Crime is crime, right? Why is it, then, that certain tales of wrongdoing capture the interest of thousands – even millions – of people from all spheres of life? Could it be the drama around certain crimes that causes people to be drawn into the saga of capture, trial, and sentencing? Is it the nature of the crime, the reasons behind the crime, or a certain feeling of empathy for the perpetrator that draws people? In some cases the horrific nature of the crime draws people to see if justice will be properly served. Whatever the reason, here are a few crimes that arrested the attention of people around the globe.
A teen on the run, pulling off stunts enviable by many – such is the tale of Colton Harris-Moore, aka the “Barefoot Bandit.” Hailed as a hero for his survivalist ability, his rebellion against the wrongs of society, and his ability to evade capture for two amazing years, Colton captured the hearts and attention of many. Over those two years, the young man, who had escaped from a juvenile center, evaded police while conducting a string of thefts in homes and stores in his home state of Washington (1). His hero status soared when he stole and flew planes, eventually ending up in the Bahamas where he was finally caught. While the news portrayed his bravado, professionals were concerned over the troubled home life that brought him to the point of lawbreaking (2). His dance with the law ended in a 6 ½ year prison sentence, a book deal, and a forthcoming movie (3).
In some cases, the fascination with crime stems from a disappointment in someone we believed to be better. Take for instance the case of a former Chicago policeman, a person who spent his career preventing crime. His third wife’s death was considered accidental until his fourth wife disappeared, sparking an investigation into the first death. What made Peterson’s case particularly fascinating was the use of the so-called Peterson law which allowed conviction based on hearsay, a critical factor in this case.
Most instances of child kidnappings have tragic endings or no endings at all. Remains are found, or the bereft parents endure endless years of an unclosed book, never knowing what happened to their child. The Elizabeth Smart case was different. While all that she endured from her kidnappers was horrific, the fact that she was found made this case exceptional. The perpetrators were seen walking with the girl in a town not far from Elizabeth’s home (4).
The Austrian story of a man keeping his daughter in a dungeon was truly astounding. Claiming his daughter had run away to join a sect, Josef Fritzl actually hid his daughter in an elaborate dungeon for 24 years, fathering her children and claiming they had been left by her on his doorstep. Things finally fell apart when he took a child and then the daughter to the hospital. An anonymous tip led police to his arrest. Fritzl’s house of horror became a tourist attraction before it was torn down by local authorities (5,6).