Five Copycat Crimes a Thousand Times Dumber Than the Original

Five Copycat Crimes a Thousand Times Dumber Than the Original

Crime in the media is a complicated subject. On the one hand, it’s human nature to be curious about the darkest, most depraved side of itself. On the other hand, tons of people are driving increasingly convoluted routes home after work and completely failing to learn karate because they’re convinced violent weirdos lurk around every corner. On the freakish, mutant third hand, there really are some violent weirdos out there drawing inspiration from what they see on the news and the big screen alike, and most of them are idiots.

People Tried to Kill Their Spouses and Blame It on Medicine Tampering

The early 1980s were a more innocent time. We didn’t know what AIDS was yet, Madonna still had her original face and just anybody could open up a bottle of over-the-counter medication, spit in it and put it back on the shelf. We probably should have seen the “Tylenol murders” coming, but someone still managed to kill seven people in the Chicago area with cyanide-laced pain reliever before we made that specifically a crime and mandated tamper-proof packaging. We say “someone” because they were never caught, largely because the random nature of the attacks made it all but impossible to tie them to a suspect. Following widespread media coverage, light bulbs went off over the heads of unhappy spouses across the country.

Most of them just rolled over and hate-stared themselves to sleep, but at least two people tried to kill their spouses and blame it on medicine tampering. Stella Nickell would have gotten away with it (at least until her daughter ratted her out) because her husband’s death was initially attributed to emphysema, but after another person died from poisoned Excedrin, she was like, “Hey, um, I think that’s what killed my husband, too, no reason, just a hunch.” After that, police tied the Excedrin back to her pretty easily because it was also tainted with a substance Nickell used to kill algae in her fish tanks. Always wash your mortar and pestles between crushings, future poisoners.

Meanwhile, Joseph Meling planted five poisoned packages of Sudafed on store shelves in addition to the one in his own home, which killed three people. Unfortunately for him, none of them were his wife, so he just killed three people for no reason. That doesn’t usually happen outside of a Black Mirror episode.

A ‘Fight Club’ Fan Bombed the Wrong Coffee Shop

In the early morning hours of May 25, 2009, a homemade bomb shattered the windows of a New York City Starbucks in an attack that quickly confused investigators. The coffee shop hadn’t even opened yet, and those things exploit thousands of employees before you even get out of bed, so no one was around to be hurt. Was it a disgruntled ex-exploitee? An insurance scam? A customer enraged by the discontinuation of the Apple Chai Infusion?

They found out soon enough that it was a local Fight Club fan because said fan still couldn’t resist breaking the first two rules of Fight Club. According to friends of 17-year-old Kyle Shaw, who they said ran his own “fight club,” he’d been bragging about the attack as the beginnings of his own “Project Mayhem,” and police confirmed that he “picked Starbucks because it was targeted in the movie.”

There’s only one problem with that: Starbucks wasn’t the coffee shop destroyed in the movie. It was practically a sponsor. Director David Fincher hid Starbucks cups all over the film, and you can bet your ass he wouldn’t do that if Starbucks representatives hadn’t read and approved of the script because it turns out 20th Century Fox is also a corporation that doesn’t want to get sued, not an underground terrorist movement. That scene isn’t even in Chuck Palahniuk’s novel, which contains zero mentions of Starbucks or franchise coffee shops. 

Police initially thought the attack was part of a series of bombings that took place around the same time at various foreign consulates and a military recruiting office, which would have been much more in line with Tyler Durden’s philosophy, but no, it was just another Fight Club fan who didn’t understand Fight Club. Shaw ended up serving three-and-a-half years in prison, during which time he learned actual martial arts and presumably read better books. Don’t worry, Kyle. We all misunderstood Fight Club when we were 17.

A ‘Backdraft’ Fan Never Got to Be a Hero, Just an Arsonist

Technically, Glen Jones didn’t duplicate the arsons portrayed in Backdraft, which were intended as murderous revenge on a city councilman who got on the wrong side of the fire department, but he did look up to the movie’s valiant characters and decided to do something about it in 2003. We know what you’re thinking: “People were still watching Backdraft in 2003?” Apparently, yes. We know what else you’re thinking: “So he went out and became a volunteer firefighter?” Apparently, no. That would have made too much sense.

What Jones did instead was hatch a scheme to set his girlfriend’s family’s apartment on fire so he could make like Kurt Russell and be a big damn hero. One night, he waited until they were all asleep, lit a chair on fire and went to bed to wait a plausible amount of time to “smell the smoke” and launch into action. Unfortunately for him but to the great benefit of the family’s rental insurers, they beat him to it. No one was hurt and the apartment wasn’t damaged much, but he was still charged with and convicted of second-degree arson. So suffice it to say they were unimpressed.

A Thief Inspired By France’s Best Fictional Burglar Wound Up With an Orange Soda and Stitches

If you’ve never watched Lupin despite it being one of Netflix’s most globally popular series, don’t worry: You’re just one of countless Americans who doesn’t fuck with subtitles. The French thriller follows a Senegalese orphan inspired by the literary anti-hero Arsène Lupin to get revenge on those who wronged his family by becoming the slickest thief in all of France, so this is a copycat of a copycat.

After watching the series in 2021, an unnamed Italian man claimed he studied the protagonist’s methods before mapping out a plan to rob a church, but he clearly half-assed his homework. After donning a leather jacket similar to the one worn by his hero, he smashed through the door of the church oratory right as the bells rang to cover the sound of shattering glass, he then made off with about 20 bucks and an orange soda. We’re not Catholic scholars, so maybe someone else can explain why this church was carrying the same stock as a 7-Eleven.

What he failed to realize was that in real life, when you barrel into a glass door, not even the coolest leather jacket is going to save you from being sliced into ribbons. His injuries were so bad that he eventually had to call for help, initially telling authorities that he was the one who’d been robbed before admitting the truth. What mostly got him, though, was the fact that he’d robbed the same church a few years earlier, forcing us to assume that church and/or its orange soda killed his parents.

The ‘New York Zodiac’ Actually Used Astrology

The Zodiac Killer has never been identified even though he’s obviously Ted Cruz, and that, combined with the cryptic series of letters he sent to local newspapers, has made him an object of worship to weirdos who likewise think of themselves as brilliant, violent pains in the ass. One of those people was Heriberto Seda, who attempted to kill several people (and occasionally succeeded) between 1990 and 1996 in New York City after watching a documentary about the Zodiac Killer. But there was a lot Seda didn’t understand about the original. For one thing, he appears to have wildly misinterpreted his nickname. Seda targeted his victims and timed his attacks based on astrology.

It’s unclear how Seda knew his victims’ astrological signs; investigators believe he scouted them out through discarded mail and other personal items, but in some cases, he straight-up asked them, resulting in a legitimate excuse for New Yorkers to refuse to acknowledge cheesy pick-up lines. Letters left at the scenes of his crimes and sent to newspapers contained unhinged declarations like “This is the Zodiac the twelve sign will die when the belts in the heaven are seen,” but they were also conveniently covered in his fingerprints and DNA, and most of his victims survived, leaving them perfectly capable of describing their attacker. This didn’t get him caught as quickly as you’d think, since Seda was previously an unknown quantity to New York police, but it was pretty sloppy for a guy claiming to be the most elusive killer of the 20th century.

What eventually brought him down was an attack much closer to home — on his sister and her friend. The handwriting on his statement to the police made them go “Hey, wait a minute,” and it was smooth sailing from there. Seda was sentenced to multiple lifetimes in prison for three murders and eight more attempts, because make no mistake, people died here. And they died for the absolute dumbest possible reason.

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