Lesser Known But Intriguing Historic Criminals

Lesser Known But Intriguing Historic Criminals

Khalid Elhassan - October 17, 2019

Most criminals and their crimes are pretty pedestrian and unremarkable, but some crimes and criminals cannot help but attract attention because they are just so far outside the norm. Whether they won when they fought the law, or whether the law won, history is littered with remarkable but little-known criminals. They range from the crazy audacious to the plain crazy, and their crimes span the gamut from the clever to the grotesque. Following are forty things about some of history’s most remarkable but lesser-known outlaws.

Lesser Known But Intriguing Historic Criminals
Willie Roger Holder in Vietnam. The Skies Belong to Us

40. The Age of Hijackings

Unlike today, airplane hijackings back in the 1960s and early 1970 were not viewed as sinister preludes to something horrific. Instead, hijackings in those more innocent days were often viewed as mere annoyances and starting in the 1960s, hijackings became almost a fad, occurring on a near-weekly basis. The hijackers – or at least some of them – were seen by the public, or large swathes thereof, as fascinating figures or romantic rebels.

It was a time when many distrusted the establishment, which translated into many people embracing outlaws. Two such outlaws were Willlie Roger Holder, a decorated Vietnam veteran turned amateur astrologer, and Cathy Kerkow, a former high school athlete turned small-time drug dealer and erotic masseuse. The duo, who came to be known as the “Bonnie and Clyde of the Air”, hijacked a plane in 1972, and as seen below, fled overseas with half a million dollars in ransom money.

Lesser Known But Intriguing Historic Criminals
Willie Roger Holder and Marie Kerkow. Oregon Live

39. The Bonnie of the Air Meets Her Clyde

Willie Roger Holder served with distinction in Vietnam as a member of the 68th Assault Helicopter Company. Despite his decorations, however, he was court-martialed, demoted, and imprisoned, for smoking a joint while off duty in Saigon. Between that and PTSD, he grew embittered and resentful.

Back in the US, Willie met Catherine Marie Kerkow in San Diego when he knocked on her door looking for her roommate, and Cathy opened the door, barely wrapped in a bathrobe and with soap in her eyes. He liked what he saw, she returned the soldier’s suggestive smile, and a romance was born then and there.

Lesser Known But Intriguing Historic Criminals
The note used in the hijacking of Flight 701. The Skies Belong to Us

38. Hijacking Flight 701

Willie Roger Holder and Cathy Kerkow really liked weed, and really liked counterculture politics. At some point, while the duo were blazed, he suggested that they hijack an airplane, take the passengers hostage, and swap them for Angela Davis, a UCLA professor and Black Panther then on trial for the murder of a judge (she was acquitted).

On June 2nd, 1972, Willie, in his Army dress uniform with Cathy by his side, boarded Western Airlines Flight 701, a Boeing 727 headed to Seattle. Mid-flight, he handed a stewardess a note stating that “There are four of us and two bombs. Do as you’re told and No shooting will take place“. He also showed off a briefcase with wires ominously sticking out of it.

Lesser Known But Intriguing Historic Criminals
Western Airlines plane. Wikiwand

37. The Hijackers Join the Mile High Club

Whether it was Willie Roger Holder’s PTSD, or all the weed he and his girlfriend Cathy Kerkow had smoked, the hijacking duo had no clue what to do next after seizing control of Western Airlines Flight 701. Initially, their nebulous plans included taking Angela Davis to North Vietnam to expose the evil of the war there, then retiring to a farm in Australia. However, they changed their minds multiple times, before they finally ended up in Algeria.

Willie and Cathy released half the passengers in San Francisco, then crossed the country and released the other half in New York, before ordering the plane to take off again. To relax, they then lit up joints and got stoned in coach. Cathy pulled up the armrests along a row of seats, and removed her slacks while Willie dropped his Army dress pants to the floor. The couple then joined the Mile High Club.

Lesser Known But Intriguing Historic Criminals
Catherine Marie Kerkow. The Oregonian

36. The Longest Hijacking in History

From New York, the aerial Bonnie and Clyde, who had collected $500,000 in ransom, headed across the Atlantic on a prolonged international odyssey. Their misadventures en route took them, among other places, to Switzerland, where the authorities refused to allow the plane in Geneva, out of fear of attracting copycats and turning their country into a “Cuba of the Alps” – a destination of choice for hijackers.

The duo eventually ended up in Algeria, where they were granted political asylum, and joined the international branch of the Black Panthers. In 1974, however, the political environment changed in Algeria, and the couple fled to Paris, France, using fake passports. Their cover was blown in 1975, however, and they were arrested. They were convicted for passport fraud, but were granted political asylum, on grounds that the hijacking had been political in nature.

Lesser Known But Intriguing Historic Criminals
Willie Roger Holder in Paris. Pintrest

35. From Hijackers to Celebrities

Willie Roger Holder and Cathy Kerkow became celebrities in France, where they were befriended by the likes of Jean-Paul Sartre, and actress Maria Schneider, who had co-starred with Marlon Brando in The Last Tango in Paris. Eventually, however, Cathy dumped Willie in 1977, telling him she was going to Switzerland to get some new fake documents, and never came back.

Lesser Known But Intriguing Historic Criminals
FBI agents in JFK Airport escorting Willie Roger Holder off an Air France plane after his return to the US. Associated Press

He eventually agreed to face justice in the US, returned in 1986, and did two years in federal prison. Thereafter, he struggled to find his place in society, and made a living mostly as a day laborer, before dying in 2012 at age 62. As for Cathy, she never resurfaced after vanishing into Switzerland in the 1970s.

Lesser Known But Intriguing Historic Criminals
Sawney Bean at his cave’s entrance, with a woman in the background carrying body parts. Historic Mysteries

34. The Scottish Cannibal

Sawney Bean (flourished 16th century), Scotland’s most famous cannibal, is believed to have been born in East Lothian, Scotland. The son of a hedge trimmer and ditch digger, Sawney took a stab at going into his father’s line of work, but discovered that honest work was not for him. Little else is known of his early life.

More is known of the second part of his wife, after he met and married a vicious woman named Agnes Douglas, who was accused of being a witch. Soon after their marriage, Sawney and Agnes moved to the other side of Scotland, and settled in a coastal cave on Bennane Head, near Ballantrae in Ayrshire. Things then got… interesting.

Lesser Known But Intriguing Historic Criminals
Entrance to Sawney Bean’s cave. Scotland Off the Beaten Track

33. Sawney Bean’s Cave

Sawney Bean and his wife Agnes did not move into just any old cave. Their abode had tunnels penetrating the solid rock for over a mile, with numerous side passages that the young couple converted into living quarters as their family grew over the next 25 years.

It was also hard to get to and hazardous for the uninvited, as the entrance flooded for about two hundred yards twice a day at high tide. That came in handy, because Sawney decided that work was for suckers, and that it was easier to support his wife from the proceeds of robbery. So he took to ambushing travelers on the narrow roads connecting the area’s villages.

Lesser Known But Intriguing Historic Criminals
Sawney Bean. Notes From the Bunker

32. From Robbery, to Murder, to Cannibalism

It did not take long after Sawney Bean got started on his career as a robber, before he figured that in order to avoid getting identified for his crimes, he should murder his victims. That took care of eliminating witnesses, but a created a new problem: disposal of the bodies.

Sawney thought it over, and eventually came up with a way to kill multiple birds with one stone: dispose of the bodies, avoid the hassles of going into town to buy meat, and provide himself and his wife with a high protein diet. So he and Mrs. Bean began butchering and eating the murdered robbery victims.

Lesser Known But Intriguing Historic Criminals
Sawney Bean’s clan. South Ayrshire History

31. Cannibalism Agreed With Mr. and Mrs. Bean

Sawney Bean and his wife throve on cannibalism, and it did not take long before Agnes began pumping out baby Beans to brighten up their cave. The couple eventually produced fourteen children who survived past infancy, all of them raised on human flesh. As the Bean children grew up, they began sexing each other, and through incest, produced more Bean babies of their own.

Eventually, the clan numbered, in addition to Sawney and Agnes Bean, 8 sons, 6 daughters, 18 grandsons, and 14 granddaughters. As generations of Beans grew up in Bennane Cave, the expanding clan’s cannibalism cuisine skills became ever more refined, as they mastered the art of salting and pickling human flesh. Every now and then, nearby locals were surprised to come across preserved human body parts washing up on the area’s beaches.

Lesser Known But Intriguing Historic Criminals
Sawney Bean’s clan filling its larder. YouTube

30. The Bean Clan’s Cannibalism Haul Grows

As the size of the Bean clan grew, their appetite and the amount of human meat needed to keep them in good fettle grew as well. As the local authorities missing person list kept growing and growing, the Bean clan began mounting ever more ambitious hunting forays, ambushing up to half a dozen travelers at a time, and taking their corpses back to the cave to be carefully prepared for the larder by the women folk.

All good things come to an end, however, and the cannibal clan’s luck eventually ran out. They ambushed a husband and wife returning from a fair, and while disemboweling the woman but before managing to kill her husband, a large group returning from the fair came upon the horrific scene. Outnumbered, the Beans fled back to their cave, leaving behind one partially butchered woman, her understandably livid widower, and a clear hint of what had been going on, lo those many years.

Lesser Known But Intriguing Historic Criminals
King James I of Scotland. Encyclopedia Britannica

29. Scotland’s Biggest Manhunt

A report of the Beans’ foiled ambush and partial butchery of a victim was lodged with the Chief Magistrate of Glasgow. Between that, the extremely long missing persons list from the region, and the preserved body parts washing up ashore every now and then, two and two were put together. The matter was taken straight to the top, to King James I of Scotland.

The king arrived in the region with a force of 400 men, tracker dogs, and with the help of hundreds of local volunteers, launched what must have been the biggest manhunt in Scotland to date. Eventually, the dogs picked up the scent of decaying human flesh at the entrance of a waterlogged cave.

Lesser Known But Intriguing Historic Criminals
Inside the Sawney Bean Cave. Pintrest

28. The End of the Road For Sawney Bean and His Cannibal Clan

After dogs picked up a scent at the entrance to Bennane Cave, troops with swords drawn and carrying torches entered, and wended their through the mile-long passage to the heart of the Sawney clan’s hideout. Along the way, they passed rows of human limbs and body parts, dangling like meat in a butcher’s shop, piles of discarded clothes and other belongings of the victims, and heaps of human bones from earlier feasts.

After a brief fight, the entire forty-eight-member clan was arrested and marched off to Edinburgh. There, the twenty-seven male Beans were executed by having their arms and legs chopped off, and being left to bleed to death. The following day, the cannibal clan’s twenty-one females were tied to stakes and burned as witches.

Lesser Known But Intriguing Historic Criminals

27. The German Necrophiliac

West German police began receiving reports in 1971 that somebody was digging up bodies from graves, and gnawing on them, with the female corpses sexually abused as well. In May of 1972, a morgue attendant came across somebody kissing a cadaver, who shot at the attendant but missed. Police threw a dragnet, that eventually caught Kuno Hofman, a deaf and mute laborer who had lost the powers of speech and hearing after his alcoholic father beat him in childhood.

Hofman had a rap sheet, including nine years in prison for theft. When the cops interrogated him, he readily confessed to a bizarre crime spree that originated in Hoffman’s efforts at self-improvement via occult “sciences”. He read extensively on satanic rituals, witchcraft, dark magic, and especially on vampirism and necrophilia. Those readings convinced Hoffman that he could become handsome and popular by performing dark magic rituals with corpses. Hence, the grave robbing.

Lesser Known But Intriguing Historic Criminals
Two of Kuno Hoffman’s murder victims. Murderpedia

26. From the Occult, to Sexing Corpses

Hoffman had snuck into graveyards or mortuaries at least 35 times. He wanted the recently dead, so chose his victims from recent death notices in newspapers. He tried getting them in the morgue, but if he could not, he waited until they were buried. He then dug up their graves to perform rituals that involved stabbing and slashing the corpse, cutting off the head, and drinking the blood. Other times, he chewed the corpse, and if it was of a female he found attractive, he had sex with it.

When that failed to make him handsome and popular, Hoffman figured it was because the corpses were not fresh enough. So he decided to get the freshest corpses possible, by killing people. His first victims were lovers in a car. After shooting them dead, he drank the blood from their wounds, then had sex with the girl’s corpse. He confessed to liking her more than the graveyard corpses. Hoffman killed another victim, and would have kept on killing if his spree had not been cut short by his arrest. Deemed insane, he was sent to a mental asylum for the rest of his life.

Lesser Known But Intriguing Historic Criminals
Colonel Thomas Blood. National Portrait Gallery

25. Britain’s Most Roguish Colonel

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

Blood’s adventurous career started during the English Civil War, when he left for England in 1642 to fight for king Charles I. However, when it became clear that the royalists would lose, Blood 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.

Lesser Known But Intriguing Historic Criminals
The restored King Charles II. Pintrest

24. From Fighting For the Monarchy, to Becoming an Avowed Anti-Monarch

Thomas Blood prospered after the monarchy was overthrown, but unfortunately for him, the monarchy was restored in 1660, and the beheaded Charles I’s son was crowned as king Charles II. Blood lost all his lands, and fearing reprisals, he fled to Ireland with his family. Understandably unhappy with this reversal of fortunes, 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 co-conspirator, was captured and executed for treason, while Blood fled to Holland with a price on his head. He returned in 1670 and hatched another plot to kidnap the governor of Ireland. It failed. At that point, desperately short of funds, Blood decided to go for a daring score: steal the Crown Jewels of England, which were kept in a basement in the Tower of London, beneath the floor of the Keeper of the Jewels’ apartment.

Lesser Known But Intriguing Historic Criminals
The Tower of London. Encyclopedia Britannica

23. Stealing the Crown Jewels

England’s Crown 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. Over the following days, Blood ingratiated himself with the Keeper and his wife, whom he won over with gifts of fine gloves. He won them over even further by playing matchmaker, and proposing a marriage between a fictitious wealthy nephew, and the Keeper’s spinster daughter.

The Keeper, eager to finally marry off his daughter, invited Blood and his nephew to dinner. So on May 9th, 1671, Blood arrived for dinner with his “nephew” and two “relatives”. While waiting for dinner, Blood convinced the Keeper to show his nephew and relatives the jewels. Eager to impress his prospective son-in-law, the Keeper unlocked the door to the basement. Once inside, Blood and his accomplices threw a hood over the Keeper’s head, knocked him out with a mallet, stabbed him, then bound and gagged him.

Lesser Known But Intriguing Historic Criminals
The Crown Jewels. Pintrest

22. From Anti-Monarch, Blood Bounces Back to Pro-Monarchy

After subduing the Keeper of the Jewels, Colonel Blood used a mallet to flatten the crown so he could 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!” Blood and his accomplices fled, engaged in a running shootout with the guards. Eventually, he was cornered, and after a struggle, he and his accomplices were subdued and captured, and the crown jewels were recovered.

Lesser Known But Intriguing Historic Criminals
Colonel Blood’s theft of the Crown Jewels. Look & Learn

Unrepentant, Blood declared: “It was a gallant attempt, however unsuccessful! It was for a crown!” He refused to answer any questions except to the king, so he 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.

Lesser Known But Intriguing Historic Criminals
Frank Lucas. Blasting News

21. Harlem’s Most Notorious Gangster

Harlem’s most famous criminal is probably Frank Lucas (1930 – 2019) who was depicted by Denzel Washington in the 2007 blockbuster, American Gangster. The movie took artistic license with the facts, but it got the broad strokes right: Lucas was a big player in the heroin trade, and was one of America’s biggest drug dealers in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Lucas was born and raised in North Carolina, and after a few years of petty crimes such as mugging drunks outside bars, he got a job at a pipe company at age 16. His employment ended when his boss walked in on Lucas having sex with his daughter. In the ensuing fight, Lucas 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.

Lesser Known But Intriguing Historic Criminals
Bumpy Johnson. Pintrest

20. Frank Lucas in the Big Apple

In NYC, Lucas met and became the protege of Bumpy Johnson, Harlem’s then-reigning crime boss. When Bumpy Johnson died in 1968, he left Harlem up for grabs, and Lucas grabbed as much turf as he could. He then took to traveling, and in Thailand, an Army sergeant who turned out be a distant cousin 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 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.

Lesser Known But Intriguing Historic Criminals
Flag-draped coffins carried into airplanes in Vietnam for flight to the US. The Washington Post

19. The Ghoulish Heroin Smuggling Plan

Frank Lucas got himself a great deal for buying heroin cheap at its source in Southeast Asia, but his chief difficulty was getting it to America. He solved it by smuggling the drugs 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.

Either way, Lucas smuggled a lot of heroin into the US. He claimed that he made $1 million a day from heroin at the height of his career. It was an exaggeration, but he did make a whole lot of money. 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.

Lesser Known But Intriguing Historic Criminals
Frank Lucas in old age. YouTube

18. The End of the Road For Lucas

Frank Lucas’ career as a heroin bigwig ended in 1975, when his New Jersey home was raided by law enforcement, who found $584,000 in cash. He was tried on federal and state charges, convicted, and sentenced in 1976 to 70 years in prison. He then cut a deal by testifying against his former colleagues. Lucas and his family were placed in the Witness Protection Program in 1977, and his testimony and evidence he gave the authorities helped secure over 100 drug-related convictions.

He was rewarded for his cooperation in 1981 with a sentence reduction to time served plus lifetime parole, and walked out of prison, a free man. Lucas returned to prison 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 then walked the straight and narrow – or at least was not caught and convicted of anything major – until his death in 2019.

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

Lesser Known But Intriguing Historic Criminals
Mary Eleanor Bowes. National Trust

17. The Conman Who Landed Europe’s Richest Heiress

Anglo-Irish adventurer Andrew Robinson Stoney (1747 – 1810) gained infamy by tricking an unsuspecting noblewoman into a horrific marriage. His victim was Mary Eleanor Bowes, Dowager Countess of Strathmore and Kinghorne (1749 – 1800), an ancestor of Queen Elizabeth II. Bowes became known as “The Unhappy Countess” as a result of the marriage, which scandalized England and ended in a riveting divorce case.

Mary was the daughter of a wealthy coal baron who died when she was 11, and left her a fortune of about a million pounds – Paris Hilton-type money back then. That made Mary the richest heiress in Europe, and one of Britain’s most desirable women. Aristocrats wooed her, and she enjoyed and encouraged the attention, before finally marrying the Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne on her 18th birthday.

Lesser Known But Intriguing Historic Criminals
Andrew Robinson Stoney. Wikimedia

16. Stoney Reels in a Big Fish

Mary Bowes and her husband the Earl of Strathmore had five children, but when he caught tuberculosis, she grew frustrated with his increasing debility and lack of sex drive. Mary started cheating on her husband with a series of lovers, and earned a reputation for promiscuity. When the Earl finally succumbed in 1776, the widowed Mary regained control of her fortune, and took up with a lover, George Gray. He got her pregnant four times within a year, with Mary aborting each one.

In 1777, she met and was seduced by Andrew Robinson Stoney, a British Army lieutenant who styled himself a “Captain”. He wrote scurrilous articles about Mary, and arranged to have them published in a newspaper. He then feigned outrage over the insult to Mary’s honor, and challenged the newspaper’s editor, who was in on the scam, to a duel. In the ensuing fake fight, Stoney pretended to have been “mortally injured”, and appealing to Mary’s romantic side, begged her to grant him his dying wish: her hand in marriage.

Lesser Known But Intriguing Historic Criminals
Interior of St. James Church, Piccadilly, circa 1806. Wikimedia

15. The Dying Stoney’s Miraculous Recovery

When Andrew Stoney was “mortally wounded” while defending Mary Bowes’ honor in a duel, she granted him his dying wish to marry her, figuring that the marriage would only last a few hours. He was carried down the aisle of St. James Church, Piccadilly, on a stretcher, but soon after the vows were exchanged, Stoney made a miraculous recovery. Back then, husbands had the right to control their wives’ finances, but Stoney discovered that a prenuptial agreement stood in the way. Undaunted, he forced Mary to revoke the prenuptial and hand control of her fortune over to him.

Stoney then began squandering Mary’s wealth like a drunk sailor on shore leave, and kept her a prisoner in their home. Over the next eight years, he made his captive wife’s life a living hell, abusing her emotionally and physically, while raping and impregnating her maids. He also brought prostitutes home, carried on numerous affairs, and fathered many illegitimate children.

Lesser Known But Intriguing Historic Criminals
Andrew Robinson Stoney after his arrest, hauled before the King’s Bench. All That Is Interesting

14. The Husband From Hell

Mary Bowes finally escaped from her husband in 1785 and filed for divorce, but Andrew Stoney was not about to give up on his meal ticket. So he tracked Mary down, kidnapped her, and took her to northern England, where he tortured her, and threatened to rape and kill her. He also forced her to ride around the countryside on horseback during an extremely cold winter, hoping she would sicken and die so he could inherit her wealth.

She was eventually rescued when a hue and cry was raised, and Stoney was tracked down and arrested. The divorce case, along with the criminal charges against Stoney, captivated Britain for years. Stoney and his accomplices were eventually convicted of abduction and sentenced to three years imprisonment, and Mary finally got her divorce in 1789.

Lesser Known But Intriguing Historic Criminals
Charles Sobhraj in India. Vice

13. The Hippie Trail Serial Killer

French fraudster, thief, and serial killer Charles Sobhraj spent much of his childhood moving between Indochina and France. A delinquent from early on, Sobhraj ended up in jail at age 18. A charismatic and manipulative sociopath, he met and befriended a rich prison volunteer, who introduced him to high society after his release. Sobhraj used that intro to run scams and scout the homes of his new upper-class acquaintances so he could burglarize them.

In 1970, Sobhraj fled France, one step ahead of the law. After a crime spree that stretched from Eastern Europe to India, he ended up in Afghanistan. There, the charismatic Sobhraj preyed on tourists along the “Hippie Trail” – a route between Europe and South Asia, that was popular with Beatniks and Hippies from the 1950s to the 1970s.

Lesser Known But Intriguing Historic Criminals
Charles Sobhraj. India Times

12. From Fraud to Murder

After fleeing France, Charles Sobhraj engaged in a variety of criminal schemes, including one with his brother that backfired, and left his sibling doing 18 years in a Turkish prison. Sobhraj then took a dark turn, graduated from scams and thefts to murder, and began piling up corpses all along the Hippie Trail.

It is estimated that Sobhraj murdered at least 20 Western tourists, and the actual count might be significantly higher. He was finally caught in 1976, after he tried drugging some tourists in India, but screwed up the dosage. His intended victims retained enough consciousness to realize what Sobhraj had tried to do, and overpowered him until police arrived. His criminal escapades were not over, however.

Lesser Known But Intriguing Historic Criminals
Charles Sobhraj in Nepal. Vice

11. Sobhraj’s Prison Break

Charles Sobhraj was convicted of numerous offenses and imprisoned in India, but he managed to escape in 1986 after drugging his prison guards. He stayed on the lam for a month before he was recaptured. While behind bars, Sobhraj used his cunning and charisma to keep himself in the public eye and maintain his celebrity status. He made good money charging for interviews and made even better money selling his Indian movie rights.

Sobhraj was released in 1997, returned to Paris, where he enjoyed a celebrity lifestyle, and sold his international movie rights for U$15 million. Karma caught up with him, however, when he unwisely traveled to Nepal in 2003. Nepalese authorities arrested him for a 1975 double murder committed in their country. He was tried, convicted, and sentenced to life. As of 2019, Sobhraj was still behind bars in Nepal.

Lesser Known But Intriguing Historic Criminals
Joseph-Albert Guay in 1949. Popper Photo

10. Joseph A. Guay’s Route Out of Marriage

Joseph-Albert Guay, a Quebecoise jeweler, wanted out of his marriage, and wanted out badly. He had met and wed Rita Morrel during WWII, but fell out of love soon after the couple had a child. He then met and fell head over heels in love with a 17-year-old waitress named Marie-Ange Robitaille, and using a fake name, Roger Angers, began a torrid love affair with her. However, Guay’s wife found out, and confronted the duo.

When Robitaille discovered that her lover was not the single Roger Angers, but the married-with-a-child Joseph-Albert Guay, she dumped him. Getting a divorce back then in Roman Catholic Quebec was next to impossible, so Guay decided to end the marriage via murder. Since he also happened to be drowning in debt, Guay decided to kill two birds with one stone, and make a nice bundle off his wife’s life insurance. As seen below, he went to great lengths to accomplish that.

Lesser Known But Intriguing Historic Criminals
A Canadian Pacific airliner. The New Yorker

9. Murder As An Answer

Unhappy husband and father Joseph-Albert Guay wanted to win back his 17-year-old lover Marie-Ange Robitaille, but with divorce not being much of an option, he decided to end the marriage by murdering his wife, Rita. He tried poison at first, and offered somebody $500 to do it, but he was turned down. So Guay decided to blow up his wife in a plane.

He got an associate named Genereaux Ruest to make him a time bomb out of 20 dynamite sticks, some batteries, and an alarm clock. He then got Ruest’s sister, Marguerite Pitre, to deliver a parcel containing the bomb, for placement in the cargo hold of the September 9th, 1949, Canadian Pacific Airlines Flight 108 – a DC-3 that flew from Quebec City to Seven Islands, a fishing village about 300 miles away. Guay bought his wife a ticket on that plane, telling Rita that he needed her to retrieve some jewels for him.

Lesser Known But Intriguing Historic Criminals
Rita Morel, Joseph-Albert Guay’s wife. NY Daily News

8. Guay’s Efforts Come to Naught

September 9th, 1949, was a beautiful day in Quebec, as Canadian Pacific Airlines Flight 108 flew through clear skies. Suddenly, at about 10:45 AM, an explosion rocked the airplane, and it came plummeting to the ground, crashing into a wooded hillside named Cap Tourmente. The very fact that it landed on the ground doomed Joseph-Albert Guay, who had timed his bomb to explode when the airplane was flying over the Saint Lawrence River – forensics back then could not determine the cause of the crash if the plane had disappeared in the water. However, a flight delay threw off the schedule.

Lesser Known But Intriguing Historic Criminals
Debris from the downed Flight 108. Virtual Museum of Canada

With 23 fatalities, including three children, it was Canada’s deadliest plane crash. As investigators swarmed over the debris, it did not take them long to determine from dynamite residue and eyewitnesses on the ground who had heard and seen an explosion before the crash, that the plane had been deliberately blown up. Guay made it easy for them to determine who did it.

Lesser Known But Intriguing Historic Criminals
Joseph-Albert Guay in custody. Montreal Gazette

7. Guay Discovers He Was Not as Clever a Criminal as He Had Imagined

After Flight 108 was blown up, Joseph Albert-Guay made it easy for investigators to ID him as the culprit. On the same day his wife boarded the plane, Guay had taken out a $10,000 insurance policy on her life, which he tried to cash in just three days after the plane crash. Investigators also tracked down Marguerite Pitre, who had brought a parcel for delivery by Flight 108.

Pitre admitted that Guay had instructed her to place the parcel in the plane, and eventually confessed that he had told her the package contained a bomb. Guay, Pitre, and her brother the bomb maker Genereaux Ruest, were all arrested, tried for murder, convicted, and sentenced to death. Guay was hanged in 1951, Ruest in 1952, and Pitre in 1953.

Lesser Known But Intriguing Historic Criminals
Ma Barker. Biography

6. The Most Deep-Dyed Criminal Ma of the 1930s

America was swept by a wave of violent and flashy criminals during the 1930s, who fascinated, horrified, and titillated the public. These were the “Public Enemy” days of iconic outlaws such as John Dillinger, Bonnie and Clyde, and Machine Gun Kelly.

Their numbers included Arizona Donnie Barker, AKA “Ma Barker”, the mother of several notorious criminals who ran the Barker-Karpis Gang. Ma Barker ended up making the FBI’s Public Enemies list, and was described by J. Edgar Hoover as “the most vicious, dangerous and resourceful criminal brain of the last decade“.

Lesser Known But Intriguing Historic Criminals
Fred Barker, who was killed alongside his mother in a shootout with the FBI. Wikimedia

5. Ma Barker Doomed Herself and Her Kids

Ma Barker would have been bad enough if she had chosen a life of violent crime just for herself. However, she raised her kids to be like her, and in so doing, doomed them. Sons Arthur, Fred, Herman, and Lloyd Barker were raised to become violent thugs since childhood, and they grew up to be car thieves, armed robbers, kidnappers, and murderers.

Lesser Known But Intriguing Historic Criminals
Corpses of Ma Barker and her son Fred. Hunt a Killer

Things ended badly for Ma Barker’s son Herman, who killed himself in the 1920s to avoid capture after a bungled bank robbery. As to Ma Barker herself, she and another son, Fred, followed Herman into great beyond on January 16th, 1935, after they got into and lost a shootout with FBI agents in Florida.

Lesser Known But Intriguing Historic Criminals
Teddy Roosevelt campaigning in 1912. The New Republic

4. The Nutjob Who Almost Murdered Teddy Roosevelt

On October 14th, 1912, former US President and then Bull Moose Party presidential candidate Teddy Roosevelt got into an open-air car outside his hotel in Milwaukee, and waved his hat at the crowd. Just then, the darkness was lit up by a flash from a .38 Colt revolver – TR had been shot. An aide grappled with the would-be assassin and prevented him from firing another shot, before the crowd joined in.

Lesser Known But Intriguing Historic Criminals
John Flammang Schrank. Pintrest

The culprit, a nutjob Bavarian immigrant named John Flammang Schrank, would have been lynched on the spot if Roosevelt had not intervened: “Don’t hurt him. Bring him here. I want to see him. Roosevelt then asked Schrank “What did you do it for?” When Schrank stayed mum, Roosevelt told the crowd to turn him over to the police. It was an amazing escape.

Lesser Known But Intriguing Historic Criminals
The speech that saved TR’s life. History Channel

3. Roosevelt’s Miraculous Escape

After getting shot by John Flammang Schrank, Teddy Roosevelt reached inside his shirt and felt around, until he encountered a dime-sized hole. TR told an aide “He pinked me “. He then coughed into his hand a few times, and seeing no blood, determined that his lung had not been pierced. TR then directed that he be driven to the Milwaukee Auditorium, to address the waiting audience.

Roosevelt’s hefty speech, squeezed into his jacket pocket, had combined with a glass case and a dense overcoat to slow Schrank’s bullet. It was later recovered lodged against his fourth rib, on a trajectory to his heart. As to Schrank, he shot TR because the assassinated president William McKinley had urged Schrank in a dream to avenge him by killing his vice president and successor, TR. Schrank was found legally insane, and institutionalized until his death in 1943.

Lesser Known But Intriguing Historic Criminals
The Jolly Roger. Wikimedia

2. From Feared Pirate to Feared Pirate Hunter

During the War of the Spanish Succession, Englishman Benjamin Hornigold (1680 – 1719) was licensed with letters of Marque to legally prey upon French shipping. He got a taste for preying on ships, so after the war, Hornigold seamlessly transitioned from privateering to outright piracy. Eventually, he became one of the Caribbean’s most notorious pirates, and by 1717, he commanded the most powerful ship in the region: a 30-gun sloop, the Ranger, which allowed him to prey on shipping with impunity.

Hornigold’s first mate was Edward Teach, later known as Blackbeard, and his proteges and acquaintances included other future notorious pirates such as Black Sam Bellamy and Stede Bonnet. Hornigold operated mainly near the Bahamas, and his base of operations was Nassau, a notorious pirates’ nest. He and a bitter rival, Henry Jennings, transformed Nassau into a de facto Pirates’ Republic, governed by its own code of conduct and regulations. Then Hornigold did a 180, and became a pirate hunter.

Lesser Known But Intriguing Historic Criminals
Benjamin Hornigold. Den of Geek

1. Benjamin Hornigold Joins the Good Guys

In 1718, a new British governor offered a royal pardon to all who turned themselves in abandoned piracy. Benjamin Hornigold came in at the last minute before the offer expired, and the governor commissioned him to hunt down those who had failed to accept the pardon. Accepting the commission, Hornigold turned upon his former friends and fell upon them with a will.

He turned out to be an even better pirate hunter than he had been a pirate, and by December, 1718, Hornigold had captured 10 recalcitrant pirate captains, of whom 9 were executed. His actions effectively brought the Pirates’ Republic in Nassau to an end, and reestablished British control – and law and order – in the Bahamas. In late 1719, while sailing about, hunting more pirates, Hornigold drowned after his ship was caught in a storm and wrecked on an uncharted reef.


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

All That is Interesting – Andrew Robinson Stoney May Have Been England’s Worst Husband, Ever

Biography – Frank Lucas, Drug Dealer

Business Insider, June 21st, 2017 – US President Theodore Roosevelt Once Delivered an 84 Minute Speech After Getting Shot in the Chest

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

Historic UK – Sawney Bean, Scotland’s Most Famous Cannibal

Koerner, Brendan I. – The Skies Belong to Us: Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking (2013)

Murderpedia – Kuno Hoffman

New York Times, June 13th, 2013 – Bonnie and Clyde, the Aerial Version

Oregonian, The, September 16th, 2019 – How Coos Bay’s ‘All-American Girl’ Became a Daring Skyjacker, Then Disappeared Into 1970s Underground

Vintage News, February 23rd, 2009 – ‘Your crime … has no name’: The Bombing of Flight 108

Way of the Pirates – Benjamin Hornigold, Famous Pirate

Wikipedia – Charles Sobhraj

Wikipedia – Ma Barker