Although we’re all experts at getting away with small crimes (jaywalking, speeding, stealing Mortal Kombat strategy guides from Blockbuster), we know that people generally don’t get away with really big ones. The bigger the crime, the larger the amount of resources dedicated to tackling it until the culprit is finally tracked down and apprehended. When’s the last time you’ve heard of somebody getting away clean after a huge heist or a coordinated terror attack?
But it does happen, and more frequently than you’d believe. Some of the biggest crimes in history have never been solved. For instance …
#8. The Mass Tylenol Poisoning
Have you ever been annoyed at how Tylenol bottles are sealed up with more security than Batman’s porn collection? Well, those safety caps aren’t just there to thwart stupid children. They’re there to defeat serial poisoners. Which is not a hypothetical concern.
The “PM” stands for “postmortem.”
In September of 1982, an unidentified sociopath somewhere in Chicago became the star of every evening news broadcast after they replaced the contents of eight bottles of Tylenol with goddamn cyanide, causing several people to keel over and die from apparent massive heart attacks. In at least one case, to relieve the stress headache caused by lamenting the death of a loved one who’d consumed poisoned Tylenol, a victim’s family member died from taking the same poisoned Tylenol.
Altogether, the poisoned bottles of headache powder killed seven people, triggering a massive recall of 31 million bottles, all of which were presumably thrown into the sea. The subsequent investigation determined that the poisoning occurred after the bottles left the factory … and that’s pretty much all we know. Tylenol offered a massive reward for information about the culprit, but all they ever got was a guy pretending to be the killer so he could collect the reward from them — a plan that was as flawed as it was douchey.
It was a major headache for all involved.
The authorities have never stopped looking for the guy. As recently as 2011, the FBI was checking if they could maybe pin the poisonings on the Unabomber, because why not. Seems like the kind of weekend he’d have.
#7. The Largest Heist In World History (And The Assassination Of Every Witness)
The largest heist in history is a slightly subjective topic, but if your definition of “heist” leans a little more toward conventional robbery, then easily the biggest heist ever was the City Bonds Robbery in London on May 2, 1990. It was remarkably simple as far as heists go: A messenger was walking down the street, carrying a briefcase full of 500 million dollars in treasury bonds, because for some reason transporting them in an armored car or blimp was out of the question. As if to illustrate the folly of this oversight, the messenger was mugged at knifepoint and relieved of his briefcase. You be assuming that this was the work of some random crackhead who thought he was stealing some dude’s lunch, but it was not.
See, those bearer bonds belonged to the British government, and the government hates being robbed. Soon after the robbery, every police officer, secret agent, and dairy inspector available was unleashed on the criminal underworld. They even got the FBI involved.
“Can you guys pretend the “B” stands for “British” for a while?”
It was quickly discovered that this random mugging was in fact a massive, carefully planned operation, and that the bonds had been rapidly laundered all over the world. After a couple of months, the FBI managed to find a man in Texas named Mark Osborne who had handled some of the bonds and got him to roll over on the whole organization, resulting in 25 people being arrested.
Want to guess how a ring of international criminals handles a situation like this when half a billion dollars is at stake? If you said “mysterious gunshots to the head,” then congratulations, you’re absolutely right. Osborne received this exact treatment, and was found stuffed in the trunk of a car in Houston in an advanced state of spectacular deadness. And a petty criminal named Patrick Thomas, whom police believe was the original mugger, was found in a similar condition before he could be charged.
Even the cars would later have “unfortunate accidents.”
This had a predictable effect on the subsequent legal proceedings. Of the 25 people arrested, only four even went to trial, and they were all acquitted after the prosecution opened the trial by “offering no evidence,” which is exactly what it sounds like. They were so rattled by the disappearing witnesses that they just showed up in court and said, “Well, we don’t want to get shot.”
They did manage to track down all but two of the stolen bonds, but by that point, they had probably already been sold multiple times, so the initial theft and subsequent global laundering remains unsolved. Oh, and the two murders, too. Nobody knows who did those.
#6. The Organized Attack On A Passenger Ferry Which Killed 159 People
Early in the morning of April 7, 1990, the passenger ferry Scandinavian Star suddenly burst into flames while cruising the Baltic Sea. Here it is, being completely on fire:
Like if Michael Bay had directed Titanic.
The blaze gradually spread through the ship as it was being towed ashore, and by the time it was finally extinguished ten hours later, 159 people had been killed — a third of the people on the ship. Subsequent investigation revealed that the cause of the fire was several blankets stashed in unused parts of the ship which had all been ignited simultaneously. In case it is unclear, this is not a normal thing that happens on ships. Someone had to have started the fires on purpose.
Unsurprisingly, no one ever claimed responsibility for the devastating sabotage. Authorities ended up blaming a convicted Danish arsonist named Erik Anderson who was onboard the Star, both because of his history of arson and because he looked like fucking this:
Of course this guy did it.
But the thing is that Anderson was killed in the first fire. Remember, multiple fires were set, and they were too far apart for one person to set them all, which strongly implies that the arson was committed by multiple people … or someone with a time-stopping watch. An independent report released years later pointed this out, which was enough for the police to officially drop the charges against Anderson.
While it’s certainly possible that Anderson set the fire that ultimately killed him, there’s no way he could’ve set the others. He had to have had help. After all the usual suspects were considered (Illuminati, Freemasons, space lizards), the only convincing theory left is that the ship was burned in a stunning act of insurance fraud. But that seems somewhat unlikely, considering the owners of the Scandinavian Star would’ve had to pay 159 wrongful death settlements, right? Wouldn’t that make any money they got from burning their own ship a wash? Maybe Anderson did have a magic watch.
#5. The Super-Bizarre Hijacking Of A Malaysian Airlines Plane
2014 was a bad year for Malaysian Airlines. They suffered two high-profile crashes, both of which happened under bizarre circumstances. The thing is, mysterious midair mishaps are kind of Malaysian Airlines’ thing — they’ve gone through this bullshit quite a few times, one of the weirdest occurring way back in 1977.
If there is a god, he hates Malaysian airplanes.
On December 4, 1977, Malaysian Airlines Flight 653 was hijacked. Shortly thereafter it crashed into a swamp, killing all 93 passengers and seven crew on board. Tragic, but not necessarily mysterious. Don’t worry. It gets weirder.
First, the hijacking. About 40 minutes before the crash, the pilots radioed that there was an unidentified hijacker on board, and that the plane would be diverting from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore. All contact was lost about 21 minutes before the crash when, according to the cockpit voice recorder, the hijacker burst into the cockpit, shot both pilots, and then blasted himself. That’s totally insane, but that explains why the plane crashed, right?
Because some guy had no easier way to travel 200 miles?
Actually, no, it doesn’t. You see, the plane was still on autopilot, and remained on autopilot for several more minutes. Then, with no noises or anything on the cockpit recorder to suggest any of the pilots or hijackers were alive, the autopilot was turned off, at which point the plane went out of control and crashed. This seems to suggest that either a random passenger was trying to play hero and accidentally doomed the flight, or the plane switched off autopilot on its own and crashed itself out of shame.
But wait! Somehow, it gets even weirder. Many witnesses on the ground reported that they saw the plane catch fire before it crashed, while others reported hearing an explosion while the plane was in the air. No evidence of a bomb was ever found, but then again, not much evidence was found, period — the plane hit the ground at over 500 mph, so not even any bodies were recovered.
Even the Oceanic Airlines investigators had more to work with.
To this day, nobody knows what the hell happened. Initially, the Japanese Red Army was blamed for the attack, though they never took credit for it. Outside of angry ghosts and/or gremlins, that’s pretty much the end of the list of suspects.
And while we’re on a streak of “it’s surprisingly easy to get away with terrorism, you guys” stories, how about …
#4. A Terror Attack On An Amtrak Train
On Oct. 9, 1995, Amtrak’s cross-country service, the Sunset Limited, plunged off a bridge in the absolute middle of nowhere, Arizona, killing a railway porter and injuring 100 others. It didn’t take long for investigators to suspect foul play was involved, thanks to the series of typewritten notes littered around the crash site explicitly stating that foul play was involved.
“Damn, boys. I believe we cracked this case! That’s some fine police work.”
The notes claimed that the train was wrecked in retaliation for the Waco siege, and were signed by a person or group calling themselves the “Sons of Gestapo.” The crash was caused by gravity, with a strong assist from someone removing sections of the track on the bridge. Normally, there are automated safety systems in place to warn trains of exactly this kind of sabotage, but those systems were disabled somehow, suggesting that whoever these Sons of Gestapo were, they knew a thing or two about wrecking trains.
Which is still the least horrifying thing the Gestapo has ever done with trains.
Despite a six-figure reward for any information about their organization, the Sons of Gestapo were never caught. The truth is that the sabotage was simple enough to have been committed by a single person, meaning the “Sons of Gestapo” could be one lunatic with a shovel and no fellow conspirators to rat him or her out. So unless the government wants to stage another Waco, we’ll probably never hear from this shadowy train-destroying group again.
#3. The Simultaneous Assassination Of Two Presidents (And The Triggering Of A Genocide)
On the night of April 6, 1994, a plane coming in to land in the Rwandan capital of Kigali was knocked out of the goddamn sky with a rocket launcher. In addition to several non-presidents, both President Juvenal Habyarimana of Rwanda and President Cyprien Ntaryamira of Burundi were among those killed in the crash.
This was more than a bad day for presidential aviation. Habyarimana’s death was the immediate trigger for the Rwandan genocide, and over the next 100 days, people would be murdered at the rate of one every ten seconds. (If you want nightmare fuel, Cracked once interviewed someone who lived through it.) By the time this real-life version of The Purge was over, Rwanda was a smoldering, corpse-strewn hellscape, with 800,000 people (nearly 20 percent of the population) murdered by their friends and neighbors. Two million others fled the country. And in neighboring Burundi, the bloody civil war that was already going on got even bloodier because, well, their president had just exploded.
Rest in pieces.
To this day, no one really knows who shot down the plane. Most theories believe that Habyarimana was the target — he was a seasoned dictator in a wartorn country, and there were lots of people who wanted him dead. Ntaryamira, who was a mere two months into his term and not that unpopular yet, might have simply been in the wrong plane at the wrong time, which would make his death the first (and currently only) incidental assassination of a president.
Some believe the attack was carried out by the current Rwandan President, Paul Kagame. Of course, Kagame was cleared of this by a commission that he appointed, so those allegations are clearly baseless. We many never know who perpetrated this heinous crime, but we will surely never forget it, if for no other reason than that the wreckage of the plane was never removed. It’s still scattered around the old presidential compound to this day.
Rust in peace.
#2. The Armed Assault On A Californian Power Station
A little after midnight on April 16, 2013, someone broke into a transmission substation near Silicon Valley, cut a bunch of telephone wires, and left. That’s a big pain in the ass, but hardly the crime of the century, right? Well, half an hour later, the saboteur came back, only this time they were armed with rifles and an undetermined number of accomplices. For the next 20 minutes or so, they poured gunfire into the radiators of 17 electrical transformers, dealing $15 million in damages, which was a comparatively small price to pay to eliminate the demons they presumably thought dwelt within.
“Nice try, assholes. They weren’t even home that night.”
The substation was disabled for 27 days, in what one official called “the most significant incident of domestic terrorism involving the grid that has ever occurred.” The attack almost (but not quite) knocked out power to Silicon Valley, and even though everything was captured on camera, nobody had any idea who the perpetrators were.
“We might as well not even HAVE these cameras.”
To this day, the gunmen haven’t been identified, although it seems likely that they had inside knowledge of the substation, considering they knew where to cut the telephone lines and how to disable the transformers. Their motive is also a mystery. Was it a dress rehearsal for a bigger attack? An elaborate attempt to shut down a specific company’s phone and power? Or were they just really mad at Google for not including their webring in the top search results for “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”?
At any rate, there’s a quarter-million-dollar bounty for any information on these dudes, so hanging out around California power stations might not be a bad idea if you’re currently between jobs.
#1. The Computer Worm That Shut Down Most Of The World
Back in 2002, Microsoft found a flaw in its SQL Server software, but quickly announced the problem and patched it before any ne’er-do-wells had a chance to exploit it. But over the next six months, almost no one bothered to download the patch, and on the morning of January 25, 2003, when the computer worm known as SQL Slammer infected its first computer, the entire Internet was mere minutes away from being totally fucked. “But Cracked,” you might be saying. “This was back in 2003, when the Internet was nothing but MySpace and Kazaa mirrors. What’s the worst that could’ve happened?”
“They didn’t even use iPads. Are you sure they had the Internet back then?”
The answer is the closest thing that ’90s movies about computer hacking have ever come to being factually accurate. Within three minutes of that initial infection, the number of computers taken over by the Slammer worm was doubling every 8.5 seconds. All over the world, ATMs crashed, flights were grounded, and 911 call centers were completely shut down. Also, the entirety of South Korea dropped off the international grid. And for good measure, the safety monitoring system for a nuclear power plant went down.
Suspiciously immune to all this: North Korea
The worm caused about one billion dollars in damages, not counting the damage done to poor South Korea’s economy, which suffered a complete collapse of Internet connectivity during its holiday shopping season. As far as who was responsible for unleashing the worm, we have no idea what hemisphere this thing came from, let alone who set it loose. The “patient zero” computer for Slammer was never found. It literally could have been anyone on the planet. Hell, it could have been you.
Read more: www.cracked.com