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10 People Who Got Away With Murder
For all we like to complain about frivolous lawsuits, ignorant judges, and lenient sentencing, most of us probably accept that the justice system works reasonably well. But just occasionally, a case comes along that’s so ridiculous, so unfair, or so plain dumb that it makes you want to tear the whole thing down.
10The Genocidal Dictator
Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada was Bolivia’s answer to Hosni Mubarak: a corrupt, pro-West ruler despised by his people who ordered the army in when the protests began. In 2003, his security forces murdered 67 civilians, including children, and wounded hundreds more with open gunfire on an indigenous Aymara neighborhood. The resulting explosion of anger across Bolivia forced de Lozada to flee into exile, pursued by charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. Worried about being extradited to stand justice, de Lozada headed to the one place in the world where his people could never get him—the USA.
For nearly 10 years, Bolivia has been trying to extradite this mass murderer, only for the White House to repeatedly refuse every request. Incredibly, there’s no legal basis for this refusal at all: Bolivia and the US have an extradition treaty (ironically set up by de Lozada himself) which specifically requires requests involving murder to be honored. Even weirder, the US itself has laws against genocide, but Obama officials claim de Lozada’s crimes don’t fit the definition, despite recent evidence surfacing that attacks were planned months in advance, with up to 3,000 of the Aymara people expected to be killed. If we were being cynical, we might follow The Guardian’s lead by pointing out that de Lozada had previously bankrolled several top Democrats before going into exile . . . but no one in Washington would ever sink so low as to accept a bribe, right?
9The Killer Diplomat
Not everyone who kills someone is a murderer. That’s why we have manslaughter charges—accidentally plowing into someone with your car doesn’t automatically make you a terrible human being. However, using your diplomatic immunity to avoid arrest after the crash and then immediately fleeing the country definitely does make you terrible.
Meet that awful human: Joshua Walde was a minor American diplomat working in Kenya when, earlier this summer, he was involved in a head-on collision with a minibus. According to officials, it was undoubtedly Walde’s fault. His speeding SUV crossed the center line and smashed into the other vehicle, killing a father of three and seriously injuring eight others. In the aftermath, Walde invoked his diplomatic immunity and returned to the US embassy—where staff promptly helped him flee the country. As the icing on the cake, Walde’s diplomatic immunity means the US technically doesn’t have to pay his victims a penny—and they haven’t. Several are currently unable to pay their hospital bills, and the pregnant wife of the dead man was recently evicted by her landlord, because slum landlords are almost as evil as diplomats. There’s currently about zero chance Walde will ever face justice, and most people in Kenya are pretty annoyed about this. Good diplomacy there, Walde.
8The Racist Who Battered A Chinese Man To Death
You may have heard the name Vincent Chin. In 1982, he had the misfortune to encounter Ronald Ebens and his gormless stepson Michael Nitz. Angry that Japanese manufacturers were “stealing their jobs,” and apparently unaware that Chin was Chinese, the two clubbed him to death with a baseball bat just outside a Detroit McDonald’s. Now for the depressing part: For this brutal, racist murder, Ebens and Nitz received a mere three years of probation and a $3,000 fine.
To put that in perspective (if, for some reason, you lack perspective on the value of human life), people can get heavier sentences for a DUI. The case caused an outcry at the time, and Ebens and Nitz were put on trial again in 1984 and 1987. Each time the judge refused to increase their sentence. Let’s be super clear about this: There is no shred of doubt that they killed Chin. There is no doubt that his murder was intentional. There is almost no doubt that it was racially motivated. And yet it wasn’t until 2012 that free man Ebens offered so much as an apology.
7The Photographer Who Shot A Man
Eadweard Muybridge has been called a lot of things, from “the father of film” to “the greatest photographer who ever lived,” but rarely does anyone touch on the fact that he was also a murderer.
In 1874, Muybridge discovered his wife was having an affair with a drama critic named Harry Larkyns. Now, most of us in that situation might have felt like killing the other guy, but Muybridge went ahead and actually did it. Gun in hand, he tracked Larkyns down and put a bullet through his heart. The famous photographer was arrested, the case went to court . . . and the jury promptly threw it out, claiming Muybridge was “justified” in murdering Larkyns. So, to reiterate: A celebrity found his wife cheating, committed murder, and got off scot-free, despite everyone knowing he really did it. Hmm. Sound familiar?
In 2002, Declan Lyons was found lying dead outside the restaurant he worked at, a golf ball–sized hole punched through his head. For weeks, police were stumped. Lyons was a well-liked guy with no enemies, and there was seemingly no reason for the murder. Then, a month after the shooting, Lyons’ co-worker Isaac Turnbaugh was taking mushrooms at a party when he kind of let slip that he’d murdered his friend. Unfortunately, he also claimed to have masterminded the 9/11 attacks, so when the case went to trial in 2004, the jury just put it down to Turnbaugh’s presumably epic drug trip and acquitted him. All was quiet until 2011, when Turnbaugh finally turned round and admitted he had shot Lyons. And now he’s totally immune to prosecution.
It’s called “double jeopardy,” a tiny clause in the Fifth Amendment that means you can’t be tried for the same crime twice. And since Turnbaugh has been both tried and cleared of Lyons’ murder, he’s pretty much free to do whatever he wants. He’s as untouchable as Walde up there, all thanks to his fondness for magic mushrooms.
5The Stephen Lawrence Gang
The murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence by racist douchebags in 1993 is one of Britain’s most infamous cases. Thanks in part to the ingrained racism of investigating officers, who went as far as planting a mole in an attempt to discredit Lawrence’s family. The gang involved weren’t convicted until 19 years later. In 2012, two of the killers eventually went to jail, but here’s the thing: All sources point toward at least five men being involved. And police know exactly who the others are.
This isn’t some idle conspiracy theory. The lone witness to the murder saw five men surround and stab the 18-year-old. Five people were originally arrested and only let off due to police bungling. Two of the five were later arrested after another racist assault. Heck, even one of the country’s top judges openly stated the other three killers are “still at large” and the police should get around to arresting them. But in 2013, over 20 years after the killing, they still haven’t been charged. Effectively, these guys were helped every step of the way by London’s Metropolitan Police.
4The Death Squad Leader
In 1989, Nelson Mandela’s ANC delivered a deadly PR blow to the apartheid regime when it revealed the existence of government-sponsored death squads. It was the beginning of the end for South Africa’s corrupt minority government, and it was all thanks to one man—embittered former death squad leader Dirk Coetzee.
Under white rule, Coetzee’s only function had been to torture and kill black people, and boy was he ever good at it. During his time on the government payroll, he murdered seven people, tortured countless others, trained terrorists, and even had one of his victims barbecued. By all accounts he was a genuine psychopath, incapable of feeling remorse and reported to sit and laugh while people were tortured only feet away. He was brutal, vicious, and deeply disturbed, but thanks to his 1989 defection to the ANC, he was granted amnesty under Mandela’s government. Now, his defection may well have saved lives in the long run, but let’s be clear: There is no suggestion his decision to change sides was motivated by anything other than saving his own skin. Right up until his death last year, he continued to boast about his work as a death squad leader, claiming he never felt a shred of remorse. By all accounts, he was a deeply unpleasant man, yet he never faced anything even remotely like justice.
3The Angel Of Death
Even the most callous Internet denizen would be shocked by the crimes of Josef Mengele. Auschwitz’s notorious “Angel of Death” saved children from the gas chambers—only to experiment on them instead, amputating limbs and removing organs without anesthetic, and injecting ink directly into their eyeballs. He vivisected pregnant women, crudely sewed two children together, and dissected babies just to see what happened. Even by the horrific standards of the 20th century, he was one of the worst butchers who ever lived . . . and we never caught him.
At the end of World War II, Mengele escaped to Argentina. For the rest of his life, he was sought by Germany, Mossad, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and others, but no one ever came close. Until the day he died, he lived semi-openly and with many friends, never once repenting of the horror he had caused. Perhaps the only good news in all of this is knowing that he spent his last few years in poverty and misery, but that seems small comfort compared to his litany of crimes at Auschwitz.
2The Waco Lynch Mob
In 1916, the town of Waco, Texas became the site of one of the most brutal murders in American history. After a black teenage farmhand named Jesse Washington was convicted of murdering his employer’s wife, the town collectively decided to show the world just how ugly human nature can be.
After a phony trial lasting under an hour, the court released Washington to a waiting crowd. The 17-year-old was beaten, stripped naked, stabbed, and dragged through town to the courthouse, where a bonfire and photographer were waiting. Over the next two hours, Washington was hoisted up, lowered into the bonfire and hoisted up again, his torture timed almost precisely to keep him alive as long as possible. As the hired photographer snapped pictures, locals cut off Washington’s fingers, toes, and genitals and children pulled teeth from his head. The photographs make it look like a particularly gruesome picnic—over half the town attended, 15,000 people in all, including the sheriff and mayor. Police officers were ordered not to arrest anyone, and even those who could later be identified from the pictures never faced any charges. Essentially, an entire town mindlessly slaughtered a young boy and got away with it, simply because their victim was black.
1The Nazi War Criminal Living Openly
Dutch Nazi Klaas Faber was one bad dude. During the Second World War, he was personally responsible for overseeing prisoners at Westerbork transit camp—one of the last stops for Dutch Jews before deportation to Auschwitz. And by “overseeing,” we of course mean “killing.” Faber is thought to have murdered anywhere between 11 and 50 people. So when he was convicted by a Dutch court in 1947, it seemed like that would be the end of his story. Even after he escaped from prison in 1952 and fled to Germany, it was surely only a matter of time before justice caught up with him, right?
Laughably wrong. Thanks to a series of catastrophic errors, Faber not only never returned to prison, but was allowed to live openly in Germany, free from harassment, until his death in 2010. Insanely, a 1943 law passed by Hitler offering German citizenship to other European Nazis hadn’t been repealed when Faber escaped the Netherlands, meaning he was now technically a German citizen. And Germany apparently isn’t down with letting other countries try their criminals. Despite the Dutch repeatedly trying to extradite Faber and even issuing an international arrest warrant, the German authorities refused to play ball. In 1954, 1957, 2004, 2006, and 2010 they batted away requests, basically doing everything in their power to protect a convicted Nazi war criminal. Faber ultimately died in comfort in his house in Ingolstadt, a far cry from the fate suffered by his Jewish victims.