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)
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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.

The Dyatlov Pass Incident, 1959

When investigators found the bodies of nine missing trekkers in the Artic tundra half-dressed and away from their tent for no apparent reason, it began perhaps the spookiest mystery in Russian history. Find out what happened here.

It was the depths of winter and 23-year-old Igor Alekseyevich Dyatlov with eight other fit, young men and women arrived at the town of Ivdel in Siberia’s nether regions.

They had come from the Ural Polytechnical Institute to complete a 190 mile (300km) training hike and the whole group were pretty much experts at operating in this harsh, hostile environment. Yet the mystery around their fates has led to no less than 75 theories to account for their demise.

Rescuers first on the scene and investigators of the day pieced together what they could: The group had passed through the Dyatlov Pass in a blizzard and got disoriented and lost. Realising they had taken the wrong route up the wrong mountain, they camped out in a single large tent on a mountain slope, in spite of some woodland being just one mile yonder, perhaps so that the team could practice making camp in the open.

Then something compelled the group to flee so desperately, they cut a hole in the tent side and so quickly, they didn’t have time to dress or even put on shoes to guard against the −30 °C (−22 °F) winter storm outside. They walked to the nearby copse of trees where two of them were found around a small fire in just their underwear.

Another three were found halfway back towards the tent, apparently trying to return once the danger, whatever it was, had passed. All had died from hypothermia. The other four were discovered later in the year once the snow had melted 75m (246ft) further in the woods and down a ravine. They were missing eyes and lips but also with severe chest injuries and a fatal skull injury.

So what had scared the group so much they fled the tent’s sanctuary under-dressed to certain death in the blizzard? Why had they split up? Were the other four’s injuries really due to falling into the ravine? …and why did one of the nine have heavy traces of radiation?

No one knows why the party ran half dressed from their tents into the freezing night (forum.fortyck.pl)

Reports around the event were highly censored, even by the Soviet’s standards and this only fuelled conspiracy theories and intrigue. Another group of hikers about 31 miles (50 km) south of the incident reported strange orange spheres in the sky to the north on the night of the incident. There are also claims military weapon tests may have been conducted nearby, which could’ve panicked the nine.

Other theories include everything from violent katabatic winds, infrasound, high winds blowing one member away and who the others attempted to rescue, to attack by local tribal people or even by a yeti.

The most plausible explanation, however, is that the group were alarmed by a slow-moving wall of snow known as a ‘snow slide’ which might have blocked the entrance and a fear of getting engulfed by the mass of snow forced them out. Regardless, the swirl of mystique around this incident compelled the Russian state to launch another investigation in 2019.

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The ‘Baltic Gold’ Gift from The Sea, 2015

The oceans have always proved bountiful for coastal communities, providing not only sustenance but valuables lost in the sand or washed ashore from shipwrecks. For the people of the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad in 2015, however, the sea gifted a hoard of ‘Baltic Gold’. Read about this gift from the sea.

Amber is hard, transparent fossilised tree resin, the sort famous for entombing tiny insects from prehistory for us to marvel at in their original state.

It is a gemstone used to make jewellery and a variety of decorative objects, and has been appreciated for its colour and natural beauty since Neolithic times.

It’s also pretty valuable, with 2020 valuations for Baltic Amber (the source of 95% of the world’s amber) worth between $13–15 per gram.

In 2015 Christmas came early for residents of Pionersky in the Russian Kaliningrad region on the Baltic coast as a storm began washing up large deposits of ‘Baltic Gold’. Locals flocked to the beach to line their pockets.

Some, dressed in wetsuits, waded out up to 30 metres (100 ft) into the sea to catch large amber chunks, each worth hundreds of dollars, in cages.

The less intrepid combed the shoreline for smaller pieces, being able to collect a handful in just five minutes of feverish searching.

Even pensioners forgot their ailments and age and scratched the frozen soil with sticks like babies in a sandpit.

The timing could not have been better as these presents from nature helped people out during the country’s economic crisis and raised people’s spirits.

With amber valued at 10-20 dollars per gram, this amber was a modest windfall for the Russians (dailymail.co.uk)
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Lawnchair Larry’s Balloon Flight 1982

To fly is a dream, and every kid imagines acquiring enough helium balloons for a little aerial adventure. Big kid Larry Walters actually pulled off the stunt for real in an epic flight over Los Angeles. Read about how he did it here.

Who hasn’t held a bunch of helium balloons as a kid and imagined the fun they could have if only they could gather enough balloons to lift off, see the world with a bird’s eye view for a brief while before landing again? Larry Walters was one of those kids.

As an adult, he tried to become a pilot but poor eyesight ruled that out, yet the dream to fly remained. Sitting in his backyard one day in Los Angeles, USA he devised a plan. He attached 43 weather balloons to his lawn chair (which he christened ‘Inspiration I’) and filled them with helium.

Perhaps Larry thought the whole endeavour would go like something out of a kid’s movie; he’d float up, enjoy the blissful views, wave at onlookers here and there, then drift down again. And what better than to do so with a nice bite to eat and beer – bliss. 

Suitably kitted out then, and with a pellet gun to shoot the balloons when it was time to descend, his friends cut the cord that anchored him to his jeep. 

What actually happened is he shot into the sky, climbing to 4,900m (16,000 feet) and drifted there for more than 45 minutes, frozen and frightened. He then crossed an aeroplane approach corridor to Long Beach Airport and two commercial jets reported the strange sight.

Eventually Larry gathered the nerve to shoot a few balloons and descended. His balloons caught in a power line, causing a neighbourhood blackout for 20 minutes but he landed unharmed.

Larry attached 43 weather balloons to his lawn chair (groovyhistory.com)

Larry was arrested upon landing and fined $1,500. Talking to reporters, the Police stated: “We know he broke some part of the Federal Aviation Act, and as soon as we decide which part it is, some type of charge will be filed. If he had a pilot’s license, we’d suspend that, but he doesn’t.” 

For his part, Larry declared “It was something I had to do. I had this dream for twenty years, and if I hadn’t done it, I think I would have ended up in the funny farm.” 

He was awarded the title of ‘At-Risk Survivor’ in the 1993 Darwin Awards but sadly committed suicide the very same year.

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The Woman Who Spontaneously Combusted, 1951

Among the phenomena on the fringes of scientific understanding is the propensity for the human body to set itself alight. The explanation, apparently, is Spontaneous Human Combustion (SHC). Read here about one famous case and how it discombobulated investigators.

On the morning of July 2, 1951, Mary Reeser’s landlady arrived at her door with a telegram. Trying the door, she found the metal doorknob to be uncomfortably warm to the touch. She called the police and, once they battered the door open, they were confronted with a ghastly sight.

Reeser’s remains, which were largely ashes, were found among the remains of a chair in which she had been sitting. Only part of her slippered left foot and her backbone remained along with her skull. Plastic household objects at a distance from the seat of the fire were softened and had lost their shapes. Reeser’s skull had survived and was found among the ashes, but shrunken ‘to the size of a teacup’.

Physical Anthropologist Professor Krogman who was asked to look into the case on record saying “I find it hard to believe that a human body, once ignited, will literally consume itself — burn itself out, as does a candle wick, guttering in the last residual pool of melted wax… Just what did happen on the night of July 1, 1951, in St. Petersburg, Florida? We may never know, though this case still haunts me.

He then concluded “I cannot conceive of such complete cremation without more burning of the apartment itself. In fact the apartment and everything in it should have been consumed… I regard it as the most amazing thing I have ever seen. As I review it, the short hairs on my neck bristle with vague fear. Were I living in the Middle Ages, I’d mutter something about black magic” In actuality, Ms Reeser was judged to be the victim of a bizarre phenomenon known as Spontaneous Human Combustion (SHC).

That SHC even exists, the scientific community is sceptical. Can a human body really just set alight by itself? Wouldn’t there be a number of cases around the world of people combusting in public?

Of over a hundred cases investigated, none have been observed. Victims are frequently elderly, female and prodigious drinkers. They are also usually near a heat source. There is probably no single explanation for each case of SHC but the general consensus is that an external source starts a fire on the person and then body fat acts as a sort of ‘candle wax’ to the human ‘wick’. Other pseudo-scientific theories exist.

Mrs Reeser and her remains after bursting into flame (tampabay.com)
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Czech Cop Rampage Smashes Dozens of Cars, 2016

Although you expect police officers to be pillars of the community, they’re not all perfect. Some are occasionally corrupt, but disorderly and out of control? Never! That is until one day Officer Kadlec of Prague City Police Dept. decided to have a few drinks and get his fifteen minutes of fame. Find out the chaos he caused.

Prague’s Vinohrady neighbourhood, Cz Rep: One Spring afternoon, above the gentle hubbub of city life, a loud noise broke the city’s normal calm indicating the chaos which had broken out in some quarter near; the blare of dozens of car alarms echoed down Vinohrady’s elegant, tree-lined avenues of fine, old, Austro-Hungarian terraces. The distant wail of sirens soon chimed in.

On Šumavská street a drunk and dishevelled out-of-uniform police instructor named Karel Kadlec was handcuffed and led away from the trail of carnage he’d just caused which disgraced his name and dealt a serious dent to his career in the process.

Wrecked automobiles on both sides of the street lay at odd angles and glass and bits of vehicle body parts littered the road; Kadlec had gotten boozed up and careered his SUV down the street, smashing and ramming as he went, to damage a total 51 vehicles. He caused over 2,000,000Kč (£70,000 in 2020) worth of damage but thankfully no casualties.

So what caused this cop to go haywire? Shamefully enough, he was actually on leave at the time due to a drink-driving accident the previous year, and on that occasion, he was caught driving without insurance too.

Kadlek had told reporters after that: “This is something I’d never like to experience again.

Just months later however he realised his career was about to come to an ignominious end, so he went out with a bang.

It was the day before Kadlec was due to face a disciplinary tribunal that Kadlec went berserk, yet after, he apologised for what he had done.

It didn’t save his career, however, his bosses had no choice than to fire him. Rumours are that his next job was a security guard, at a carpark.

Kadlek under arrest after being brought to a halt (dailymail.co.uk)
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Woman Survives 10,000m Freefall, 1972

Find out how one woman survived a 10,000 metre freefall when her plane was blown out of the sky by terrorists.

It was 2:30pm on the 26 of January, 1972 and Serbian flight attendant Vesna Vulovic was at Copenhagen Airport waiting to board a DC 9 aircraft of JAT Flight 367

I saw all the passengers and crew deplane.” She remembered “One man seemed terribly annoyed. It was not only me that noticed him either. I think that was the man who put the bomb in the baggage.”

Airborne ninety minutes later Vesna’s life would be turned upside down and she’d enter the record books in the process.

Vesna was in the back of the aircraft with a food cart when the aforementioned bomb, planted by Croatian Nationalists, went off. It tore through the luggage compartment 10,000m (33,000ft) mid-air, ripping away the tail section. Sadly, the other 27 passengers and crew perished as the plane disintegrated.

Surely the massive plunge to earth was a fatal one, yet Vesna’s fate wasn’t for her to join her late colleagues. Vesna was incredibly fortunate in that, whereas the others on the plane were sucked out of the fuselage, she was pinned inside the tail by the heavy food cart.

The tailpiece plummeted to earth and landed at an angle in a heavily wooded and snow-covered mountainside in Czechoslovakia, which cushioned the impact. Vulović’s physicians later concluded that her history of low blood pressure caused her to pass out quickly after the cabin depressurised and kept her heart from bursting on impact.

Vesna probably didn’t feel incredibly fortunate when she regained consciousness; she had sustained two broken legs, three broken vertebrae, a fractured pelvis, broken ribs, and a fractured skull. She couldn’t recall the event at all but eventually went on to make a good recovery. Vesna’s 10,000m free-fall without a parachute is a world record.

Image showing how Flight 367 plunged to earth in Czechoslovakia (twitter.com)

Sarah Ann Henley’s Unplanned Parachute Jump, 1885

Unlike the hundreds before and after, one woman survived jumping into the chasm of Avon Gorge from the bridge that spans it. Find out what quirk of fashion saved Ms Henley from her attempt to end her life.

The city of Bristol, UK, is a charming place in England’s West Country. It’s famous for a number of things; Massive Attack, Concorde, Banksy, Aardman Animations and… the Clifton Suspension Bridge.

This iconic structure was designed by the great engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel and completed in 1864. It spans the craggy Avon Gorge and thousands of ships have passed under its grand arch, sailing along the river Avon over the decades since.

Unfortunately, it also acquired a reputation as a place to end one’s life, with around 400 despairing souls who’ve scaled the railings before plummeting to their deaths 75 m (245 ft) below.

And so, Sarah Ann Henley’s story comes to light: On a Summer’s day in 1885 this distraught young woman made her way up through Clifton’s streets of fine townhouses to make her way along to the middle of the bridge, sobbing as she went. She stopped and peered down, contemplating her next move with a deep gulp.

Earlier she had got a letter from the man she loved and was engaged to marry, a porter for the Great Western Railway. In it, he announced his intention to break off their engagement and, in the depths of despair she made the rash decision to end it all. She climbed over the railings and onto the parapet and, before onlookers could rush to intervene, she flung herself off.

Fate had a twist for her however. As was the style of the time she was wearing a crinoline skirt — a stiff petticoat designed to hold out a woman’s skirt. Witnesses claimed that a billowing effect created by an updraft of air beneath her skirt acted as a parachute of sorts to slow her fall, misdirecting her away from the water and instead onto the river’s muddy banks. Two passers-by rushed to her assistance and found her in a state of severe shock, but alive nonetheless.

They escorted her to the refreshment rooms of the nearby railway station and from there she was taken to hospital to recover. Sarah Ann put the incident behind her and went on to marry Edward Lane in 1900 and lived to the age of 85.

Ms Henley, the bridge she leapt from and the crinoline skirt which acted as her parachute (thevintagenews.com)
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Woman Breaks £30,000 Bracelet, Told to Pay, Faints, 2017

You know the rule; ‘you break it, you buy it’. But what happens when you break something worth over £30,000? Read on to find out.

The late evening breeze kept the humidity a notch above oppressive in Ruili city which is located in the Chinese Yunnan Province on the Myanmar border.

A slim, middle-aged woman with neck length hair, a blue short-sleeved blouse patterned with light flowers and dark blue trousers was arrested in her tracks as she ambled past a row of vendors, shops and stalls.

The wide-eyed tourist hailed from far away and like any visitor sought out the city’s sights, scenes and wares on offer. This hapless lady was about to pull off the worst ‘you broke it you buy it’ gaffe in living memory.

She peered into a shop and its owner bowed his head and smiled pleasantly in greeting. The vibrant colours of gems, precious stones and metals almost made her eyes pop out of her head in delight. The shop owner’s smile remained fixed as he looked on.

She admired the stock and asked questions here and there. Perhaps because they were closest to hand her gaze settled on the collection of bracelets under the counter.

She asked to take a closer look at one and marvelled at it, a green, glassy, opaque and rounded thing of beauty. ‘It’s one of my prized items, I only wish I could give it to my wife as a gift!’ declared the man on the other side of the counter proudly.

She slipped it onto her wrist, enjoying the cool, glass-like feel of it against her skin. ‘So how much is it?’ The owner took a short breath before he answered.

The bracelet was in fact one made of Jade, a generic term for two different gemstones, nephrite and jadeite. Known to humans for 7000 years, to the Chinese Jade symbolises good health and long life and can be worth more than solid gold.

‘For you madam, the price is 300,000 yen’ (£35,000 in 2020)

She stared back in stunned silence before wrenching the priceless article off.

In her haste to remove it, however, the smooth gemstone slipped from her fumbling fingers. Then, almost in slow motion it seemed, hit the floor and snapped in half.

She gasped, clutching her face and barely registered the jabbering between the shop staff in her disbelief. The shop owner was dismayed. ‘You must pay!’.

The shop staff clamoured around her and picked up the broken jade piece. The poor woman began to tremble, turned a sickly pale, then fainted, overcome by what she had got herself into.

A crowd gathered around the commotion, as crowds tend to do, and one person tried to revive her with a pinch to the upper lip whilst another supported her sagging body. She was taken to hospital to recover.

It was a financial disaster. After she came around, The shop owner offered a reduced price of 180,000 yen to settle the breakage but all she could afford was 10,000 yen — not even close to an acceptable offer for the store owner.

Eventually an agreement was made; independent valuers weighed in and valued the broken bracelet at 190,000 yen which the woman’s family agreed to pay.

That is one wonderful family; one can only assume that come the Chinese New Year family get together the woman was on washing up duty.

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