Model Citizen Returned to Prison, 2014

The time the US justice system accidently released a prisoner 90 years early. When they tried to correct their error years after, they found the ex-convict was rehabilitated. Read about Rene Lima-Marin’s battle to stay free

It was just another day for Rene Lima-Marin in his job helping to transform city skylines by installing glass windows into skyscrapers until an unknown caller buzzed his mobile phone. The woman on the line said she was from the Denver Public Defender’s office. As she talked Lima-Marin could feel his breathing turn shallow, his muscles tighten and his mind start to race.

For the slim Latino man, with his hair shaved high on the back and sides and an immaculately groomed goatee, the day had come he feared for years would. Now all those dreams and plans lay shattered like a windowpane that slipped from his grasp.

The story started fourteen years before when 22-year-old Lima-Marin and an accomplice were sentenced for committing robbery, burglary, and kidnapping during a series of video store robberies. These were to be served consecutively so, the US legal system being what it was, effectively locked the two up and threw away the key.

The sentence was a whopping 98 years. It was basically game over for the two young men.

Yet maybe Lima-Marin had an angel guardian looking out for him or something. The court clerk mistakenly wrote ‘concurrently’ not ‘consecutively’ next to his sentence and Lima-Marin discovered he only had a nine-year stint to do (not so his accomplice, however). Realising someone had blundered, he kept shtum and did his time.

2008 came around and Lima-Marin heard the main gate of Colorado’s Crowley County Correctional Facility slam behind him and his life, rebooted, in front of him. Was he going to take his second chance to live a good life as a rehabilitated man or would he slip back into his old ways?

He married his old girlfriend and became a father to her one-year-old son. He found a job, and then a better union job working construction on skyscrapers in the centre of Denver. The family went to church. They took older relatives in at their new, bigger house in a nice area of Aurora. They then had a child together, another boy.

Lima-Marin feared that the justice system would discover its mistake and destroy what he was building. But the years passed by and the fear receded as his life entered the humdrum slipstream of work, church and football training for his sons. After six years, this was surely proof he was rehabilitated.

The phone call from the Public Defender’s Office informed him that the Justice Department had discovered their mistake and, gut-wrenching though it was, he was going to have to go back to serve out the rest of his life long sentence.

How on earth was Lima-Marin going to break the news to his family? How were they all going to bear the heartache?

Lima Marin embraces his son while in prison (denverpost.com)

From there his fortunes fluctuated like a heart monitor does for someone whose life hangs on a knife-edge; he went back to prison but, after a campaign for clemency lasting years, the state governor pardoned him.

Lima-Marin’s wife’s euphoric high upon hearing this seesawed to a scream of frustration when the news was followed up with the fact her husband had to fight his case against illegal immigration in an immigration centre.

The ending however was a happy one for Lima-Marin. He overcame the final hurdle by winning his case and walked away a free man, for good, from Aurora’s detention facility in 2018.

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Child Drowned for an Hour but Survives, 1986

Read of how a little girl survived a 1-hour submersion in freezing creek water one Summer in Utah.

On a hot June day the birds were singing, the bees buzzing, and mum’s voice on the phone wafted through the warm air, so warm after a late start to Summer.

Her reassuring tones set her blond-haired toddler at ease to range the backyard’s expanse and soak up its lush colours.

The green foliage was offset by a beautifully painted butterfly, drifting into focus for the keen-eyed child.

Two and a half-year-old Michelle Funk’s eyes sparkled in awe and the eyes on the butterfly’s wings waved back. She lunged to grope the floating beauty to hold it. The butterfly flittered on towards the sound of gushing water.

Could the intrepid infant reach the insect before the forest of grass which marked the garden boundary end the chase? Her mother’s voice was now almost drowned out by the babble of icy cold water below.

She got her break; in a chance moment the butterfly dipped in time for Michelle to swing her little arms up and capture her quarry.

But the ground treacherously slipped downwards; her face an instant of triumph turned to alarm as she vanished under the grass blades towards the water’s edge …Michelle’s alert older brother hared back to the house.

At the Bells Canyon Creek-bank Michelle tumbled down through the grass then plunged over the edge. There was no one to respond to her gurgled cries. As the warm sun rays glistened off the mountain meltwater Michelle slipped under, lost.

Michelle drowned in the Bells Canyon Creek for over an hour (thisisgoodgood.com)

The minutes ticked by; her skin now a ghostly white and her flame barely flickering. After 66 minutes a rescuer finally hauled her blue, lifeless form from the 4 Celcius (40 Fahrenheit) water. Could she be saved at all? If there was even the smallest chance it was worth the try.

They rushed her to hospital where a Dr Bolte was waiting. The extreme time Michelle had been submerged had surely drowned her. Many doctors, knowing how long she’d been submerged, would have declared her dead on arrival — indeed some of them thought Bolte crazy for even entertaining the notion she had a decent chance.

Yet one factor was in her favour; instead of sealing her fate, the icy submersion had slowed down her metabolism to the extent her body’s oxygen needs were suspended. What’s more by happenstance, Dr Bolte had been preparing for such an emergency for months. He and his team went straight to work.

They started injecting warm fluids into Michelle’s veins and stomach and squeezed warmed air through a tube into her lungs, but three hours after the child had fallen into the creek she was still lifeless. Meanwhile, Michelle’s parents and doctors feared her resuscitation would merely bring her back to a vegetative state. They persevered.

However it was when her body reached 25 Celcius (77 Fahrenheit) that Bolte allowed himself to think there was hope for the poor little thing yet. She gasped; moments later she opened her eyes; then her pupils, responding to the bright lights in the operating room, narrowed — a sign of returning brain function. And then, to everyone’s cheers and high fives, a faint heartbeat was detected.

Michelle was saved and made a full recovery with no lasting cognitive damage. Even the staid Journal of the American Medical Association described the case of Michelle Funk as “miraculous’’.

Her treatment went on to form the protocol for treating previously deadly cases of drowning.

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US Airforce Almost Nukes Spain, 1966

The time the US accidently dropped not one, but three nuclear devices on Spanish soil.

The imagery of a nuclear fireball inspires awe and terror in equal doses; we all understand the capacity a massive ball of rising red flame, seen on the horizon, has to turn flesh to dust and obliterate anything in its proximity. The nuclear bomb’s destructive energy is a byword for the collapse of civilisation into Armageddon.

Thus handling nuclear weapons is delicately done with many safeguards …but accidents are inevitable.

It was January 1966 and the Cold War was at such an icy stage US B52 strategic bombers were being kept constantly airborne, ready to rain death and destruction on the Soviet populace at a moment’s notice.

These big bombers were armed with four B28 nuclear bombs with a total explosive force of 6,000,000 tonnes of TNT; if any airborne accident were to occur the result of those nukes being destroyed could potentially kill millions and make vast tracts of the earth below uninhabitable.

The day was 17th of January and one of those massive, lumbering eight-engined birds vectored into rendezvous with a KC135 air tanker at 9,450m (31,000ft).

They were currently over Spain as the B52 took on its first of two refuels as part of a mammoth flight from its airbase in North Carolina, across the Atlantic and on to the Adriatic Sea, before returning.

The B52 came in behind the tanker, but too fast and the two aircraft collided with the nozzle of the refuelling boom striking the top of the B-52 fuselage.

The airborne fuel tanker erupted into a massive fireball, killing all four of its crew and three of seven of the bomber’s crew, with the remaining three bailing out in time.

Yet, four nuclear bombs plummeted down with the plane wreckage. One of the highly lethal weapons plunged into the sea but the other three smashed into land.

Was Spain’s Andalusia province transformed into a radiated wasteland? Two of the bombs’ conventional explosives did detonate on impact, contaminating 1.0 sq mi (2.6 square kilometres) with radioactive material yet safeguards were in place to block a nuclear fusion reaction that would release the bombs’ destructive energy.

The Andalusians came very close to utter catastrophe and still had a serious incident on their hands.

The US Govt took responsibility for the recovery of the nukes and cleaned up the affected area by removing 6000 barrels of contaminated soil to the USA.

Soon after the Spanish government formally banned U.S. flights over its territory that carried such weapons, and such long-range B52 sorties were ended two years later.

Where the bombs fell in Spain (dailymail.co.uk)
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Drunken Aviator Lands in City Centre, 1956

In perhaps the greatest ‘hold my beer’ escapade to date, Thomas Fitzpatrick stole a plane to prove he could fly from Jersey to New York in just 15 minutes. Read about how he won his crazy bet.

Bulky sedans rumbled sedately along the right-angled streets, and haggard creatures of the night here and there passed under the patchy street lighting past rows of rectilinear brownstone tenements.

It was the witching hour on St Nics Avenue in New York City’s heart. Of course in the city that never sleeps life still stirred, and it was about to get a serious wake up call.

Jimmy was wiping down the bar waiting for the last of his patrons to stumble out after a long night. The edge of his lips curled up with a wry smile; earlier that night one of his favourite patrons, a gung-ho flyboy named Thomas ‘Fitz’ Fitzpatrick made a bet that he could fly from New Jersey to New York City in 15 minutes. ‘I’ll land out there to prove it, how ‘bout that?’ slurred Fitz. ‘OK ya crazy, drunken Irishman’ laughed Jimmy ‘Hold my beer, will ya?.’ And, with a leery grin, Fitzpatrick plodded out the door.

Good laughs, thought Jimmy.

That was almost an hour ago. A barking dog out the window broke his reverie and Jimmy looked up to see a late night walker and his dog facing opposite directions; the man was pulled back by his leashed dog.

The mut was staring back up the street and whined, its head tilted with that gaze of rapt concentration only a dog can do. “Come on!” the guy bawled, looking bewildered.

Then Jim detected the sound of an engine, but it was no automobile; it was more of a deep buzz, and it quickly got louder.

That sound was one of a small plane approaching and, crazy as it sounds, Fitzpatrick was making his approach to land the thing on the Avenue.

One or two cars screeched to a halt as the small aircraft buzzed overhead. Bedroom lights flicked on and anyone quick enough caught a fleeting glimpse of Fitzpatrick as he zipped by.

Jimmy slammed the door open in time to witness, mouth agape, the plane touchdown and whizz past his bar before coming to a stop.

So Fitz won the bet after all!

The stolen plane on St Nics Avenue, complete with chalk outline (cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com)

After leaving the bar, Fitzpatrick had hightailed it 15 miles across the state line to Teterboro Airport and there, stole an aircraft.

What the wager was is unknown but he won his bet and his antics made newspaper headlines. The New York Times called the flight a “feat of aeronautics” and a “fine landing”, and a plane parked in the middle of the street made for quite a sight in the morning.

For his illegal flight, he was fined $100 after the plane’s owner refused to press charges.

Incredibly Fitzpatrick performed the same stunt again in 1958 because in another bar someone questioned the story. For that, he was sentenced to 6 months incarceration, blaming his antics on the “lousy drink

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Train Crash for Publicity, 1896

What’s the best way to promote train travel to Texas? Stage a train crash for people to come and see there, of course! Read about what happened on the big day when the guy in charge of health and safety took the day off.

We know that one to two hundred years back, people’s faith in God and hardy living standards made them much more immune to the seductions of health and safety; they could be pretty casual about accidents occurring and should someone get killed in an construction project, for example, then that was what your faith was for.

It was 1896 USA and a marketing guru was tasked with promoting train ticket sales to Texas. What genius idea did he pull out of the bag? To stage a train crash, of course!

Sounding like a scene that should’ve made it into ‘A Million Ways to Die in the West’, the stunt was be held in the specially built town of Crush and the idea was to sell tickets so that people could visit the state and make a jamboree of it, with amusements and sideshows to the main event – 50,000 people attended.

The organisers weren’t dismissive of health and safety however, they took it seriously big time. Spectators to the crash rail track had to stay a whole 180m (200yards) back and reporters half that – I bet they couldn’t even make out the names on the drivers’ name badges they were so safely far away.

A specially built track was laid and the stage was set; two 32 tonne steam locomotives would be driven at each other, with time given for the crews to jump off before collision.

A local newspaper report described the scene: “The rumble of the two trains, faint and far off at first, was like the gathering force of a cyclone…They rolled down at a frightful rate of speed… Nearer and nearer as they approached the fatal meeting place the rumbling increased, the roaring grew louder

Then the trains impacted: “…a crash, a sound of timbers rent and torn, and then a shower of splinters… There was just a swift instance of silence and then, as if controlled by a single impulse, both boilers exploded simultaneously and the air was filled with flying missiles of iron and steel varying in size from a postage stamp to half of a driving wheel…

Debris was blown hundreds of metres into the air and panic quickly broke out as the crowd turned and ran. Some of the debris came down among the spectators, killing three people and injuring dozens.

Crowds clamber around the train wreck of America’s deadliest ever stunt (southernmysteries.com)

In the aftermath the train company involved had to pay out tens of thousands of dollars in compensation to the crash victims as headlines of the spectacular event flashed across the country.

Ultimately, the company profited enormously from the botched stunt, however, which goes to show that infamy is often as good as publicity.

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Dog Fall Kills Three Passers-by, 1988

When a poodle fell off a high rise balcony in Buenos Aires, it is hard to understand how it could result in the deaths of three pedestrians below. Read here to find out how it happened.

Cachi’s beady eyes were locked on to the tennis ball the Montoya family’s youngest boy bounced, so engrossed his head nodded up and down to its rebound.

The ball! The furry, squeezy round thing, fast and agile, and to his prehistoric instincts, his prey. Did he want the ball, his 4ft human friend asked? He certainly did.

The breeze cooled the family lounge that wafted through the open balcony doorway. In the background could be heard a cartoon on the TV and the dull, gentle thud of the ceiling fan.

Cachi’s sinews were trip-wire taut in anticipation. Finally the boy released the ball with a lob and it arched over the white family poodle. Cachi launched himself after his quarry.

The ball bounced too far however, bounding out onto the balcony and through the ornate railings to the street below.

Cachi’s frantic bid to gain traction on the smooth clay red ceramic tiles was in vain. With paws flailing, Cachi sadly dropped off the side after it. It was to his demise the apartment was on the most unlucky floor in the building.

To the agonised, lung-busting screech of his best friend ringing in his ears the red-rimmed hat below rushed up at him before he could eve…

Cachi the poodle’s 13 floor fall (bestoftruecrime.com)

A small, delicate lady named Señorita Espina halted her slow walk along the Buenos Aires pavement in just the wrong spot. She turned to admire a lush carpet in a shop window; she admired it for its vivid colours as much as the fact her fading eyesight made it hard to enjoy the sight of anything much further away.

A sharp canine yelp made her jerk her head up. A heavy thump and moan caused other pedestrians to jerk their heads around in turn.

Catchi left his cherished human boy without a chance for even a farewell head pat. His journey to the next life abruptly commenced, now at the heel of his new grey-haired companion.

A woman named Edith Sola, with streaks of grey coming through her long, glossy dark hair, peered across Rivadavia Avenue. Her mouth hung slack-jawed and her brown eyes twinkled in curiosity at the scene.

She craned her head up to see the source of a child’s loud blubbering on a balcony thirteen stories up. Down at street level a crowd had gathered around directly below the balcony looking at… what, she wondered? Her curiosity took over.

The bus driver was making good time moving up the gears along Rivadavia Avenue, too good.

He had about two seconds to react to a woman stepping out into the road obliviously. In vain he stamped the brake pedal as far down into the footwell as it would go and tugged on the steering wheel. The bus screeched; an ugly thump; a crack of bones and Sola’s body was hurled into the air sideways before slapping to the tarmac, motionless.

Yet the catastrophic ripple effect of that bouncing ball wasn’t over. A gentleman had stepped out of a pharmacy in time to witness the small poodle slam into the elderly woman, killing both instantly.

He gasped in dismay, his feet rooted to the spot. He held his head and a silent prayer streamed from his trembling lips.

To turn to see the bus swerve wildly and another person die in front of his very eyes was too much. He suddenly wished desperately to be away from the lights, the babbling onlookers and oncoming blare of sirens. He started to pant, was then stricken with a sharp pain in the chest and his silent prayers were now audible.

His condition had turned to a full-blown heart attack by the time he was placed in an ambulance, and he too sadly perished.

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Grim Reaper Refuses to Let Death Row Escapee Live, 1980

One man’s fate to die on a date in 1980 was so strong even escaping Death Row could not postpone his mortality. Read here how he met his end.

Such is the antisocial, troublesome character of some people you meet that you just know they’re destined to be dead or in prison before they reach their 40th birthday, and so was the case for Troy Leon Gregg – despite his best efforts otherwise.

Convicted of murdering two men whom he had hitched a ride with in order to rob them, Gregg was clearly a nasty piece of work. For that, he’d become the first man to end a de facto moratorium on the death penalty imposed four years prior.

Four years later on death row and it was 1980 and his long-awaited date with the Grim Reaper was looming imminently, yet Gregg had plans to give him the slip and make a flight for freedom.

On the eve of his execution date Gregg, with three other condemned murderers, sawed through their cell bars, walked along a ledge to a fire escape and, after altering their prison clothing to resemble correctional officer uniforms, left in a car parked in the visitors’ parking lot by one of their aunts.

Success! Gregg and his companions pulled off the first death row breakout in Georgia’s history.

Yet Gregg just couldn’t keep his nose out of trouble. He wound up that night roughhousing it at some biker bar and getting hammered. He started harassing a waitress and hit her when she turned down his advances.

One biker didn’t like what he saw and this guy was the kind of bad-ass, greasy biker who didn’t screw around; Gregg was beaten to death. A number of patrons then helped dump his body in the lake round back.

So, the grim reaper caught up with Gregg regardless. The other escapees were recaptured three days later.

Troy Leon Gregg may have escaped the electric chair, but he didn’t escape his death sentence (thecrimemag.com)

Nation Ends World War One 40 Years Late, 1958

The time one disregarded European state forgot to end the Great War

For its main belligerents, World-War-I lasted from 1914 until 1918, yet bizarrely Germany remained at war, technically, with one country for another 40 years.

Andorra is a European minnow state of 468 km (181 sq mi) and just 76,000 call it home.

It was also one of the first nations to declare war on the Germans and Austro-Hungarians yet, in the unfettered hurly-burly of mass war, the fact it didn’t possess an army meant Andorra’s govt. weren’t exactly central players in the peace talks of WWI’s end.

For this mountain enclave, ‘The Great War’ continued unabated until 1958, according to this report in the New York Times on September the 24th: 

World War I is over for this 191 square mile Pyrenees Republic. Andorra, a participant, was not invited to the Versailles Peace Conference ending World War I. The decree, ending the state of war was signed yesterday.”

Finally, these great nations could breathe a sigh of relief and begin to look to the future once again.

For Andorra, WW1 lasted 44 years! (du.edu)
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The 14 Year-Old Cop, 2009

The embarrassing episode for the Chicago Police Dept. when they discovered a teenager had managed to get hold of a uniform and go under cover as a cop. Find out what duties he performed during his ‘shift’ and try to figure out how he slipped through the net.

It was just past lunchtime and a young lad named Vincent Richardson, who stood at 5ft 3in (1.6m) tall, felt a tingle in his belly which he could not decide was down to nerves or excitement; it was his first day on the job. He did not let his nerves show though as he walked up to the rear entrance of a Chicago P.D. Grand Crossing District station.

He told an officer smoking by the entrance that it was his first day and could he enter the security code on the lock? The officer obliged and he slid in.

He approached the Sergeant’s Office to report for duty. The sergeant glanced up at the small-statured officer before him and noted his watchful brown eyes and coat collar turned up against the January cold.

Officer Richardson signed out a ticket book and radio, was assigned a partner, and began his first day on the beat.

For six hours that afternoon Richardson attended five traffic accidents and used the squad car’s computer to check license plates. It’s alleged he also took the wheel of the police car and may have helped handcuff a suspect.

His ruse was discovered by a supervisor who noticed Richardson was missing his badge, gun and a newspaper in place of a ballistic vest in his vest carrier.

To their great consternation Richardson was discovered to be just a 14-year-old high school kid.

For the stunt, Richardson was placed on juvenile probation but he clearly got a taste for the uniform; amazingly he was caught impersonating a police officer again in 2013 and 2015. For the most recent felony he was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

Vincent Richardson aged 17 (chicago.cbslocal.com)

French Sink Greenpeace Ship, 1985

How on earth did Greenpeace get mixed up in the seedy world of covert operations to result in one of its ships getting mined? Read about how the world-renowned conservation group annoyed the French so much they launched ‘Operation Satanique’ against them.

Sticking to the shadows, sheathed in black and deadly with any weapon, the men and women who staff the world’s most active covert action agencies are experts in surveillance, subterfuge and sabotage; they’re the guys that governments turn to when they tire of fighting fair, and no blow is too low.

Little else than the noise of sloshing water gently slapping the bow of a small ship intruded on the peace of approaching midnight that set the scene in Auckland Port, New Zealand. The silhouette of the ship was barely perceptible against the faint rays of harbour lights in the distant background and it barely revealed the superstructure of the Rainbow Warrior.

This 418 tonne converted trawler with a thick brushstroke of rainbow down its otherwise black hull was serving as Greenpeace’s flagship in their dogged, decades-old campaigns to resist whaling, seal hunting and nuclear testing in the southern Pacific’s seas and atolls.

Previously the ship had set sail to the Mururoa Atoll, where the French Government were drenching the region in radioactivity in its pursuit to develop its arsenal of nuclear weapons. The Greenpeace crew had become old hands at monitoring and obstructing the French and making thorough nuisances of themselves.

Yet be careful what you wish for; Rainbow Warrior was about to become a victim of her own success. She’d become such a thorn in the French Republic’s side, its government’s patience had run out and the order was given to teach the eco-warriors a lesson they wouldn’t forget.

Unseen, an unnatural burble of bubbles reaching the water’s surface betrayed a sinister presence; two divers had left the cover of shadows to enter the jet black water.

Their tools, limpet mines, and they were about to perform the coupe-de-grace to ‘Operation Satanique’; a mission to sink the Rainbow Warrior. The two divers, operatives of none other than the Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE) — France’s highly covert spy agency — so formidable its name is spoken only in hushed tones among her enemies.

The clock was ticking. The two frogmen dived to place a mine each on the starboard hull, setting them to detonate 10 mins apart.

The doomed ship’s crew were thrown violently awake at the violent jolt of the 1st explosion. They clamoured to clamber off the ship and onto the cold jetty with whatever belongings they could snatch.

The operation was going to plan like a well-conducted theatre piece until one actor veered from the script; photographer Fernando Pereira felt safe enough to reboard the vessel to retrieve his precious camera equipment when the 2nd mine detonated. It delivered the ship its death blow and Periera, trapped below, joined her.

He was the operation’s sole fatality. The ship slipped under the harbour’s murky waters as the two men in black slipped away. DGSE’s mission was reported successful.

The DGSE sank the ex trawler with two limpet mines (earthisland.org)

In the aftermath, however, the French suffered a PR disaster; the two frogmen were caught after New Zealand’s police launched their biggest ever manhunt to discover the two saboteurs were in fact a man and a woman. They’d posed as a married couple in the run-up to the operation.

Although initially trying to deny involvement, France apologised and paid millions of francs in compensation to both Greenpeace and Fernando Periera’s family.

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