same dollar (plus 10 cents interest) and instead bought a bunch of land in Eagle. He quickly found two more diamonds, sparking a national frenzy.
Now, we don't know much about agriculture, but even we know that diamonds rarely grow in Wisconsin. Sure enough, no other gems were ever found in Eagle. But the rush of miners sent land prices skyrocketing. Boynton quietly made a second fortune selling real estate, then skipped town with the proceeds. It's almost certain that the second and third stones were planted by him to help with this scam, although the origins of the Eagle Diamond itself remain a mystery. And it's not one that's going to be solved any time soon, since it's been missing since 1964, when it was stolen by legendary jewel thief "Murf the Surf" and his crew of playboy surfer cat burglars.
Murf was Jack Murphy, a champion surfer who had been making a small fortune robbing jewels from Miami hotels. In Florida, Murphy's crew had organized crime protection, but in 1964, driven by an impulse they've never been able to explain, the crew headed up to New York, where they planned their most daring crime: The theft of the JP Morgan Jewel Collection at the Museum of Natural History. After scaling the building and crawling through an open window, the thieves made off with an incredible haul of jewels, including the Star of India Sapphire and the DeLong Ruby. The theft made them national celebrities, despite the fact that they left behind so much evidence they might as well have saved time and just handcuffed themselves to the radiator until morning.
Everyone got super-arrested, and most of the jewels were recovered. The Star of India was discovered in a bus station locker, while the ruby was ransomed from an underworld fence and returned to the museum by John MacArthur, founder of the MacArthur genius grants. Murf the Surf himself was ultimately given a life sentence after the bodies of two female associates were found in a Florida creek, which really put a damper on the opening of his wacky biopic Live A Little, Steal A Lot. But no matter how hard they searched, the authorities were never able to locate the Eagle Diamond. To this day, nobody knows what happened to it. Our theory is that it was sold to a Saudi prince with an underpaid Thai cleaner and continues its reign of chaos to this day.
Top image: G0d4ather, Bjoern Wylezich/Shutterstock