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10 People Who Lived Conflicting Double Lives

by Elliot Rosenhaus
fact checked by Jamie Frater

“The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”

William Shakespeare’s idea that those who make the greatest promises are likely to break them is as true today as it was when he wrote Hamlet. We expect men and women with highly publicized moral stances or critical roles in the safety and well-being of others to uphold certain expectations. Not killing people, for example. Something about the human condition, though, occasionally causes people to undermine these expectations, contradict their principles, and lead ironic double lives.

10 Tom Brown
Police Chief And Mob Accomplice

big tom

To the public, Tom Brown was a picture-perfect policeman, but his double life showed a complete disregard for the laws that he was supposed to enforce and uphold. Brown, better known as Big Tom, earned his claim to fame in the police force after killing an escaped gangster who was wanted for murder. After that notable feat, he was appointed to the St. Paul Police Department’s “Purity Squad,” a means of scrubbing the city clean of less-than-moral underworld dealings. However, Brown would soon begin to see the allure of breaking the law; he was arrested in 1926 for stealing hundreds of gallons of liquor that were seized during a raid. The charges were later dropped due to insufficient evidence.

Brown continued his downward spiral into his life of crime while donning the uniform. He took bribes and turned a blind eye to his findings as a member of the Purity Squad. He made very powerful connections with very dangerous people—most notably Leon Gleckman, better known as “the Al Capone of St. Paul.” It was his connection with Gleckman, who virtually ran the city council with several of his own gangsters appointed to major positions, that would establish Brown as Chief of Police. In return, he used that station to eliminate Gleckman’s rivals. Brown even assisted famous criminal John Dillinger and worked in cahoots with the violent Barker gang. The heat began to reach Brown himself as law enforcement noticed he was tied too closely to the rise of crime. Surprisingly, Brown faced no charges, but he was removed from the police force by the newly elected mayor.

9 Gary Thompson
Panhandler Who Made An Annual $100,000


Gary Thompson was involved in a motorcycle accident in 1993 that left him confined to a wheelchair and mentally disabled. The accident left him in a position to lose everything, and he resorted to panhandling to support himself. Anybody with any sympathy at all would give to a man who had gone through as much as Thompson had.

It was all an act. Thompson was not handicapped, homeless, or mentally ill. The only thing that he was telling the truth about was that he was in an accident that left him temporarily injured—for which he was given a $2.5 million settlement. Some people in the Lexington, Kentucky area that he frequented were suspicious about Thompson’s condition. He was caught speaking without any mental handicap or speech impediment by a Lexington news reporter, and then again by a news reporter wearing a hidden camera. When interviewed by a reporter after he was exposed, Thompson replied, “I appreciate you guys busting me . . . Yeah, I’m really good at it, really good. I clear about $100,000 a year doing this.” Thompson went on to say, “I am normal, it just helps to be mentally handicapped.”

8 NFL Player Sam Hurd
Bible-Quoting Christian And Drug Kingpin


“He seemed like a great guy, quoting the bible and always friendly,” said an official with the Chicago Bears—the last team to which the former wide receiver Sam Hurd was signed. Hailing from San Antonio, Texas, Sam Hurd was a state football star in high school and a standout at Northern Illinois University, placing in the top five in many of the categories in their receiving records. In 2006, he signed as an undrafted free agent with the Dallas Cowboys. He was released five years later and signed as a free agent with the Chicago Bears in July 2011.

In December 2011, Hurd sent shockwaves through the NFL when he was arrested after purchasing cocaine from an undercover agent, set up by his friend and an informant at a Chicago steakhouse. Hurd was a man with bible scriptures tattooed on his torso and a drug baron who made an alleged $700,000 per week.

According to the official affidavit, a man connected to Hurd’s drug trafficking referred to as “T.L.” set up many deals with and for Hurd. Police found $88,000 cash and marijuana in a car T.L. was operating during a routine traffic stop. T.L. said that the car and money were not his and that it all belonged to Hurd, claiming that he performed routine maintenance on his cars. The authorities seized the money and released T.L., who later tried to broker a deal with an informant on Hurd’s behalf to traffic 5-10 kilograms (11-12 lb) of cocaine and 450 kilograms (1,000 lb) of marijuana per week.

Authorities met Hurd at the steakhouse, where Hurd told the undercover agents that he currently trafficked 4 kilograms (9 lb) per week in Chicago. The undercover agent provided Hurd with a kilogram (2 lb) of cocaine and left the steakhouse. Hurd was arrested once he left the restaurant. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2013.

7 Bishop Eddie Long
Anti-Gay Activist And Sex Offender


Eddie Long was known for his flashy, charismatic style of preaching, driving luxury cars to church, and his hardline anti-gay stance. He once led an anti-gay march through Atlanta, Georgia and regarded homosexuality as “spiritual abortion.” As the senior pastor of the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in the Atlanta area, he had a huge congregation of more than 25,000 members. He often led sexual reorientation conferences, where he sought to provide a cure by converting attendees to heterosexuality.

Imagine everyone’s utter and complete shock when four underage teenage boys came forward and filed a lawsuits in 2010, claiming that Long had engaged in sexual relationships with them. In the reports, the three boys from his church and another from a North Carolina satellite church claimed that Long put them on the church’s payroll, gave them money and expensive gifts, and even took them on international vacations.

When asked about details of what transpired between them, the boys’ lawyer, B.J. Bernstein, said they told her that it was, “essentially a marriage ceremony, with candles, exchange of jewelry and biblical quotes.” Long denied the claims, but reached a settlement with all four boys out of court rather than proving that the allegations were false. A fifth boy later made a similar claim and again reached an out-of-court settlement with Long.

6 Anna Gristina
Soccer Mom And Madam Of A Brothel


Anna Gristina was your typical 44-year-old suburban mother of four and devoted wife in the Upper East Side of New York. Her neighbors all said the Gristinas were an average family leading a private life. The only thing that stood out about them was the choice in their family pet. “I thought it was a huge dog loose at first, then I said ‘whoa wait a minute’ then I saw how big it was, like 150 pounds. A huge pig,” said one of their neighbors.

But things are not always as they appear. When night fell, Gristina would begin her secret life as a madam to high-end clientele, including two billionaires. She ran two brothels worth $10 million and had a stable of over 50 women, complete with Penthouse magazine models. Her girls made $2,000 an hour, all in cash. In February 2012, after five years of FBI investigation, Gristina was arrested with bail set at $2 million (but was later released on a $100,000 bond). After her arrest, one of her business partners cooperated with law enforcement against her, and Gristina made a plea deal and was sentenced to six months in prison and five years probation.

“It’s just bizarre. You just never know what’s going on around here,” concluded the neighbors.

5 California Senator Leland Yee
Gun Control Extremist And Gun Runner

gun control

“One only needs to look at England, Japan, and other nations with strict access to see that these types of gun control laws are effective in preventing gun-related homicides,” said Leland Yee when explaining the reasoning behind his proposal of California Senate Bill 249, which he proposed after the rash of mass shootings in 2013 and would ban weapons with mechanisms for fast reloading. “It is extremely important that individuals in California do not own assault weapons. I mean that is just so crystal clear, there is no debate, no discussion.” In addition to this, Yee also introduced legislation that would ban 3-D printed weapons.

In March 2014, Yee shocked the entire state of California when he was indicted as part of a criminal enterprise importing guns illegally into the country. Yee took part in the international gun trafficking ring because he incurred a $70,000 debt after being defeated in a mayoral running. He had to clear the debt before he could run for Secretary of State in California.

Yee had several meetings and interactions with an undercover FBI agent posing as a buyer of guns. At one point, Yee even told the supposed gun trafficker, “There is a part of me that wants to be like you. You know how I’m going to be like you? Just be a free agent out there.” Yee trusted the FBI agent enough to set up a time for him to meet the man, who would supply fully automatic assault rifles and shoulder-mounted rocket launchers. Yee was arrested on charges of public corruption and gun trafficking on March 26, 2014. He is still awaiting trial.

4 Donna Quinn
Catholic Nun And Abortion Clinic Escort


A huge area of controversy and heated debate in and surrounding the Catholic faith is the morality of abortion. Their stance on abortion is that life begins at conception, and abortion for any reason—even rape or incest—is inherently evil and will result in excommunication.

So, when reports of a nun in the Chicago area moonlighting as an escort in an abortion clinic surfaced in October 2009, many people were confused and outraged. The nun, Donna Quin, stood in stark contradiction to the anti-abortion indoctrination of her faith. She was also a coordinator of the National Coalition of American Nuns, an extremely liberal group whose principles are openly against Catholicism’s hard-line stances on homosexuality, abortion, contraception, and the belief that only men should be allowed into priesthood.

In a 2002 speech at Harvard Divinity School, when asked how she came to such a conflicting lifestyle, Quinn replied, “I used to say: ‘This is my Church, and I will work to change it, because I love it.’ Then later I said, ‘This church is immoral, and if I am to identify with it I’d better work to change it.’ More recently, I am saying, ‘All organized religions are immoral in their gender discriminations.’ ”

3 John Leonard Orr
Arson Investigator And Serial Arsonist


Many things are expected of you as a fire captain: managing a fire station, training new firemen, performing equipment safety checks, and determining the best course of action to put out fires safely. John Leonard Orr excelled at those tasks and more—so much so that he was promoted to Arson Investigator. It’s therefore stunning that Orr was also a serial arsonist responsible for starting over 2,000 fires which caused millions of dollars of damages in the Los Angeles area. With his knowledge of exactly what arson investigators search for and how firemen are trained, Orr had an unusual advantage in evading arrest. Orr would start decoy fires in grassy hills near his actual target. When firemen responded to the brush fires, he then set his predetermined locations ablaze, leaving them to burn unattended for maximum damage.

In 1984, a South Pasadena home improvement store, Ole’s Home Center, was gutted by fire. Four people lost their lives in the blaze, including a two-year-old. Initially, the investigators deemed the incident an electrical fire, but Orr would not accept that as the cause and was very adamant that it was arson. The truth was that he set the fire himself.

Even more startling is that Orr became so arrogant and attention-hungry that he penned a novel, Points Of Origin, about a fireman who was naturally also an arsonist. The book was later adapted into an HBO film of the same name, starring Ray Liotta as Orr. “My novel is a fact-based work that followed the pattern of an actual arsonist that has been setting serial fires in California over the past 8 years. He has not been identified or apprehended and probably will not be in the near future. As in the real case, the arsonist in my novel is a firefighter,” stated Orr in his pitch to the publisher.

In 1987, he started several fires near an arson investigators convention. In one of the stores that he attempted to burn down, a store manager saw the smoke and extinguished the fire before the flames could spread. Investigators retrieved a small piece of paper with a single fingerprint on it. Orr was a direct match. Law enforcement officials placed a tracking device on Orr’s vehicle, which placed Orr at the scene of another fire in the area. He was arrested and sentenced to 30 years in prison on three counts of arson. In 1998, he was tried and sentenced to 25 years for the the four deaths he caused a decade-and-a-half earlier.

2 Jane Toppan
Medical Nurse And Serial Killer


We expect nurses to be “angels of mercy,” delivering care and, more importantly, pain medication to those in need during their stints in hospitals. This is where nurse Jane Toppan took a macabre liberty. She experimented with morphine and atropine dosages and mixtures on unsuspecting patients. She was sexually aroused by bringing the patients to the brink of death, then back to life, and then to death again.

Jane led a difficult childhood. Born Honora Kelley in 1857, she lost her mother to tuberculosis early in her childhood. She was left to be raised by her father, a tailor who went insane, and attempted to sew his own eyelids shut. In 1863, her father gave both her and her sister up for adoption to the Boston Female Asylum. She was given to the Toppan family in 1864 as an indentured servant. She took their surname and lived with them until she began nursing school at Cambridge in 1885 but was soon banned because of almost obsessive interest in autopsies and two mysterious deaths of patients in her care. After being kicked out of nursing school, she forged her nursing certifications and began her own private home care, where she worked for nearly 20 years, killing more people along the way.

In 1901, while nursing for an old friend, Toppan slowly killed off her patient’s family one by one: the friend first, then her grandmother, and finally her daughter. After the deaths, the grandfather of the family demanded an autopsy. All three of them had lethal doses of morphine in their bodies. After Toppan’s arrest, she confessed to killing 31 people. She was sentenced to the Taunton Asylum in Massachusetts until her death in 1938. Staff at the asylum said she would often say to them, “Get some morphine, dearie, and we’ll go out into the ward. You and I will have a lot of fun watching them die.”

1 Anthony Johnson
Freed Black Man And Slaveholder


There’ll never be enough words to describe the horror of slavery in American history. When we think of slaveholders, an image of white plantation owners immediately springs to mind. But that was not the case in 100 percent of slave ownership. Oddly enough, the first recorded legal owner of a slave in America was Anthony Johnson, who himself was African.

Anthony Johnson came to America in 1620, settling in what would later become Virginia. Brought to the states against his will, he was captured by rival tribesmen in Angola, then sold and forced into indentured servitude as a tobacco field worker. After 15 years, Johnson was granted his freedom. With his savings, he purchased his own plot of land to farm. Johnson’s years of farm work helped him well, and his farm grew very quickly. In 1651, headright laws gave away 50 acres of free land with the purchase of indentured servants. Johnson bought five.

In 1654, one of Johnson’s servants, John Casor, complained to a servant handler that he was being held past the end date of his contract. He wanted his freedom, but Johnson denied this request. Casor sought employment as a servant for another man, but Johnson filed a lawsuit against Casor’s new employer for stealing his servant. In court, Johnson claimed that Casor was his for life, not just a mere contractual servant. This was not completely unheard of; there were slave owners in the country already, but none with legal records. The court sided with Johnson, allowing him to have his servant back, now as a legally confirmed slave.

When Elliot Rosenhaus is not racing a 10 second car at his local dragstrip or partaking in the pleasures of bacon, he finds time to write.

fact checked by Jamie Frater