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Top 10 Story-Worth Crimes in American History

by Gwenn Smith
fact checked by Rachel Jones

A.P. history books are known for inspiring tales of founding fathers and militiamen fighting for freedoms. But there are a few infamous crimes that have shaken and rattled the nation enough to deserve a slot in national archives. Here are 10 of the most story-worthy crimes in U.S. history.

10 The Man Who Won The Lottery But Lost It All (2009)

Abraham Shakespeare: Florida man swindled, killed over lottery win

Winning the lottery can change your life, but for Abraham Shakespeare from Florida, this is not always the case. After winning a $30 million jackpot on Nov. 15, 2006, Shakespeare, a former garbage man and day laborer, was rich. After cashing out the $17 million lump-sum payment, Shakespeare went on a legendary spending spree.

Early beneficiaries of his wealth included his stepfather, who got $1 million, and his three step-sisters, who got a quarter-million each! But as fate would have it, Shakespeare’s wealth also attracted Dorice “DeeDee” Moore, who intended to help him ‘manage’ his money. Two years after the lottery, Shakespeare went missing and as the family got jittery, so did his killer.

To cool down the family, Moore forged a letter that communicated to the family that Shakespeare was doing okay. The only problem was that Moore didn’t realize that Shakespeare was illiterate, and this is the slip up that got her arrested. Police reported that Shakespeare was killed on April 6/7, 2009, and in January 2020, they discovered his body on Moore’s property.

9 The Man Who Committed An Almost-Perfect Murder (1971)

The Murders of John List | A Short Documentary | Fascinating Horror

What would you do when you are about to lose everything due to debt? In 1971, John List from New Jersey murdered his mother, wife, and three kids and disappeared for 18 years!

After being arrested for his crimes in 1989, John List confessed that he murdered his family for financial and religious reasons. List explained that the murders were motivated by a bleak financial future and the belief that his family was straying from religion. List murdered the family to ensure that their souls would go to heaven.

Before his arrest, John List has assumed a new identity and was even remarried, hiding from the law. He was only found after his story was highlighted on the ‘America’s Most Wanted’ TV show. John List was later convicted to serve five consecutive terms and died in 2008 at 82 years old.

8 The Largest Cash Heist In American History (1997)

LARGEST CASH ROBBERY In US History: Dunbar Armored

Is there anything like a perfect robbery? The Dunbar Armored Car robbery is the largest cash robbery in United States history, that involved a gang of five childhood friends who banded to steal $18.9 million.

The crime, which Allen Pace orchestrated in 1997, occurred at the Dunbar Los Angeles armoured car depot where Pace worked. After timing security cameras, the gang ambushed the guards and then, robbed the vault using a U-Haul truck as their getaway.

Like masterminds, the crew would launder the money through legitimate businesses. Still, one member, Eugene Hill, made a mistake by spending money with the original cash straps. After Hill’s arrest and confessions, the rest of the crew was caught, tried, and sentenced. From the entire heist money, only $9 million was ever recovered.

7 Guilty Until Proven Innocent (1931)

The Scottsboro Boys

America’s history of racial injustice is deep, and one crime in history reveals its dark side. In 1931, nine African American teenagers from Alabama were accused of raping two white women, a legal battle that attracted both national and local attention.

In the landmark case involving lynch mobs, a rushed trial, and an all-white jury, the boys were pinned for a racial incident on a train. After the African American teenagers had refused to get off the ‘white man’s train,’ they were arrested. Later, two white women claimed that they had been raped.

While one woman recanted her story later, the rushed case found 8 out of 9 of the boys guilty of rape, and they were sentenced to death. The case revealed the racial tensions in the US and the injustices towards minorities. Over eight decades later, the state of Alabama admitted that the Scottsboro boys were all innocent.

6 Smart Students That Set Up The Perfect Crime (1924)

The Shocking Criminal Case of Leopold and Loeb (Full Documentary)

Would you commit a crime just for the thrill of it? Nathan Freudenthal Leopold Jr. and Richard Albert Loeb students at the University of Chicago tried to commit the perfect crime to prove they were smart.

Leopold and Loeb, rich and privileged college students, wanted to prove that they were intellectually superior by committing the perfect crime. They planned to kidnap and murder a child. After identifying 14-year-old Frank, Loeb’s cousin, the two beat him to death and dumped his body.

The only mistake was that Leopold’s glasses fell at the scene, and since they had unique hinges, the clue solved the case for the detectives. Once arrested, they confessed that they murdered the kid for the “thrill of it.” So much for being a perfect crime!

5 My Brother’s Keeper: Murders In Cedar Falls (1976)

The Mark Family Murders- Visiting the Family Graves

Do you believe that brothers can murder each other in cold blood? In what came to be known as the “Cain and Abel” murders in Cedar Falls, Jerry Mark was accused of murdering his brother and his family.

The case, which involved Leslie Mark, his wife, and two children’s deaths, attracted public attention after Mark, the brother, became the main suspect. Investigations would later reveal that Jerry owned the same bullets that killed his brother’s family and even lied about them.

While Jerry Mark was found guilty of the murders, recent DNA evidence excluded him from the crime scene, introducing a new twist to the case. In 2005, a judge ordered a retrial or release, but Jerry continues to serve life since he lost his appeals.

4 Pretty Boy Frees Nash in Kansas City Shootout (1933)

Kansas City Massacre from True Stories from the Files of the FBI

What happens when a notorious criminal, mobsters, and the police are brought together? Chaos. The Union Station Massacre, also known as the Kansas City Massacre, is one of the most striking shootouts.

During the massacre, which took place on June 17, 1933, famed bank robber Frank Nash was being transported back to prison when shooters attacked the escort. In the shootout that followed, four law enforcers and Nash were dead. According to the FBI, the gunmen included Charles Arthur “Pretty Boy” Floyd, Adam Richetti, and Vernon Miller, Kansas’ most notorious criminals.

A year after the crime, both Miller and Floyd were killed under different circumstances. At the same time, Richetti was arrested and later executed in prison. While this dramatic event is not popular enough, it’s the pivotal case that shaped J. Edgar Hoover’s career. He was the lead investigator of the shootings.

3 The 19-year-old Serial Killer (1958)

Charles & Caril – Charlie Starkweather, 30 Years Later (PBS Documentary 1988)

As far as killing sprees go, Charles Starkweather’s 1958-59 murder marathon in Nebraska is one of the most disturbing in history. The dark tale starts when Starkweather, who was only 19-years-old, went to fetch his 13-year-old girlfriend, Caril Fugate, from her home. After facing resistance from Fugate’s stepfather and mother, Starkweather shot them and later strangled their 2-year-old daughter.

After the incident, Starkweather and Fugate would stay in the house for six days before fleeing. Fugate would later deny this account, claiming that she had been held hostage by her boyfriend. Driving to a family friend’s home, the two killed him and later hitchhiked off the property with another couple that ended up dead too.

They would kill three other people, after which they engaged in a high-speed chase with the police that ended up in their arrest. Starkweather’s total death toll was eleven people, including two family dogs. Starkweather met his death through the electric chair while Fugate was released in the 70s.

2 Who Shot Me? – Taking Down an O.G. (1996)

The Mysterious Death Of Tupac Shakur | Part 1

He was famous and brilliant, and at only 25-years-old, he was one of the most successful artists in America. In an unfortunate twist, Tupac Shakur met his untimely death in Los Angeles while riding alongside his friend and manager, Marion “Suge” Knight.

After coming from an altercation after Mike Tyson’s 1996 fight, Tupac and Knight drove away, but when their car stopped at a red light, they were ambushed. In the events that followed, the car with Shakur and Knight was shot 13 times, with the rapper getting hit six times. Six days later, Shakur succumbed to his wounds.

While gang rivalries were blamed for the crime, it remains one of the most famous crimes in history. To date, the shooter or their motive was never discovered, leading to many conspiracy theories. Some people still believe that Shakur is still alive.

1 Master Manipulator, Notorious Serial Killer (1989)

Who Was Ted Bundy?

Theodore Robert Bundy, popularly known as Ted Bundy, is considered one of the most infamous serial killers of all ages. Bundy, a psychology major from the University of Washington, is considered responsible for the deaths of 36 women, with the number presumed to be higher.

With his ammo of faking injuries, Bundy lured victims by pretending to be injured, after which he would overpower and kidnap his victims. Bundy’s notoriety grew from his ability to travel across states, where he would murder as he moved, making him a wanted man in many states.

Bundy, who escaped repeatedly, was finally convicted in Florida, where he was electrocuted in the chair in 1989. His larger-than-life image has made him a subject of countless studies and publications as his story continues to shock many.

fact checked by Rachel Jones