It’s human nature to have a fascination with criminals. Many are the subject of major motion pictures, meaning that some of history’s most notorious criminals have gained almost as much fame as the most acclaimed movie stars in the world who depicted them on the big screen. The following U.S. criminals are guilty of crimes ranging from drugs and theft to murder. Over the years their badness translated into fame, turning them into something a lot like celebrities. These are some of the most infamous criminals of all time.
Sources: FBI.gov, Wright.edu, HuffingtonPost.com, CelebrityNetWorth.com, Crime.About.com, “John Dillinger: The Life and Death of America’s First Celebrity Criminal” (Dary Matera)
John Wayne Gacy, occasionally referred to as the “Killer Clown,” was a serial killer and rapist during the 1970s, wreaking havoc and terror in Chicago, Illinois during that time. He was eventually convicted of 33 murders, and sentenced to death in 1980. He was finally executed by lethal injection in 1994. Several films have been made about his reign of terror, including “To Catch a Killer,” “Gacy,” “Dear Mr. Gacy,” and “8213: Gacy House.”
Ted Bundy was known not only for his heinous crimes, but also for his surprising good looks – that undoubtedly made it easier for him to lure in young women and girls that he eventually kidnapped, raped, killed, and committed necrophilia with. Captured numerous times, Bundy famously escaped prison twice. He was executed in 1989 after confessing to more than 30 homicides. A 2002 crime film was released that dramatized Bundy’s life, entitled “Ted Bundy.”
The founder and leader of the militant terrorist group al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden gained notoriety after claiming responsibility for the attacks of September 11, 2001, that claimed the lives of nearly 3,000 lives. Bin Laden also claimed responsibility for a host of other attacks against civilians and members of the military across the globe before he was killed by American forces in a raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan in 2011.
Charles Manson was notorious for his leadership in the Manson Family, a commune that developed in California and gained infamy for numerous acts of murder. Manson preached about the impending apocalypse and believed that committing acts of murder would help precipitate the war that would bring about the end of the world. He was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder. Members of his group killed seven people at his instruction, and he was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1972. His crimes inspired the 1984 film, “Manson Family Movies.”
Pablo Escobar was the head of Colombia’s Medellin cocaine cartel, and his extensive criminal activities accumulated him an incredible net worth of more than $30 billion at the time of his death. He was known as “The King of Cocaine,” but his crimes included smuggling, bribery, murder, and more. Escobar’s philosophy of dealing with law enforcement and government officials was known as “plata o plomo” — loosely translated, “accept money or face bullets.” He was eventually killed in a raid in 1993 by the Colombian National Police. Several films and books have been made about Escobar’s life, including “Killing Pablo” and “Pablo: Angel o Demonio” (English title: “Pablo of Medellin”), the highest-grossing documentary of all time in Colombia.
Joseph Kony is the only member of this list still at large, operating as the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, a guerrilla group that began in Uganda but has since spread its activities throughout the Democratic Republic of Congo and surrounding region. He began the group to fight against the Ugandan government and “purify” the Acholi people, but is known to have kidnapped more than 66,000 children to turn them into child soldiers and sex slaves. Kony’s activities led to the internal displacement of more than 2 million people. He has yet to be brought to justice.
Al Capone is known as the most notorious mobster in history, gaining worldwide infamy for his control of Chicago’s gang scene during the Prohibition era in the 1920s. He developed relationships with local law officials and politicians to ensure his safety, and operated massive illegal activities that included gambling, bootlegging, stealing, bribery, and more. He initially went to jail on tax evasion charges, but died of complications from syphilis several years after he was paroled. Capone has been immortalized in countless forms of popular culture, including several feature films, the most famous of which is “The Untouchables.”
Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were American outlaws known for their prolific bank robbing from 1931 to 1934. Though they were actually part of a larger gang known as the Barrow Gang, the couple gained more notoriety than the rest, particularly after the 1967 film, “Bonnie and Clyde” was released starring Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty. The duo was killed in 1934 after being ambushed by police officers in Louisiana. They were suspected in the death of nearly a dozen police officers and civilians during their reign.
Gang leader and bank robber John Dillinger was responsible for more than two dozen bank robberies during the Great Depression in the U.S. He served six years in prison at a young age for bank robbery, and upon his admittance to prison, was quoted saying, “I will be the meanest bastard you ever saw when I get out of here.” This turned out to be true. He resumed his life of crime as soon as he was released and didn’t stop until his death in 1934. Though many films and television series were made about his life, the most popular came in 2009 with “Public Enemies,” despite several historical inaccuracies (but really, most people were just watching Johnny Depp).
Source: “John Dillinger: The Life and Death of America’s First Celebrity Criminal” (Dary Matera)
William McCarty, Jr., better known as Billy the Kid, was a gunman and frontier outlaw during the 19th century in the American Old West. Though much of Billy the Kid’s criminal activities are the stuff of legend, it is suspected that he killed more than 20 people aided by his quick reflexes and accurate aim. When New Mexico Gov. Lew Wallace put up a reward for his death, newspapers began documenting Billy the Kid’s criminal life. He was eventually killed in an 1881 shootout with law enforcement. Billy the Kid has been featured in countless films throughout the years, such as “Billy the Kid” (1941) and “The Left Handed Gun” (1958).
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