These Evil Masterminds Went Down In History For Their Unbelievable Crimes

People break the law all the time, but rarely do they do it in such a way that the public is haunted by the story for decades to come. Criminals like Ted Kaczynski and Charles Manson are still infamous for their evil doings. Some lawbreakers, like Jonathan Wild and Ching Shih, have been remembered for centuries. Others are famous for not being caught, like D.B. Cooper and the masterminds behind some of the largest heists in history. From trying to “sell” the Eiffel Tower and Taj Mahal, to successfully faking a career as a pilot, these crime stories are almost too shocking to believe.

Police Spent Three Decades Hunting Down Ted Kaczynski

Authorities Escorting Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski
Ralf-Finn Hestoft/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
Ralf-Finn Hestoft/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

Ted Kaczynski, better known as the Unabomber, was such an evil mastermind that he managed to elude the FBI for 27 years! All the while, he was arranging bombings that injured 23 people in total and took the lives of three more.

His criminal activity created millions of dollars worth of property damage, yet officials couldn’t hunt him down until 1995. Ted was a Harvard grad who studied math and went on to build an off-the-grid cabin in Montana. When his isolation became threatened, he retaliated with the series of bombings, for which he is serving eight life sentences.

Gerald Blanchard Stole Austria’s Priceless Jewel

Empress Elisabeth in a star spangled robe
Imagno/Getty Images
Imagno/Getty Images

The Star of Empress Sisi was one of 27 hair ornaments that Austrian Empress Elisabeth wore. The diamond and pearl jewel is priceless and kept on display at the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna. That’s where heist mastermind Gerald Blanchard stole it from.

To pull it off, Gerald first filmed the layout while touring the palace. He ultimately parachuted his way in and managed to replace the gem with a fake version purchased at the gift shop. It would be nearly a decade before Gerald found himself facing 164 years in prison, which he got reduced to just 8 by returning the hidden jewel.

Frank Abagnale Faked Being A Pilot, Doctor, And Lawyer

Neilson Barnard/Getty Images
Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

Right off the bat, you may vaguely recognize the name Frank Abagnale since he was made even more popular by the movie Catch Me If You Can. Leonardo DiCaprio portrayed Frank in the film, and a Broadway adaptation even came out.

The mastermind criminal was just a teenager when he ran away from home and supported himself by creating fake checks and posing in various careers. He pretended to be a pilot, a pediatrician, and a lawyer all while being hunted down by the FBI. In the end, they offered the genius a job catching cons like him!

Andrew Cunanan Got To Know His Esteemed Victims

Andrew Cunanan presumed murderer of Gianni Versace
Jamie Scott Lytle/Sygma via Getty Images
Jamie Scott Lytle/Sygma via Getty Images

Andrew Cunanan wasn’t out to kill just anyone. He got to know his esteemed victims, which include Chicago real estate developer Lee Miglin and fashion designer Gianni Versace. He also claimed the lives of two former friends and a caretaker.

Gianni Versace was Andrew’s last victim, but not because the FBI caught him before he got another person. It’s because Andrew took his own life a week later. The Southern California criminal supposedly had an IQ of 140, despite also partaking in substance abuse and being a heavy drinker.

Hassan And Abbas O Got Away With A Berlin Jewelry Heist

Retailer And Luxury Stores In Berlin
Jeremy Moeller/Getty Images
Jeremy Moeller/Getty Images

Hassan and Abbas O are twins whose identical DNA helped them get away with a major robbery in Berlin. German law doesn’t permit the release of their last names since the convicts were not formally charged, yet the authorities have evidence linking them to the crime.

A latex glove with DNA sampling proves that at least one of the twins was involved in stealing $6.8 million worth of jewelry from the famous Berlin department store KaDeWe. Since the brothers are indistinguishable genetically, the courts had no way to deduce which one was guilty. Rather than risk putting an innocent man in jail, they let them both go.

Richard Loeb Attended University At Age 14

Gangster Slayer Conversing with Attorney
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Getty Images

Richard Loeb was from a wealthy family and had a high IQ that enabled him to skip several grades. He was accepted into the University of Chicago at age 14 but ultimately transferred to the University of Michigan where he became their youngest grad at 17-years-old.

Richard grew up with fellow young genius Nathan Leopold, and they became especially close while attending the University of Chicago together. After committing petty thefts, the boys decided to murder Loeb’s 14-year-old cousin, Bobby Franks. They were sentenced to life in prison and Richard was murdered by an inmate, who was deemed to be acting in self-defense.

Nathan Leopold Was A Child Prodigy

nathan-leopold
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Like Richard Loeb, Nathan Leopold was exceptionally smart and attended the University of Chicago at 15. The child prodigy claims that he started talking at just four-months-old, and he went on to be fluent in 5 languages and study another 10.

Nathan’s intelligence ultimately became his demise when he became convinced that he and Richard were “supermen” and therefore not liable for their actions. After their “perfect crime” of murdering Bobby Franks went south, Nathan made the most of his sentence by teaching and volunteering for the prison. He was released after 33 years, married a widow, and became a teacher and researcher in Puerto Rico.

Jonathan Wild

Jonathan Wild
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

British robber Jonathan Wild was such a brilliant criminal that his story is still well-known almost 300 years later. Jonathan was like a dirty cop, only he was a pretend vigilante rather than being a legitimate member of law enforcement.

The criminal mastermind would create the illusion that he was pursuing thieves when in actuality he was in on their scheme. Jonathan would get a portion of the profits from whatever robbery he was in on, and then would slyly disappear from the authority’s radar. Eventually, they caught on and Johnathan was hung for his crimes.

J.D. McMahon Made The “World’s Littlest Skyscraper”

J.D. McMahon technically didn’t break the law, but the investors who he swindled may argue otherwise. The structural engineer convinced investors that he was going to build a skyscraper to accommodate the sudden increase in local workers. The town expanded rapidly at the turn of the 20th century due to a newly discovered petroleum reservoir.

The building was going to create office space for eager workers. Though J.D. McMahon was being truthful in his proposal, investors overlooked the fact that he put his dimensions in inches, not feet. The result was a ton of investment capital raised for the “world’s littlest skyscraper.”

Robber Albert Spaggiari Managed To Evade Prison

Apic/Getty Images
Apic/Getty Images

Albert Spaggiari’s story seems like it came straight out of a movie. In fact, there’s a French film based on his unbelievable heist called The Sewers of Paradise. The criminal was a clever bank robber who most famously broke into the Société Générale bank in Nice, France.

Though Albert didn’t get away with the crime, he did manage to evade prison. While on trial, Albert distracted the judge with a fake piece of evidence before leaping out the window! A motorcyclist was awaiting Albert, who was never again found by the authorities. After cancer claimed Albert’s life, though, he was left on his mother’s lawn.

Con Artist Victor Lustig “Sold” The Eiffel Tower… Twice

Counterfeiter Victor Lustig
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Getty Images

Victor Lustig committed several crimes over the course of his con-artist life, but perhaps the most famous is his selling the Eiffel Tower. He convinced scrap metal dealers that the landmark’s upkeep was too expensive for Paris and that they wished to sell it for scrap.

After securing his 70,000 francs, Victor fled to Austria before returning to try and pull off the same scam again! This time, the police caught on so Victor fled to the US, where he convinced gullible residents to buy a money-duplicating box. He also scammed Al Capone and attempted to pull off a counterfeiting business before being sentenced to 15 years at Alcatraz.

Eugène-François Vidocq Was A Criminal-Turned-Informant

Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images
Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images

Eugène-François Vidocq had spent most of his life running from the police by the time he finally decided to turn everything around and join their side. He stole from his parents, killed two people in a duel, and struck a superior officer all before the age of 20. He pulled off frauds to support himself while constantly hiding from the cops and escaping prisons.

At the age of 34, Eugène was again captured and decided to become an informant to evade his death sentence. He became a spy among inmates and later became the leader of a security police unit, where he hired and trained agents.

Anthony Curcio’s Failed Robbery Led To An Award-Winning Book

Xavier ROSSI/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
Xavier ROSSI/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

In the midst of a money-depleting substance addiction, Anthony Curcio decided he would rob a Brink’s armored car. He hired construction workers on Craigslist for a fake city cleanup project so that they would unknowingly serve as a decoy. Meanwhile, Anthony stole $400,000 from the Brink’s worker transferring cash to a Bank of America.

By chance, a homeless man was able to provide the police with Anthony’s license plate, leading to his incarceration. After his release, Anthony put out an award-winning book, Heist and High. He now travels around the country giving lectures to youth about substance abuse prevention.

Carl Gugasian Only Served 17 Of His 115 Year Sentence

H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Getty Images
H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Getty Images

Carl Gugasian had a doctorate from the prestigious Penn State University, but that didn’t stop him from becoming a professional gambler and a long-running bank robber. Carl managed to rob 50 banks over the course of 30 years, amounting to over $2 million in stolen cash.

The criminal would hide his stolen funds in the woods, which is how he was ultimately caught after children playing in the forest uncovered one of Carl’s stashes. Though he was sentenced to 115 years in prison, he only served 17 after making a bank robbery training video for the FBI and teaching inmates math.

Rodney Alcala Went On A Dating Show While On The Run

An Orange County Sheriff bailiff leads convicted serial killer Rodney James Alcala into court.
Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Rodney Alcala was such an evil mastermind that he managed to get himself out of prison on numerous accounts before finally being sentenced to 25 years to life in 2013. The criminal murdered at least five women in California, but the actual count may be much higher.

In the midst of his evil doings, Rodney even went on a dating show! He won a date with Cheryl Bradshaw, who fortunately turned him down because he was “creepy.” Though Cheryl had a keen intuition, many others didn’t since Rodney was reportedly a persuasive UCLA grad with an IQ over 160.

Charlene Williams Helped Her Husband Capture Teen Girls

Gerald_and_Charlene_Gallego_mug_shots
Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Charlene was a violinist with a high IQ, but that all changed when she became involved in substance abuse and met long-time criminal Gerald Gallego. The pair worked together to trick teenagers to get into their van and eventually kill them.

Their murder victims totaled to twelve by the time a witness caught them in the act, in 1980. Charlene took a plea deal that reduced her sentence to just under 17 years. Gerald was sentenced to death, but cancer took his life in 2002 after decades of awaiting his execution.

Jeffrey Manchester Escaped Prison And Hid In Toys ‘R Us

Leon Neal/Getty Images
Leon Neal/Getty Images

Jeffrey Machester was a US Army reservist before he became known as the “Roofman” for dropping into fast-food restaurants through their roof and robbing the place at gunpoint. He targeted McDonald’s above all other chains and was eventually caught and sentenced to 45 years.

After serving five of those years, Jeffrey escaped prison by sneaking under a delivery truck that drove him out. He ended up in North Carolina, where he turned a Toys ‘R Us closet into his mini-apartment and later moved into a closed down Circuit City. Jeffrey landed back in jail when his Toys ‘R Us robbery failed.

The Pink Panthers Is A Group Of Hundreds Of Jewel Thieves

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PRAKASH SINGH/AFP via Getty Images
PRAKASH SINGH/AFP via Getty Images

To be clear, the Pink Panthers had nothing to do with Steve Martin, but they were named by Interpol after the crime comedy. The international network consists of over 200 jewelry thieves who have worked together to pull off some of the most intricate heists in history.

Law enforcement officials estimate that the Pink Panthers are responsible for half a billion dollars worth of gold and diamond robberies in 16 different countries around the world. Though a handful of the members have been caught, there are many who have evaded the authorities and some who even escaped prison.

Carlo Gambino Nearly Got Away With Half A Century Of Crime

Carlo Gambino
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Getty Images

Carlo Gambino was part of the famous Gambino crime family and was the head of The Commission of the American Mafia for almost 20 years leading up to his death. He reorganized the Italian-American gangs of New York City so that it became comprised of five families, each having a head leader, of which Carlo was the “boss of all bosses.”

Though Carlo was reportedly behind numerous murders, he was vehemently against substance abuse and would punish anyone who delt such substances. Amid decades of criminality, Carlo only went to prison once, and it was for tax evasion.

Ching Shih Commanded Tens Of Thousands Of Pirates

Culture Club/Getty Images
Culture Club/Getty Images

Ching Shih married Cheng I, who was a member of a notorious pirate family. When Cheng died, Ching took his place as leader of the 70,000 members who made up their pirate crew. She led the massive group as they raided camps, ships, and villages and collected money.

Ching created a strict code of conduct that were harshly enforced. The crew wreaked havoc on the China Seas and shamelessly entered a conflict with the British Empire, the Portuguese Empire, and the Qing dynasty. Ching ultimately retired and was able to enjoy her riches without consequence.

Natwarlal “Sold” The Taj Mahal And More!

Scenes of India
Julian Finney/Getty Images
Julian Finney/Getty Images

If you thought that Victor Lustig was a genius for “selling” the Eiffel Tower, you may be shocked to know he wasn’t the only one to do such a thing. Indian con man Natwarlal managed to dupe buyers into paying a pretty penny to “buy” the Taj Mahal.

As though that weren’t enough, he also did a fraudulent sale of the Red Fort, the Rashtrapati Bhavan, and the Parliament House of India. The criminal reportedly had dozens of disguises and could fake celebrity signatures. Though he was arrested numerous times, he managed to escape well into his old age.

Bernie Madoff Created The Largest Ponzi Scheme In History

TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images
TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images

Ponzi schemes are a specific kind of fraud that involves using the money provided by new investors to pay older investors who are misled to believe there is a profit. The result is a non-existent or failing business that fabricates earnings to attract more investors, who don’t realize their money is going into the pockets of others.

In Bernie Madoff’s case, he started with a penny stock brokerage that somewhere along the lines started fabricating their trade reports. The result was $64.8 billion of fraudulent funds dispersed over 4,800 clients. Bernie pled guilty and was sentenced to 150 years in prison.

Adam Worth Was Called The “Napoleon Of Crime”

Adam Worth.
Universal History Archive/ Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Universal History Archive/ Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Those who are Sherlock Holmes fans will be excited to hear that criminal Adam Worth was the inspiration behind the evil character James Moriarty. Both the character and the real-life Adam have the nickname “the Napolean of crime.”

Adam was a bounty jumper and a pickpocket before he built a network of robbers who worked together to pull off organized burglaries. Though Adam’s criminal lifestyle was by and largely successful, he was captured in 1892. The mastermind managed to get released in 1897 and proceeded to steal diamonds. He then admitted his life story in a book before he died in 1902.

The Minds Behind One Of The World’s Largest Heists

Cultural Center Banco do Brasil - Internal View of the historic building
Luiz Souza/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Luiz Souza/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The Banco Central burglary of Fortaleza was one of the largest heists in the world, which makes sense considering the thieves picked Brazil’s central bank. Though 25 members are believed to have participated, only 8 were arrested. Luis Fernando Ribeiro, who was thought to be the leader of the operation, was kidnapped and killed for a ransom.

The team of burglaries accomplished the robbery by first running a fake landscaping business two blocks away. They tunneled to the bank’s vault and then used tools like bolt cutters and blow torches to break in. The criminals managed to steal R$160 million, of which only R$20 million was recovered.

The French Vacuum Gang Was Never Caught

Vacuuming
Three Lions/Getty Images
Three Lions/Getty Images

The French vacuum gang had such a simple yet genius idea that it seems like something you’d watch in a movie. The masterminds drilled holes into supermarket suction tubes, which employees used to place leftover cash into a vault.

The criminals would then insert a vacuum into the hole to redirect the cash so it would flow right into the vacuum cleaner! This made it incredibly easy for the robbers to sneak out cash in an indirect way. The scheme was so successful that the criminal has yet to be found, though they stole hundreds of thousands of dollars!

D.B. Cooper Robbed A Plane And Got Away With It!

Sketch of Highjacking Suspect D. B. Cooper
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Getty Images

D.B. Cooper pulled off two crimes in one: hijacking and robbery. He managed to hold a Boeing 727 hostage while it was en route to Seattle in 1971. D.B. demanded $200,000 and a parachute, which the FBI gathered together in time for the plane to safely land.

From there, D.B. attained the cash and parachute before demanding that the plane crew take him back into the air and fly to his pre-designated location. From there, the criminal parachuted out with his cash and was never found again.

Leonardo Notarbartolo Did The Largest Diamond Heist In History

BELGIUM-CRIME-DIAMOND
BELGA/AFP via Getty Images
BELGA/AFP via Getty Images

The Antwerp diamond heist was nicknamed the “heist of the century” and was the largest diamond robbery to date! Leonardo Notarbartolo kicked off his plan by renting an office in the Antwerp Diamond Centre in Belgium. This enabled Leonardo and his team to investigate the security measures they would need to overcome.

The criminals managed to blind heat and light sensors and memorized the vault’s layout so they could work in the dark. The team stole $100 million worth of jewels, but things went sour when one of the members didn’t properly dispose of the evidence. Though arrests were made, the jewels were not fully recovered.

Al Capone Was Both Loved And Feared

Al Capone
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Getty Images

Al Capone got his start in gang life as a teenager and went on to be one of the most revered figures in Chicago. Al was a bootlegger during the prohibition era and won the hearts of the public by contributing to charity.

The Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre damaged Al Capone’s image since it involved numerous gangs being murdered in broad daylight. Nicknamed Scarface, the criminal didn’t go to jail for acts of violence or bootlegging, but for tax evasion! He ultimately died while behind bars.

Charles Manson Fueled His Followers To Commit Crimes

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Charles Manson spent much of his life in correctional institutions before he got the idea to create a cult. His followers bought into his crazed ideology so completely that they felt compelled to commit murders of high profile figures such as Sharon Tate.

Though Charles didn’t directly commit the nine murders the “Manson family” was responsible for, he was still charged with first-degree murder for seven of them. Charles went on to spend the majority of his life in prison, where he died in 2017.

Tom Horn’s Story Inspired A 1980s Movie

Universal History Archive/ Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Universal History Archive/ Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Tom Horn started out as the quintessential symbol of the Wild West, having been a cowboy, scout, and soldier. He went on to be a detective and even worked for Pinkerton. Things went downhill when Tom pursued a life as a gunman, through which he is believed to have killed 17 total individuals.

The murder that landed him in hot water, though, was that of a 14-year-old boy. Tom was ultimately hanged for the crime, but there is still debate over his guilt. The story is so intriguing that they even made a film in the ’80s about it.