Show Mobile Navigation
Crime |

10 Weirdly Specific Crime Waves from the Last Two Centuries

by Kieran Torbuck
fact checked by Darci Heikkinen

Crimes are rarely funny, but they can be strange. Some just do not seem to make any sense in terms of their reward versus the risk of getting caught, while others see criminals doing or targeting unexpected things. Yet, no matter how bizarre a crime might seem to the non-criminal public, there is always a chance that people will copy it, and it will become a crime wave.

From vegetable-based vandalism to dealing detergent alongside drugs, there have been plenty of crazy-sounding crime waves in the recent past. Here are ten that are sure to confuse just as much as they amuse.

Related: 10 Crimes That Were Committed over Food

10 VW Badge Theft

Beastie Boys – (You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party) (Official Music Video)

They might have cared about their own right to party, but it seems that fans of American rap rockers the Beastie Boys did not care much about the property rights of Volkswagen car owners. In the spring and summer of 1987, as many as 250 cars a day had the Volkswagen badge torn off the front. This was known as being “Beastie’d” because the badges were being taken by fans who wanted to copy the look of Beastie Boy Mike D.

In the popular music video for their single “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (to Party),’ he wore a chain with a VW badge hanging from it. Most of the thefts happened in the U.S. and the UK, where the Beastie Boys were on tour, and Volkswagen quickly tried to put a stop to the thefts by issuing badges for free. They announced this with an amusing ad campaign that joked that the thefts were causing their customers to outswear the Beastie Boys.[1]

9 Indecent Exposure and Theft at “Butt Hole Road”

Photo credit: David Locke/Flickr

England is full of rudely-named roads and villages. Besides making it awkward for the residents of such places to share their addresses, living in them does not often lead to many problems. But that was not the case for people living on Butt Hole Road in the town of Conisbrough. While it is not uncommon for people to take photos with the street signs of places with rude names, a lot of the people who came to Butt Hole Road wanted to take a special type of selfie with it. One that did not show their face but did show their “cheeks.”

This happened so often that one fed-up family who lived on the street actually sold their house and left. The street sign being stolen was another common occurrence that the locals had to put up with, as well as delivery companies refusing to believe that the road existed. The name is thought to refer to a communal water butt which could be found there hundreds of years ago. In 2009, the tired residents paid for the road name to be changed to Archers Way.[2]

8 Antique Books Swapped for Fakes

Antiquarian bookseller Ken Sanders on hunting down book thieves

Between 2022 and 2023, at least 170 rare books were stolen from libraries in nine European countries. The books targeted were first-edition works by Russian authors like Alexander Pushkin and Nikolai Gogol. However, it seems that these were taken not because of the thieves’ highbrow literary tastes but because they were highly valuable. Some of them were sold to Russian auction houses, and the thefts are estimated to have cost the libraries $2.6 million altogether.

Nine people from Georgia were arrested in relation to the scheme, and although they were probably not stealing the classic books for their own consumption, they did show themselves to be sophisticated when it came to making copies of the books. On a first visit to a library, they would request to see the antique books so that they could carefully measure them and take photographs. Then, they would go away and produce a copy before returning to the library to swap it with the real one.[3]

7 Designer Dognapping

These 10 Dog Breeds Get Stolen Most Often

Antique books can command a high price, especially those written by a famous author. Likewise, designer goods cost more than unbranded ones, and their high value also makes them a target for thieves. The 2010s saw an unusual type of designer good become a common target for organized criminals—dogs.

The “dognappings” typically targeted expensive and trendy breeds, which criminals would either sell or use for breeding or fighting. In the UK, criminals realized that there was a high reward offered for relatively low risk. The law treated dog theft like stealing a laptop or cell phone.

Another tactic is taking dogs hostage and making owners pay for their safe return. In 2021, pop star Lady Gaga’s three French bulldogs were stolen while being walked in Hollywood. She offered a $500,000 reward, and they were returned two days later, although she never had to pay because the woman who returned them was convicted of being involved in the theft.[4]

6 Nigerian Prince Scams

Why People Still Fall for the Nigerian Email Scam

Book and dog thefts are really just roundabout ways for organized criminals to make money. Others prefer a more direct approach, and few have been more successful at moving other people’s money into their own pockets than internet scammers. Today, their classic “Nigerian Prince” email approach seems like a laughable relic from the past, but in its late-1990s heyday, the fraud was so widespread that even government spy agencies were called in to help clamp down on it.

The unlucky Nigerian prince who needed help moving his money was actually only one variation of “advance-fee fraud,” also known as a “419” scam. In 1998, 500,000 of these were estimated to have been sent to people worldwide. At that time, around £3.5 billion per year was lost to such scams in the UK alone, and spies from MI5 and MI6 were recruited to help stop it.

But this crime wave did not end there. According to some cybersecurity agencies, such scams continue to be used, presumably because people still fall for them. They are also getting more sophisticated, using AI to cut down on giveaways like syntax and spelling errors.[5]

5 Happy Slapping

Something the internet has given people besides scams is a shot at riches, or at least fame, by creating a viral video. One way people increase the chance of a video going viral is to latch onto a current trend. None of this seems unusual today. However, back in 2005, when camera phones were still in their infancy, and YouTube had only just been founded, video trends were still relatively new, and people were only just finding out that they could be dangerous. One notable craze from that time was “happy slapping.”

This saw people slapping or hitting random passersby and filming the attacks on their phones. Some academics laid the blame for the assaults on TV shows which were popular at the time, like Jackass and Dirty Sanchez. Although the pranks on TV were carried out among consenting adults, many happy-slappers targeted strangers or unsuspecting victims. Although it was widely covered in the media and prompted an outcry from politicians, happy slapping eventually faded like every other internet craze.[6]

4 Vigilante Camera Vandalism

London’s Ulez battle: blade runners, dinosaurs and conspiracy theories

2023 saw hundreds of crimes across London that were also prompted by new camera technology. However, unlike the happy-slappers, the perpetrators did not want to be filmed. What they wanted was for the cameras to be stolen or destroyed.

In just seven months, there were 987 attacks against the city’s ULEZ—Ultra Low Emission Zone—cameras. These cameras see whether vehicles meet certain emission standards and charge a daily fee if they do not. Only around 5% of vehicles do not comply with the standards, but the scheme to clean the city’s air was very politically divisive.

The use of cameras expanded to cover all the boroughs of Greater London in August 2023, and by November of that year, the police had recorded 220 cameras being stolen and 767 of them being damaged. Facebook groups opposed to the scheme attracted over 40,000 members, and people who joined them were also urged not to pay the daily fee.[7]

3 Throwing Food at Famous Paintings

Why activists are targeting famous art to protest climate change

Vandalism has also been used as a controversial tactic by people concerned about the climate, like the activist group Just Stop Oil in the early 2020s. They, however, were less interested in causing lasting damage and more about garnering some short-term publicity for their cause. This was not a good thing for the world because they targeted some of the most beloved and valuable paintings in museums across Europe. One typical tactic that they used was throwing food at the paintings.

In two notable cases, tomato soup was tossed over Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, and mashed potatoes were thrown over Monet’s Grainstacks. Fortunately, the paintings were protected by a glass screen and went unharmed. Chocolate cake was also smeared over a sculpture of King Charles III, although it was a Madame Tussaud’s waxwork rather than a priceless historical treasure. Even though the protestors stuck to peaceful methods like food throwing and gluing their hands to frames and walls, some ended up facing criminal damage charges.[8]

2 Stealing and Trading Tide Detergent

Rising Tide of thefts of the detergent

It is the mid-2010s, and stealing money is pretty much a nonstarter for organized criminals. People are not carrying as much cash anymore, so there is less of it in registers, and banks are well protected. So, what can one do to raise money fast? America’s criminals turned to Tide detergent; the cleaning agent was the new dirty money.

As the leading brand of a household necessity, it was high value and in high demand. This meant it could be easily sold for cash or traded for other goods. It was also non-perishable, untraceable, and carried far less risk than dealing drugs in terms of both jail time and violence. Tide bottles were, as one detective put it in 2015, “the item to steal.”

Thieves often tried to get as many bottles as possible in one go, filling shopping carts and suitcases. People were even arrested with as much as $25,000 worth of Tide they were trying to steal. Although some retailers said that Tide thefts were neither a new problem nor a crime wave, the detergent was so valuable in some areas that police called it “liquid gold.”[9]

1 The Avocado Black Market

There’s An Avocado Crime Wave | CNBC

On the other side of the world, in New Zealand, a very different item was being targeted for organized and large-scale thefts—avocados. In 2016, a sudden and unexpected surge in domestic demand for the fruit followed a particularly poor season for farmers, causing a leap in price. Farmers soon found their crops being raided in the dead of night, and criminals could steal up to 350 avocados at a time either by raking them from the trees or hand-picking them.

They would quickly be sold to roadside stalls, restaurants, sandwich shops, and even grocery stores. Some farmers took security measures, such as installing lights and alarms to protect their crops, after almost 40 large thefts of avocados took place in the first half of 2016. However, experts pointed out that avocado theft would not be lucrative for criminals in the long term. A bumper crop could easily cause prices to plummet again, and the criminals did not have the means to export the goods to other countries.[10]

fact checked by Darci Heikkinen