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.
Ted Kaczynski, better known as the Unabomber, killed three people and injured nearly two dozen more between 1978 and 1995. He mailed bombs to college and university campuses, the homes of business executives, and even placed an incendiary device on an American Airlines flight in 1979. His bombs were lethal, made by hand, and untraceable, making the Unabomber elusive for nearly two decades.
It wasn't until 1995 that Kaczynski - a recluse who lived in a cabin in Montana - released a manifesto that ultimately led to his downfall. The work explained his views about the destruction being wrought on the world by technology but, after it was published by the FBI, the style and ideas it contained were recognized by one reader - David Kaczynski.
After David contacted the FBI, the documents he provided linking his brother Ted to the manifesto were enough to get a search warrant of the Montana cabin. FBI agents found bomb-making materials, additional writings, and other items that ultimately led to his identification as the Unabomber.
Ted Kaczynski was arrested in 1997, plead guilty to all charges against him in 1998, and was sentenced to life in prison.
H.H. Holmes, born Herman Mudgett, began scamming insurance companies to pay for his medical degree, essentially taking out insurance policies on cadavers. During the 1880s, he worked as a pharmacist in Chicago, where his access to drugs and his propensity for crime allowed him to earn money to open "The Castle" in 1893.
"The Castle" was where Holmes carried out murders, dissections, and acts of brutality as he continued to defraud insurance companies with bodies of people who stayed at the site. Castle "residents" weren't Holmes's only victims, however. After his partner, Benjamin Pitezel, was found dead in 1894, Holmes collected a $10,000 payout from the Fidelity Mutual Life Association.
Subsequent investigation led the insurance company to doubt the claim, and Holmes fled to Boston. He was arrested while there, but it wasn't for insurance fraud or murder. Rather, Holmes was detained by Boston police and a Pinkerton detective for "larceny of one horse." Once in captivity, Holmes was put on trial for Pitezel's murder.
Holmes was convicted and sentenced to death but, before his execution, he confessed to 27 murders. He received a hefty sum from Hearst newspapers for his statement, however, and the number of people he killed remains unclear. Holmes was hanged on May 7, 1896.
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Harold "Fred" Shipman (also called "Dr. Death") was a physician in England who killed hundreds of patients over the course of his career. It wasn't the death of his patient Kathleen Grundy that initially alerted authorities that something was amiss, however; it was the falsified will he'd created prior to killing her that led to his arrest.
Grundy was 81 when she died in 1998, reportedly having just been visited by her physician, Dr. Shipman. No autopsy was performed, but when Grundy's will was presented to the family, they were surprised to see she had left Shipman the majority of her estate. Shipman's daughter Angela Woodruff was convinced the document was fake and took it to the police.
Grundy's body was later exhumed, and an exam determined she had died from an overdose of morphine. Because Shipman's visit coincided with Grundy's final hours, the police seized his records and searched his home. His typewriter was determined to have produced the forged will.
Shipman was charged with Grundy's murder in 1998, and investigations soon linked the physician to 15 additional deaths. He was charged with 15 additional counts of murder in 1999 and sentenced to life in prison. At the time of Shipman's death in 2004, he was believed to have possibly killed more than 250 patients.
Ed Gein, who was the inspiration for Norman Bates in Robert Bloch's novel Psycho, violated the living and the dead. In 1957, he was connected to the disappearance of a hardware clerk named Bernice Worden. Gein was the last patron of the store on November 16, the day Worden vanished. His purchase? Antifreeze.
As a result, police searched his home. When authorities arrived at Gein's house, they found Worden's decapitated, disemboweled body. They also discovered the remains of at least 10 other women alongside various body parts, suits made out of skin, and a host of human skulls.
Gein was arrested and confessed to killing Worden. He also admitted killing Mary Hogan three years earlier. Hogan's remains were also found on Gein's property. He was determined to be mentally incompetent and didn't immediately stand trial. Gein was sent to a psychiatric institution until 1968 and, the following year, appeared before the court for his crimes. He was again determined to be unfit and returned to psychiatric care. He died in 1984.
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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.
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.