Fun Facts: Crime
"If once a man indulges himself in murder, very soon he comes to think
little of robbing; and from robbing he next comes to drinking and
Sabbath-breaking, and from that to incivility and procrastination."
- Thomas De Quincey (1785-1859)
David Hahn built a small nuclear reactor in a backyard shed in suburban
Detroit in 1994. He had to shut it down after the authorities noticed.
In 2007 he was caught stealing smoke detectors, possibly for the small amounts
of radioactive substances contained within, and sentenced to 90 days in gaol.
In 1991, the Art Loss Register, a database of stolen works of art, was
created. The database now contains over 300,000 works of art, including
hundreds of pieces by Picasso.
The last American pirate to be hanged was Nathaniel Gordon, who was
hanged in "the Tombs" in New York City on February 21, 1862.
Previously, while captain of the ship Erie, his ship was
captured by the American ship Mohican. An inspection revealed
967 blacks aboard who were to be sold into slavery. Conditions were so
bad aboard that 300 died before they could be returned to Africa.
Gordon was charged with piracy and found guilty.
In addition to being the last American pirate to be hanged, he was the first,
and only, American slave trader to be executed for being engaged in the slave trade.
The oldest recorded death sentence is found in the Amherst
papyri, a list of state trials of ancient Egypt, dating to 1500 B.C.
A teenaged male, convicted of "magic", was sentenced to kill himself
by either poison or stabbing.
On the morning of New Year's Day, 1963, one of the top physicists in
Australia, Dr. Gilbert Stanley Bogle, and his girlfriend
Margaret Chandler were
found dead in suburban Sidney, Australia, near Fuller's Bridge, on the Lane Cove River.
The best efforts of the Sydney police, Interpol, and the FBI notwithstanding,
no-one has been able to figure out who killed them, how they were killed,
or why they were killed. This case is unique in that all three of these
questions are unanswered.
At a council in Constance between 1414 and 1417,
the man who called himself Pope John XXIII and is now known as
Antipope John XXIII (1410–1415; not to be confused with Pope John XXIII,
pope from 1958–1963) was convicted of piracy, murder, rape, and incest,
and received three years in prison.
On August 8, 1969, novelist Jerzy Kosinski
was flying to Los Angeles from Paris, with a short stopover in New
York. At New York, all his luggage was accidentally unloaded, forcing him
to get off the plane to go through customs, missing his connecting flight.
This in turn caused him to miss his visit that night with actress Sharon
Tate and other friends, and thus he was absent when Charles Manson
and his disciples paid their murderous visit to the Tate house.
Kosinski later wrote about this close call in the novel Blind
Around one in three murder cases are never solved.
Around 40% of murders occur during arguments.
In 1971, in order to show how easy it is to pass so-called "special bills",
representative Tom Moore, Jr. introduced a bill in the Texas (U.S.A.) House of
Representatives, which was subsequently passed unanimously, commending Boston
mass murderer Albert De Salvo, who was known as "the Boston Strangler".
The bill stated that De Salvo's "dedication and devotion to his work has
enabled the weak and lonely throughout the nation to achieve a new degree of
concern for their future", and that he was "officially recognized by the state
of Massachusetts for his noted activities and unconventional techniques involving
population control and applied psychology".
On May 13, 1983, workers digging in a peat bog in Macclesfield,
located in Cheshire, England, discovered a woman's skull. Local
police had long suspected that Peter Reyn-Bardt, then 57, had
murdered his wife, Malika, who was last seen in 1960. Convinced
that they now had Malika's remains, detectives confronted Reyn-Bardt,
who confessed to the murder. One month before the trial, however,
experts from Oxford learned that the skull belonged to a woman who
died in the third century A.D. Despite this development, Reyn-Bardt
was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.
In 1906, a victim of a murder 2,500 years previous was discovered in Great Britain, in Littondale Cave, near Arncliffe. The body was believed to be that of a woman around 40 years of age, who met her death from a blow by some sharp-pointed weapon, as there is a small irregularly shaped hole, penetrating the inner table of the skull. Probably the blow did not prove instantly fatal, and she crawled up the cave to its innermost recesses to die. (source)
In 1877, during the height of violent labour unrest in the United States,
three men were found guilty of the murder of a foreman of the Lehigh Coal
and Navigation Company and sentenced to hang. Two of them went stoically
to their deaths, but the third, Alexander Campbell, swore that he was
innocent. As he was being dragged from his cell to the gallows, Campbell rubbed his left
hand in dust from the floor and pressed his palm against the plaster wall,
and shouted repeatedly, "This handprint will remain here for all time as
proof of my innocence." Even after Campbell's death, the handprint remained.
In 1931, Carbon County Sheriff Robert L. Bowman undertook a renovation of
the cell, removing the section of plaster wall containing the handprint,
replacing it with a new section of fresh plaster. However, the handprint
still came back, and still exists today.
Over a period of 500 years, a secret religious sect in India called
the Thugs ritually murdered about 12 million people. The term "thug"
originally was Hindi for "swindler". Starting in the thirteenth
century, the Thugs travelled about India in bands, preying on travellers,
whom they would strangle and rob. The Thugs were fanatically devoted
to Kali, the Hindu goddess of destruction. They lasted until around the
1830's, when the occupying British destroyed the destructive sect.
Hypatia (ca. 355 or ca. 370–415 A.D.) was
a soaring figure of beauty, eloquence, and learning,
and the last recorded member of the great
Alexandria and the only noted woman scholar of antiquity. She
taught Neoplatonism (hence, she was a pagan) and helped to demonstrate
Although Christian bishops were among her pupils, she was the
subject of violent antagonism on the part of zealots. She was murdered
in 415 by rioting fanatic monks, under the leadership of bishop Cyril, who
brutally sliced her body to pieces with oyster shells gathered from the
On an application he filled out to join the police force, a Houston,
Texas, resident was asked if he had ever had a police record. The
applicant could not tell a lie. No, he answered, but he had once
knocked over a liquor store, without being caught. Not only did he
not get the job, but he was arrested and gaoled for armed robbery,
and for illegal possession of a .32 calibre revolver which detectives
found when they frisked him at the station house.
For the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, the Roman Olympic Organisation
Committee made a deal with the Association of Roman Thieves for the latter not to
engage in street thefts during the Olympics. During the games,
incidents of pickpocketing, purse snatching, and hold-ups were at a low.
In 1865, William E. Brockway printed a counterfeit $100 bill so
perfect that the Treasury Department's only recourse was to withdraw
all authentic $100 bills from circulation.
Although it has been illegal in India since 1961 to demand a dowry as a condition of
marriage, in 1987 at least 1,786 Indian brides were killed
by their husbands or their husbands' families because their dowries were too
In ancient Babylonia, if a poorly-built home collapsed on the owner, killing him, the architect was executed. If the owner's son was killed in the house collapse, the architect's son was put to death. If the homeowner's wife or daughter was killed, the architect was merely fined.
Edgar Allan Poe wrote a short story in 1838, "The Narrative of Arthur
Gordon Pym of Nantucket", in which three shipwreck survivors in an
open boat kill and eat the fourth, a man named Richard Parker. In 1884,
in the real world, three shipwreck survivors in an open boat killed and
ate the fourth, whose name was Richard Parker.
Ben Jonson, the brilliant English dramatist and poet (1572–1637),
was working as an actor and playwright in 1598 when he killed another
actor in a duel. He was tried, and successfully defended himself by
claiming the right of clergy, namely, that he could read the Bible in
Latin, and was punished only by branding and a short prison sentence.