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Top 10 Criminal Cases Solved By TV Appearances
For decades, television has intrigued, fascinated, and terrified us with its depictions of witty con men, daring heists, and heartless killers. With few exceptions, the majority of crime-based shows are documentaries or TV dramas with dramatic narratives and surprising twists that keep us guessing about the perpetrator’s identity until the program’s conclusion.
Of course, reality is sometimes crazier than fiction. Many criminals, either extremely comfortable with their abilities to evade capture or extremely stupid, have boldly appeared on TV shows after seeming to get away with their crimes.
10 Serial Shoplifter Caught After Appearing On TV Show Come Dine With Me
At first glance, Sophie Hunter-Brown may seem like an unassuming criminal. An attractive, young, primary school teacher who specializes in information and communication technology, she was often praised as a favorite with her pupils. However, her criminal activity may have been as unassuming as the way that her crime spree came to an end.
In 2015, the playful 30-year-old was recognized after she appeared on a repeat episode of UK Channel 4’s Come Dine With Me. She was hosting a “full Moon beach party”–themed dinner.
Little did her guests know, Hunter-Brown was such a “notorious” shoplifter that an ASDA employee recognized her because her face had been “plastered” all over the supermarket’s warning board. She had been using the self-service tills to scan her shopping and then retracting her card before it could take payment. The police were called and later told that Hunter-Brown had been suffering from stress caused by financial difficulties.
However, at her Education Workforce Council hearing, she retracted her earlier admissions. Instead, she claimed that she didn’t realize that she hadn’t been paying for her groceries between April and July 2014.
After her crime spree was exposed, Hunter-Brown could have lost her teaching job but escaped with a reprimand. Disciplinary hearing chairman Steve Powell stated: “There is no evidence that her behavior has affected her ability to teach. Witnesses have said that she is a dedicated teacher.”
9 Gun Gang Trio Arrested After Boasting About Crimes On Gangland: Turf Wars
Winston White, 22, Akyrie Palmer, 21, and Mark Oduro, 20, from London were already on the police radar for serious crimes. The three were known to boast freely about their endeavors on social media, including a YouTube channel to which they uploaded clips of themselves brandishing guns and promoting a gang lifestyle.
In 2016, they appeared in Gangland: Turf Wars, a controversial UK Channel 5 documentary series directed by BAFTA nominee Paul Blake. He aimed to lift the lid on street crime and London’s drug trade using GoPro footage captured by the gang members themselves.
The producers of the show had arranged a “dead drop” of the cameras away from any CCTV. Members from various gangs could take these cameras and document their lifestyles.
During the documentary, White, Palmer, and Oduro wore masks to conceal their identities while boasting about their deadly arsenal of weapons, which included pistols and shotguns. Thankfully, they were caught by police on May 26, 2016, after smuggling a loaded shotgun onto the Turnham Estate in Lewisham in the back of a moped.
The three men were charged with two counts of possession of a firearm and intent to endanger life and three counts of possession of ammunition with intent to endanger life. Together, the trio has accrued over 50 years in prison.
Since the program aired, many other subjects of this documentary series have been arrested for various crimes. Sadly, young rappers Myron Yarde and Leoandro Osemeke have been killed due to their involvement in London’s gang culture.
8 Criminals Caught In TV Sting
In 2004, the UK’s Hampshire police had a long list of fine dodgers and people who had failed to appear in court. As there seemed to be no way that the suspects would turn themselves in voluntarily, police were forced to get creative.
They decided to team up with Channel 5 to create a television show titled the Great Big Giveaway Show. Then they sent out invitations to 20 of their most wanted to take part. The police even managed to get disgraced MP Neil Hamilton and his wife, Christine, to host the spectacle and actor Darren Day to provide a voice-over.
After the contestants were called into the studio, they were frisked by an undercover officer posing as security. He checked their identities and then sent them to meet the Hamiltons. Afterward, the contestants were taken to makeup. Then they had to wait backstage for their big moment.
Unfortunately for them, their dreams of a large cash prize or 15 minutes of fame were about to be crushed. As they walked along a red carpet, they heard the sounds of an audience and Darren Day’s voice.
Waiting to greet them at the other end, however, was not Day. Instead, two officers cuffed the suspects, which ultimately included nine men and eight women, and sent them off in a police car.
Eight of the suspects were wanted for outstanding fines. Nine were wanted for a range of other offenses, from drink driving to common assault. Police had also managed to trace 144 other fine dodgers after they replied to the letters.
7 ‘Big Mouth’ Duped By Police With Fake Documentary
Notorious Somali pirate Mohamed Abdi Hassan was another criminal who was tricked into turning himself in with a fake TV show.
Hassan, nicknamed “Big Mouth,” began his career in piracy in 2005. According to Belgian authorities, he went on to make millions over an eight-year period through his illegal activities. At the height of his career, he managed to gain a cult following, with the late Libyan Colonel Muammar Gadhafi hailing Hassan as a national hero.
To the rest of the world, however, Hassan was a dangerous criminal who had been responsible for a series of daring hijackings, including that of the Belgian dredge vessel Pompei in 2009.
In October 2013, after months of talks, the police were able to coax the elusive pirate into making a mistake that would bring an end to his flourishing career. With an operation set up by the Belgian authorities, undercover agents were able to contact Hassan through an associate by pretending to be part of a film crew looking to document Hassan’s piracy exploits.
He eventually agreed to take part in the project and flew with his associate to Brussels. There, Hassan was arrested by police. In March 2016, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison for leading the 2009 hijacking of the Pompei. Due to a legal technicality, however, Hassan was able to keep the millions he had made through his piracy.
6 Chinese Murder Suspect Identified After Winning Dating Show
Wu Gang, who was 39 at the time of his arrest, isn’t the first game show contestant to be accused of murder after appearing on TV. In fact, he isn’t unique to dating shows either.
In 1978, Rodney Alcala, nicknamed “The Dating Game Killer,” infamously appeared on The Dating Game after having already killed at least four people. Alcala and Wu shared a common attribute that led them to win their respective shows and perhaps help them commit murder. That attribute was their ability to charm and impress their audiences and woo the prize contestants into selecting them in the hopes of finding love.
In 1998, Wu murdered a man in Jilin, China, before vanishing for 13 years. The police were unable to get a single lead in the case. What would later mystify both the public and the police more than his disappearance was his reappearance on the Chinese dating show Happy League.
Wu, using the fake name Lui Hao, was able to charm his way into the winning seat with his soothing voice and bubbly personality after using techno music to perform a running man dance. The prize female contestant was so entranced that she awarded him a date over eight other hopefuls.
Little did she know that she had arranged a date with a killer. Luckily for her, an anonymous tipster had recognized the seemingly harmless Lui as a suspect in a murder case from the 1990s. Police agreed that Lui strongly resembled Wu and detained him as the key suspect in the case after a short investigation.
Li Ang, a police officer from the criminal investigation department of the Jilin Public Security Bureau, stated that “Lui had become accustomed to his new identity and fooling everyone around him so much that he didn’t think twice about going on the show.”
5 Teenage Girl Blames Her Father For Triple Murder On Live TV
It was a startling revelation on a popular Indian chat show that brought a previously unsolved triple murder case to light.
In 2012, a 16-year-old girl appeared on Solvathellam Unmai, hosted by Lakshmy Ramakrishnan, to talk about eloping with her boyfriend. An argument ensued between the girl and her parents, who were also invited to the show. The host eventually calmed the situation, telling her guests that they should all go home and make amends.
Then the conversation quickly turned to a shocking claim by the girl against her father. She said that she was scared to return home with him because he was responsible for the murders of three people and had buried the victims at her family’s compound in Villupuram district.
The reality show ended with a continuation of the argument between the girl and her parents before the father, Murugan, went home with his wife. Murugan was not detained during the live broadcast. So he promptly went on the run after telling his wife that she would never see him alive again.
The accusations were treated seriously by the police, who went to investigate at Murugan’s family home. Sure enough, three bodies were found buried in the backyard.
Police stated that the three people had left gold jewelry with Murugan for safekeeping. But when these people asked for the return of their property, Murugan prepared a meal laced with poison and murdered all three, keeping the gold for himself.
Soon after this revelation, Murugan was arrested with his wife, Rajeswari, and his brother, Mathiarasan.
This isn’t the first time that presenter Lakshmy Ramakrishnan has been called to court as a witness in a murder case. In 2014, a woman named Baby Kala confessed live on the show to abetting the murder of her husband by her new lover.
4 Stephen McDaniel Learns That His Victim’s Body Has Been Found During TV Interview
On June 30, 2011, a journalist was reporting on the disappearance of 27-year-old Lauren Giddings at Mercer University School of Law in Macon, Georgia. The unsuspecting journalist was doing a live interview on NewsFile with one of Giddings’s ex-classmates when something extraordinary happened.
The 25-year-old man, sporting a grizzly bear look with bloodshot eyes, was Stephen McDaniel, who had graduated with the missing woman. At first, the interview didn’t seem like anything out of the ordinary, but it would soon raise suspicions that McDaniel might be the killer.
Unknown to McDaniel, the torso of a body suspected to be Lauren Giddings had been found hours earlier in a dumpster at the apartment block where they both had lived. Shortly after the interview began, this fact was revealed to McDaniel. He paused, his eyes wide in shock.
Unable to compose himself, he took a minute to sit down. Twenty minutes later, he went back to the journalist and began to rant, apparently defensive despite the journalist’s lack of accusation.
McDaniel was later brought in for questioning by the police. He confessed to strangling his former classmate to death after breaking into her bedroom while wearing a mask. McDaniel stated that Giddings had managed to pull the mask off his face during the attack. She recognized him immediately and begged him to stop.
Instead, he murdered her, dismembered her body, and disposed of it in the dumpster. It was also revealed that he had been stalking her and had acquired hours of footage of her in her home. In 2014, McDaniel was sentenced to life in prison and will first be eligible to request parole in 2041.
3 Ian Huntley Is Interviewed After Sickening Murders
On August 4, 2002, the disappearance of two 10-year-old girls, Holly Marie Wells and Jessica Aimee Chapman, shook Britain. Less than a decade after the tragic kidnapping and murder of two-year-old James Bulger, the British public was still on high alert. Paranoia about their children’s safety was widespread.
Ian Huntley was keen to help with the police investigation into the disappearance of Holly and Jessica. He was a school caretaker and boyfriend of the girls’ favorite class assistant, Maxine Carr, at St. Andrew’s Primary School. Huntley cooperated with the police and openly admitted that he was the last person to see the girls.
A week and a half after they went missing during a family barbecue, veteran news reporter Jeremy Thompson conducted a brief interview with Huntley outside his house. He begged for anybody with information to come forward.
Due to what seemed like Huntley’s genuine empathy, nobody had any reason to suspect him of wrongdoing. Then Brian Farmer, another journalist who had interviewed Huntley, watched the story. Farmer had noticed some strange behavior and many inconsistencies in Huntley’s account.
The same day, BBC producer Debbie Tubby also contacted the police after Huntley overheard her speaking on the phone about a “significant development” in the case. Apparently, Huntley began sweating and nervously asked if either of the girls’ clothes had been found. At this point, nobody could have known that the clothes had been cut from Holly and Jessica’s bodies and dumped in Soham.
After an exhausting investigation, Huntley was arrested and found guilty of the murders. His girlfriend at the time, Maxine Carr, was found to have provided a false alibi for him. Huntley was sentenced to a minimum of 40 years in prison, while Carr received three and a half years for perverting the course of justice.
2 Sef Gonzales, The Baby-Faced Killer
On July 10, 2001, 21-year-old Sef Gonzales returned home in Sydney, Australia, after hanging out with a friend at Planet Hollywood and playing video games in an arcade. Inside the house, Gonzales stumbled across a grim discovery: His mother, father, and younger sister had been brutally murdered.
Teddy Gonzales, 46, Mary Loiva Josephine, 43, and Clodine, 18, had all been stabbed numerous times. A wall inside the house had been spray-painted with racist remarks aimed at the Filipino family.
Devastated, Gonzales ran to a neighbor’s house for help before calling police. Crying, he was almost incoherent as he explained that his family had been shot.
When police arrived, they found no evidence to support a break-in theory and began to suspect that Gonzales may have been involved. These suspicions increased when Sef visited the family’s accountant the following day to discuss his inheritance of around $1.5 million.
However, it wasn’t until after he appeared on television in the days following the murders that he was taken in for questioning. During a press conference, Sef begged the killers to come forward and offered a reward of $100,000 for information about the murders.
Police thought that Sef, who had tried to evoke sympathy by singing Mariah Carey’s “One Sweet Day” in front of cameras at the funeral, was acting insincerely. Combined with huge inconsistencies in Sef’s stories and the discovery of a number of manipulative lies told to his family and friends, this behavior made investigating police able to disprove both of Sef’s alibis.
After a two-month trial, he was sentenced to three concurrent life sentences without the possibility of parole.
1 Mick Philpott Puts On A Show After Killing Six Children In House Blaze
In the mid-2000s, Mick Philpott, nicknamed “Shameless Mick,” rose to infamy in the British tabloids after having his 17th child while completely reliant on state benefits. In 2006, he demanded a larger council home for his family and the British public reacted with anger and disgust.
Philpott, who had been obsessed with the idea of fame, made many TV appearances on talk shows and documentaries. He soon began to play up to his new shameless persona.
In May 2012, his name became featured in the news again. This time, the headlines were more shocking than ever before. A fire had broken out at his family home, killing six of his children.
After gasoline was found in the mailbox, police began treating the incident as a criminal investigation. A couple of months earlier, Lisa Willis, Philpott’s mistress, had left the house that she had shared with both Mick and his wife, Mairead.
A custody hearing for Willis’s children, who had been fathered by Mick, had been scheduled to take place the morning of the fire. As a result, Willis and her brother-in-law, Ian Cousins, were arrested on suspicion of murder. Later, they were released without charge.
Soon, suspicion fell on the Philpotts. In the days following the fire, Mick told police that he wanted to arrange a televised press conference. The police helped him to do so, but they were just as confused as the home audience by what they saw.
One might expect two parents who had just suffered such a tragedy to call for witnesses or information. But Mick mainly praised and thanked the police and firemen who had tried so desperately to save his children. A police officer, who was present at the time, noticed that there was no genuine grief or real tears.
After the conference, Mick’s tears quickly dried up and he returned to his normal self, laughing and joking as before. As a result, the police decided to bug the Philpotts’ hotel room. Mick was heard questioning his wife on a number of issues about their interviews with the police—such as whether she had cried and how believable she had appeared to be.
After hours of listening in, police had gained enough evidence to confirm that both Mick and his wife had been accomplices in starting the fire. Their friend Paul Mosley also appeared to have been involved.
Both the public and the police demanded to know exactly how and why these parents could commit such an appalling act. They would later find out that the Philpotts’ intention was to frame Lisa Willis for the fire and win back custody of her children so that the Philpotts could continue to receive benefits for them.
R S Boyd is a freelance writer.