Thirteen "Crimes of the Century." I've been reading Vincent Bugliosi's dissection of the JFK Assassination and agree that murder was the most consequential crime of the 20th century. It changed everything about American life, from the amendment of our Constitution to ensure we always have a Vice President, to how news is covered, to how we mourn.
Yet the 1900's were filled with Crimes of the Century. Here are just 13 that were referred to that way by Time, Life, or Newsweek.
1. The Fatty Arbuckle Scandal (1920). A popular movie comedian was arrested for rape and murder. Fatty Arbuckle was tried three times (the first two ended in mistrials) and was ultimately acquitted, but his career was over.
2. Leopold and Loeb (1924). Two affluent students at the University of Chicago decided to commit the perfect crime. They didn't. Bobby Franks was reported missing on May 21. By May 31, the state's attorney announced to the press that both suspects had confessed. What made this shocking wasn't the crime as much as the motive. Two boys murdered a third ... just to see if they could. Legal genius Clarence Darrow successfully saved them from the death penalty. Not because they weren't guilty, but because Leopold and Loeb were teenagers at the time of the murder.
3. Lindbergh Kidnapping (1932). The infant child of American hero Charles Lindbergh was abducted from their home and found dead 11 days later. A carpenter was convicted and sentenced to death for murder. Later that year, a law was passed to make kidnapping a federal offense.
4. The Brink's Job (1950). Nearly $3 million (almost $35 million in today's dollars) was lifted from the Brink's building in Boston. This one went unsolved until just days before the statute of limitations expired and one of the crooks squealed on the others.
5. The Lana Turner Affair (1958). Johnny Stompanato, a well-known mobster, was found dead in his girlfriend's Los Angeles home. Normally this wouldn't have been a big deal except his girlfriend was a movie star and he was stabbed by a 14-year-old girl. She was the daughter of sex symbol Lana Turner, who overheard a violent fight and took a knife from the kitchen to defend her mother. The girl was cleared of all charges, but you can imagine what a big freaking deal this was. And oh! The rumors! Lana really did it and her daughter took the rap ... it was a love triangle and Johnny was doing both mother and daughter ... Unlike Fatty Arbuckle, Lana Turner's career was revived by the scandal, enabling her to transition from sex symbol to "suffering mother" roles in big screen Technicolor melodramas.
6. Richard Speck (1966). A drifter broke in and held 9 student nurses captive for about four hours, raping and stabbing 8. He would have gotten away with it if the 9th, Corazon Amurao, hadn't slipped silently under a bed, listening in terror to the slaughter but then bravely leading Chicago police to capture Richard Speck. First she described him to authorities (right down to his "Born to Raise Hell" tattoo) and then she faced him and testified against him in court. I was only a little girl, but I recall thinking Corazon Amurao behaved as bravely as any soldier in battle. I'm happy to report that she became a nurse, had a long, successful career, and is a grandmother.
7. The Tate-Labianca Murders (1969). 7 people -- including actress Sharon Tate -- were killed in two incidents in August 1969. I bet you know the rest.
8. The Patty Hearst Kidnapping (1974). Self-styled terrorists broke in and kidnapped a 19-year-old girl at gunpoint and kept her in a closet for 8 weeks. I bet you know the rest.
9. The Son of Sam (1977). David Berkowitz committed 8 shootings, killing 6, using a .44 caliber handgun. He taunted New York police by sending letters to New York Daily News columnist Jimmy Breslin. He is currently serving six consecutive life sentences.
10. John Wayne Gacy (1978). No one knows for sure how many boys John Gacy murdered because many of them were gay runaways and in the 1970s, parents weren't willing to come forward and cooperate with police because they were ashamed their sons were homosexual. (No, I'm not kidding.) The last boy he kidnapped was much-loved by his family and when the 15-year-old failed to come home from his after-school job, a police investigation led to Gacy's home in Norridge, IL. Authorities were shocked to find 26 boys buried under his crawlspace. 4 more were retrieved from Des Plaines River. 5 of the victims remain unidentified to this day. Gacy was put to death by the State of Illinois in 1994. I'm against the death penalty, but this sadistic SOB rapist murderer has given me pause. He was a monster.
11. America's Biggest Art Heist (1990). Two men dressed as police officers gained entry into a Boston art gallery after closing. They tied up the guards and left with 34 works of art (including Vermeer, Degas, and Rembrandt) worth between $300 and $500 million. Law enforcement was confused by the choice of paintings (and one vase), for while the ones snatched are valuable, better known and more expensive pieces were untouched. This crime remains unsolved, though the FBI seems pretty sure it was done by the mafia on the behest of a very, very well-to-do art collector who paid upfront for specific pieces for his personal enjoyment.
12. The OJ Simpson Case (1994). A retired running back was first found not guilty in criminal court but then found liable in civil court for the murder of his ex-wife and a young man in the courtyard of her home. I bet you know the rest.
13. The Columbine Massacre (1999). The first school shooting. Alas, not the last.
Please join us for THURSDAY THIRTEEN. Click here to play along, and to see other interesting compilations of 13 things.