History is full of odd crimes and remarkable criminals, ranging from the grotesque to the audacious, and from criminal masterminds crazy as a fox, to ones who were just plain crazy. And while most crimes tend to be ho hum affairs, some crimes and criminals cannot help but grab people’s attention because of some aspect that makes them fascinating. Either because of the consummate skill and daring involved, or more often, because they were so nutty that they can not help attracting attention, just like a train wreck.
The motive for most crimes tends to be pretty straightforward. A murder is usually explained by the murderer being mad at the victim over something, or wanting him or her out of they because they posed an obstacle. If somebody robs a bank, it’s because they want the money. If somebody steals an object other than cash, it’s either because they want to sell and monetize it into cash, or make use of it. But then you have those crimes that stand out as odd, either because the motives seem irrational, or because of the sheer audacity of the criminal, or because of some other aspect that ends up shrouding the crime and criminal in weirdness.
Following are ten of history’s oddest, most remarkable, or plain bizarre crimes and criminals.
Shit Eating Nun and Her Lover Go on a Murder Spree
Marianna de Leyva y Marino (1575 – 1650) was born to a wealthy banking family in Milan. Her mother died during Marianna’s infancy, so her father dumped her on an aunt to raise her, and forgot about her as he pursued his business affairs across Europe. At age 13, her father remembered her long enough to force her into a convent in Monza.
Marianna took well to the nunnery, took the name Sister Virginia, and became a role model for the younger novices. Things changed in her twenties, when she fell head over heels in love, or lust, with a young aristocratic womanizer named Gian Paolo Osio, and a years-long torrid affair ensued. Osio had a blacksmith make him copies of the convent’s keys, and routinely snuck into Marianne’s room, with the complicity of other nuns and a friendly priest. She birthed two children, one a stillborn, the other a daughter who was adopted by Osio.
Marianna alternated between gratifying her lust, and guilt tripping over her sins. At some point, hoping to turn her irresistible lust for Osio into disgust, she began eating his feces. It did not work. Then, in 1606, a nun threatened to expose the affair, so Osio murdered her, with the complicity of Marianna, who threatened the other nuns that they’d get the same if they blabbed.
The lovers tried covering their tracks by spreading a story that the murdered nun had ran off, but rumors began spreading of iffy things going at the Monza convent. So Osio started murdering more people to quell the rumors, including the blacksmith who had made him copies of the convent’s keys, and an apothecary who had supplied Marianne with abortion herbs.
It didn’t work, and eventually word reached the governor of Milan, who ordered an investigation. Osio, Marianne, and their complicit enablers were arrested in 1607, and tortured to reveal what they knew. Osio escaped, and was sentenced to death in absentia. He was killed soon thereafter by an acquaintance. Marianne was sentenced to life in solitary confinement, bricked up in a small cell measuring four feet by nine. She stayed there for fourteen years, until she was deemed reformed and released, to spend her remaining days in a convent.
Occultist Digs Up Graves and Molests Corpses in Hopes of Becoming Handsome
Starting in 1971, West German police were disturbed by reports that somebody was robbing graves, exhuming bodies from cemeteries, and gnawing on them. The female corpses were sexually abused as well. In May of 1972, a morgue attendant came across somebody kissing a cadaver. When he tried to stop him, the culprit pulled out a pistol and fired, but missed.
The morgue worker gave police a description of the assailant, and they threw a dragnet. It eventually led to the arrest of Kuno Hofmann, a deaf and mute laborer who had lost the powers of speech and hearing after his alcoholic father beat him in childhood. Hofmann had a rap sheet, including nine years in prison for theft. When the cops interrogated him, he readily confessed to a bizarre crime spree.
In prison, Hofmann had developed an obsession with self improvement via occult “sciences”. He read extensively on satanic rituals, witchcraft, dark magic, and especially on vampirism and necrophilia. His occult readings led him to believe that he could become handsome and popular by performing dark magic rituals with corpses. Hence, the grave robbing.
On at least 35 occasions, Hofmann snuck into graveyards or mortuaries, and even managed to get copies of the keys to a local cemetery. He wanted the recently dead, so chose his victims from recent death notices in newspapers. He would try to get them in the morgue, but if he could not, he would wait until they were buried, then dig up their graves. Once he secured a corpse, Hofmann would perform rituals that involved stabbing and slashing it, cutting off the head on occasion, and drinking the blood. Other times, he would chew on the corpse, and if it was of a female he found attractive, he would have sex with it.
When that failed to make him handsome and popular, Hofmann decided it must be because the corpses were not fresh enough. So he decided to get the freshest possible corpses, by killing people. His first victims were lovers in a car. After shooting them dead, he drank the blood from their wounds, then he had sex with the girl’s corpse. As he told police, he liked her more than the graveyard corpses. He killed another victim, and would have gone on killing more, if his spree had not been cut short by his arrest. He was deemed insane, and ordered confined in a mental asylum for the rest of his life.
The Convict Maid Who Became a Princess
Until well into the nineteenth century, Britain routinely got rid of convicted criminals via penal transportation – a system of shipping undesirables to far away colonies. Upon arrival, the convicts were sold into indentured servitude for a fixed term. During the eighteenth century, Britain’s American Colonies and the West Indies were the most popular dumping grounds for such undesirables.
That is how Sarah Wilson (circa 1754 – circa 1865) arrived in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1771. She had been a maid in Buckingham Palace to one of Queen Charlotte’s ladies in waiting. Sarah had light fingers, however, and was fired after she was caught stealing some of the queen’s jewels and gowns. She was also tried, convicted, and sentenced to hang – theft being one of the hundreds of crimes punishable by death in Britain back then. Luckily, her sentence was commuted to penal transportation.
Upon arrival in Baltimore, Sarah was taken off the convict ship and sold as an indentured servant, but escaped within a few days. She had managed to hang on to some of Queen Charlotte’s belonging, and wearing the queen’s dress, she claimed to be Queen Charlotte’s sister, “Princess Susana Caroline Matilda of Mecklenberg-Sterlitz”. She explained her presence in the American Colonies by inventing a royal family quarrel, and a scandal that required her to temporarily leave Britain until things calmed down.
During her time as a maid in Buckingham Palace, Sarah had observed royal mannerisms and aristocratic etiquette. She managed to pull off a convincing imitation that duped many Colonials into believing that she really was a princess, and parlayed that into a life of luxury. For years, “Princess Susana” travelled up and down the American Colonies, from New Hampshire in the north all the way down south to the Carolinas. She was hosted in style by many government officials, wealthy Americans, social climbers, and others eager to befriend and win the favor of a royal.
She grifted many out of considerable sums by promising royal appointments, or that she would put in a good word for them with her sister and brother in the law, the Queen and King of Britain. She also took out numerous loans, and bought many luxury items on credit from merchants and shopkeepers eager for royal patronage and the custom of a princess.
The scam ended when her master finally caught her and took her back to Baltimore. In 1775, she escaped again, and made her way northwards, where she met and married a British Army officer during the American Revolution. After the war, the couple stayed in the newly independent United States, after which Sarah vanishes from the historic record.
Colonel Blood’s Theft of the Crown Jewels From the Tower of London
Colonel Thomas Blood (1618 – 1680), an Anglo-Irish officer from County Clare, was one of Britain’s most audacious rogues, who became known as “The Man Who Stole the Crown Jewels”. The son of a prosperous blacksmith, the future Colonel Blood came from a good family – his grandfather lived in a castle, and was a Member of Parliament.
His career as a rogue started with the English Civil War, when Blood left for England in 1642, to fight for king Charles I. However, when it became clear that the royalists were going to lose, Blood abandoned Charles and switched to the king’s Parliamentarian enemies. Charles I was defeated and beheaded. In the new regime, Blood was rewarded with a big estate, and was made a justice of the peace. He prospered, but in 1660 the monarchy was restored, and Charles I’s son assumed the crown as king Charles II. Blood lost all his lands, and fearing reprisals, fled to Ireland with his family.
Blood was understandably unhappy with his reversal of fortunes, and became an avowed enemy of the monarchy. He plotted to kidnap the royal governor of Ireland and hold him for ransom, but the plot failed. Blood’s brother, a coconspirator, was captured and executed for treason, while Blood fled to Holland with a price on his head. He returned in 1670 and hatched another plot to kidnap the governor of Ireland. It failed. At that point, desperately short of funds, Blood decided to go for a daring score: he would steal the Crown Jewels of England.
The Crown Jewels were kept in a basement in the Tower of London, beneath the floor of the Keeper of the Jewels’ apartment. The jewels were available for viewing, upon payment of a fee to their custodian. Blood disguised himself as a parson, went to see the jewels with a female companion whom he presented as his wife, and befriended the Keeper.
Over the following days, Blood ingratiated himself with the Keeper and his wife, whom he won over with gifts of fine gloves. He won them over even further by playing matchmaker, and proposing a marriage between a fictitious wealthy nephew, and the Keeper’s spinster daughter. The Keeper, eager to finally marry off his daughter, invited Blood and his nephew to dinner. So on May 9th, 1671, Blood arrived for dinner with his “nephew” and two “relatives”.
While waiting for dinner, Blood convinced the Keeper to show his nephew and relatives the jewels. Eager to impress his prospective son in law, the Keeper unlocked the door to the basement. Once inside, Blood and his “nephew” threw a hood over the Keeper’s head, knocked him out with a mallet, stabbed him, then bound and gagged him. Blood then used the mallet to flatten the crown so he could conceal it beneath his clerical robes, while his accomplices stuffed scepters and other jeweled items down their trousers. In the meantime, however, the Keeper managed to remove the gag and began screaming “Treason! Murder! The crown is stolen!“.
Blood and his accomplices fled, while engaging in a running shootout with the guards. Eventually, he was cornered, and after a struggle, was subdued and the crown was recovered. His accomplices were also captured, and the stolen items recovered. Unrepentant, Blood declared: “It was a gallant attempt, however unsuccessful! It was for a crown!”
Blood refused to answer any questions except to the king, so he was taken in chains to the palace. Charles II, nicknamed “The Merry Monarch”, found the audacious scoundrel appealing. Especially when Blood declared that the Crown Jewels were worth 6000 pounds at most, not 100,000 pounds as widely reported. When Charles asked “What if I should give you your life?” Blood replied “I would endeavor to deserve it, Sire!” The king pardoned Blood, and granted him an estate worth an annual income of 500 pounds.
The Berlin Butcher
George Carl Grossman (1863 – 1922) was a German career criminal with a long rap sheet, who lived in a dingy apartment in a Berlin slum. His record included violent offenses, and sexual perversions ranging from child molestation to bestiality. Neighbors frequently heard screams coming from his apartment, but it was the kind of neighborhood where screams were normal and people minded their business, so nobody called the cops.
In the early 1920s, dozens of dismembered bodies began popping up around Berlin, and the police announced that a serial killer was on the loose. That might have made Grossman’s neighbors more attentive, because the next time loud screams were heard from his apartment, somebody finally called the police. The cops burst into Grossman’s apartment, and discovered the corpse of a recently killed woman on his bed.
Grossman was arrested and charged with murder. In the subsequent investigation, his neighbors recalled that over the past few years, Grossman had an unusually high number of young female visitors, many of them destitute looking. Now that they thought about it, his neighbors did not remember seeing any of his female guests leaving the apartment.
Acquaintances also remembered that during WWI, despite severe food shortages that caused widespread hunger, Grossman always seemed to have a steady supply of meat to sell on the black market. He even had a hot dog stand outside a Berlin train station. Turns out the meat came from his victims, whom Grossman literally butchered after raping and killing them.
Grossman’s modus operandi had been to hang out at a train station, where he would meet young women, many of them recently arrived in Berlin from the countryside, seeking a new life. It was estimated that over 50 such women were lured to Grossman’s apartment. There, they were sexually abused, murdered, dismembered, and their flesh consumed by Grossman and the unwitting customers who bought meat from him. He was convicted and sentenced to death, but hanged himself before the execution.
The Murder of Mike the Durable
In June of 1932, Tony Marino, the proprietor of a rundown speakeasy in the Bronx, was in desperate need of money. So he and four acquaintances hatched a plan to murder somebody and collect the life insurance. Working with a corrupt insurance agent, they would take out life insurance policies on one of the habitual drunks frequenting Marino’s establishment. They would then get him to drink himself to death, and collect when he perished.
They chose Michael Malloy (1873 – 1933), a homeless Irish immigrant. Malloy was an alcoholic and a longtime client of Marino’s, where he drank on credit until he passed out. He paid when he could, whenever he drifted into temporary employment, and let the tab run for months whenever he drifted out of employment and was broke. He seemed the perfect mark. After taking out life insurance policies on Malloy, Marino extended him unlimited credit at the speakeasy. However, Michael Malloy turned out to be extremely difficult to kill – a toughness that earned him the nicknames “Iron Mike” and “Mike the Durable”.
The assumption was that Malloy would drink himself to death, but every day, the old Irishman drank all his waking hours without any noticeable decline in his health. So to speed things up, Marino and his partners in crime added antifreeze to their mark’s booze. Old Malloy simply drank it until he passed out, then asked for more when he came to.
The plotters then replaced the antifreeze with turpentine. Malloy was unfazed. So they switched to horse liniment – basically, liquid Bengay. Malloy gulped it down and asked for more. They then added rat poison to the mix. Malloy’s constitution did not notice. Oysters soaked in wood alcohol did not do the trick, nor did a spoiled sardines sandwich sprinkled with metal shavings.
Finally deciding that nothing he drank or ate at would kill him, Marino and his coconspirators decided to freeze Malloy to death. One cold winter night, when the temperature dipped to minus 14 Fahrenheit, they waited for Malloy to pass out. When he did, they carried him to a park, dumped him in the snow, and poured 5 gallons of water on his chest to make sure he froze solid. Malloy showed up the next day for his booze on credit.
So Marino and his confederates ran him over with a taxi owned by one of the plotters. All that did was put Malloy in a hospital for three weeks with some broken bones. He reappeared at the speakeasy soon as he was discharged from the hospital. So on February 22nd, 1933, they stuck a gas hose in Malloy’s mouth after he passed out and turned on the jets. That finally did the trick.
The plotters collected on the insurance, but rumors of “Mike the Durable” began making the rounds. When the insurers heard the tales, they contacted police. Malloy’s body was exhumed and reexamined, and the truth came out. The plotters were tried and convicted in 1934. One got a prison sentence, while the rest, including Tony Marino, got the electric chair.
Violent Religious Nut Orders Followers to Crucify Her
Margaretta Peter was born into a large Swiss family around 1794, and from an early age, displayed remarkable religious zeal. By age six, she was a preaching prodigy who captivated congregations with impassioned sermons, revealing a better grasp of the Bible than many grown ministers. She had a strong personality, and spiritually dominated her family and neighbors, turning them into her disciples.
At age 20, Margaretta announced that she was a prophetess, and established a small congregation in her village. She also took to wandering and preaching, gaining a reputation and following across Switzerland. In 1823, Margaretta began harping on Satan, warning her followers that he was all around them. Soon, she was experiencing prophetic visions of demons taking over the world.
Then one day, she told ten devoted followers to gather weapons and pray, because the final battle between Satan and Jesus was about to begin. On her instructions, they gathered axes and clubs and whatever weapons they could find, and barricaded themselves in a farmhouse attic. She told them that invisible demons had surrounded the house, then shrieked that they had broken in – at which point Margaretta’s followers began wildly swinging their weapons at imaginary devils only she could see.
That went on for hours, during which they destroyed the attic. Then they descended to the ground floor, and began hitting each other, on the theory that pain would ward off the demons. They kept at it, until neighbors finally called the police, who arrived to find Margaretta’s followers senseless on the floor, while she continued pummeling them.
The following day, Margaretta told her congregation that more pain was needed to fend off the Devil. She then grabbed an iron wedge and began bludgeoning her brother, while her followers resumed beating each other up. Margaretta then announced that her dead mother’s ghost ordered her to sacrifice herself, but her sister stepped up and insisted that she be sacrificed instead. Margaretta accepted, and began beating her sister with the iron wedge. The rest of the congregation joined in, and soon, the sister was dead. When a follower protested, Margaretta assured her that her sister would rise from the dead in three days.
Margaretta then ordered her followers to crucify her. They were reluctant at first, but she assured them that she would return to life in three days. So they made a cross, and with Margaretta urging them on, nailed her to it by her hands, elbows, feet, and breasts. She then ordered them to stab her through the heart. They tried, but couldn’t get it right, so they took a hammer and crowbar and smashed her head.
Then the congregation gathered around the bodies, and prayed while waiting for them to come back to life in three days. Needless to say, three days came and went, but the dead Margaretta and her dead sister stayed dead. Her disciples were tried for murder, and eleven were convicted and given prison sentences ranging from six months to 16 years.
The Barbara Ann Woods Murder
Barbara Ann Woods, a Canadian living in the Toronto suburbs, was the mother in law of Kenneth James Park. In 1987, her son in law was a 23 year old, happily married to Barbara Ann’s daughter. The young couple had recently given Barbara Ann an infant granddaughter, upon whom her relatives doted. However, all was not well with Barbara Ann’s son in law.
Kenneth suffered from insomnia and stress, and was going through a rough patch because of a gambling addiction that drove him into debt. Barbara’s son in law embezzled money from his employer, hoping to make some winning bets that would allow him to pay off his debts, then return the money before it was discovered missing. He bet on the wrong horses, lost it all, and the embezzlement was discovered. Barbara’s son in law was fired, and his employer filed charges. Things got so bad that he stole from his family’s savings account.
Despite all that, Kenneth had the good fortune to be on excellent terms with his in laws, and Barbara Ann referred to him as her “gentle giant”. In the early morning hours of May 24th, 1987, her gentle giant got out of bed and drove 15 miles to his in laws’ home. Upon arrival, he got a tire iron out of his car’s trunk, and broke into the house. There, he assaulted his father in law and choked him unconscious. He also beat Barbara Ann Woods with the tire iron, and stabbed her to death with a kitchen knife.
Kenneth then drove to a police station, arriving at 4:45AM, covered in blood. He told the cops: “I just killed someone with my bare hands; oh my God, I just killed someone; I’ve just killed two people; my God, I’ve just killed two people with my hands; my God, I’ve just killed two people. My hands; I just killed two people. I killed them; I just killed two people; I’ve just killed my mother- and father-in-law. I stabbed and beat them to death. It’s all my fault“. Kenneth later claimed that the first thing he remembered from that night was being at the police station.
He was charged with murdering Barbara Ann, and attempting to murder her husband. Kenneth’s defense was that he had been unaware of his actions because he committed them while asleep. Sleep specialists were skeptical that somebody could get in a car, drive it 15 miles, get out and kill somebody, then get back in the car and drive it to a police station, all while asleep. However, the specialists could find no other explanation, and eventually concluded that it was possible that Kenneth had been asleep.
In the trial, the defense emphasized Kenneth’s lack of motive, the history of excellent relations with Barbara Ann and her husband, and the consistency of his story during numerous interviews. Also, his brain’s electromagnetic activity readings were extremely irregular, even for people suffering sleep disorders, and such readings were impossible to fake. That convinced the jury, which acquitted him of all charges.
Aristocrat Steals King’s Wife, Then Murders Him With a Red Hot Poker in the Rear
Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March (1287 – 1330) was a powerful English nobleman who fell out with king Edward II over the king’s maladministration and employment of corrupt royal favorites. Mortimer led a baronial revolt, but it was crushed in 1322, and he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. He eventually escaped and fled to France, where he began plotting payback.
Edward II was an all around poor king. However, what probably damaged his authority the most was the widespread perception that was a homosexual, and an effeminate one at that, in a hyper macho era. He had a habit of promoting his male lovers to positions of power, which said lovers then abused, to the disgust of the realm. His latest lover, Hugh Despenser, fit that pattern.
Worse, Edward engaged in public displays of affection for Hugh, which humiliated and alienated Edward’s queen, Isabella. That was all the opening Mortimer needed. While Isabella was on a diplomatic mission to Paris in 1325, Mortimer met and seduced her, and she became his mistress. In 1326, the couple invaded England, executed Hugh Despenser, and deposed Edward II. In his place, they installed Edward’s 14 year old son, who was crowned Edward III in January, 1327, with Mortimer as regent.
Mortimer heard of plots to rescue the deposed king, so had him relocated to a more secure site. Additional reports of fresh plots to free Edward caused Mortimer to order him moved to various locations during the spring and summer of 1327. The fear that one of those plots might finally succeed eventually decided Mortimer on a permanent solution. He would put Edward II beyond rescue, by having him killed.
Contemptuous of Edward and his perceived effeminacy, and not wishing to leave marks of murder on his body, the killers decided on a gruesome method of execution. They held him down, and inserted a red hot poker up his rear to burn his bowels from the inside. Another version has it that a tube was first inserted in his rectum, then a red hot metal bolt was dropped down the tube into his bowels. Either way, Edward II’s dying screams were reportedly heard for miles. Mortimer retained power as regent until 1330, when Edward III decided he was old enough to rule, seized Mortimer, and had him executed.
The Murder of the Mad Monk
Grigory Yefimovich Rasputin (1872 – 1916) was an illiterate Siberian peasant, mystic, and charlatan faith healer. He had an inexplicable ability to soothe the suffering of the Russian Tsar’s young son and heir, who suffered from hemophilia. That won Rasputin the favor of his imperial parents. That favor made Rasputin an incongruously powerful and influential figure in the Russian Empire’s final years.
Rasputin – Russian for “the debauched one” – had a reputation for licentiousness since his teens. At 18, he studied at a monastery and joined a flagellant sect, but perverted its beliefs by inventing a doctrine that nearness to God is best achieved by “holy passionlessness”. The best way to get there, according to Rasputin, was via sexual exhaustion after prolonged bouts of debauchery by the entire congregation. That would get all the base passions out of their system, and allow them to focus on God without distractions.
He became a wanderer, living off donations and gradually building up a reputation as a holy man who could predict the future and heal the sick. He ended up in Saint Petersburg in 1903, at a time when mysticism was fashionable with its decadent court and high society. Rasputin, the dirty, smelly, holy peasant with brilliant and captivating eyes and a reputation for faith healing, was a hit. He exerted a powerful animal magnetism upon high society women, and soon had a cult following of wealthy aristocratic women throwing themselves at him like groupies at a rock star.
One of them introduced him to the Tsarina Alexandria, whose son suffered from hemophilia. Rasputin was able to soothe the child’s suffering, which earned him the mother’s fierce loyalty. Soon, the royal airhead was convinced that Rasputin was guided by God. She started soliciting the illiterate charlatan’s advice on matters of state, then badgered her weak minded husband, the Tsar, into implementing Rasputin’s recommendations. Before long, ministers and high officials were being appointed and dismissed based on Rasputin’s advice. Those seeking to advance or secure their positions were soon flocking to offer him lavish bribes, or sending their wives and daughters to sexually seduce him into putting in a good word for them with the Tsar and Tsarina.
That scandalous state of affairs made the Tsarist government a laughingstock and brought it into low repute, but the Tsarina remained fiercely protective of Rasputin. So a group of aristocrats, led by a Prince Feliks Yusupov, husband of the Tsar’s niece, decided to assassinate Rasputin and rid Russia of his malign influence. His murder turned out to be as weird as his life had been.
Rasputin was lured to Yusupov’s palace on the night of December 30th, 1916, on the pretext of meeting Yusupov’s wife, who was interested in “knowing” him. Many nobles had offered their wives and daughters to Rasputin before, so the invitation was not suspicious. At the palace, while waiting for Yusupov’s wife to “freshen up”, Rasputin was offered cakes and tea laced with cyanide. He ate and drank with no ill effects. He was then offered poisoned wine. He quaffed it without a problem, asked for another glass, then one more after that.
Exasperated, Yusupov then retrieved a pistol and shot Rasputin in the chest. Believing him dead, the conspirators then went about covering their tracks, only for Rasputin to rise hours later and attack Yusupov, who managed to free himself and flee up the stairs. Rasputin then left via the palace court yard, where the panicked conspirators caught up with him and shot him again. They then wrapped his body in a rug, cut a hole in a frozen river’s surface, and shoved him inside. When his body was eventually recovered, it was reported that it had not been the bullets or poison that had killed him, but drowning – he was presumably still alive when thrown into the river.