Bonkers Crimes and Criminals In History
Bonkers Crimes and Criminals In History

Bonkers Crimes and Criminals In History

Khalid Elhassan - February 7, 2020

Most crimes are run-of-the-mill and prosaic affairs – except for the direct participants, whether victims or perpetrators. To outside observers, there is usually little to separate one gas station robbery from another or make one street mugging stand out from others. However, every now and then, we get a crime or criminal so bonkers, that people cannot help but perk up and pay attention. Following are forty fascinating things about some of history’s most bonkers crimes and criminals.

Bonkers Crimes and Criminals In History
Crutchy Push figurines. Beasts of War

40. The One-Legged Gangsters

Around the turn of twentieth century, Melbourne, Australia, was terrorized by a band of toughs known as the Crutchy Push. “Push” was Australian slang for a gang, and the “Crutchy” part came from the gang being composed almost exclusively of one-legged men who used crutches. The sole exception was a member who had both legs, but was missing an arm – he stuffed the empty sleeve with a brick, to swing it around like a flail during fights.

Led by one Valentine Keating, who had lost his right leg, the Crutchy Push’s membership criterion boiled down to a missing limb, a thirst for drink, and a fighting attitude. Surprisingly, they were well nigh unbeatable. They practiced and perfected a fighting technique in which they jabbed victims in the midriff with a crutch tip, causing them to double over, then used the metal shod arm rest like a club to bash them in the head.

Bonkers Crimes and Criminals In History
Valentine Keating, leader of the Crutchy Push. Daily Mercury

39. “Like a Flying Kangaroo”

The Crutchy Push’s crutch fu enabled them to rule the streets of Melbourne from 1895 to 1905. They earned their way with strong-armed robberies and extortions, demanding drink, food, and money, from pubs, shops, and members of the public. They viciously defended their turf against rival gangs and encroached on the turf of others with impunity.

The Crutchies Push took on all comers – including the cops. In 1898, the one-legged gangsters were involved in a sprawling brawl, and when the police arrived to quell the disturbance, the Crutchies turned on them as well. Their leader, Valentine Keating, knocked down a constable, but when his colleagues tried to arrest, they were astonished at just how fast a one-legged man could move. As one of them testified in court about his failure to catch Keating: “he was off like a flying kangaroo – although he goes on crutches“.

Bonkers Crimes and Criminals In History
Crutchy Push figurines, including the gang’s sole two-legged (but one-armed) member. Beasts of War

38. The Terrible Ten – Australia’s Toughest Cops

The Crutchy Push and other gangs grew so out of control, that the authorities set up a special police task force to deal with them. Known as the “Terrible Ten”, it recruited Australia’s biggest and most violent cops, equipped them with heavy rubber hoses, and sent them to whale the stuffing out of the street toughs. The Terrible Ten won the streets back by beating most gangs into submission.

The exception was the Crutchies, who remained unsubdued until Valentine Keating, their leader, his girlfriend, and his chief lieutenant were imprisoned for a murderous assault on a constable. Their victim was beaten so badly, he was still picking pieces of skull from his fractured head at the time of the trial. Upon his release from prison, Keating opened an unlicensed bar. With his crutch ever by his side, he never needed to call the police to settle a disturbance in his establishment.

Bonkers Crimes and Criminals In History
Charlie Birger’s gang. Posterazzi

37. The Hillbilly Mafia War That Featured Homemade Tanks and Aerial Bombings

In 1913, Charlie Birger, born Schachna Itzik Birger to a Jewish family in Russia, settled in a coal mining region in rural Southern Illinois. It was a “dry” part of the state, but local rules did not eliminate drinkers’ thirst. So Birger forged an alliance between hill people who manufactured booze in illicit stills and the miners who drank it and set up shop as a small-time bootlegger and pimp.

When Prohibition arrived in 1920, Birger graduated from a two-bit to a major bootlegger, with a network that stretched from Florida to the Canadian border. A ruthless operator, he crushed the local Ku Klux Klan – not out of any noble motives, but because they impeded his bootlegging operations. Whatever his motives, crushing the KKK made Birger a local hero, until things went haywire when he fell out with his business partners. The ensuing conflict was fought with homemade tanks and aerial bombings.

Also Read: The Daily Life of a Bootlegger During Prohibition.

Bonkers Crimes and Criminals In History
Charlie Birger. Find a Grave

36. The First Aerial Bombing on American Soil

In 1925, Charlie Birger partnered up with another bootlegger gang run by Carl Shelton and his brothers, to jointly transport imported booze from Florida to Chicago. The partnership quickly fell apart, however, because of cheating in the collection of the proceeds and divvying up the profits. Things escalated – quickly. In one incident in 1926, Birger’s gang was attacked by a Shelton homemade tank: a two and a half-ton truck covered in steel armor, with a turret from which numerous firearms protruded.

A month later, the Sheltons upped the ante and escalated things some more, when they hired an airplane to drop sticks of dynamite over a Birger hideout. Nobody was hurt, but it made history as the first known aerial bombing in the US. Birger fought back in a more traditional way, with assassinations and ambuscades.

Bonkers Crimes and Criminals In History
Charlie Birger on the scaffold. The Southern Illinoisan

35. Crossing the Line

The Southern Illinois bootlegger war lasted six months, during which dozens of bodies were left across the region in culverts, floating in streams, or sitting in bullet-riddled cars along the road. Birger was remarkably open about his criminality, broadcasting messages over local radio to assure the public that they were safe because only gangsters were getting killed. He also publicly boasted of his intent to kill a Shelton ally – the mayor of a small town – then had him murdered.

He was arrested but might have walked if his gangsters had not also abducted and murdered a state trooper and his wife. The state trooper was dirty, but his wife, a popular schoolteacher, was seen as innocent, and that finally turned public opinion against Birger. He was tried, convicted, and on April 19th, 1928, was hanged before a crowd of 5000 – Illinois’ last public hanging.

Bonkers Crimes and Criminals In History
Eighteenth-century wigs. Wellcome Library

34. The Wig-Stealing Bandits

Nowadays, wigs are so cheap that you can get a reasonably realistic-looking one at Walmart for under ten bucks. There was a time, however, when wigs were necessities for the upper crust – and quite expensive necessities at that. In the eighteenth century, for example, making a decent wig usually could take “six men working six days from sunup to sundown“.

As a result, a good wig could cost as much as an average workman earned in a year. Such a small fortune propped atop rich people’s heads made wigs an attractive target for highwaymen, strong-arm robbers, or simple snatch-and-run street urchins.

Bonkers Crimes and Criminals In History
Highwaymen accosting a bigwig. Gizmodo

33. Targeting Bigwigs

Highwaymen in particularly targeted aristocrats who were spotted wearing elaborate wigs. Since only the rich could afford big wigs, rich nobles were nicknamed “bigwigs”, after the lucrative target atop their heads.

Not all wig thieves used force. One account tells of a wig bandit so bold and skilled, that he was able to replace his target’s expensive wig with a cheap rug when the mark was distracted. The aristo, unaware of the switch, would then walk away, unaware that he had just lost a fortune. Unfortunately for the thieves, their gravy train eventually came to a halt when wigs went out of fashion.

Bonkers Crimes and Criminals In History
Denzel Washington as Frank Lucas in American Gangster. IMDb

32. Smuggling Heroin Inside the Corpses of Dead GIs

Frank Lucas (1930 – 2019), whose criminal career was featured in the 2007 blockbuster, American Gangster, is perhaps the most famous African American criminal. Born and raised in North Carolina, Lucas claimed he was traumatized into a life of crime after witnessing his twelve-year-old cousin get his brains blown out by the KKK for his “reckless eyeballing” of a white woman.

While the movie took artistic license with Lucas’ life and career, it got the broad strokes right. He really was a big wheel in the heroin trade and was one of America’s biggest drug dealers in the 1960s and 1970s. During the Vietnam War, he smuggled heroin into the US inside the bodies of dead American soldiers – or at least inside their coffins.

Bonkers Crimes and Criminals In History
Frank Lucas. Harlem World Magazine

31. Making it In the Big Apple

After a few years of petty crimes, such as mugging drunks outside bars, Frank Lucas got a job at a pipe company when he was sixteen. His employment ended when his boss walked in on his daughter and Lucas having sex. In the ensuing fight, the budding hoodlum knocked out the outraged father with a pipe blow to the head. Then figuring in for a penny, in for a pound, he stole $400 from the company till and fled to New York City.

There, Lucas met and became the protege of Bumpy Johnson, Harlem’s crime boss. However, Lucas was given to stretching the truth, or outright fibbing, so the details of his early life, which are based on his own accounts, should be taken with a grain of salt. When Bumpy Johnson died in 1968, he left Harlem up for grabs, and Lucas grabbed as much turf as he could.

Bonkers Crimes and Criminals In History
Coffins shipped from Vietnam. Rare Historical Photos

30. The Ghoulish Smuggling Scheme

After Frank Lucas got established in Harlem, he took to traveling. He eventually ended up in Thailand, where he ran into a US Army sergeant who turned out to be a distant cousin, and who put Lucas in touch with local heroin dealers. The cousins worked out a plan to import heroin from its source in Southeast Asia, bypassing the Italian mafia which had a near total heroin monopoly at the time. The saving were huge: buying heroin at source cost Lucas $4200 a kilo. Buying the same kilo in Harlem from the mafia would have cost him $50,000.

The main difficulty was getting the drugs into the US. The cousins solved it by smuggling heroin inside the coffins of American servicemen killed in the Vietnam War. Lucas claimed that heroin bricks were stuffed inside the cadavers of the fallen. His cousin disputed that, however, and contended that the drugs were smuggled in relatively less ghoulish fashion, in the coffins but not inside the corpses.

Bonkers Crimes and Criminals In History
Frank Lucas. The Other Man

29. The Heroin Kingpin

However he smuggled it, Frank Lucas smuggled plenty of heroin into the US. He claimed that he made $1 million a day at the height of his career. It was an exaggeration, but he did make a lot of money from heroin. He used the drug profits to buy real estate all over the country, including ranches in which he raised and bred Black Angus cattle, apartments in Miami and LA, and office buildings in Detroit.

His career ended in 1975 when his New Jersey home was raided by a joint DEA and NYPD task force, and authorities found $584,000 in cash. He was tried on federal and state drug charges, convicted, and sentenced in 1976 to 70 years in prison. Lucas got out by turning state’s evidence and testifying against his former colleagues.

Bonkers Crimes and Criminals In History
Frank Lucas in old age. NY Daily News

28. Walking the Straight-ish and Narrow-ish

After he ratted out his former colleagues, Frank Lucas and his family were placed in the Witness Protection Program in 1977. Between his testimony and evidence, he gave the authorities, over a hundred drug-related convictions were secured. He was rewarded for his cooperation in 1981 with a sentence reduction to time served plus lifetime parole, and he walked out of prison, a free man.

Lucas was back behind bars in 1984 after he was caught and convicted of trying to swap some heroin and cash for a kilo of cocaine. He was sentenced to seven years, and released in 1991. He walked the straight and narrow or at least was not convicted of anything major, from then until his death in 2019.

Related: 10 Fascinating Things About New York’s Black Mafia.

Bonkers Crimes and Criminals In History
The Nun of Monza, by Mose Bianchi. Pinterest

27. History’s Worst Nun?

Marianna de Leyva y Marino (1575 – 1650) was born to a wealthy banking family in Milan. Her mother died during Marianna’s infancy, so her father dumped her on an aunt to raise her, and forgot about her as he pursued his business affairs across Europe. At age thirteen, her dad remembered her long enough to force her into a convent in Monza.

Somewhere along the line during those years of childhood neglect, something went wrong, and Marianna went off the edge. By the time the dust had settled, she had shacked up with a criminal lover, had multiple illegitimate children, and went on a crime spree that featured murder and blackmail. And just for flavor and to add to the crazy, Mariana took a stab at eating human shit.

Bonkers Crimes and Criminals In History
The Nun of Monza, by Giuseppe Molteni. Wikimedia

26. The Nun and Her Lover

After getting dumped into a convent, things went well for Marianna – at least for a while. She took the name Sister Virginia and became a role model for younger novices. In her twenties, however, she fell head over heels in love, or lust, with a young aristocratic womanizer named Giovanni Paolo Osio. A years-long torrid affair ensued. Osio commissioned a copy of the convent’s keys, and with the complicity of other nuns and a friendly priest, routinely snuck into Marianne’s room. She birthed two children, one a stillborn, the other a daughter who was adopted by Osio.

Marianna alternated between gratifying her lust and guilt-tripping over her sins. At some point, hoping to turn her irresistible lust for Osio into disgust, she began eating his feces. It did not work. Then, in 1606, a nun threatened to expose the affair. So Osio and Marianna murdered her and threatened the other nuns with the same if they tattled.

Bonkers Crimes and Criminals In History
Arrest of the Nun of Monza, by Giovannia Migliara. Antico

25. Getting Bricked Up Into a Cell

Marianna and her lover tried covering their tracks by spreading a story that the murdered nun had ran off, but rumors soon spread of iffy goings-on at the Monza convent. So Osio started murdering more people to quell the rumors, including the man he had commissioned to make copies of the convent’s keys, and an apothecary who had supplied Marianna with abortion herbs.

It didn’t work, and eventually, word reached the governor of Milan, who ordered an investigation. Osio, Marianna, and their complicit enablers were arrested in 1607 and tortured to reveal what they knew. Osio escaped and was sentenced to death in absentia. He was killed soon thereafter by an acquaintance. Marianna was sentenced to life in solitary confinement, bricked up in a small cell measuring four feet by nine. She stayed there for fourteen years, until she was deemed reformed and released, to spend her remaining days in a convent.

Bonkers Crimes and Criminals In History
Rasputin. Wikimedia

24. A Hard to Murder Charlatan

Illiterate Siberian peasant, mystic, and charlatan faith healer Rasputin (1872 – 1916) – Russian for “the debauched one” – had a reputation for licentiousness since his teens. At 18, he studied at a monastery and joined a flagellant sect, but perverted its beliefs by inventing a doctrine that nearness to God is best achieved by “holy passionlessness”. The best way to get there, according to Rasputin, was with sexual exhaustion after prolonged bouts of debauchery by the entire congregation. That would get all the base passions out of their system, and allow them to focus on God without distractions.

He also had an inexplicable ability to soothe the suffering of the Russian Emperor’s young son and heir, who suffered from hemophilia. It won Rasputin imperial favor, which made him an incongruously powerful and influential figure in the Russian Empire’s final years. That made him enemies, who decided to murder Rasputin – only to discover that they had their work cut out for them.

Bonkers Crimes and Criminals In History
Rasputin with Empress Alexandra and her children. Pinterest

23. From Wandering Monk to Imperial Whisperer

Rasputin began his career as a wandering monk, living off donations and gradually building up a reputation as a holy man who could predict the future and heal the sick. He ended up in St. Petersburg in 1903, at a time when mysticism was fashionable with its decadent court and high society. Rasputin, the dirty, smelly, holy peasant with brilliant and captivating eyes and a reputation for faith healing, was a hit. He exerted a powerful animal magnetism upon high society women, and soon had a cult following of wealthy aristocrats throwing themselves at him like groupies at a rock star.

One of them introduced him to Empress Alexandria, whose son suffered from hemophilia. Rasputin was able to soothe the child’s suffering, which earned him the mother’s fierce loyalty. Soon, the royal airhead was convinced that Rasputin was guided by God. She started soliciting the illiterate charlatan’s advice on matters of state, then badgered her weak-minded husband, the Emperor, into implementing Rasputin’s recommendations.

Bonkers Crimes and Criminals In History
A contemporary cartoon depicting Rasputin’s perceived hold on Russia’s Emperor and Empress. Pinterest

22. Running the Russian Empire

Before long, ministers and high officials were being appointed and dismissed based on Rasputin’s advice. Those seeking to advance or secure their positions offered him lavish bribes or sent their wives and daughters to seduce him into putting in a good word for them with the Emperor and Empress. That scandalous state of affairs made the imperial government a laughingstock and brought it into low repute, but the Empress remained fiercely protective of Rasputin.

So a group of aristocrats, led by Prince Feliks Yusupov, husband of the Emperor’s niece, decided to rid Russia of Rasputin’s malign influence by murdering him. Rasputin was lured to Yusupov’s palace on the night of December 30th, 1916, on the pretext of meeting Yusupov’s wife, who was interested in “knowing” him. Many nobles had offered their womenfolk to Rasputin before, so the invitation was not unusual. His murder turned out to be as weird as his life had been.

Bonkers Crimes and Criminals In History
Prince Felix Yusupov and his wife. Pintrest

21. History’s Hardest Murder?

At Yusupov’s palace, while waiting for his host’s wife to “freshen up”, Rasputin was offered cakes and tea laced with cyanide. He ate and drank with no ill effects. He was then offered poisoned wine. He quaffed it without a problem, asked for another glass, then one more after that. Exasperated, Yusupov retrieved a pistol and shot Rasputin in the chest. Believing him dead, the conspirators went about covering their tracks. Then Rasputin rose hours later, and attacked Yusupov.

The prince managed to free himself and fled up the stairs. Rasputin left via the palace courtyard, where the panicked conspirators caught up with and shot him again. They then wrapped his body in a rug, cut a hole in a frozen river’s surface, and shoved him in. When his body was eventually recovered, it was reported that it had not been the bullets or poison that had killed him, but drowning – he was presumably still alive when thrown into the river.

Bonkers Crimes and Criminals In History
Crucifixion is a painful way to die. Ancient Origins

20. The Religious Fanatic Who Made Her Followers Crucify Her

In 1794, Margaretta Peter was born into a large Swiss family, and early on, she displayed remarkable religious zeal. By age six, she was a preaching prodigy who captivated congregations with impassioned sermons, revealing a better grasp of the Bible than many adult ministers. She had a strong personality, and spiritually dominated her family and neighbors, turning them into her disciples.

When she turned twenty, Margaretta announced that she was a prophetess, and established a small congregation in her village. She also took to wandering and preaching, gaining a reputation and following across Switzerland. In 1823, Margaretta began harping on Satan, warning her followers that he was all around them. Then she began experiencing prophetic visions of demons taking over the world. From there, things took ever greater turns for the worse, until it finally ended in mayhem, multiple murders, and Margaretta commanding her followers to crucify her.

Bonkers Crimes and Criminals In History
The anticipated final showdown between Satan and Jesus drove Margaretta Peter and her followers over the edge. Flickr

19. Preparing For the Final Showdown Between Jesus and Satan

One day, Margaretta Peter told ten devoted followers to gather weapons and pray, because the final battle between good and evil, pitting Jesus against Satan, was about to begin. On her instructions, they gathered axes, clubs, and whatever weapons they could find, and barricaded themselves in a farmhouse attic. Margaretta told them that invisible devils had surrounded the house, then shrieked that they had broken in. So her followers began to wildly swing their weapons at imaginary demons that could only be seen by Margaretta.

It went on for hours, during which Margaretta and her followers destroyed the attic. Then they descended to the ground floor, and began hitting each other, on the theory that pain would ward off the devils. They kept at it until neighbors finally called the police, who arrived to find Margaretta’s followers senseless on the floor, while she continued pummeling them.

Bonkers Crimes and Criminals In History
Demonic possession. Inquisitor

18. Fending Off Satan With Pain

One day after beating themselves senseless, Margaretta told her followers that more pain was needed to ward off Satan. She then grabbed an iron wedge and began bludgeoning her brother, while her followers resumed beating each other up. Margaretta then announced that her dead mother’s ghost ordered her to sacrifice herself, but her sister stepped up and insisted that she be sacrificed instead.

Margaretta accepted and began beating her sister with an iron wedge. The rest of the congregation joined in, and soon, the sister was dead. When a follower protested, Margaretta assured her that her sister would rise from the dead in three days.

Bonkers Crimes and Criminals In History
Margaretta Peter’s followers nailed her to a cross, then smashed her head. Ancient Origins

17. “Crucify Me!”

After bludgeoning her sister to death, Margaretta ordered her followers to crucify her. They were reluctant at first, but she assured them that she would return to life in three days. So they made a cross, and with Margaretta urging them on, nailed her to it by her hands, elbows, feet, and breasts. She then ordered them to stab her through the heart. They tried, but couldn’t get it right. So they took a hammer and crowbar and smashed her head.

Margaretta’s congregation then gathered around the bodies and prayed while waiting for them to come back to life in three days. Needless to say, three days came and went, but the dead prophetess and her dead sister stayed dead. Her disciples were tried for murder, and eleven were convicted and given prison sentences ranging from six months to sixteen years.

16. The Sleepwalking Murder

Albert Jackson Tirrell, the scion of a wealthy Massachusetts family, scandalized society by abandoning his wife and two children to be with Maria Bickford, a married prostitute living in a Boston brothel. He fell in love with Mrs. Bickford, who seemed to return the affection, although it did not stop her from continuing her profession. That did not sit well with Tirrell, and it was a constant bone of contention between the pair throughout their relationship.

On the night of October 27th, 1845, loud noises were heard from Mrs. Bickford’s room. Soon thereafter, the brothel owner awoke to the smell of smoke to discover that somebody had set three fires in his establishment. After dousing the flames, he entered Mrs. Bickford’s room, to discover that she had been savagely beaten and brutally murdered, her throat slit from ear to ear with a razor. Her killer, Tirrell, would escape punishment with a sleepwalking defense.

Bonkers Crimes and Criminals In History
Early report of the murder of Maria Bickford. Smithsonian Magazine

15. Trying Tirrell

Multiple witnesses had seen Albert Tirrell enter Mrs. Bickford’s room on the evening of her murder after her last customer had departed. A bloody razor was found near the body, along with pieces of Tirrell’s clothes and broken-off sections of a distinctive cane known to belong to him. Tirrell fled, and was last spotted bargaining with a livery stable keeper, reportedly saying that he was “in a scrape” and needed to get away.

Tirrell was eventually tracked down to New Orleans, where he was arrested on December 6th, 1845, and extradited to Massachusetts to face trial. The story quickly became a local and national sensation. It combined the salacious details of sex, the sin of adultery, the class divide briefly bridged between a scion of a wealthy family who abandoned everything to be with a prostitute, capped off with a gruesome murder, nationwide manhunt, arrest, and trial.

Bonkers Crimes and Criminals In History
Rufus Choate. Wikimedia

14. Birth of the Sleepwalking Defense

Tirrell’s parents hired Rufus Choate, a former US Senator and respected Boston lawyer known for his creative defense strategies. At the trial, prosecutors called in numerous witnesses who established strong circumstantial evidence that Tirrell was the culprit. The defendant’s lawyer, emphasizing that the evidence was circumstantial and that nobody had seen Tirrell actually murder the victim, built his defense on the then-innovative sleepwalking defense.

Choate contended that Tirrell was a chronic sleepwalker, and if he did kill Mrs. Bickford, he must have done so while in a somnambulistic state. As such, he would have been unaware of his actions, and so could not legally be held responsible for them.

Bonkers Crimes and Criminals In History
Maria Bickford. Daily Mail

13. “A Strange State, As if Asleep or Crazy”

Defense witnesses testified that on the morning of the murder, Albert Tirrell had seemed to be in a trance, sounding weird and appearing “in a strange state, as if asleep, or crazy“. Another witness testified to speaking with Tirrell, who claimed he was fleeing from an adultery indictment. When the witness informed Tirrell of Mrs. Bickford’s murder, he seemed genuinely shocked.

Choate also attacked the victim. He argued that, after ensnaring the hitherto innocent Tirrell and seducing him away from his wife and children, she might have killed herself. As Choate pointed out, it was not uncommon for prostitutes to commit suicide. The argument resonated with the jurors’ cultural mores in early Victorian America – a time of disquiet over the recent proliferation of “fallen women” handing their cards to passersby on city streets. It was easy to convince them that the victim was as morally culpable as her killer.

Bonkers Crimes and Criminals In History
Many pamphlets were produced to meet the public demand for information about the Albert Tirrell trial. Hein Online

12. A Sleepwalking Acquittal

After Choate delivered a six-hour closing argument, the jury retired to deliberate. They returned two hours later with a not guilty verdict, on grounds that Tirrell was unaware of his actions at the time of the killing, and was thus not legally responsible.

In subsequent years, other defendants were acquitted based on a sleepwalking defense. Ironically, however, America’s first successful sleepwalking defense was probably a sham.

Bonkers Crimes and Criminals In History
Contemporary pamphlet about the Bickford murder. Project Gutenberg

11. America’s First Sleepwalking Defense Was a Sham

People in a somnambulistic state are capable of complex actions. However, Albert Tirrell’s failed attempts at setting fire to the brothel after the murder are clear indicia that he sought to destroy evidence of his crime and cover his tracks. Such actions demonstrate that he was well aware of his actions and their consequences. Thus, his sleepwalking defense was a sham: sleepwalkers do not try to destroy evidence of their crimes.

Tirrell was probably guilty of the murder of Maria Bickford, and almost certainly guilty of the attempted arson of the brothel and the consequent attempted murder of its occupants, or at least the reckless endangerment of their lives. Today, it is highly unlikely that a defendant in similar circumstances would be acquitted on a sleepwalking defense.

Bonkers Crimes and Criminals In History
Lining up for free soup during the Great Depression. Fee

10. Killing Iron Mike

Times were tough in 1932, in the depths of the Great Depression. Tony Marino, the proprietor of a rundown speakeasy in the Bronx, was in desperate need of money. So he and four acquaintances hatched a plan to murder somebody and collect the life insurance. Working with a corrupt insurance agent, they would take out life insurance policies on one of the habitual drunks frequenting Marino’s establishment. They would then get him to drink himself to death, and collect when he perished.

Their chosen victim was Michael Malloy (1873 – 1933), a homeless Irish immigrant. Malloy was an alcoholic and a longtime client of Marino’s, where he often drank on credit until he passed out. He paid when he could, and ran the tab for months when he was broke. He seemed the perfect mark. After taking out life insurance policies on Malloy, Marino extended him unlimited credit at the speakeasy. However, Michael Malloy turned out to be extremely difficult to kill – a toughness that earned him the nicknames “Iron Mike” and “Mike the Durable”.

Bonkers Crimes and Criminals In History
Tony Marino’s speakeasy on Third Avenue. Wikimedia

9. Poisoning Mike the Durable

Tony Marino and his accomplices assumed that Michael Malloy would quickly drink himself to death. Unfortunately for them, the old Irishman drank all his waking hours, day in and day out, without any noticeable decline in his health. So to speed things up, Marino and his partners in crime added antifreeze to their mark’s booze. Malloy simply drank it until he passed out, then asked for more when he came to.

The plotters then replaced the antifreeze with turpentine. Malloy was unfazed. So they upped their game by switching to horse liniment – basically, liquid Bengay. Malloy gulped it down and asked for more. They then added rat poison to the mix. Malloy’s constitution did not notice. Oysters soaked in wood alcohol did not do the trick, nor did a spoiled sardines sandwich sprinkled with metal shavings.

Bonkers Crimes and Criminals In History
Michael Malloy in his youth. Republica do Mundo

8. Alcohol is Hard to Freeze, and So Was This Alcoholic

Tony Marino and his accomplices finally figured that nothing he ate or drank would kill Michael Malloy. So they decided to freeze him to death. They put their plan in motion one cold winter night when the temperature dipped to minus 14 Fahrenheit.

The conspirators waited for Malloy to pass out, and when he did, they carried him to a park. There, they dumped him in the snow, and poured five gallons of water on his chest to make sure he froze solid. Malloy showed up the next day for his booze on credit.

Bonkers Crimes and Criminals In History
Tony Marino, bottom left, and his accomplices. Smithsonian Magazine

7. Iron Mike’s Killers’ Hard Work Did Not Pay As They Had Hoped

An exasperated Tony Marino and his accomplices decided to take a more straightforward approach and simply ran Michael Malloy over with a taxi owned by one of the plotters. All that did was put the old Irishman in a hospital for three weeks with some broken bones. He reappeared at the speakeasy soon as he was discharged. So on February 22nd, 1933, they stuck a gas hose in Malloy’s mouth after he passed out and turned on the jets. That finally did the trick.

The plotters collected on the insurance, but rumors of “Mike the Durable” began making the rounds. When the insurers heard the tales, they contacted police. Malloy’s body was exhumed and reexamined, and the truth came out. The plotters were tried and convicted in 1934. One got a prison sentence, while the rest, including Tony Marino, got the electric chair.

Bonkers Crimes and Criminals In History
Stern Magazine higher ups announcing the discovery of Hitler’s diary. Picture Alliance

6. Hitler’s “Diary”

In April of 1983, Stern magazine held a press conference to announce that their star reporter, Gerd Heidemann, had discovered Hitler’s diaries. Recovered in 1945 from a crashed plane, they had languished in obscurity until Heidemann tracked them down. The documents abounded with juicy tidbits, ranging from the Fuhrer’s sensitivity about his bad breath, to his surprising ignorance about what was happening to the Jews. Stern’s jubilant editors declared that their scoop, which shed light on Hitler’s innermost thoughts, would lead to a major rewrite of WWII’s history.

Stern, which had paid $6 million for the documents, sent them to three handwriting experts, all of whom declared the diary authentic. Hugh-Trevor Roper, a prominent British historian who reviewed the diary on behalf of Stern’s publication partner, the Sunday Times, concurred. However, Stern’s editors, fearing a leak, had refused to allow any German WWII experts to examine the diary. They would regret it.

Bonkers Crimes and Criminals In History
Reputable news outlets got taken in by the forged Hitler diary. BBC

5. A Reporter Gone Rogue

Once Hitler’s diary was published and German WWII experts finally got a look, they quickly spotted signs of obvious forgery. The paper used was modern, and so was the ink. Moreover, the diaries were riddled with glaring historical inaccuracies, concerning events and dates that the Fuhrer could not have possibly gotten wrong. They included entries in which Hitler described events before they had actually happened in real life – an impossibility without a time machine.

The diary had actually been created by a notorious German forger named Konrad Kujau, who teamed up with Stern’s reporter, Gerd Heidemann, to rip off the magazine. In the fallout, historian Hugh-Trevor Roper’s reputation was ruined, and editors at Stern, the Sunday Times, and Newsweek, were fired. As to Kujau and Heidemann, they were tried and convicted of forgery and embezzlement, and sentenced to 42 months in prison.

Also Read: History’s Most Remarkable Hoaxes and Forgeries.

Bonkers Crimes and Criminals In History
Colonel Blood. Wikimedia

4. Stealing the Crown Jewels From the Tower of London

Colonel Thomas Blood (1618 – 1680), an Anglo-Irish officer from County Clare, was the son of a prosperous blacksmith who came from a good family – his grandfather lived in a castle, and was a Member of Parliament. Blood became one of Britain’s most audacious rogues, famous as “The Man Who Stole the Crown Jewels“.

Blood’s roguish career began in the English Civil War, when he left for England in 1642 to fight for King Charles I. When it became clear that the royalists were going to lose, Blood abandoned Charles and switched to the king’s Parliamentarian enemies. Charles I was defeated and beheaded. In the new regime, Blood was rewarded with a big estate and was made a justice of the peace. He prospered, but in 1660 the monarchy was restored, and Charles I’s son was crowned as Charles II. Blood lost all his lands, and fearing reprisals, fled to Ireland with his family.

Bonkers Crimes and Criminals In History
The Crown Jewels. Sunday Post

3. An Avowed Enemy of the Monarchy

Understandably unhappy with his reversal of fortunes, Colonel Blood became an avowed enemy of the monarchy. He plotted to kidnap the royal governor of Ireland and hold him for ransom, but the plot failed. Blood’s brother, a coconspirator, was captured and executed for treason, while Blood fled to Holland with a bounty on his head. He returned in 1670 and hatched another plot to kidnap the governor. It failed. At that point, desperately short of funds, Blood decided to go for a daring score: steal the Crown Jewels of England.

The Crown Jewels were kept in a basement in the Tower of London, beneath the floor of the Keeper of the Jewels’ apartment. The jewels were available for viewing, upon payment of a fee to their custodian. Blood disguised himself as a parson, went to see the jewels with a female companion whom he presented as his wife and befriended the Keeper.

Bonkers Crimes and Criminals In History
Colonel Blood Stealing the Crown Jewels. Royal Academy of Arts

2. The Tower of London’s Greatest Heist

Colonel Blood ingratiated himself with the Keeper and his wife, whom he won over with gifts of fine gloves. He won them over even more by playing matchmaker and proposing a marriage between a fictitious wealthy nephew, and the Keeper’s spinster daughter. Eager to marry off his daughter, the Keeper invited Blood and his nephew to dinner. On May 9th, 1671, Blood, his “nephew”, and two “relatives” arrived for dinner.

Blood convinced his host to show his guests the jewels. Eager to impress his prospective son-in-law, the Keeper unlocked the door to the basement. Once inside, Blood and his “nephew” threw a hood over the Keeper’s head, knocked him out, stabbed him, then bound and gagged him. Blood then flattened the crown with a mallet to conceal it beneath his clerical robes, while his accomplices stuffed scepters and other jeweled items down their trousers. However, the Keeper managed to remove the gag and began screaming “Treason! Murder! The crown is stolen!

Bonkers Crimes and Criminals In History
Charles II. Pinterest

1. Winning Over the Merry Monarch

Colonel Blood and his accomplices fled, amidst a running shootout with the guards. Eventually, he was cornered, and after a struggle, was subdued and the crown was recovered. His accomplices were also captured, and the stolen items were recovered. Unrepentant, Blood declared: “It was a gallant attempt, however unsuccessful! It was for a crown!

Refusing to answer any questions except to the king, Blood was taken in chains to the palace. Charles II, nicknamed “The Merry Monarch“, found the audacious scoundrel appealing. Especially when Blood declared that the Crown Jewels were worth 6000 pounds at most, not 100,000 pounds as widely reported. When Charles asked, “What if I should give you your life?” Blood replied, “I would endeavor to deserve it, Sire!” The king pardoned Blood and granted him an estate worth an annual income of 500 pounds.

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Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

All That is Interesting – Frank Lucas and the True Story of “American Gangster”

Biography – Frank Lucas, Drug Dealer

Chicago Tribune, October 7th, 2001 – King of the Hills

Cracked – 6 Real Crime Waves From History That Were Hilariously Insane

Cracked – 6 Totally Bonkers Criminal Plots That Actually Happened

Daily Mercury, January 15th, 2019 – The Gang of Amputee Thugs That Terrorized Melbourne

Gizmodo – In the 18th Century, Wig-Stealing Bandits Roamed England’s Countryside

Gizmodo – The Legend of Mike ‘The Durable’ Malloy, History’s Most Stubborn Murder Victim

Hanrahan, David C. – Colonel Blood: The Man Who Stole the Crown Jewels (2003)

Historic UK – Colonel Blood and the Theft of the Crown Jewels

Massie, Robert K. – Nicolas and Alexandra: The Fall of the Romanov Dynasty

Melbourne Historical Crime Tours – Valentine Keating and His North Melbourne Gang: The Crutchy Push

New Yorker, The, April 25th, 2013 – Diary of the Hitler Diary Hoax

Providentia – The Crucifixion of Margaretta Peter

Smithsonian Magazine, February 7th, 2012 – The Man Who Wouldn’t Die

Smithsonian Magazine, April 30th, 2012 – The Case of the Sleepwalking Killer

Taylor, Troy – True Crime Illinois: The State’s Most Notorious Criminal Cases (2009)

Wikipedia – Albert Tirrell

Wikipedia – The Nun of Monza

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