Weird History
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How 10 Notorious Criminals From History Actually Got Caught

April 8, 2021 1.7k votes 278 voters 21.6k views10 items

List RulesVote up the most surprising ways notorious criminals finally got caught.

Some of the most notorious criminals in history have committed truly heinous acts. Not all of them were caught, with identities of serial killers like Jack the Ripper and the Zodiac Killer still unknown today. However, there are some murderers, thieves, and other offenders who did end up in the hands of the authorities - one way or another.

Not all famous historical criminals were apprehended for their worst acts. A technicality, a mistake, a small offense, or even the need for attention have brought down numerous crooks. What finally did in these villains may not be what you'd expect, but it ultimately brought their crime streaks to an end. 

  • Photo: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    It's not entirely clear when Ted Bundy killed his first victim, but he later confessed to 36 murders. He may have taken his first life in early 1974, but after an arrest in Utah in 1975, Bundy became the suspect in numerous homicides. He spent some time in prison, but escaped and fled to Florida in 1977. While in Florida, Bundy killed at least three more young women, including his final victim, Kimberly Leach, a 12-year-old from Lake City, FL. 

    As Bundy traversed Florida, he stole a Volkswagen Beetle in Tallahassee and headed south. When he arrived in Pensacola, a police officer named David Lee noticed Bundy was driving erratically, pulled him over, and discovered the car was stolen. Bundy tried to run, but Lee chased, tackled, and subdued him. Inside the car, the police found identification for several of Bundy's victims and several stolen credit cards. 

    Bundy was taken into custody, at which time he reportedly muttered, "I wish you had killed me." At that time, Lee didn't know who he had apprehended, but that came out via interrogation soon after. Bundy was put on trial for two murders and three attempted murders in July 1978 and found guilty, and later tried for Leach's kidnapping and murder two years later. He was sentenced to death both times and executed in 1989. 

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  • Photo: Police Department photographic records / Wikipedia / Fair Use

    During the 1970s, John Wayne Gacy assaulted and killed at least 33 boys and young men. Gacy, who frequently dressed up like a clown for appearances at hospitals and charitable events, was accused of sexual assault in 1968 and spent time in jail as a result. After his release, continued accusations aroused suspicions by authorities, and Gacy was a person of interest in numerous disappearances in suburban Chicago.

    In 1978, a 15-year-old boy named Robert Piest was reported missing by his mother. After his shift at the local drug store, Piest had reportedly gone to talk to Gacy, a contractor, about a construction job, but was never seen again. 

    As the last person to see Piest, Gacy was questioned, and a foul odor at his home led to surveillance and, ultimately, a full search of the property. It was during the surveillance that Gacy gave a gas station attendant named Lance Jacobson pot. As a felony, delivering weed was enough to arrest Gacy. 

    During the search of his home, authorities found a receipt from the drug store where Piest worked and items connected to other missing persons. Gacy then confessed to roughly 30 murders, with police later finding corpses on and near his property. 

    Gacy was put on trial for 33 murders, sentenced to death, and executed on May 10, 1994.

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  • 7

    An Informant Tipped Off The FBI To John Dillinger's Location

    Gangster John Dillinger was on the run when he was killed in 1934, dubbed "Public Enemy Number One" by the FBI.

    Between 1924 and 1933, Dillinger spent time in prison in Indiana but, after escaping, began robbing banks. He and his gang robbed 12 banks in 1933 and 1934 before their capture in Arizona and subsequent imprisonment in the Midwest. Dillinger again escaped, rallied another gang, and went back to a life of crime.

    During the summer of 1934, Anna Sage - real name Ana Cumpanas - contacted the FBI about Dillinger's whereabouts. The madam was an immigrant from Romania who hoped to avoid deportation by cooperating with authorities. She also wanted to collect the reward on Dillinger's head of $10,000. 

    Sage told the authorities that Dillinger was in Chicago and that she would be accompanying him to the movies on July 22, 1934. As Dillinger exited the Biograph Theater after the show, the fugitive was shot by the police three times. He was declared dead soon after. Sage, for her part, was later deported and never received any money. 

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  • Between 1974 and 1991, Dennis Rader killed 10 people in Kansas, all the while writing letters detailing his activities. Many of the letters were sent to media outlets and ended up in the hands of local authorities. In one of them, Rader suggested a name for himself - the BTK Killer.

    The BTK Killer - an acronym for "bind, torture, kill" - remained unknown despite continuous communication from Rader. He carried out a double life while he killed his victims and after the murders stopped in 1991; he served as a prominent member of his church and as a Boy Scout leader through the early 2000s.

    Perhaps prompted by a newspaper article about one of his murders that appeared in January 2004, Rader sent a letter and the identification from one of his victims to the local newspaper, The Wichita Eagle. The victim, Vicki Wegerle, had not been directly connected to the BTK Killer prior to Rader's renewed communication. Once the letter and ID arrived, however, authorities were able to pull DNA from Wegerle's fingernails, and narrow down potential suspects.

    During the spring and summer months of 2004, Rader left numerous writings for police to find - many of which included graphic descriptions of his crimes. In one of them, he asked about whether the police could trace him if he left floppy disks behind for them instead of paper. The Wichita police ran a newspaper advertisement telling the BTK Killer it would be fine to leave a disk; Rader did, and they were able to pull some identifying metadata from it.

    DNA evidence later confirmed Rader was the BTK Killer. He was arrested, and later pled guilty to 10 counts of murder. Rader is serving multiple consecutive life sentences.

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