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10 Criminals You Would Never Expect

by John Munoz
fact checked by Rachel Jones

They’re hiding among you right now. They could be mowing the lawn next door, downstairs preparing your dinner, or even reflected in your monitor as you read this, but rest assured: they are among you. They are criminals, and not just people who drive 45 in a 35 mph zone; there are murderers, traffickers, and arms dealers embedded throughout society.

Even the non-violent and not-so-scary criminals pop up where you’d least expect. Your local Wendy’s may be home to an embezzling ring and that local laundromat that never seems to be open—it may just be laundering more than clothes.

From tiny infractions to major misdeeds, from nobodies to notables, history has played host to an unimaginable number of hidden lawbreakers. You’ll find several here, as we list ten criminals you would never expect.

Related: 10 Criminal Writers With Real Skeletons In Their Closets

10 Dr. Death

Doctor Intentionally Kills Over 200 Patients (Dr. Death)

Harold Shipman, also known as the “Angel of Death” and “Dr. Death,” is one of the worst serial killers in history. After his arrest, an official inquiry into his crimes concluded that Shipman had killed at least 218 people, with a likely estimate of around 250. Shipman was, frankly, a monster. But before his sicker side was revealed, no one would have expected Shipman to be anything but a caring physician.

As was replayed many times following his arrest, Shipman even appeared on a popular TV series, advocating for better treatment for the mentally ill. As the media pointed out so often, Shipman seemed “nice” and “normal.” In reality, he was about as far from nice as the modern world has seen.

9 Mark Wahlberg

From Drug Dealer Charged with Attempted Murder to Successfull Actor- Mark Whalberg’s Turnaround

On a lighter note, but still not exactly light, (sometimes) beloved actor Mark Wahlberg is a criminal as well. Though not a murderer—unless you count murdering our hope for humanity during The Happening, he has committed multiple hate crimes, one of them leading to a charge of attempted murder.

It’s true: “The Fighter” himself is indeed no stranger to brawling, especially when it comes to members of other cultures. Wahlberg settled two civil suits for two separate incidents of chasing black children, throwing rocks at them, and yelling racial slurs.

The following year, Wahlberg committed two separate assaults on Vietnamese-Americans, in both cases also yelling racial slurs. For the last attack, Wahlberg was sentenced to two years in jail but only served one-and-a-half months.

8 Papa Denke

The Pickled Human Flesh Seller – Karl Denke

Karl Denke seemed to be the epitome of a model citizen. Living in Poland (then part of Germany) in the early 1900s, Denke worked as a farmer, gardener, and meat vendor. He volunteered at his local church as a cross-bearer and organist, and his neighbors thought well of him. They even affectionately referred to him as “papa.” The problem with Papa was that, unbeknownst to anyone else, he spent decades killing and eating dozens of people.

Denke kept a detailed list of his murders, totaling 31 names. However, when authorities searched his home, they found enough bone fragments to piece together at least 40 bodies. On top of that, authorities suspected that some of the meat that Denke had sold had actually belonged to his victims.

7 A Current Pro Footballer

Goalie signed after murdering girlfriend

Though it sounds too strange to be true, it isn’t: a currently-active professional soccer player, Bruno Fernandes de Souza, aka Bruno, kidnapped, tortured, and murdered his mistress. Then he fed her body to his dogs. And then, of course, he continued making an obscene amount of money playing professional sports.

Bruno was charged for the crime, of course, but served less than seven years in prison, after which he swiftly and effortlessly renewed his sports career. As crazy as it sounds, Bruno was at one point sent back to prison, only to be released within two years. And then—you guessed it, more job offers and more soccer.

6 Chris Benoit

Behind The Titantron | The Chris Benoit Family Tragedy – Chris Benoit Documentary

Chris Benoit was a professional wrestler who found success across all three of the major wrestling promotions in the ’90s, participated in WWE’s “Attitude Era” (which many consider the industry’s golden age), and held numerous titles throughout his career. He was, in every way, a wrestling icon. Despite being described by his colleagues as kind, quiet, funny, polite, and likable, Benoit spent a weekend in 2007 torturing and murdering his family and then killing himself.

Though chronic head injuries and drug use later gained traction as potential inciting factors, no one at the time could have expected Benoit’s actions. WWE even aired a three-hour tribute to Benoit the night after his suicide, learning of his family’s death and naturally assuming he had been just another victim.

5 The Neurobiologist

On February 12, 2010, the biology department at the University of Alabama in Huntsville held an average faculty meeting. Average, that is, until neurobiology professor Amy Bishop pulled out a gun, killed three of her colleagues, and wounded three others.

Multiple students told reporters that Bishop, who had still taught her classes that day, acted “completely normal.” Even more than that, Bishop sat calmly through 40 minutes of the faculty meeting without alerting anyone as to her plans.

No one expected Bishop, a Ph.D. from Harvard, to suddenly devolve to senseless violence. Of course, like so many of these surprising cases, investigators have since pored over Bishop’s life and unearthed a pattern of troubling behavior.

4 The Candy Man


These days, Dean Corll, aka the Candy Man, is known as one of the worst serial killers in American history, having kidnapped, raped, tortured, and murdered at least 28 people. A rap sheet like that tends to overshadow any other deeds in a person’s life. But oddly enough, Corll’s life before the vicious crimes was as upstanding as it gets. Though we wish they would have, no one could have suspected Corll’s true, monstrous nature.

The Candy Man nickname comes from the fact that Corll helped run his family company, the Corll Candy Company. He had a reputation in his community for handing out free candy to children, and because of this, became somewhat beloved. 

In between stints at the candy company, Corll joined the U.S. Army, and his term therein was untarnished. Even as a kid, there was nothing notable about Corll; he was simply a good, quiet student. No one would have expected the evil he would later inflict on his community.

3 John Wilkes Booth

John Wilkes Booth Goes from Actor to Assassin (feat. Adam Scott & Will Forte) – Drunk History

John Wilkes Booth is the man who shot U.S. President Abraham Lincoln in the back of the head, killing him. Though vocal about his opposition to the president before the assassination, Booth’s friends and family were shocked by the extreme length to which he went. They could never have expected that the loving fiancé and charming actor was capable of murder.

Before his turn as a murderer, Booth was a successful and celebrated actor. One D.C. paper even called his portrayal of Romeo “the most satisfactory of all renderings of that fine character.” Anyone close to Booth may have been fooled by his charisma; an 1862 love letter he wrote to his future fiancé reads like an ornate Keats poem. Even the letters (found posthumously) in which Booth explained the motivation for his treason are eloquent and portray a man of sound mind and strong convictions. And yet, Booth will forever be remembered as a criminal of the worst kind.

2 Almost Every Rich Person

The Panama Papers in 90 seconds | FT World

Though that title likely won’t surprise anyone, the rich avoiding financial regulations (and most other regulations) is common knowledge; here, we’re specifically talking about the Panama Papers. Leaked by an anonymous source, the papers are a massive trove of documents that detail tens of thousands of fake corporations set up by the wealthy to avoid paying their fair share of taxes.

The list of tax-dodgers is practically a who’s-who of world icons. It includes world leaders like Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump, and Queen Elizabeth II; megastars like Bono and Madonna; and even beloved personalities like Emma Watson and Jackie Chan. Though the leaked material came to be known as the Panama Papers, the info only came from one of Panama’s many “corporate service providers,” and Panama is far from the only country to operate as a tax haven.

1 Tim Allen

The Shocking Past of Tim Allen

This may be the most delicious secret celebrity crime of all. Tim Allen, of Home Improvement fame, was arrested in 1978 with a pound-and-a-half of cocaine, convicted of felony drug trafficking, and spent over two years in federal prison.

The craziest part of the entire situation was that such a large amount of cocaine could have landed Allen a life sentence. Not wanting to miss out on all that Santa Clause money, Allen instead flipped on his fellow users and dealers, ratting them out to receive a lesser sentence.

In the end, Allen was sentenced to three years and served two years and four months—a far cry from the life behind bars he almost received. Just imagine a world without Tim Allen as an actor. Frankly, almost everything would be the same, except that Galaxy Quest might not have seen release. That, more than anything else in the life of Tim Allen, would have been a crime.

fact checked by Rachel Jones