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10 Weird and Unfortunate Incidences of Mistaken Identity

Incidences of mistaken identity

We have seen in several movies and read stories about look-alike people who live in different cities, with different lifestyles, and are unaware of each other’s existence.

But can you imagine them in real life? There are many stories of unrelated people with similar physical appearances, so much so that anyone can get confused. The scary part is when one of the look-alike persons commits illegal activity, and the other one mistakenly gets into trouble because of the look. That can lead to serious consequences. Here we have listed out 10 weird and unfortunate incidences of mistaken identity.

1. In 2010, when Abby Guerra and Marlena Cantu from Arizona had a fatal car crash, officials mixed up their identity and informed Abbey’s parents that she died in the car crash. They also told the Cantu family that their daughter had survived. But in reality, Abbey survived the car crash, and Marlena had died.

Abby Guerra and Marlena Cantu
Abby Guerra (Image to the left), Marlena Cantu – died in a car crash, both were best friends. Image credit: abcnews

It is difficult to comprehend what parents go through when they are being told that their daughter lost her life in a fatal car crash, and while planning the funeral they receive the news she was alive the whole time. Now, imagine a parent being in an exactly opposite situation. That’s exactly what happened to the families of Abby Guerra and Marlena Cantu.

In 2010, both the girls who lived in Arizona were involved in a deadly car incident on their way back home from Disneyland. It was believed that Guerra died at the scene, while Cantu was taken to the hospital for treatment.

Then 20, Abby had suffered severe injuries, which included head injuries, a broken back, punctured lung, and facial swelling, which made her unrecognizable. Her close friend, Cantu, died in that car crash, but, officials mixed up their identity and informed the Guerra family that their daughter passed away.

They told the Cantu family that their Marlena survived. However, after six days when the swelling began to go down on then-20-year-old Abby in the hospital, Cantu’s family discovered that it was Guerra, and not their daughter, who had survived.

Guerra’s family had put on a car wash to raise funds to pay for her funeral, but, once the mistake was revealed, the funds were used for her medical expenses instead as well as for Abby’s close friend Marlena’s funeral. (source)

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2. In 1895, Adolf Beck, while walking along a street, was mistakenly accused by a woman, Ottilie Meissonier, of stealing her jewelry a week before in Britain. After several similar allegations, he was convicted and was sentenced to seven years in prison. Later, it was revealed that a man named John Smith was responsible for the robberies.

Adolf Beck
Adolf Beck (Image to the left), John Smith – W. Meyer. Image credits: Appleton’s Magazine via Wikipedia, Scan from ‘Crimes and Punishment’ Magazine via Wikipedia

It could be argued that the case of Adolf Beck is the most famous and extraordinary mistaken- identity incident in history. Beck, who lived in Britain, found himself facing 15 convictions, all because of a random lady, Ottilie Meissonier, who met him on the street in 1895.

The woman realized that Adolf looked like a man who had robbed her of £30 worth of jewelry three weeks before their meeting. Beck denied the allegations against him when he was taken to the police station.

But then, 10 other women filed reports with similar robbery stories, and surprisingly, all of them identified him as the culprit. Beck was found guilty of crimes he didn’t commit and was sentenced to seven years in prison.

After being released in 1901, he was accused and convicted again. This time, however, fortune finally smiled at him, when the real criminal named John Smith was arrested. Beck and Smith looked alike in many ways but could be distinguished when seeing them side by side. Beck was given compensation amount of £5,000 for his suffering. (source)

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3. Ronald Cotton was mistakenly identified by Jenifer Thompson and another woman as the attacker who raped them because of his similar facial features with the real attacker. A DNA test in 1995 cleared him of all of his charges and set him free after spending nearly 11 years in prison on false allegations.

Ronald Cotton
Ronald Cotton (Image to the left), Bobby Poole, photographed at the time of their arrests. Image credit: Burlington Police Department via themarshallproject

Rape is a heinous crime, but falsely accusing an innocent person is also awful. In July 1984, Jenifer Thompson claimed that a man named Ronald Cotton had raped her after breaking into her apartment. Another woman who was raped that night also accused Cotton of sexual assault.

In 1985, based on the evidence on the crime scene and statements from both the women, Cotton was found guilty and was sentenced to life imprisonment plus fifty-four years for sexual assault and two counts of burglary.

Cotton tried multiple times to have his conviction overturned but failed every time. Cotton’s fate changed in 1995 when the police discovered that the semen collected from the victim didn’t match  Cotton. According to reports, Cotton and the real attacker had a striking resemblance in terms of facial structure.

After spending nearly 11 years in prison, Ronald Cotton was cleared of all charges and was released in June 1995. He and Thompson became good friends after that, even writing a book together entitled Picking Cotton. (source)

4. In 1983, two policemen in London mistook Stephen Waldorf for David Martin, a criminal who escaped from prison, and openly fired at him when the police noticed Martin’s girlfriend, Susan Stephens, was hiding in the back seat of Stephen’s car.

Stephen Waldorf
Stephen Waldorf (Image to the left), David Martin – who escaped from prison. Image credit: murdermiletours

In January 1983, film editor Stephen Waldorf almost died when he was driving because of mistaken identity. On the 14th of January, when Stephen stopped his car in a traffic jam on Pembroke Road, Earl’s Court, in London, two police officers approached him.

Moments later, the officers fired at Waldorf five times, causing wounds to his head, abdomen, and liver. The innocent film editor had no clue why police officers shot him.

Police had mistaken Stephen for David Martin in this near-deadly encounter. Martin was a man who was sentenced for the attempted murder of a police officer and later escaped from prison on Christmas Eve. While Police were looking for him on that dreadful night, they saw Susan Stephens, reportedly David’s girlfriend, hiding in the back seat of Waldorf’s car, which led the officers to believe Waldorf was Martin.

An hour after this incident, New Scotland Yard made a public statement apologizing for the tragic mistake. The officers involved in this shooting were charged with attempted murder, and Waldorf received £120,000 for all his damages and injuries. (source)

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5. Carlos DeLuna was executed in 1989 for stabbing a gas station attendant in Texas. Later, research done by professor James Liebman revealed that DeLuna was innocent, and the crime was done by his friend, Carlos Hernandez, who looked like him.

Carlos DeLuna
Carlos DeLuna (Image to the left), Carlos Hernandez – by whom crime was done. Image credit: Corpus Christi Police Dept. via HuffPost

It can not be more tragic when an innocent person is executed for committing a crime of which he was not guilty. This was certainly the case of the unfortunate man, Carlos De Luna, who was sentenced to death for a crime he didn’t commit. It was later discovered that he was a tragic victim of mistaken identity and had been innocent all along.

A study by a Columbia University professor, James Liebman and his students, concluded in a report that the state of Texas executed an innocent man after DeLuna was sentenced to death. Carlos was arrested and convicted of stabbing a gas station clerk, Wanda Lopez, to death, but maintained his innocence until the day his execution arrived in 1989.

According to the law professor, the police ignored other leads, and DeLuna received a poor legal defense. DeLuna, then 20, had some previous criminal history, which probably made the situation worse for him, but as Liebman pointed out, he had no blood on him when he was taken into custody.

In addition to that, police also ignored potential evidence that indicated the crime might have been committed by DeLuna’s friend, Carlos Hernandez. According to reports, Hernandez confessed to killing Lopez before his death in 1999. (source)

Also read: 10 Intriguing Criminal Cases That Were Solved in Unexpected Ways

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