Ah, October. It’s everyone’s favorite month of the year. The heat of the summer is finally and definitively over, and fall blows in in full force. It’s a time for chai lattes, cozy sweaters, colorful leaves, crisp apples – and creepy stories.
Maybe it’s the nippiness in the air, the sight of the leaves falling from the trees or the days gradually growing shorter and the nights colder, but there’s something about this season that makes scary stories seem all the more fitting – and all the more frightening. And while most people opt for ghost stories to get their autumnal thrills, real life supplies just as much that is unbelievable or inexplicable. If criminal records show us anything, they show us that human action is often just as cunning, chilling and creative as human imagination.
Check out these five must-read true crime stories:
“The Monster of Florence”
You’re canoodling with your beau in a car in the hills of Florence. It’s a summer night, there’s no moon out and you’ve got the whole evening before you. What could possibly go wrong?
As eight couples found out over the course of nearly two decades – a lot. A series of grisly double homicides were committed around Florence between 1968 and 1985, all targeting couples in cars and all using the same gun.
Although four men were charged with the murders over the years, the evidence remains inconclusive. Was it one murderer, or many? Was it done for occult purposes? Over the years, anonymous notes and clues were sent to the authorities, some even including the body parts of victims. Journalist Mario Spezi chased after the “monster of Florence” for a quarter of a century before giving up the hunt.
“Miss, you’d better look at that note. I have a bomb.”
These horrifying words greeted the ears of the flight attendant on Flight 305 to Seattle on November 24, 1971 – and we still don’t know who spoke them. Although the hijacker gave the name D.B. Cooper when he bought his ticket, FBI officials to this day have yet to discover his true identity.
Cooper made three requests: that the plane land, that it be refueled and that he be brought $200,000 in cash and two parachutes. The flight crew, local authorities and the FBI all complied. When the plan did land, the passengers were allowed to disembark. Cooper reportedly was composed and collected throughout the process, even trying to give the flight attendant the change after buying a drink.
Eventually, he forced the pilot to take off again and the plane headed south, followed by two military planes. In the middle of the flight, the pilot noticed a shift in air pressure: Cooper had opened the aft door and parachuted out.
Hikers under the flight path found bundles of money and even directions for opening the aft door of a 747. The FBI spent decades trying to find Cooper, and it wasn’t until 2016 that his case was closed.
A lonely child prodigy raised in suburban Illinois, Ted Kaczynski would grow up to conduct an infamous blackmailing and bombing campaign. After a remarkable academic career, Kaczynski became the youngest professor of mathematics at Berkeley at 25. Two years later, however, he suddenly quit and eventually relocated to reclusive cabin in the woods in northern Montana.
When he saw how the nature around him being destroyed by developers, however, he became enraged – and unstable. Determined to take down the forces of industrialization shaping modern society, he began sending homemade bombs containing red herring clues. Between 1978 and 1995, he deployed 16 bombs at various locations across the country, killing a total of three people.
In 1995, he sent anonymous letters to major news outlets across the country, saying that “the Unabomber” would stop if one of them published his 35,000 word manifesto, entitled “Industrial Society and Its Future.” Amazingly, both The New York Times and the Washington Post complied – a decision that led to Kaczynski’s eventual identification, capture, and arrest after Kaczynski’s brother recognized his writing style. The investigation to find him was at that point the costliest the FBI had ever undertaken. Kaczynski remains in prison until this day, and his story continues to inspire adaptations, including this year’s TV show starting Paul Bettany.
“Thomas Blood and the Crown Jewels”
Thomas Blood’s story is far more comic than it is chilling. Bouncing from one cause and one country to another, his unconventional life climaxed in a brilliant – if failed – attempt to steal the crown jewels from the Tower of London in 1671.
It was an incredibly complicated scheme. Blood hired a prostitute to act as his wife, and himself dressed up as a clergyman. Together with his co-conspirators, he gradually won the trust and friendship of the jewels’ guard – so much so that the guard agreed to give his daughter in marriage to Blood’s nonexistent (but conveniently wealthy!) nephew.
One night, the guard showed the men the jewels – and in return, they bound and gagged him, stabbing him to keep him quiet, and seized the jewels. Blood squashed a crown so it could fit under his clerical robes, one co-conspirator sawed a scepter in half so it could fit in their bag, and another stuck the orb down his pants.
The guard managed to raise the alarm, and the men were caught even before they left the door. Blood, however, would only explain his actions to the king, and was accordingly sent to see Charles II. He seemed destined for a life locked away in the Tower – the prison part of it, that is, far away from the jewels – but the King actually pardoned Blood and gave him an estate in Ireland. Cheaters never prosper – but apparently, would-be crown jewel thieves do.
He is the most notorious and the most devious drug criminal of our time. Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, worth around $1 billion, has laundered millions of dollars and thousands of pounds of drugs across the border. A government official called him “the godfather of the world.”
His greatest accomplishment, however, is his escape artistry. Arrested and placed in maximum-security prisons, Guzman has escaped not once, but twice – and both times in breathtaking Hollywood fashion. The first time was in 2001, when he bribed a prison guard, who snuck him into a laundry basket, threw him into the trunk of a car, and drove off prison grounds. When the guard stopped to get gas, Guzman had run away. Over 70 people were found to be connected with the escape, including the prison’s director.
After re-arrest, he made his second escape in 2015. This time, it was even more elaborate: After noticing that Guzman had been in the shower for an unusually long time, prison officials took a look – and found an underground tunnel ending at a construction site a mile away. It took a year-long manhunt to find Guzman, who was once again put in prison in New York City, where he remains – for now.
Are you a reader of true crime stories? Which have captured your attention?
Images via Scout Hunt