Top 10 Horrible Cases of Mistaken Identity


Alfred Hitchcock pretty much made his living telling stories of mistaken identity, and his tales painted thrilling adventures left in the wake of an innocent man being pursued by mysterious people who thought he was someone else. Of course, real life is typically not like the movies, and while films usually feature happy endings, unfortunately that’s seldom the case with instances of mistaken identity. Here is a list of real-life cases, most of which ended horrifically.

10. Teen Mistakenly Shoots Younger Brother


There is not much good about shootings in the cases of mistaken identity, so we are just going to jump in with an incredibly tragic instance, to let you know that few things good come of these situations. In early-2013, a 16-year-old Florida teenager believed that a burglar had entered his house and, knowing his parents owned a firearm, located it and shot the person he thought was an intruder.

It turned out to be his 12-year-old brother. Their parents were out when the incident occurred, and when the older teen heard strange noises coming from another part of the house, he called out for his brother. There was no response, leading him to believe something was amiss. The younger brother approached the older one, startling him and prompting the shot. The older brother immediately called 911, but his brother was dead before paramedics could get him to the hospital.

9. Unnamed Man Mistaken for Bank Robber, Held at Gunpoint by Cops


This past April, a bank in Sarasota, Florida, was robbed in the middle of the day. Not long after that, an unnamed man was out riding his bike when police descended on him, pointed guns at him, and threw him on the ground. As you might be able to guess, he was not the same man who had just robbed the bank. The real robber had walked into the bank and after demanding money, escaped on foot. The police found the innocent man, who has remained anonymous by his own request, not too far from the bank and, seeing that he fit the description of the criminal, assumed he was the culprit.

It did not help that, while handcuffed, he was identified by a witness as the bank robber. Of course things eventually started to sort themselves out when the police realized he did not have any of the stolen money in his possession, nor did he have a gun or any other sort of weapon, and in fact was dressed differently than the real culprit. Fortunately common sense prevailed and he was let off the book, though we’re guessing it wound up being the least pleasant lunch break he ever had.

8. Assam Rifles Fire on Each Other


For those who are unaware, the Assam Rifles are a paramilitary force in India with a history that dates back to 1835, who have served in several wars over the years. Today they work under the Ministry of Home Affairs and help provide internal security, such as fending off rebels and helping to provide border security. It was in this capacity that two AR personnel were killed recently when, unfortunately, two groups from within AR mistook each other as rebels and opened fire on each other.

One of the groups had received information about underground movement and set up an ambush, but sadly a separate AR group was on a foot patrol in the area when something set off the firefight. Unfortunately, it appears as though poor coordination within the Assam Rifles contributed to the two deaths.

7. Carlos DeLuna


Considering life is not a Disney movie, cases of mistaken identity are oftentimes tragic. This was certainly case for Carlos DeLuna, who was sentenced to death for a crime he did not commit, only for it to be later discovered that he was the tragic victim of mistaken identity, and had been innocent all along. Naturally, they only figured this out after he was dead.

A study by a Columbia University law professor and his students concluded that the state of Texas executed an innocent man when DeLuna was put to death. DeLuna had been arrested and convicted of stabbing a gas station attendant to death, but maintained his innocence until the day his execution finally arrived. According to the law professor, James Liebman, the police failed to pursue other leads and DeLuna received poor legal defense. It did not help that DeLuna had been arrested several times in the past but, as Liebman pointed out, he had no blood on him when he was taken into custody, and the police ignored potential evidence that the crime might have been committed by DeLuna’s friend Carlos Hernandez.

And when we say might have, we mean “probably did” considering that years later, just before he died in prison, Hernandez confessed.

6. Abby Guerra and Marlena Cantu


Imagine being told that you lost your daughter in a fatal car crash, and planning the entire funeral only to be told later that she was in fact still alive. And now imagine being in the opposite situation, believing your daughter had survived the same crash, only to discover days later she had actually perished. That’s exactly what happened to the families of Abby Guerra and Marlena Cantu, and it’s sadly also a scenario that you’ll see popping up on this list a little later as well.

In 2010, Guerra and Cantu, who lived in Arizona, were involved in a deadly car accident on their way home from Disneyland, which is a fact that makes this whole thing that much sadder. It was believed that Guerra died at the scene, while Cantu was taken away to the hospital for treatment. However, six days later, once swelling began to go down on the girl in the hospital, Cantu’s family discovered it was Guerra, and not their daughter, who had in fact survived. Guerra’s family had put on a car wash to raise funds to pay for her funeral but, once the mistake was discovered, the funds instead went toward her medical expenses, as well as the funeral of Cantu.

5. Margie Carranza and Emma Hernandez


Earlier this year, residents of Southern California were put in a state of crippling fear when former Navy reservist and LAPD officer Christopher Dorner went on a shooting rampage, killing four people (including two police officers), and injuring three more members of the LAPD. Dorner had posted a manifesto that included the names of several police officers, so it made sense to that the LAPD would be a bit wary when a truck, matching the description of Dorner’s, was seen near the house of one of those officers early one morning, while he was still at large.

Of course, what did not make as much sense was that police opened fire on the truck, riddling it with bullet holes despite not being clear on whether or Dorner was inside or even if it was actually his truck. As you must have gathered by now, it was not. Instead, inside the truck were 47-year-old Margie Carranza and 71-year-old Emma Hernandez, who were out delivering copies of the LA Times when the police fired at least 102 shots at the truck. Neither was killed, thankfully, but Hernandez did take two bullets in the hail of gunfire.

This was not the only incident of mistaken identity on that day alone, either; just thirty minutes later, another man was shot when police believed he was Dorner. That one is even more baffling though, as the victim was a thin white man, while Dorner was a large black man.

4. Ronald Cotton


Rape is an awful thing. We aren’t exactly breaking down any barriers by telling you that. What’s also awful is being falsely accused of committing such a heinous crime, which is exactly what happened to Ronald Cotton in 1984, when Jennifer Thompson, then a 22-year-old college student, claimed that Cotton was the man who had raped her, leading to his conviction and serious prison time.

One night, a man broke into Thompson’s house and raped her, and she burned his face into her brain. Or at least she thought she had. Unfortunately for Cotton, he had been accused of sexual assault at the age of 16, when the mother of his then-girlfriend found him in bed with her daughter and called the police. The previous accusation did not help his case when Thompson looked at his photo at the police station and identified him as the man who raped her. As it turns out, mug shots of both Cotton and the actual attacker show a striking resemblance, in terms of facial structure.

After 11 years in prison, DNA evidence cleared Cotton, and in a truly inspirational story of forgiveness, he and Thompson became good friends, even writing a book together.

3. Krystle Campbell


In the event of any public tragedy, there is bound to be confusion in the aftermath. After 9/11, authorities spent weeks attempting to confirm the number of casualties. That’s why it is tragic, but not entirely surprising, that in the wake of the April 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, one family was subject to a case of mistaken identity, leading them to believe their daughter was alright. Sadly, that was not the case.

Krystle Campbell was one of the three people killed in the bombings. However, when her father went to the hospital to try to learn whether she was okay, he was told his daughter was alive, but would possibly lose her legs. However, when he gained access to the hospital room, he discovered the victim was not his daughter. He was soon after informed that Krystle had died at the scene of the bombings.

2. Whitney Cerak and Laura Van Ryn


One of the most amazing cases of mistaken identity in recent memory is also one of the most heartbreaking, as it involves two families. Tragedy was replaced by a miracle for one, while hope became despair for the other. The two families were those of Whitney Cerak and Laura VanRyn, two friends who were involved in a horrific car crash in 2006. The friends shared a strong resemblance, as both were young, attractive blondes, and apparently it was this resemblance that led to the confusion.

What was the confusion, you ask? Oh, only that the coroner originally pronounced Whitney dead, while in fact she lay severely injured in the hospital for weeks under the assumption she was, in fact, Laura. Even the families were convinced, as Laura’s family sat at her bedside until her facial swelling had died down enough to finally confirm that she was not their daughter. Whitney was alive, despite having recently had a (closed-casket) funeral attended by more than 1,400 people. As it turns out, her parents never looked at the body to confirm it was their daughter, and there was no DNA test, as it was taken at the word of the people who had been asked to identify her that they were not mistaken.

1. Adolf Beck


It could be argued that the case of Adolf Beck is the most famous and extraordinary mistaken identity victim in history, as his case spawned books and remains not only one of the most notorious cases of mistaken identity, but also wrongful conviction on record. In fact, his case has even made its way into textbooks studied in law schools.

Beck, who lived in Britain, found himself facing 15 convictions, all because a random woman whom he met on the street one day in 1895 thought he looked like a man who had a few weeks prior robbed her of a fairly small amount of money. Unfortunately for Beck, the same swindler was wanted for several other similar thefts, leading to all of those convictions. Astonishingly, the other victims of the actual thefts identified Beck as the culprit, with some even picking him out of a lineup.

There had been similar crimes committed in 1877 and a police officer was set to identify as the same thief, who had served four years in prison earlier. This was despite the fact that Beck had been living in Peru at the time of those earlier crimes. The judge ignored this apparent evidence of innocence and sentenced Beck to seven years in prison, of which he wound up serving five. While he was imprisoned, yet more evidence mounted in favor, such as how the actual thief, named John Smith, had been circumcised. After examination, it was discovered Beck remained uncircumcised. The judge was presented this new conclusive evidence but ignored it, leaving Beck to finish out his sentence and confirming his status as one of the worst judges in recorded history.

After being released, he was accused yet again in 1904 and was convicted again as well. This time, however, fortune finally smiled on Beck when the real John Smith was arrested, pulling off yet another swindle while Beck sat in jail. Luckily, the judge didn’t ignore the evidence this time around, and Beck was a free man.

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  1. It is misjustice when people are convicted with such little evidence. It is like all people have to do is say that someone did something and they go away to prison. What happened to innocent until PROVEN guilty?

  2. I remember seeing a documentary on the Whitney Cerak and Laura Van Ryn case. This was indeed a tragic story. I can’t imagine what these two families went through. They each had strong faith. How would I feel if I thought my daughter was dead only to find out she was still alive? I think the reverse would be worse. How would I feel if I thought that my daughter was alive only to find out she was dead. The last I heard the Cerak”s and the Van Ryn’s were still very close. I hope so.