Five Real-Life Criminals to Inspire Your Next Character

By Amanda Mae Downey

That’s right. Today I’m back at it again with the third installment of my Five Real-Life People series. I’ve covered Pirates and Princesses, but today we’re going to talk about the biggest assholes we know–the people who disrespected the system so efficiently that they got away with it. Breaking the rules isn’t easy, but breaking the rules and getting away with it is even harder. These criminals had exactly what it took.

Is the secret of their success planning or was it all an elegant mistake? Today we’re going to take a look at some of the finest and most creative criminals that history has ever seen. From epic heists to creative murder defenses, these rule-breakers have captured the world’s attention for centuries. Who better to inspire your next character and blur the lines between good and evil?


Joannes Baptista Colloredo is a Parasitic Lifesaver

Lazarus and Joannes have a killer fashion sense, too. || Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine, 1869 || Source

Our story begins in the always crazy town of Genoa, Italy. The year is 1617, and a woman gives

birth to two sons at the same time. A charming pair—Lazarus, a very normal baby boy, and Joannes, who had taken a bit of a liking to his brother’s stomach, because that is, after all, where he wass growing out of. Conjoined at the stomach, Joannes was deemed a parasitic twin to Lazarus. He had low mental function. He was deaf, blind, and mute and missing all the proper vital organs to survive. Luckily for him, Lazarus had no choice but to play the part of the host, thusly keeping his twin brother alive.

Often, he’d conceal Joannes with a large trench coat, but it was no use. Everybody knew about the boy and his parasitic twin. What followed was a lifetime of teasing to which Lazarus had heard enough of. Life wasn’t easy for Lazarus. Sharing the most personal things with his brother— a digestive tract and other important organs was taking a toll on the pair’s health and energy. And social life, one might imagine.

One night, Lazarus decided to take his problems (and brother) to the bar for a stiff drink. A man at the bar began to throw verbal abuse Lazarus’ way. It had all been too much. He pulled a knife from the bartop and stabbed his bully.

Everybody had seen it, so it was no question on who was the guilty party. Lazarus would be locked up and put to death. But Lazarus wasn’t having it. Life was too unfair. He needed a win. He pointed out to the judge, “Your honor,” he might have said, “Why if you kill me, you’ll also kill my innocent twin brother, Joannes.”

And as easy as that, Lazarus was let off the hook. Because what can you really do when the guilty party physically cannot be separated from an innocent bystander? Lazurus knew the answer to that: jackshit.

Character Inspiration:

Lazarus and Joannes Baptista Colloredo raise a rather profound question: what happens when one conjoined twin is guilty and the other is innocent? Do both suffer the consequences or does the guilty party get off the hook? Asking or exploring profound questions with writing is a great way to make your story memorable and get the reader’s attention.

Thomas Blood Becomes a Vicar

Are those the crown jewels in your pants or–oh wow, they’re actually the crown jewels. || {{PD-1923}}

It’s 1671, and Thomas Blood, a military officer who likes to call himself a Colonel because, you know, it sounds cooler, is a little bored. The Irish officer gets to thinking about how he can piss off the British and get rich in one fell swoop. And then it hits him: He can steal the crown jewels.

But how in God’s name does one man sneak into the heavily-guarded tower of London and steal the most prized item in all of England? If he had any hope of making it happen, he’d have to stroll in boldly.

He paid a prostitute to pretend to be his wife— perhaps the saddest request she ever took— and he dressed up as a vicar. A boy hired to be the nephew of Blood for the day catfished Talbot Edwards, the Keeper of the Jewels, and his daughter until both were confident that the girl would be married. Thomas Blood requested to see the jewels, accompanied by his fictitious wife and nephew. Talbot Edwards couldn’t refuse to his daughter’s father-in-law.

Once up in the tower, Thomas Blood attacked Edwards, stabbing, gagging, and knocking him out. All alone, the group flattened the crown with a mallet and stuffed the pieces into their pants and undergarments.  They made a break for it, but Edwards came to, shouting for the guards.

Thomas Blood was apprehended and taken to see King Charles the II, history’s (and Cromwell’s) favorite crybaby, who got a good laugh out of the whole situation. Despite the damages and pain that Thomas Blood caused, King Charles II pardoned Blood and let him retire happily in Ireland.

Character Inspiration:

Thomas Blood’s story can give us writers a great lesson in tone. When you’re writing about heists, hijinks, and rule-breakers, it’s important to chose your tone carefully. Tone can make or break the story–whether you chose to be funny or serious when writing about an absurd chain of events can depend largely in part on the personality of your main character’s and what message you want to show through the events that take place. Funny tones can mock, praise, or make light of, while darker tones can make the actions (and consequences) seem that much more severe.



Eadweard Muybridge is Skilled at Stop-motion and Bullshitting

Eadweard? More like Eadweirdo. || {{PD-1923}}

If you’ve ever gone to college then you know how easy it can get to be a clown, pulling and pulling your infinite rainbow ribbon of bullshit out of  pocket. The villain of our story, Edward James Muggeridge never went to college. Instead he became a publisher’s agent, a job that required creativity.

Edward James Muggeridge–a respectable name. Not flashy, not in want of extra attention, not pretentious. That was precisely why the former Edward legally changed it to “Eadweard Muybridge”.

Muybridge hadn’t the best luck with horses. In Arkansas in 1860, where he was having a good old time photographing the American West, he got into a stagecoach accident. The horses got spooked and made a break for it. Muybridge flew out of the stagecoach, took a tumble, and smacked his head on a rock. This accident was only said to have made him more eccentric and inhibitionless, but never violent.

He was a photographer by hobby. Heck, you probably know this guy too. He was the first to invent stop motion. In 1872, he discovered that if you layered photographs and looped them together you could create a video. Essentially this was the first known gif. This discovery in photography paved the way for the first videos. Despite his success, friends complained of strange and erratic behavior that seemed to be taking over his life.

In 1872, while he was discovering stop-motion, Eadweard Muybridge fell in love with a young actress named Flora Shallcross Stone and the two were wed. But as it soon came to light, Ms. Shallcross Stone was already seven months pregnant with another man’s child. When Eadweard Muybridge found a letter addressed to his wife that explicitly stated that name of the child’s father, Muybridge packed the letter up and headed out to meet this Major Harry Larkyns. He said, “Good evening, Major, my name is Muybridge and here’s the answer to the letter you sent my wife,” and just like that, he shot him right in the head.

Muybridge was quickly sentenced to death, but he had an excuse lined up. Remember when he hit his head on that rock after his stagecoach accident? Muybridge claimed that this accident had made him clinically insane. The jury didn’t believe him for a minute, so he changed his tactic. Justifiable homicide it was——that is, killing without bad intent. Nobody’s ever murdered with good intent, but the jury thought it was a good argument as any. Just like that, Eadweard Muybridge got away with murder and not too long after was kickin’ it in South America.

Character Inspiration:

Eccentric characters can be a lot of fun because truth is, we don’t have much idea of why they do what they do, but there’s always some rhyme or reason. Moreover, eccentric characters experiencing intense emotions (like jealousy) can lead to even nastier conflict. Perhaps most importantly, creating a backstory that shows why your character acts the way he does will make your story that much more believable.



300 Million Yen Robbery Smokes Out the Witnesses

The year is 1968, and for two miserable weeks, Japan’s Nihon Shintaku Ginko (hint: it’s a bank) had been receiving a lot of bomb threats. Nobody likes getting bomb threats, but employees decided that it wasn’t really a big deal. What’s the worst that could happen, anyway?

Enter a large truck. Now this wasn’t any truck, it was an official bank truck containing nearly 300 million yen (which is over $800,000 USD) that would be used to pay factory workers. The four employees began to drive the truck on its route when a police officer on a motorcycle stopped them. He informed them that an explosion took place at the branch manager’s home, killing him. There was a note left behind suggesting that dynamite had been placed beneath the trucks. The four employees fled and took cover.

The police officer looked under the truck and it began to sputter and smoke. He screamed, “It’s dynamite! It’s going to blow!” The employees raced for cover. With a smirk and a truck filled with 300 million yen all to himself, the fictitious police officer hopped in the truck and drove away, never to be seen again.

After seven years, the statute of limitations expired, meaning that the man could reveal his guilt with no repercussions. He hasn’t yet. No matter what happens, this guy got away big time with perhaps the simplest, but most notorious heist in Japanese history.

Character Inspiration:

Compared to the other historical rule-breakers, we have no idea who pulled off the 300 Million Yen Robbery. For some stories, there can be strength in not naming or providing a lot of characterization for the lead. Whether it’s for the sake of mystery, reader insertion, or symbolic meaning, focusing on all other characters expect for the lead is always an interesting storytelling tool, especially for a great heist.



D.B Cooper’s Million Dollar Jump

Some believe D.B. Cooper died in the fall while internet sleuths have offered up several possible identities. None have been confirmed. || {{PD-1996}}

It’s a chilly Thanksgiving Eve, 1971, and a man known as Dan Cooper (Later, news sources mistakenly reported him a D.B. Cooper) confidently boards a Boeing 727 at the Portland International Airport. With a businessman’s suitcase in hand, he sat down for a half hour long flight to Seattle Washington. When the flight attendant came by, he ordered a bourbon and soda.

Shortly after takeoff, Cooper handed the flight attendant a note folded in a perfect crease. She discarded the note in her purse, because she’d been hit on by passengers and simply wasn’t interested. D.B. Cooper called her back. Politely, he told her “You better take a look at that note, Miss. I have a bomb.”

In 1971, no one really thought much about bringing bombs onboard planes. I mean, who would do that? Well, D.B. Cooper was the first of many to prove that you shouldn’t just give the okie-dokie to a bunch of unverified passenger on an aircraft.

D.B. Cooper moved onto phase two, and asked the flight attendant to sit beside him. He opened his briefcase, showing her a fake bomb that looked rather convincing. Cooper wanted a few things: $200,000 in American currency, four parachutes, a fuel truck on standby in Seattle ready to refuel the Boeing 727, and meals for the crew, because deep down, D.B. Cooper was an okay guy.

Now, D.B. Cooper was about to pull of the ballsiest heist in American history. Taking extreme advantage of the fact that nobody had thought of doing anything this stupid before, he continued on with the rest of his plan. There was complete pandemonium. On the ground, and up in the air, nobody knew what to do. Eventually, somebody just kind of shrugged and decided to bring $200,000 to Seattle.

The plane landed, the passengers were released, and D.B. Cooper got his brand new toys. He told the crew he wanted to go to Mexico City, and then they decided they’d have to stop in Reno, Nevada to refuel. D.B. Cooper had one last request–fly at a low altitude of just 10,000 feet.

Police officers rushed out to Reno. D.B. Cooper would obviously be on board by the time they landed, right? Wrong. About twenty to thirty minutes after takeoff, D.B. Cooper gathered his things, opened the airlock and jumped.

Where is D.B.Cooper today? Nobody is completely sure, but some people have stepped forward saying that an old friend had been D.B. Cooper. If he was, then he sure got away with it because he’s dead and gone now.

Character Inspiration:

It might just be the perfect crime. Let’s think about timing–before D.B. Cooper, no one thought that they could be a plane ride away from thousands of dollars. D.B. took advantage of a system that hadn’t been messed around with beforehand, so when it happened, no one knew exactly what to do. Next time you plan a fictional crime, think outside the box. There really is opportunity everywhere.

History is full of rule-breakers. In fact, without these assholes breaking the rules, we wouldn’t have laws and protocol for literally everything. History is full of those creative enough to come up with out-of-the box crimes or solutions to their crimes. As writers, we know that criminals can make the most interesting characters, but if you need some inspiration from the real-world, then you won’t have to look any further than these five. Sometimes, history is stranger than anything you could come up with.

Can you think of any real-life criminals and their insane crimes? Let’s talk about them in the comments below.

Remember to check back next week for more awesome content. We post every Monday.

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