this day in crime history: may 26, 1977

On this date in 1977, police in New York City arrested George “The Human Fly” Willig on the 110th floor of the World Trade Center. His crime? He climbed the South Tower from the outside. He accomplished this feat, which took him 3 1/2 hours, using clamps he had fashioned to fit into the channel that ran the entire height of the tower for window-washing equipment.

The City, sensing they had a new folk hero on their hands, decided against a hefty fine for Willig. Instead, he was fined $1.10 — one cent for every floor floor of the tower.

Further reading:

New York Press“WTC Climber George Willig Would Do It All Again”

GothamistGeorge Willig’s 1977 WTC Climb

Wikipedia – George Willig

this day in crime history: may 23, 1934


She was an honor student with a talent for creative writing. He was an ex-con and habitual criminal with a preference for Fords and Browning Automatic Rifles. On this date in 1934, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were ambushed and gunned down by a posse led by (semi)retired Texas Ranger Frank Hamer.


Further reading:

Crime Museum: Bonnie & Clyde

Wikipedia – Bonnie and Clyde

The Bonnie and Clyde Festival in Gibsland, LA

“The Story of Bonnie and Clyde,” a poem by Bonnie Parker

Frank Hamer at the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame

this day in crime history: may 21, 1924


On this date in 1924, two spoiled sociopaths in Chicago, IL committed what they thought would be the perfect crime; all to prove their status as Nietzschean supermen. Nathan Leopold, 19, and Richard Loeb, 18, kidnapped and murdered 14 year old Bobby Franks. They might have gotten away with it, had their perfect crime been just a little more… perfect. But perfection is hard to achieve, especially when you do things like:

-Hide the body where it will be quickly found

-Drop your (very unique) glasses at the body dump location

-Build your alibi around going for a drive in a car that could be shown to have been in the shop at the time

It didn’t take long for the alibi to break down and for both men to confess. So much for supermen, Nietzschean or otherwise.

Famed trial attorney Clarence Darrow was brought in to defend the indefensible. He couldn’t get his clients acquitted, but he did manage to head off a death sentence. Both men were sentenced to life in prison.

Loeb died in prison in 1936, the victim of a razor attack by another inmate. Leopold was paroled in 1958. He moved to Puerto Rico, where worked in a hospital. He died in 1971, at the age of 66.

Further reading:

Crime Museum – Leopold & Loeb

Famous Trials – Illinois v. Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb

this day in crime history: may 18, 1927


On this date in 1927, Bath, MI became the scene of the largest school mass-murder in U.S. history. The massacre began when school board member Andrew Kehoe became upset over an increase in the school tax that he blamed for his financial ruination.

Kehoe began by killing his wife and detonating fire bombs in his farm buildings. While firefighters worked to put out the fires on Kehoe’s property, Kehoe went to the Bath Consolidated School, where he detonated bombs he had previously planted in the school.

Kehoe left the scene after the explosion, but returned a short while later. He saw the school superintendent standing outside the school watching rescue and recovery efforts and called to him. As the superintendent approached the car, Kehoe detonated a bomb inside the car. The blast killed Kehoe, the superintendent, two local men, and an 8 year old boy who had managed to escape the school bombing.

The Bath School Disaster resulted in 45 dead and 58 injured. In 1975, a park dedicated to the victims was built on the former site of the school.

Further reading:

The Bath School Disaster

Wikipedia – Bath School DisasterĀ 

this day in crime history: may 17, 1974


On this date in 1974, six members of the Symbionese Liberation Army were cornered by police in a house in Los Angeles. The police announced their presence via bullhorn. An older man and a small child walked out of the house. The man told police that no one else was inside. After several attempts to communicate with the remaining occupants, police fired tear gas into the building. SLA members responded with automatic weapons fire. In the ensuing battle, the building caught fire. All six SLA members, the group’s leader, Donald “Cinque” Defreeze, Nancy Ling Perry, Angela Atwood, Willie Wolfe, Patricia Soltysik and Camilla Hall, were killed in the shootout.

Further reading:

Crime Museum – Patty Hearst Kidnapping

CNN.com – Patty Hearst Profile

Wikipedia – Symbionese Liberation Army

this day in crime history: may 15, 1981


On this date in 1981, Donna Payant became the first female corrections officer in New York State to be killed in the line of duty. Payant, 31, was assigned to the Green Haven Correctional Facility in Dutchess County, NY.

At the end of her scheduled shift, Payant had turned up missing. An exhaustive search was conducted of the prison and the surrounding grounds, but there was no sign of her. Officials expanded their search to a local landfill where trash from the prison had been dumped earlier in the day. They found her mutilated body buried in the trash.

Police and prison officials began an investigation into the murder of Officer Payant. Bite marks had been left, and the medical examiner thought that the pattern looked familiar. As it turns out, he had seen the same pattern on a previous case he had worked: one of the victims of rapist and serial killer Lemuel Smith. Smith was an inmate at Green Haven CF when Officer Payant was murdered.

Once the case was built, Smith was tried for murdering Officer Payant. He was represented by C. Vernon Mason (of Tawana Brawley fame/infamy) and William “Black Rage” Kuntsler. In spite of such big-name legal representation , Smith was convicted of 1st degree murder and given the mandatory death sentence. In 1984, his death sentence was overturned as unconstitutional.

Lemuel Smith is currently incarcerated at Five Points Correctional Facility in central New York. He is eligible for parole in 2029, when he is 87 years old.

Further reading:

Wikipedia – Lemuel Smith

The Officer Down Memorial Page – Corrections Officer Donna A. Payant

Find-a-Grave – Donna Payant

this day in crime history: may 14, 1988

carrollton

On this day in 1988, an intoxicated driver named Larry Wayne Mahoney drove his pickup truck onto Interstate 71 in Kentucky. Mahoney was traveling north. In the southbound lane. Around 11:00 PM, he collided with a Church activity bus that was returning from a trip to the Kings Island amusement park. The crash caused a ruptured fuel tank, which resulted in the bus catching fire. Twenty-seven of the bus’s sixty-seven passengers were killed. Thirty-four more were injured. It was the deadliest drunk-driving accident in US history, and the second deadliest bus accident.

Mahoney was convicted of twenty-seven counts of manslaughter and sentenced to sixteen years in prison. He was released after serving just short of eleven years. A memorial next to Interstate 71 marks the site of the crash.

Further reading:

Wikipedia – Carrollton, Kentucky bus collision

The Cincinnati Enquirer – Drunken Driver Lives in Obscurity