I recently heard a news story so bizarre I could hardly believe it was true. A series of crimes in France was linked to a suspect, but then the case took a very odd turn. Police discovered the man was living with his identical twin and because twin DNA is virtually identical, they were at a loss to figure out whodunit. Did one or both twins commit the crimes? If only one twin was the assaulter, did the other twin know? Would scientists be able to find case-breaking minute differences in their DNA? The story seemed more like a best-selling thriller than real life, adding to that well-known adage that truth really is stranger than fiction.
Add to this mix the odd case of Oscar Pistorius, the double-amputee Olympic athlete who shot and killed his supermodel girlfriend on Valentine’s Day. At the same time, Pistorius’s brother Carl also was on trial for murder, this time in the form of vehicular homicide. To top it all off, the lead investigator in Oscar’s case had to resign because he too was accused of attempted murder after firing into a taxi full of innocent passengers. Like a well-written suspense with many twists and turns, I can hardly keep all these crimes straight.
Give it a few years, and I predict we’ll see a rash of books, movies and maybe even a few cheesy made-for-tv-movies about these cases. But in the meantime, these larger-than-life crimes inspired me to wander the stacks in search of real life cases that could touch this level of outlandishness. Turns out, there are many true accounts of cases so bizarre, you can hardly believe they are real:
The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson – The riveting history of America’s first serial killer, H.H. Holmes, who took advantage of the 1893 Chicago World Fair to cover up his crimes.
Sex on the Moon by Ben Mezrich – A charming and brilliant young scientist pulls off the audacious theft of a 600-pound safe of moon rocks from a high-tech government facility, all to impress his girlfriend.
The Girls of Murder City by Douglas Perryman – The true tale of scandal and sex-filled murder cases involving beautiful Jazz Age women. This story inspired the musical “Chicago.”
Man in the Rockefeller Suit by Mark Seal – Hard-to-believe but real account of a master identify thief who posed as a member of the wealthy Rockefeller family for over a decade, married a wealthy woman, and then kidnapped and disappeared with his own daughter.
Midnight in Peking by Paul French – In 1937, a British schoolgirl’s dissected body is found propped against an old building in Beijing. The building is notorious for being haunted and though the murder becomes a media sensation, the crime is never solved and the public’s attention is quickly drawn away by invasion of Japanese forces.
Anyone You Want Me to Be: A True Story of Sex and Death on the Internet by John Douglas – Shocking account of a seemingly harmless family man who used the anonymity of the Internet to seduce and murder vulnerable women.
Provenance by Laney Salisbury – Fast-paced thriller of an elaborate, international con in which villains exploited high-profile art institutions into legitimizing hundreds of forged artworks, many of which still hang in museums today.
The Bobbed Haired Bandit: A True Story of Crime and Celebrity in 1920s New York by Stephen Duncombe – With her modern haircut and fashionable wardrobe, Ceila Cooney seemed anything but a criminal mastermind. Nevertheless, she engineered a thrilling series of thefts, taunted police, and escaped the largest manhunt in New York City history, becoming a celebrity and icon of the rebellious Jazz Age spirit.
What are your favorite shows, books and movies about crime?
Photo credit: “Crime Scene Do Not Cross” by Curtis Gregory Perry