Criminals tend to have a grandiose view of themselves. They think that they’re smarter than the average person, and they can get away with committing a crime without ever getting caught, even if the odds are against them. This means that there are some truly elaborate crimes out there that have been committed, and they almost got away with it… but not quite. Here are 10 stories of crimes so elaborate, they just may may have worked. Unfortunately for the criminals, their identities were revealed to the world anyway.
10. The Barefoot Bandit
In 2010, a teenager named Colton Harris Moore taught himself how to fly a plane using a simulation program, but he never had a proper pilot’s license. He was able to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of planes, cars, and boats, all because he did it while barefoot. Since the police usually find people based in their sneaker impression, and they never keep a record of toe prints, Moore knew that as long as he took his shoes off, he could get away with stealing these vehicles. He earned the nickname “Barefoot Bandit,” and continued to repeat the process over and over again. Moore was finally caught and sent to prison in 2010, when he was just 19-years-old. He completed his full sentencing, and was released on probation in 2016.
The story of the Barefoot Bandit has become a sort of folk legend. During an interview, Moore says that he regrets what he did, especially since he only began his life as an adult in the real world in his late 20s. Moore said, “I’ve always either been in the woods, on the run, or both.” His story is so interesting that 20th Century Fox paid $1.4 million to purchase the rights to make a movie about him. Unfortunately for him, though, that money had to go toward the restitution to pay back the victims of his crimes.
9. Mister 880
During the Great Depression, people were struggling through poverty. Someone decided to make counterfeit one dollar bills, and began using them all over New York City. Normally, counterfeiters never bother to make ones or fives, because it’s seen as far too much effort for so little money. These bills were poorly made, that the word “Washington” was misspelled. And yet they were being accepted and circulated all over the city.
The Secret Service began tracking these fake dollar bills, and they discovered that this mysterious criminal made at least $5,000 over the course of 10 years from 1938 to 1948. With inflation, that’s more like $90,000 today. One of the reasons why it was so difficult to find this man was because he never spent more than just a few of his fake dollars a week, and he never used counterfeit bills at the same store twice. The con artist was given the name “Mister 880,” because of his case number.
In 1948, Mister 880 was finally discovered to be a man named Emerich Juettner (alias Edward Mueller). He was an old man in his 70s living in a small apartment. Juettner was getting free rent by working as his apartment building’s superintendent, but he didn’t have much of an income. He used his fake money to buy his essentials, like food. Since he was otherwise a law-abiding citizen, he only served four months in jail. He became a legend, and the story inspired a film in 1950.
8. The Twin Jewel Thieves
Like a scene out of a movie, a group of three masked men descended from the ceiling of the Kaufhaus des Westens department store in Berlin, Germany. Security cameras watched them steal $6.8 million worth of jewelry before climbing their ropes and disappearing into the night.
It was almost the perfect crime, except for one tiny mistake. One of the thieves dropped a rubber glove that he had been wearing. Police were able to take a single drop of sweat and find the DNA. The only trouble was that it belonged to two people: identical twins named Hassan and Abbas O. Even though they could narrow down the identity of these twins, there was no way to prove which one actually committed the crime. Because of this, they were both able to walk away without serving any jail time. However, it’s not exactly like they got away with it. They are both being closely monitored by law enforcement for the rest of their lives.
7. The Green River Killer
For 19 years, the town of King County, Washington was plagued by the mysterious “Green River Killer.” He raped and murdered women between 1982 and 2001, and he didn’t stop until he was finally linked to 48 different murders through DNA.
Authorities arrested Gary Ridgway, but for the people who knew him, he was one of the last men you’d suspect of being a serial killer. He was a Vietnam veteran who painted trucks for a car factory. In his free time, he was active in his church community, and evangelized the Bible to his neighbors. He was so good at pretending to be a nice guy, he was practically Ned Flanders from The Simpsons. No one would ever have suspected that he was living a double life. Even though Ridgway was being tried in court for 48 known cases of murder, he confessed to killing at least 75 women. Amazingly, he wasn’t sure exactly how many, as he had lost count.
6. The Wizard of Mali
Sometimes, all it takes for someone to be a so-called “master con artist” is to find a victim gullible enough to believe in a fantasy. In 1995, a man named Foutanga Babani Sissoko from the West African country of Mali went to the Dubai Islamic Bank for a car loan. He spoke with a bank manager named Mohammed Ayoub. Sissoko was charming, and after talking for some time, he invited the bank manager over for dinner. Once Sissoko had Ayoub alone, he claimed that he was actually a wizard who had magical powers.
He took a pile of money, and in a magical puff of smoke, he performed a stage magic trick to make the money double before the man’s eyes. This was enough to convince the bank manager to begin giving Sissoko over $100 million, because he believed he could use magic to double his money. But the story gets even crazier. Sissoko flew to New York City, walked into a CitiBank, met a female bank teller, and convinced her to become part of the plan. Once she was on his side, she legally married him in order to help him open up an American bank account, where he transferred the $100 million to the US and gave her a $500,000 thank-you gift.
Sissoko began living like a king. He bought helicopters, fast cars, and illegally married dozens of women. He also gave millions to charity. Every time he was arrested for something, he simply paid for the bail. And when he was eventually deported back to Mali, he was treated like a hero. He was convicted of fraud and sentenced to three years in jail, but he got out of his sentence by being voted in as a member of Parliament (in Mali, members of the government are not required to serve jail time). Even though he was caught, and everyone knows he’s guilty, he has never served time for his crimes.
5. The Family Killer
John List was an accountant who lived in a mansion in Westfield, New Jersey with his mother, wife, and three children. When he lost his job in 1971, he was so ashamed that he never told anyone. Every morning, left his house fully dressed for work, but instead of commuting, he secretly sat at the train station drinking coffee and reading newspapers all day. He stole money from his mother’s bank account in order to pay the bills, but he knew that this couldn’t last forever. Instead of facing his problems or trying to get a new job, he decided he needed a clean break. List shot and killed his entire family, made a sandwich, and began to meticulously cut himself out of family photographs. He called his children’s school to say that they were going on a long vacation, and left a note on his family’s bodies explaining why he “had” to do it.
Then, he disappeared for 18 years. In 1989, a forensic artist recreated a bust of List for an episode of America’s Most Wanted, and a neighbor recognized his face. He had changed his name to Robert Clark, and moved to Colorado and Virginia. He got married again, found a new job, and lived a surprisingly normal life. He was caught, and brought to trial before being sent to prison for the rest of his life. The tragic irony about this whole story is that there was a Tiffany skylight hanging above the staircase that was worth over $100,000. If he had sold it, that would have solved his financial problems, and his family may still be alive.
4. The Inside Job
In 1991, a group of thieves planned out a massive heist of the Vincent van Gogh National Museum in Amsterdam. One of their co-conspirators got a job as a security guard, so he was able to allow his friends to stay in the museum. One of the thieves hid in the bathroom until after closing time, and appeared in the security office with a gun. The security guards were taken hostage, and forced to disarm the alarm system. This left the thieves to pack up 20 paintings and run before the police could arrive.
They would have gotten away with it, too… but there was just one problem. Their getaway car got a flat tire. The thieves couldn’t exactly carry the paintings on foot, so they were forced to abandon the precious artwork in the vehicle. The police recovered the paintings, which they estimated were worth “hundreds of millions of dollars.” After detectives investigated the case, the security guards that were involved in the plot were arrested, along with the other co-conspirators.
3. The Pizza Bomber Heist
In August 2003, a man named Brian Wells showed up to a Pennsylvania bank with a collar bomb around his neck. He claimed that he was a pizza delivery man who had been called to a house and taken hostage. Wells claimed that criminals gave him a scavenger hunt with a map and tasks to accomplish. One of the items on the list forced him to rob the bank, and if he did not finish the scavenger hunt within a certain amount of time, the bomb would explode.
He was caught fairly quickly, but the police didn’t believe the explosive was real. They were waiting for the bomb squad to arrive when it exploded, killing Wells. Clearly, the plot was foiled, and for a while, no one could figure out if Wells was actually a victim or part of the conspiracy. This case has actually been turned into a documentary series called Evil Genius, where they finally uncover the full story behind this attempted heist. By the way — if this plot sounds familiar, there’s a film called 30 Minutes or Less that has a virtually identical plot, though the filmmakers claim to have been unfamiliar with the real-life version when they made their movie.
2. The Stockholm Getaway
Pulling off an art heist isn’t easy, but in the year 2000, a group of thieves managed to get away with stealing millions of dollars’ worth of paintings from the National Museum of Stockholm.They had timers set to explode multiple car bombs in the city. Even though the alarm was set off, they were keeping the police busy with the car bombs, and bought themselves enough time to steal two Renoir paintings, as well as a famous self-portrait of Rembrandt. They even planted nails at the entryways of the museum, so that the police would step onto them and impale their feet.
The thieves all climbed into a boat, and sped off into the night before the authorities could arrive to the museum. They probably felt triumphant in that moment, like they were apart of a James Bond film. However, it’s one thing to steal paintings, and a whole other thing to successfully sell them on the black market. Every time the thieves attempted to sell one of the paintings, a conspirator would get arrested. By 2005, a total of eight men were arrested in connection to the heist, and the paintings were recovered.
1. The Murders of Israel Keyes
In his younger years, a man named Israel Keyes had been arrested for raping a young girl, but barely spent any time in prison. Like many other rapists who are set free, he went on to commit more violence. Shocker. He became a serial killer who would spend years planning to kill his victims before he ever acted on it. When he was finally ready to commit his crimes, he paid for everything in cash, turned off his cellphone, and basically did everything “right” to avoid capture. This multi-year crime spree came to an end when he was caught in possession of one of his victim’s debit cards, which he had kept as a momento.
In 2012, he was interrogated in Anchorage, Alaska. Keyes admitted to a dozen murders, arson, burglary, and rape. He casually spoke about his crimes as if he was talking about a hobby, saying, “Y’know, the things I’ve done… I don’t feel bad about them … This is entertainment for me.” In the end, Keyes didn’t want to wait to hear his sentence, and committed suicide in prison while awaiting trial.