5 Criminals Caught on Camera in Most Unlikely Ways

These cases were unsolvable, then suddenly everything came into focus
5 Criminals Caught on Camera in Most Unlikely Ways

Nowadays, cameras surround us. Try climbing the ivy into the vicarage to drop strychnine into someone’s coffee, and you can count on some passerby capturing you with their phone, taking all the fun out of your plot. 

So, if we just told you, “We rounded up some crimes where cops had footage of the perp,” that wouldn’t be a big deal. But we promise, the following tales are a lot weirder than that. They’re also — warning — pretty disturbing, so gird yourself accordingly. 

A Murderer Sold His House, Containing Photos of His Crimes

When Brenda Schaefer went missing in 1988, police pretty quickly fixated on her boyfriend Mel Ignatow. She’d told a friend she planned to break up with up him, and such confrontations sometimes end poorly. Questioning the guy only heightened their suspicions. Then Ignatow name-dropped an ex of his, Mary Ann Shore, and she eventually told police, “Oh yeah, he killed her all right. And I was there. Tied her to a coffee table, and I took pictures of the whole thing for him. Even helped him bury the body.”

Mary Ann Shore

Louisville Jefferson Police Dept.

“But other than that, I’m not telling y’all nothin’!”

She led police to Schaefer’s burial site. Clearly, Shore was involved in the crime, but police cut a deal with her, charging her only with evidence tampering in exchange for her testifying against Ignatow. They now had the body and a witness claiming Ignatow was responsible. Still, police lacked solid evidence against the man.

Ignatow’s lawyer put on a strong defense (Ignatow sold his home to pay for it). No physical evidence linked the body to Ignatow, said the lawyer. Police had Shore wear a wire and record Ignatow talking about some burial spot, but the lawyer said that recording didn’t mention a body. Maybe they’d buried something else. Shore said something about photographing Ignatow torturing Brenda, but no one could produce these supposed photos. And the body had been buried behind Shore’s house, not Ignatow’s. Most likely, argued the defense, Shore herself had killed her ex’s new lover, out of jealousy. The jury bought this and acquitted Ignatow on a host of charges. 

That was December 1991. A few months later, contractors were laying carpet in that house Ignatow had sold. They pulled up the floor and came upon some undeveloped film, which they turned in to the authorities. These were the photos Shore had taken. Why Ignatow had left them there was a mystery. The images showed Schaefer tied to a coffee table like Shore had said, and they showed all sorts of terrible sexual crimes, with Ignatow clearly identifiable even with his face out of view. They showed just about everything other than the murder itself. Confronted with the photos, Ignatow now admitted to the murder. The problem was, he had been acquitted already, and he could not be retried, no matter how ironclad the proof against him.

Authorities could charge him with perjury, however, and they did so. He spent 11 years in prison for it. Then he retired to a house not far from the one where he’d killed Schaefer. Some years later, in that new house, he tripped and fell on a glass coffee table. He bled out and died. 

An Invader Lived Secretly in Someone’s Home

The following story is our only one of the day that does not feature weird sex. Despite that, it takes place in Japan. 

In 2008, a 57-year-old man in the town of Kasuya noticed that food kept disappearing from his kitchen. He lived alone, he had no visitors to blame and even sleep-eating did not offer a convincing answer to the mystery. And so, he set up a security camera inside the house. He accessed the feed remotely from his phone, and when the camera spotted someone, he sent the footage in to the police.


Ellen Tanner

Till then, it was just a really, really boring webcam.

The camera was supposed to capture the culprit, and it did capture the culprit. But it did not, as planned, capture anyone breaking into the home. When police came to the house, they were surprised to find the exits all sealed, although a burglar was apparently still in the house. They stormed the place and found the mystery eater, a woman named Tatsuko. She hadn’t broken into the place — or at least, she hadn’t broken in that day. She had been living in the house. 

While the owner was in the house, she spent time curled up on the top shelf of a closet. When he left, she went out to raid the fridge, and also to shower. She’d spent the last year doing so, living in this and neighboring houses, and was otherwise homeless. 

closet shelf

Annie Spratt

In Tokyo, it normally costs $130 a night to sleep on a shelf like this.

Some of you are surely thinking of the move Parasite, where someone lives for an extended time undetected in someone else’s basement shelter. Well, this is that, except the invader didn’t have an entire shelter and still managed to remain hidden. If you have a shelf anywhere in your home, someone is currently sleeping there right now, guaranteed. You just don’t know it yet.

A Ghost Hunter Spotted Something Worse Than Ghosts

The next homeowner also set up a camera in his own home. This one wasn’t seeking to spot any crime, though. He was just hoping to catch sight of the ghost that he thought was haunting his house. 

That might sound a bit like an excuse someone invents to cover up their real motive for secret surveillance, but we actually believe it. A lot of people fear ghosts and watch for them, and if you don’t hear about their investigations, that’s just because they don’t find anything. 

In Mme Qu.'s house

stanze/Wiki Commons

If you do hear about it, that still means they didn’t find anything. 

So, our ghost hunter set up his camera, and he saw something horrifying. Keep in mind, this story takes place in Australia, which means this man must have had a high tolerance for horror. But he looked at the video on this camera, and he discovered... his girlfriend having sex with his son. His son was 16 years old, and the dad had been dating this girlfriend since the son was nine.

The girlfriend, who had moved in the previous year, was effectively the boy's stepmother, noted the judge when this matter went to trial. To which some people in the court, who know the term only in a porn context, presumably replied, “Nice,” but the judge meant this as a criticism. One small mercy for the dad was that the camera didn’t capture the sex itself, though it captured just enough that he figured out what was happening and was able to get the son to admit it.

two people talking

Anna Vander Stel/Unsplash

“Son, I know what’s going on.”
“Aw, man. Sorry, dad, for stealing your girl.”
“That’s... that’s not what happened here.” 

The girlfriend received a year in jail, with a six months suspended sentence. The court kept the names of everyone involved private. We also don’t know the name of the benevolent ghost who was dragging chains around the home to convince the dad to set up the camera and discover the truth in the first place. 

A Thief Turned in a Camera When He Saw What It Held

Quite a few different stories tell of a thief nabbing a laptop, discovering child porn on it, then turning it in to the police. Here’s one from California, here’s one from Britain, here’s another one from California and here’s another one from Britain. Somehow, the following incident is even more extreme than that. 

laptop on fire

secumem/Wiki Commons

“You mean he found a desktop?”
“No, even more extreme than that.” 

In 2013, a burglar broke into a home in southern Spain. He didn’t find a laptop or any other collection of images the homeowner had received from elsewhere. He found an old Super 8 camera, with footage the man had made himself. A Super 8 camera, in case you don’t know, is a type of home camera that was popular in the 1970s. Some people know the device only from the J.J. Abrams movie named after it, a movie that’s 1) itself a dozen years old now; and 2) is pretty much forgotten, so never mind. 

The homeowner coached soccer. The film footage showed him doing things to boys, things do not fall under the usual legal definition of soccer. The thief stashed the film under a parked car and then sent the cops a note tipping them off about the location. “I’ve had the misfortune that these tapes have fallen into my hands," he wrote, "and I feel obligated to turn them in so that you can do your job and put that (expletive) in prison for life.”

Kodak Super 8 Camera

Maurizio Pesce

The media didn’t print the expletive. Forced you to think about the sexual assault of children, but can’t print swears. 

Police went to the address the thief gave them and arrested the child-molesting coach. They already had the guy’s info on file, though not as a suspect. He had contacted them to report the burglary. He hadn’t mentioned the camera, but apparently the burglar had also stolen a toaster or something, and the coach really wanted it back. 

A Suspect Got Away With It the First Time. But Then...

If you report a rape, and the perp is not found guilty, things might go very poorly for you. In fact, if you report a rape, things may go poorly for you even if the perp is found guilty, but if they aren’t, you can expect things to go worse. In 2008, an 18-year-old from Lynnwood, Washington, accused Marc O’Leary of rape, but she had no proof other than her own word.

Marc O'Leary

Colorado Department of Correction

Here’s O’Leary from a little later in his life. 

O’Leary had left very little evidence. He had worn gloves and a mask. He had forced her to brush her teeth and shower afterward and had also brought wet wipes for further cleanup. He had also taken her clothes with him when he left, in case he’d left any traces there. Without sufficient cause to charge O’Leary, police took no action against him. But they did take action against his accuser, charging her with making a false report.

The accuser had a public defender, who recommended she plead guilty, so that’s what she did. She had to pay a $500 fine. The plea also mandated that she receive mental-health counseling. Not victim counseling, we assume (she was not a victim in the eyes of the law), but counseling to teach her just how harmful her actions had been.

In 2009, O’Leary raped again, he broke into another woman’s home in 2010 and tried to rape her, then he managed it one more time in 2011. Police were now able to link these cases to O’Leary, and when they searched his house, they found a memory card. On it were 100 photos he’d taken during that first rape. He’d kept these, while diligently destroying all other evidence, partially to hold them over the victim. He’d told her that if she reported the rape, he’d release the photos online. He did not end up making good on that threat, and the photos ended up convicting him. 

Police did reimburse that $500 they’d fined the first woman. That obviously doesn’t count as compensation, so she also sued them, and won. O’Leary was sentenced to 327 years and six months in prison. His next parole hearing is scheduled for July 2283. 

Follow Ryan Menezes on Twitter for more stuff no one should see.

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