5 People Who Impersonated the Police with Terrifying Success
You’ve all heard about the cop who doesn’t play by the rules. You know what’s one step beyond that? A cop who’s not actually a cop. They’re just pretending to be one, so of course they care nothing about the rules, and they have some plans of their own in mind, plans that have very little to do with enforcing the law.
Maybe that plan involves comic mischief. Unfortunately, that plan may also involve them killing you because they’re a robot sent from the future.
A New Yorker Got a Badge and Opened His Own Police Station
At first, Henry Terry’s police routine made him sound like a low-ambition vigilante. The 24-year-old man got himself police uniforms and handcuffs and decked out his car in lights and sirens. He’d stop drivers, saying he’d observed them breaking traffic rules, and he’d take them back to his office, which he’d claim was a police station. He cuffed them as he interrogated them, and he photocopied their licenses. He was playing Batman, except minus every part of the Batman fantasy that makes it cool.
Once the real police caught word of what Terry was doing, however, they noticed other stuff, stuff beyond “this would have been legal were you only a real cop.” For starters, they said he put cats in milk crates and set them on fire, which is a total misunderstanding of Batman’s relationship with Selina. That sounds like cruelty for cruelty’s sake (he was a “serial killer in the making,” claimed one official), but the other explanation offered by one of his victims was just as bad: He killed the cats so he could then approach the owners and falsely offer to find who did it.
When we say victims, we’re not just talking about people inconvenienced by Terry detaining them for a short bit. After some initial interrogation, Terry would sometimes put a gun to the kidnapee’s head and get them to stay in his home for an extended time — for sex. He also landed one official first-degree rape charge, after entering a woman’s home under the pretense of investigating a robbery. Terry ended up with a maximum of 20 years in prison, which might be effective, in that he’s sure to emerge with less of an affinity for police uniforms.
A Chicago Officer Didn’t Realize His Partner Was in Middle School
In 2009, someone new walked into Chicago’s Grand Crossing District Station in a police uniform. He joined another officer in a car and patrolled for five hours. He even assisted in an arrest. Only at the end of the shift did a different officer question the credentials of this new arrival, who claimed to be from a neighboring district. Though his basic outfit looked all right, he had no gun in his holster. Instead of wearing a bulletproof vest, he’d just stuffed that compartment with newspaper.
The newbie was actually a 14-year-old kid, Vincent Richardson. The previous year, police had recruited him into a youth group called “police explorers,” and now, he wanted to do the job for real. Richardson evidently had a talent for passing as an adult even without a police uniform. A few months later, he showed up at a Lexus dealership, claiming to be a businessman. He got into a car for a test drive and immediately crashed it.
At the time, Richardson’s name was kept out of media reports, as he was a kid. We only know it today because five years later, when he was 19, he tried the police game again. By this point, he had a job as a security guard and was attending college, but he showed up at a uniform store and tried to buy official police clothes. He claimed to be an officer and asked to buy stuff like a belt and a police shirt, then the employee did a quick background check on him and discovered his impersonator past.
That above photo isn’t from that incident, however. No, that’s from when he was charged yet again with impersonating an officer, this time in 2021. By this point, Richardson had a TikTok account in which he’d dance while dressed in a police uniform. He appears to have deleted that account now, perhaps on advice of counsel. Lawyers advise everyone else who has danced on TikTok to do the same.
An Officer Pulled Over a Bank Car to Warn About a Bomb
A car with 300 million yen — that’s around $12 million, in today’s money — headed from a Japanese bank to a factory one day in 1968. A man on a motorcycle, which appeared to be a police bike, pulled the car over. Everyone had to get out immediately, he warned. Police had received word about a planned attack on the delivery, and someone had strapped a dynamite bomb beneath the vehicle.
The men got out, the cop slid under the car to check for the bomb and the team soon saw smoke and flames. They stepped back, scared. After the officer emerged, surely even more terrified than they were, he did not sprint to safety. He just got into the car and drove it and its cargo away.
We often like telling you about crazy heists, and normally, the heist itself is just one part of the story. We also tell you about the robbers’ backstory and their plan, and then about their later arrest. We can’t in this case, because the fake cop totally got away. It’s been 55 years, and still, no one has any idea who the guy was.
Though police were able to figure out that he drove to a parking lot where he’d stashed a stolen car, they completely lost track of him after that. Maybe the thief was the child of an officer, people reasoned, since he looked young and was able to imitate a cop so well. For a while, police zeroed in on a specific son of one of their own, but the guy killed himself while under investigation, which doesn’t necessarily exonerate him, but there was also no sign of the money on him.
The incident may have convinced Japanese banks to switch to armored vans instead of normal cars for when they have to transport a huge cash cache. It also produced another useful piece of advice: When you do step away from a car full of money, at least take the key to the ignition with you.
A Suspect Impersonated a Cop to Order Pizza
In 2014, Kentucky police picked up 29-year-old Michael Harp for shoplifting. At the station, they let him make a call from his cell phone — you don’t really get officially “one phone call” when you’re arrested like on people on TV do, but they certainly might let you make a call anyway, especially if you have your lawyer stored in your contacts.
Shortly afterward, a Domino’s pizza guy arrived at the station. He carried five pizzas. The name on the order was Officer Wilson, the man who’d arrested Harp. The order had come from Harp’s phone.
This story should have ended with the police all laughing, everyone sharing pizza and Harp getting off free with just a warning. Instead, the police informed him that in calling for food under the name “Officer Wilson,” he had earned one additional charge: impersonating an officer. Harp now took this opportunity to claim that someone else must have ordered those pizzas. This denial was actually the smartest thing he’d done all day.
Someone Phoned Dozens of Fast-Food Restaurants, Convincing Managers to Strip Search Employees
The earliest call came in 1994, and the final one came in 2004. Each time, the caller claimed to be with the police and said they suspected a female employee of some crime, usually theft. The manager, said the man on the phone, would have to strip search the employee. Most of the time, the manager obeyed, and the employee too fell for the ruse.
The calls came to Wendy’s, to Hardee’s, to Applebee’s and Taco Bell. Sometimes, the caller had the manager physically probe the nude employee. Sometimes, the employee had to exercise naked, while the manager described the sight for the caller. Several of the stripped employees were minors. The searches never found anything, as the employees were all innocent.
Sometimes, once the search was done, the caller moved on to demanding that the manager and employee perform specific sex acts. This, of course, could no longer be justified by any imaginary criminal investigation, but once you start obeying, you go on obeying, especially if you’re a fast-food employee trained to serve.
The most famous of these happened in Mount Washington, Kentucky, and yet it was just one of over 70 incidents overall. The Mount Washington case was the best documented because the whole thing was caught on surveillance tape, parts of which are available on YouTube right now. Though, if you want to get a sense of what happened without witnessing the actual crime, you can also try watching one of several fictionalized depictions, like the 2012 movie Compliance.
That movie claims to be “inspired by true events.” Usually, that’s a film’s way of admitting that it bears hardly any resemblance to reality, but the most unlikely parts of this movie are all true to what really happened. It gives an accurate minute-by-minute account of how the 2.5-hour search went down (the caller had the manager’s fiancé spank the nude employee then made her fellate him). One difference from real life is the movie sets the search at a fictional restaurant chain, but it happened at McDonald’s. We suppose there’d be all sorts of legal complications with using the McDonald’s trademark in a movie portraying something terrible that really did happen there.
The movie does depart from the truth when portraying the caller. As a sort of punchline, they reveal that when he’s not making these calls, the guy works at a call center. The real person the police ended up arresting worked as a prison guard. The movie also ends with the guy’s arrest but doesn’t get around to mentioning that the person arrested for these crimes in real life went on to be acquitted on all charges for lack of evidence. For all we know, we never found the right man at all — though, after this one guy’s trial and acquittal, no other incident like these ever happened again.
That fiancé in the Mount Washington case went to prison, and the victim separately sued McDonald’s, who hadn’t warned managers after the first few times the caller hit the chain. McDonald’s settled for more than $1 million. After hearing this whole story, you might never be able to stomach McDonald’s again. Then again, that might also have been true before you heard anything about this.