10 Terribly Bungled Crimes

Diagram of how the infamous Brinks job of 1950 went down.
Carl Iwasaki/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

The annals of true crime are filled with some truly amazing heists that were carefully planned and brilliantly orchestrated. The Lufthansa heist in New York in 1978 is a great example. At $5.8 million [source: AP], it surpassed even the famous Brinks job in Boston, Mass., in 1950, which netted the bandits more than $2.75 million in cash and checks [source: Boston Public Library].

Both of these heists were sensational. They captured headlines from the crime to the police investigation, through the trials and beyond. But both are peanuts compared to a couple more recent heists.


In August 2005, a group of Brazilian robbers tunneled beneath two city blocks in Fortaleza, and dug their way into the bank vault from beneath. The robbers snagged $70 million [source: AP]. The Brazilian heist was by far the largest take ever, until February 2006, when a securities storage warehouse was relieved of its cash holdings. At least five blue-collar men -- including a roofer and a postman -- made off with $92 million [source: CNN].

It's pretty easy to see why the public imagination is so easily captured by stories like these. But what about criminals who suffer from a reversal of fortune? Like the Indiana man who, during the commission of an armed robbery in January 2008, shot himself in the groin with his own gun, effectively ending the crime [source: AP].

Police blotters are full of stories of criminals who clearly didn't have a grasp on the intricacies of crime. We humbly submit just 10 stories of bungled crimes in no particular order. Let's begin.

1. Drug Deals Gone Wrong

In August 2007, a woman in Rochelle, Ga., successfully committed the crime of purchasing and ingesting crack cocaine. But after she split her purchase and smoked one third, she found she wasn't intoxicated. Fearing that she had been ripped off, the woman, 53-year-old Juanita Marie Jones, called local police to enlist their help to "get her money back." When deputies arrived at her home, she showed her purchase to them, and they promptly arrested her for possession of crack [source: AP].

This woman wasn't the only one who should've thought things through a little more. You'll find more criminal blunders on the next page.


2. Bank Robberies

Bank robbers have a long history of using documents with their personal information as slips for stick-up notes.
Lambert/Getty Images

As the old saying goes, "crime doesn't pay." Or, at least it didn't for the robbers whose stories follow. Here are three more bungled crimes.

Bank robbers of questionable intelligence have been known to use their own deposit slips as a note in the robbery. This tradition continued in September 2007, when Forest Kelly Bissonnette, a 27-year-old Englewood, Colo., resident, passed a note to a bank teller on the back of one of his own checks. Unlike some previous robbers, Bissonnette was clever enough to make an attempt to black out his name. He failed, however, as FBI agents were able to glean the information from the check. The man was successful in making off with around $5,000. He eventually surrendered to police [source: AP].


3. Cigarettes are Bad

In 2007, a bank robber couldn't resist stopping for cigarettes in the middle of a robbery.
Photographer: Oriontrail | Agency: Dreamstime

A man in Phoenix, Ariz., robbed a bank in July 2007, but it appears that the rules governing police chases weren't clear to the man. While being pursued by squad cars and helicopters, the man pulled into a convenience store and ran inside. The cashier reported the fleeing robber told him, "Quick, pack of cigarettes. Here's 20 bucks. Give me a pack of cigarettes." The cashier gave him the cigarettes and the man quickly left the store and drove off, with police close behind. He was caught shortly after -- the pack of cigarettes was still unopened [source: 3TV].


4. Caught in the Chimney

Getting stuck in the chimney never seems to happen to Santa.
Angela Wyant/Getty Images

A man who went missing in 1985 turned up in the chimney of a gift shop in Natchez, Miss., during renovations 15 years later. His corpse was found by masons, and he was identified by a wallet found near him. Since the missing man had a prior history of burglary, investigators concluded that he had become caught in the chimney as he tried to crawl into the gift shop to rob it. He is believed to have injured himself, which may have led to his eventual death in the chimney [source: BBC].

Perhaps at this point, you're thinking that one of these crooks will get a clue. But you'd be wrong. On the next page, we'll take a look at some more bungled crimes.


5. Got to Catch the Bus

Robbing a bank? Try using public transit to get away. It's inexpensive and it's good for the environment.
Tim Boyle/Getty Images

Go on, the song says, take the money and run. Or walk. Or take a bus.

In Atlanta in January 2008, Channel Monae Gaskin robbed a bank branch using only a stick-up note. Gaskin was in the clear until she was outside the bank and a dye bomb exploded, covering her in orange paint. Not wanting to be conspicuous, she ditched the useless money and her stained clothes in a public restroom changing into a new outfit. Then, to get away, she went to a bus stop near the bank and waited for a bus to arrive. While waiting, Gaskin was caught and arrested by police. Surprisingly, she had successfully used the Atlanta bus system as getaway transportation after a previous robbery [source: Atlanta Journal Constitution].


6. Assassinations Foiled

An injection of poison from an umbrella tip was one assassin's preferred method.
2008 HowStuffWorks

Assassination attempts are rarely amusing, especially when you consider that someone would have died if everything had gone according to plan. During the trial of South African government official Dr. Wouter Basson in 2000, details of a plot to kill African leaders living in London emerged. A South African assassin picked up the proposed murder weapon, an umbrella rigged to distribute poison through a spike in the tip. The man who gave it to him accidentally tested it out on himself as he demonstrated it. He survived, but it could have been taken as an omen. Once the plan was hatched, they found one of the two targets no longer lived in London and they couldn't keep tabs on the other. "The plot was abandoned and the umbrella thrown into the Thames" [source: The Independent].


7. Background Check

A background check on a driver's license landed one crook in jail.
Polaroid/Getty Images

It would seem logical that once you've gotten away with a crime, you should make it a point to stay away from police in general. This appears to have been proven by R.C. Gaitlin, a 21-year-old, who became curious when he noticed police demonstrating their equipment to local children on a Detroit street in 1988. Gaitlin asked the officers to show him, as well, and handed them his driver's license for use in a demonstration of a field background check. When the police ran Gaitlin's information, they found he had a warrant out for his arrest for his involvement in a 1986 armed robbery in St. Louis. Gaitlin was arrested by the demonstrating officers [source: Deseret Morning News].To paraphrase another song, don't dream, it's over. On the next page, you'll read about three more unsuccessful robbery attempts.


8. Not So Fast Food

Thank you for your order. Would you like 5 to 10 years with that?
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

If at first you don't succeed, try, try again, right? Unless you get caught and they put you in jail. At least then you'll have some time to plan your next caper.

In suburban Miami in October 2007, an unidentified man placed an order at a fast food drive-thru. Upon hearing that his order would cost him $7.41, he let the cashier on the other end of the speaker know that he wouldn't be paying more than the $1.75 he had on him. After it was explained to him that wouldn't do, he drove off, only to return to the pick up window moments later on foot. He opened the window, pulled a gun on employees, and tried unsuccessfully to retrieve his order. He instead settled on a fistful of ketchup packets, but apparently decided on the way back to his car they weren't worthwhile. He threw them to the ground and drove off [source: WPLG].


9. Sleeping on the Job

One burglar was caught after he decided to rest his eyes for a second.
Allison Michael Orenstein/The Image Bank/Getty Images

Staying awake during the commission of a crime seems essential to keep from bungling it. A Bosnian 21-year-old burglar named Edin M. scoured through a home and managed to come up with some jewelry. Customarily, burglars leave the scene of the crime after they've scored their loot. Mr. M instead opted to have a seat on a sofa in the house. He promptly fell asleep and was discovered by the home's owner. The burglar confessed to the crime, and was arrested by police [source: AP].


10. Writing on the Wall

One crook decided that writing about his crime was the way to go.
2008 HowStuffWorks

In Poland in September 2007, author Krystian Bala found himself convicted for murder. Bala had written about the sensational kidnapping, torture and murder of fellow Pole, Dairusz Janiszewski. The story had captured headlines in the country and had baffled police for years. Bala's novel, "Amok," featured a plotline that bore a very strong resemblance to the murder of Janiszewski. After the book caught police's attention, they investigated Bala and discovered not only had he known the deceased, he had visited the victim the last time he was seen alive and had sold Janiszewski's cell phone later on. Bala received 25 years [source: BBC].For more information on crime and other related topics, visit the next page.

Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links

  • Easton, Adam. "Polish author jailed for murder." September 5, 2007. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/6979457.stm
  • Garner, Marcus K. "Ga. bank robber nabbed while waiting for getaway bus." Atlanta Journal Constitution. January 25, 2008. http://www.policeone.com/bizarre/articles/1654453/
  • Goff, Liz. "Biggest theft of cash in history." Queens History. http://www.queenstribune.com/guides/2006_MomentsInQueens/pages/LufthansaHeist.htm
  • McGee, Scott. "Car chase ends, but not after suspect stops for cigs." 3TV. July 24, 2007. http://www.azfamily.com/news/local/stories/KTVKLNews20070724_chase.aa887cef.html
  • Walker, Andrew. "How an assassin bungled a deadly umbrella plot." The Independent. May 13, 2000. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4158/is_20000513/ai_n14312969
  • "Bank robber uses back of his own check to write stick-up note." Associated Press. September 12, 2007. http://tucsoncitizen.biz/ss/weird/62801.php
  • "Bosnian burglar takes nap, gets caught." Associated Press. November 22, 2007. http://www.boston.com/news/odd/articles/2007/11/22/bosnian_burglar_takes_nap_gets_caught/
  • "Brazil arrests alleged leader of gang in $70 million bank robbery." Associated Press. February 26, 2008. http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2008/02/26/news/Brazil-Bank-Heist.php
  • "Curiosity catches a fugitive." Deseret Morning News. October 16, 1988. http://nl.newsbank.com/nl-search/we/Archives?p_product=NewsLibrary&p_multi=DSNB&d_place=DSNB&p_theme=newslibrary2&p_action=search&p_maxdocs=200&p_topdoc=1&p_text_direct-0=0F35F77CCBE3DB82&p_field_direct-0=document_id&p_perpage=10&p_sort=YMD_date:D&s_trackval=GooglePM
  • "Five guilty of 'biggest ever' UK heist." CNN. January 28, 2008. http://www.cnn.com/2008/WORLD/europe/01/28/britain.heist/
  • "Goodfella's guide to New York." Associated Press. July 2, 2003. http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2003/07/02/print/main561401.shtml
  • "Grisly end for unlucky burglar." BBC. January 25, 2001. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/1135660.stm
  • "Hungry customer displays gun for food." WPLG. http://www.local10.com/news/14320910/detail.html
  • "Police: Mans shoots self in groin during robbery." Associated Press. January 16, 2008. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/22681900/
  • "Woman calls police about 'fake' cocaine." Associated Press. August 13, 2007. http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2007/08/13/national/a133227D77.DTL