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10 of the Most Clever Criminals to Walk the Face of the Earth

Clever Criminals

We are always curious to know things, and when it comes to unsolved or mysterious crimes, it is more intriguing to know how they turned out. Criminals are mostly masterminds of what they do. Planning, executing, finding loopholes, and not getting caught are not easy things to pull off. We can say there are quite a good number of criminals who are smart enough to never get caught. Here are stories of some clever criminals who delayed or escaped serious jail time with their smartness. 

1. Arno Funke

Arno Funke is a frustrated artist in Berlin who went on a crime spree following adopting the persona of Scrooge McDuck. For six years, from 1992, he baffled police and entertained the public with his careful precision. He never harmed anyone and had very intricate mechanisms to collect the blackmail money. 

Arno Funke
Arno Funke. Image credit:- JesterWr/wikimedia.org

Arno Funke is one of the most clever criminals and a reformed extortionist from Germany. He started his criminal career when he wanted some money to kickstart a new career to focus on art in 1988. He transformed his kitchen into a bomb factory as he had a knack for machines. He made a pipe bomb, planted it in a luxury department store that was frequented by some of Germany’s richest people.

He wrote a letter asking for a ransom of six hundred thousand dollars and promised he would strike again if he is not given the money. He later planted a bomb in a sports store and did the same. He made sure he did that when no customers were around so that no one was injured. He sent a letter to the store and played messages through a two-way radio with a voice-changer. 

Funke set up a complex mechanism of attaching a box magnetically to a train and he would deactivate the magnet once he was near the location to pick it up. This went on for quite some time and was a source of entertainment for the public as nobody was harmed and everything was carried out with such accuracy. (Source)

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2. Victor Lustig

Victor Lustig was a highly skilled German con artist. He was considered the most notorious criminal in the early 20th century. He became famous for being “the man who sold the Eiffel Tower” posing as a government official. He convinced some businessmen that the sale will be in a secretive manner to prevent public outcry.

Victor Lustig
Victor Lustig. Image credit:- Jeff Maysh/smithsonianmag.com

In May of 1925, Victor Lustig developed a scheme that made him a legend. He sent out letters to Paris scrap-metal businesses as the Deputy Director of the Ministry of Postal Services and Telecommunications. He called an urgent meeting and announced that the government is planning to knock down the Eiffel Tower and sell it for scrap metal.

He also topped it off by saying it is a secret and waited for different companies to bid. Little did they know Victor Lustig was just a con man and had nothing to do with the government. The bidding went up to around a million dollars. 

Lustig came across the news of the government struggling with the maintenance of the tower as the tower wasn’t much of a tourist attraction when it was built. Lustig accepted Poisson, a new business owner in the city, for his highest bid. Poisson’s wife was suspicious of the secrecy of the matter and met with Lustig where he confessed he is a low-level bureaucrat.

Poisson offered fifty grand to him for securing the deal. Within an hour of receiving the money, he left the city. He had to flee the city again after six months when he came back to restart the metal business scammers again. He has continued to live doing other scams, counterfeit operations, and many more tricks up his sleeve. (Source)

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3. Frank W. Abagnale Jr.

Frank W. Abagnale Jr. is known to have pulled off one of the greatest hoaxes by forging checks and assuming different identities. His story was the inspiration for Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can. He lived many years as an imposter posing as different people. He now shares the vision of living in a safer place by understanding the evolving security landscape to help stop scammers. 

Frank W. Abagnale Jr.
Frank W. Abagnale Jr. Image credit:- Jeffrey Langlois/nypost.com

Abagnale lived as an imposter and top of the list of clever criminals from the mid-1960s to the1970s. He has pretended to be a Pan American pilot, a doctor in Georgia, a professor, and even a lawyer. He cashed in more than $2 million dollars for bad as well as returned checks. All this was done when he was a teenager. He was being chased by the FBI. He can pull off impersonations without getting caught. 

He was finally caught when he was staying at a flight attendant’s parent’s home. He was using the checks that he stole from her parents at local stores. He mentions in his book that he only focuses on hotels, airlines, and banks, not individuals. He was eventually caught and arrested. He is known to have cashed bad checks over 26 countries in his teenage years. (Source)

4. H. H Holmes 

H. H. Holmes was an American serial killer, con artist, and trigamist who had almost 50 lawsuits against him in Chicago alone during the 1890s. He has allegedly killed over 200 people during Chicago World’s Fair and owns the infamous “murder castle” that is believed to have airtight rooms, torture rooms, and more. 

H. H Holmes
H. H Holmes. Image credit:- tablonazo.com

Holmes is notoriously known as one of the first identified serial killers in America. He allegedly lured victims to his hotel known as the “Murder Castle” in Chicago during the 1893 World’s Fair. His hotel is described as a macabre building with trap doors, gas chambers, and even a crematorium. He has confessed to killing 27 people, but officials could only confirm nine of them to be true.

Holmes was involved in many fraud schemes. His involvement in fraud regarding a horse in Texas finally led to his arrest in 1894. He was later suspected of the murder of one of his associates and his three children.

After this incident, the “yellow press” began printing all sorts of stories about him, and people believe they are quite exaggerated. He was involved in murdering some of the people associated with him such as his family, women he had affairs with, and did many fraudulent transactions. He received a death sentence in 1894. (Source)

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5. D.B. Cooper

D.B. Cooper is the man who pulled off the impossible by hijacking a commercial plane in 1971. He demanded a ransom of $200,000 and parachuted out of the 727 aircraft with the money, which to date is an unsolved crime. Rear stairs in aircraft were modified to prevent them from lowering while in flight after the incident, and that modification was named after him. 

On November 24, 1971, a man called Dan Cooper bought a one-way ticket to Seattle from Portland. He appeared to be in his 40s and looked very normal. After entering the flight, he handed a note to the stewardess saying there was a bomb in his briefcase and asked her to sit with him while he revealed his briefcase with wires and sticks.

He demanded $200,000 in twenty-dollar bills and two parachutes. After the flight landed in Seattle, he exchanged the flight’s passengers for parachutes and money and the plane took off on a course to Mexico.

In the middle of the flight, Cooper jumped out of the back of the plane with the money and the parachutes and disappeared. He was never found again and remains an unsolved mystery to the FBI to this day. (Source)

Also read: 10 Criminals Who Got Caught Due to Their Hilarious Stupidity

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