51 Times That Greed Took Over And Turned People Into Monsters
By | November 23, 2019
Georgia Tann kidnapped close to 5,000 children between 1924 and 1950
We like to think that most people are inherently good, that they’ll do the right thing when the time comes, but when money enters the picture everything changes. You’ll find in these stories that when greed takes over people will do whatever they have to for a little bit of money… whether it’s get rid of a loved one or attempt to kidnap themselves. Greed can get its claws in anyone regardless of who their parents are or how they grew up, and more often than not a person driven by greed will meet a terrible end. The following stories of unsavory acts caused by greed will shock you to the core and make you think about how far you would go for a few extra bucks.
Be warned… these stories aren’t for the faint of heart. Viewer Discretion Advised.
Adoption can be a beautiful thing, but when people take advantage of the adoption system it’s absolutely awful. Georgia Tann was a woman who stole and sold an estimated 5,000 children between 1924 to 1950. She used the Tennessee Children’s Home Society as a place to funnel stolen children to new families. Initially she took children from poor families whom she felt had too many mouths to feed. After she ran out of families Tann started nabbing kids from maternity wards before bribing doctors to tell their parents that the baby didn’t survive. Tann skimmed money from the payments that came in from families who were adopting the children and by the time the authorities cracked down on her she had about a million dollars from her scam. Before she could be prosecuted for the crimes Tann passed away from uterine cancer.
The Menendez Brothers did away with their parents to get an early crack at their inheritance
The Mendendez Brothers grew up with everything a kid could want. Their parents made sure they went to the best schools, had the best clothes; they lived in the lap of luxury. Eric and Lyle Menendez felt that their father, José, pushed them harder than they deserved to be pushed and they didn’t care that he grew up with nothing. Driven by their desire for their parent’s money they allegedly shot both of them over and over at point blank range and attempted to cover up the crime in order to inherit their father’s money.
Rather than lay low the two brothers started living large. They bought cars, a restaurant, and flashy jewelry; the authorities were suspicious but they didn’t have proof that the young men killed their parents. It wasn’t until Erik Menendiz admitted their crimes to his therapist that the two men were finally arrested. Their crime started a long and strange court battle that spearheaded a wave of interest in true crime.
Jack Gilbert Graham blew up a plane to collect life insurance
There are disturbing crimes and then there are crimes that are unsettling that are also just so deeply idiotic. After dropping his mother off for United Airlines Flight 629 Graham purchased $37,500 (equivalent to $350,000 in 2018) in life insurance money at the terminal. Unknown to everyone but him, his mother had a dynamite powered bomb in her luggage that went off and killed his mother at 43 other people. Graham wasn’t an ace criminal so the FBI were able to put together his former criminal record with the fact that he bought all that insurance right before his mother died and they brought him in with little trouble. was executed in the Colorado State Penitentiary gas chamber on January 11, 1957. Graham’s last word before he was executed on January 11, 1957, he refused to admit remorse:
As far as feeling remorse for these people, I don't. I can't help it. Everybody pays their way and takes their chances. That's just the way it goes.
Amy Gilligan ran a private nursing home where she poisoned her patients
The allure of the life insurance policy is something that’s long been the crown jewel of many black widows and serial killers, but Amy Archer-Gilligan takes the cake when it comes to monsters ripping people off for their money. In 1901 Gilligan opened a private nursing home in Windsor, Connecticut where she had her elderly patients sign away their life insurance policies before treating them with tonics and “nutritious” meals.
Amy "Sister" Archer-Gilligan owned a private nursing home in Windsor, Connecticut where she served her aging guests nurturing tonics and nutritional meals. In return, they signed over to her their life insurance policies and large sums of money right before they died, or so she wanted the police to believe after she became suspected of foul play. In reality Gilligan was slowly poisoning the residents of her institute and cashing in on their policies. In 1916 she was arrested for the murder of a single person and sentenced to hang, but after a reversal she was tried again and plead guilty to second-degree murder. She served out most of her sentence in a state mental institution until she passed away in 1928.
James Bernard Schafer and his “immortal baby”
Religious cults come and go, but few of them are predicated on such a ridiculous claim as the “immortal baby,” James Bernard Schafer's pet project that was meant to create a baby that lived forever. It’s unclear if the child was ever supposed to grow up, but that’s not important because it’s likely that Schafer didn’t think through his claim and just wanted to extract as much money out of his followers as possible. Founded in the 1920s, the Royal Fraternity of the Master Metaphysicians was a money grab by Schafer who wanted his members to not only pay to be a part of the church but to give him money to help prove that “Baby Jean” was an immortal. You know, normal cult stuff.
In order to join the group “believers” had to pay $250 in 1940, which adds up to about $4,000 thanks to inflation. Essentially Schafer believed that negative thoughts caused death and old age, and if he could raise a child to never feel negative emotions he’d create a race of immortal, very happy babies. It’s not clear if he actually thought he could pull this off or if he was just trying to make money, but if you’ve noticed we’re not living in a world of immortal children so his plan didn’t work out. Schaffer later committed suicide with his wife in their car, never having created an immortal baby.
Ronald Clark O'Bryan ruined Halloween for everyone in 1974
The urban legend of the “candyman,” an evil neighbor who poisons the children who come to his home on Halloween comes from a real story that occurred over Halloween in 1974. Ronald Clark O’Bryan was hoping to connect the life insurance policies that he took out on the his children so he handed out five poisoned Pixie Stix that evening, two of them to his children. After his son Timothy ate his candy that evening his health took a turn for the worse and he died from cyanide poisoning.
O’Bryan put on a good face, but after the police found out that he took a life insurance policy on his children they arrested him and things went south. Houston detective Harold Nassif said:
I found an adding machine tape. It had all of his bills written out next to the numbers on an adding machine tape. It came to almost the exact amount of what he stood to collect. He was just very cold and calculating. He saw a means to an end to get out of debt and it's as simple as that. Halloween will never be the same. Not like it was before this happened.
A jury took less than an hour to find O’Bryan guilty and he was executed on March 31, 1984.
John List wiped out his family to get rid of his debt
Everyone hits hard times, but while most people pick themselves up and try to turn things around John List had a full on breakdown and did away with his family so he could start a new family. After losing his job as an accountant List was at a loss for what to do. He didn’t tell anyone that he’d been fired, instead he just spent his days at the train station while siphoning money off of his mother’s bank accounts, but on November 9, 1971 he made a drastic call.
That morning he woke up and had breakfast with his family for the last time. That afternoon he shot and killed each member of his family - his wife, her mother, and his three children - before arranging their bodies in the living room of his 19 room mansion and calling his children’s schools to let them know that the kids would be out of town. Then he just left. By the time the authorities checked in on the List family and discovered what had happened List was long gone.
In 1989 the FBI created a bust of what List would look like nearly 20 years afterwards and they showed the photo of it on America’s Most Wanted, it only took a few days for a hit. List was discovered in Virginia under the name of “Bob Clark” and working as an accountant. List was arrested and charged with five counts of first-degree murder and on April 11, 1990 he was found guilty on all five counts of first-degree murder.
H. H. Holmes used a murder hotel to rob his victims of thousands of dollars
There are easier ways to make a boat load of money than operating a hotel where the guests check in but they don’t check out. H. H. Holmes was a scoundrel at best and something just above a demon at worst. While he carried out a series of schemes throughout his life, his most horrific crime was the hotel that he operated during the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. During the fair he ran a hotel full of doors that opened to nowhere, hallways that cycled back on one another and rooms that had pipes in them so Holmes could pump them full of gas in order to drop the guests like flies.
Holmes confessed to killing 27 people during his run at the World’s Fair and at the time he continued to steal money from them, sell their bodies for science, and run any number of lonely hearts scams. Holmes was hanged on May 7, 1896, following the murder of one of his associates and prior to his death he said:
I was born with the very devil in me, I could not help the fact that I was a murderer, no more than the poet can help the inspiration to song, nor the ambition of an intellectual man to be great. The inclination to murder came to me as naturally as the inspiration to do right comes to the majority of persons.
The Chicago Tylenol murders put a hefty price on human life
September and October 1982 was two months of fear for Chicagoland citizens when word broke that bottles of Tylenol were poisoned with cyanide. A rash of deaths across the area led to massive returns of the drug as Johnson & Johnson pulled the pain medication from the shelves. Who would do something like this? Why would they do something so awful? Money. James Williams Lewis reached out to Johnson & Johnson and said that he’d keep poisoning random bottles of Tylenol unless they gave him $1 million. The FBI grabbed him pretty much immediately on extortion charges because they couldn’t prove that he actually poisoned the medication. He spent the next 13 years in prison and by the time he was released Johnson & Johnson changed their packaging to make it less easy to tamper with.
Irene and Arthur Seale attempted to extort millions of dollars out of Exxon after kidnapping one of their executives
On April 29, 1992, the president of Exxon Co., Sidney Reso, stepped out of his driveway to begin his workday but as he backed his car onto the street a white van pulled up and blocked his exit. Driven by Irene Seale and her husband Arthur, the couple hopped out of the van and wrestled Reso into the van before peeling out of the upscale New Jersey neighborhood. During a struggle in the van Arthur shot Reso in the arm before the couple took the executive to a rental storage locker to bind and gag Reso.
While Reso spent his days bound in the storage facility the Seales attempted to extort $18.5 million dollars out of his family and the Exxon corporation. It’s safe to say to that the Seales were inept at best at the kidnapping and extortion racquet. Their first attempt at contacting Exxon didn’t work out so they sent a second note to the corporation and signed it “Rainbow Warriors,” a name that implicated Greenpeace in the crime. While the authorities chased after the environmental rights group the Seales went into panic mode as Reso died from complications due to the wound sustained from the fight in the van.
The Seales continued their game of terrible cat and mouse for months, they wanted the millions they felt they deserved for abducting Reso and it didn’t matter if he was dead. By June there were hundreds of FBI agents on the case and later that month the couple was brought in by the authorities. When the couple went to trial Irene plead guilty and received 17 years in prison, after Arthur plead not guilty he was given 95 years in federal prison.
Frank Sinatra Jr. was ransomed back to his father for a quarter of a million dollars
Who in the world would try to kidnap the chairman of the board’s son? Famously mob connected and living with a deep ocean of rage, why would anyone try to kidnap this guy’s son? On December 8, 1963, Barry Keenan and Joe Amsler weaseled their way into Harrah’s Club Lodge in Lake Tahoe and snatched the 19-year-old Sinatra out of his dressing room. On December 10 the kidnappers requested $240,000 in ransom and rather than balk at the payment the FBI told him to just give them the money and let them do the rest. Sinatra Sr. did as the kidnappers told him to and he dropped the cash in between two school busses. After the cash was gone Sinatra Jr. was set free and the kidnappers were almost immediately caught. During the trial of Keenan and Amsler the defense argued that this was something done by Sinatra, but it’s hard to imagine Frank doing that to his own son.
Velma Margie Barfield did away with her problems with arsenic
You know when someone’s bothering you about paying back all the money you owe them? Don’t you just wish you could get them out of your life? Velma Margie Barfield had a very specific way of making sure she stayed debt clean; she fed her victims arsenic and put them down after stealing their money. By 1965 she started ripping off her husband and feeding him arsenic after he suffered a car accident and got heavily into drinking. After he passed away the family’s house mysteriously caught fire and she collected an insurance check.
She carried out another poisoning in August 1970 when her marriage to Jenning Barfield dissolved. He passed away from heart failure that year and shortly afterwards her home mysteriously caught fire again. Afterwards Barfield took jobs as a caregiver for local families in North Carolina and two of the couples who hired fell suddenly ill and passed away, then when her boyfriend Stuart Taylor caught her forging checks in his names he passed away from a mysterious illness. An anonymous tip led to the police investigating his body where they found traces of arsenic from rat poison in his system. Barfeld went down quickly and she confessed to four murders before she was given a death sentence. She was put to death by lethal injection on November 2, 1984.
John Edward Robinson aka "Slavemaster" made the internet a dangerous place
John Edward Robinson is a jack of all awful trades. He kidnaps, he steals, and he cons - he’s the worst. Robinson was first arrested in 1969 after embezzling $33,000 from the medical practice of Dr. Wallace Graham where he was employed as an X-ray tech after using false credentials. In the ‘70s he became a scoutmaster, a baseball coach and a Sunday school teacher, and throughout the decade he was pulling off a series of low rent embezzlements - he even pretended to open a hydroponics business so he could steal $25,000 from a friend.
After starting two fraudulent companies in 1984 Robinson disappeared his 19-year-old assistant Paula Godfrey, and while it’s never been proven that he murdered her it’s likely that she’s one of his many victims. After going to prison for fraud in the ‘80s Robinson started using the screen name “Slavemaster” in the ‘90s and he used it to lure multiple women to his home in Kansas City where he cashed their pension checks before doing away with them. He was finally arrested in 2000 for the murder of five women, and while the authorities knew that he was responsible for even more, he refused to cop to the claims and received a life sentence without possibility of parole.
Nussbaum and Wilcoxson were two of the most brazen bank robbers of the 1960s
They may not be as memorable as the Barrow gang or John Dillinger, but in the early 1960s Albert Nussbaum and Bobby Wilcoxson went on a spree where they robbed eight banks while piling up an insane amount of weapons. After meeting in an Ohio prison they robbed their first bank in Buffalo in December 1960 with a slew of homemade outfits created to hide their guns. As the duo became more brazen they started building their own bombs to throw off the cops, unfortunately when one of them didn’t go off it basically handed their fingerprints to the FBI on a silver platter. That didn’t stop them from continuing their spree. After robbing a few more banks the two men agreed to go their separate ways and that’s when things went upside down. In 1962 Nussbaum was caught after calling his estranged wife (she helped the FBI catch up with him) and Wilcoxson was caught with his girlfriend. The two men were sentenced to life in prison in 1964.
Abraham Shakespeare won the lottery and went missing
Abraham Shakespeare was a truck driver’s assistant in Lakeland, Florida who won $30 million from the Florida Lotto and opted to take a $17 million lump sum of which he used to buy a house, a Nissan Altima, and a used Rolex. It’s not a bad haul, but his newfound fortune brought awful luck as jealous family members conspired to get Shakespeare out of the way and steal his money. He won the money in 2006, and on November 9, 2009, Dorice "Dee Dee" Moore reported Shakespeare missing, stating that she had’t seen him since April of that year and that while she initially thought he was in the Caribbean she thought something bad had happened to him. The police didn’t bat an eye at this and assumed she’d done something to Shakespeare. Before reporting Shakespeare to the police Moore siphoned off quite a bit of cash from her victim but in January 2010 his body was found buried under a concrete slab in the backyard of one of her acquaintances. Moore was convicted of his murder and is now serving life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The "Bling Ring" ripped off celebrities throughout Hollywood
For the young people who made up the “bling ring,” the crew of young thieves who broke into the homes of their famous friends and targets, there was nothing worse than not being rich. The group: Rachel Lee, Diana Tamayo, Jonathan Ajar, Alexis Neiers, Nick Prugo, Courtney Ames and Roy Lopez Jr. wanted to live it up like Hollywood stars but instead of work hard, go to auditions, or apply themselves they decided to throw themselves into a life of crime. They robbed stars like Paris Hilton, Rachel Bilson, Orlando Bloom, and Lindsay Lohan. Throughout 2008 and 2009 the young thieves were living large and wearing the clothing and jewelry that they lifted from the stars. After Prugo’s face was caught on a surveillance camera the entire thing came crumbling down. Members of the group were charged with residential burglary and after initially pleading not guilty the members of the group changed their pleas and served between one and two years in prison.
Samuel Bronfman III may have kidnapped himself
We’ve all heard it, money changes everything. Children born into a family with a pile of money feel like they deserve the cash even if they didn’t work for it. It’s unclear if Samuel Bronfam III tried to ransom himself for a taste of his father’s fortune, but it wouldn’t be the craziest thing that’s ever happened. On August 9, 1975, the heir to the Seagrams fortune, Samuel Bronfman II was kidnapped in a scheme that was straight out of a soap opera. After he was taken from his home Bronfam was forced to film his own ransom demand on videotape before it was delivered to his father. Bronfamn’s abductors wanted $2.3 million to secure the young man’s return. The moment that his father paid the ransom Bronfam the third was discovered in a nearby apartment in the company of a New York City fireman Mel Patrick Lynch.
Lynch and his co-conspirator Dominic Byrne claimed the the kidnapping was set up by Bronfam who was in a sexual relationship with Lynch at the time. That was never proven, but Lynch and Byrne were acquitted of kidnapping while being found guilty of extortion. As for Bronfam, he was skipped over as heir to the family’s fortune in favor of his younger brother.
The family behind "The Amityville Horror" sued their way out of a large sum of money
Haunted house stories are always fascinating, and even if they tend to be bogus (we’re not ruling everything out), the people behind them are rarely trying to get rich. The same can’t be said for the Lutz family - the New Jersey folks who survived the Amityville horror house. Once they started experiencing paranormal activity in the house the family immediately went to Good Housekeeping to speak about what happened, along with that came a book deal. When The Amityville Horror was released in 1977 the story changed so much from the initial tale that it had grown from outlandish to downright fiction.
After several articles were posted as a way to debunk the Amityville story the Lutz family filed a $4.5 million lawsuit against the the New York Sunday News and the Hearst Corporation, and for their trouble they were slapped with a $2 million lawsuit alleging fraud and breach of contract. When the lawsuit was heard in 1979 the judge for the case said that much of the story sounded like fiction, while William Weber (the attorney for Butch DeFeo) simply stated that he and the Lutz family concocted the story over “many bottles of wine.” If the Lutz family just would have kept their mouth shut they could have gotten a piece of that Amityville pie, instead he passed away without getting a percentage of the story he helped create.
Charles Manson was driven by greed in his efforts to burn through everyone he knew
People tend to think of Charles Manson as the creepy, racist cult leader behind the Manson Family, and that’s a totally fair assessment. But he was also driven by greed above all else. Not only did he was to have as much money in his pockets as possible, but he wanted to use other people to fill his coffers. Manson put the women in the Manson Family to work as prostitutes and thieves, and his scheme worked for a while. He managed to live rent free at the home of Beach Boy Dennis Wilson for months before Wilson stopped paying rent and had Manson evicted. Whenever someone new came into the family Manson had them turn over their worldly possessions, and if they had any family money he took that too. Manson may have been a fine cult leader but he wasn’t able to keep things together and by 1969 he was stuck on Spahn Ranch with his family planning a series of brutal murders that would change the world forever.
Janie Lou Gibbs was a philanthropic serial killer
Not all serial killers are of the cannabilistic, boys in the floorboards sort; some of them like to donate money to their local church. From 1965 through 1967 Janie Lou Gibbs took out life insurance policies on her husband, her children, and one of her grandchildren before poisoning them all with arsenic. In 1965 she put arsenic in her husband’s dinner which sent him to the hospital. Then she brought over some homemade soup in order to seal the deal. After he passed away the doctors concluded that he died from a liver disease, she cashed the check and donated a hefty portion to her church in Cordele, Georgia.
Eight months later Gibbs poisoned her youngest son and the scenario played out identically down to the donation. In 1967 Gibbs poisoned her 16-year-old son and doctors thought that he passed away from a muscular disease. With only her 19-year-old son and a grandson left Gibbs poisoned both of them within one month of each other. After all of these deaths the family physician finally suggested that something was amiss. When the police started looking into the deaths surrounding Gibbs they saw how much arsenic was ingested by the men in her life and quickly brought her in. Gibbs was given five life sentences but was paroled in 1999 after receiving a diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease. She passed away on February 7. 2010.
The abduction of the Lindberg baby gripped the nation
The Lindbergh baby kidnapping was one of the first cases to take hold of the American media. After Charles Lindbergh Jr. went missing on March 1, 1932 just after his first birthday people were glued to the papers to see if any news about the child was bubbling up. At the time Charles Lindbergh was one of the most famous people in the world after flying across the Atlantic Ocean in 1927 and everyone wanted to help him find his son. President Hoover allegedly kept an eye on the case, and word is that while in prison Al Capone offered help from his underworld connections.
Ransom notes continued to come in from the kidnappers with a constantly rising amount of money. What started at $50,000 grew to $70,000, but the people behind the crime had bungled it from the start. Charles Jr. was killed in transport so there was no way to deliver on their promises. The ransom money was paid with $40,000 in gold certificates, after FDR pronounced that all gold certificates be returned this allowed the FBI to center in on areas were gold certificates were being spent. They found Bruno Richard Hauptmann in the Harlem area.
Hauptmann was picked up outside his home in 1934 and he was indicted on charges of extortion on September 26, 1934, and on October 8, 1934, in Hunterdon County, New Jersey, he was indicted for murder. The trial lasted for over a month and in spite of the mostly circumstantial evidence Hauptmann was found guilty of first degree murder.
Killer grannies Helen Golay and Olga Rutterschmidt terrorized Santa Monica
Everyone wants to spend their retirement living in style, but in order to do that you’ve got to have plenty of dough. What Helen Golay and Olga Rutterschmidt lacked in retirement funds and 401Ks they more than made up for in devious designs. The two elderly women (they were both in their 70s) put homeless people up in apartments, fed them and gave them every kindness that they could while taking life insurance policies out on them. Then, after a few years of taking care of them, the women would kill them in hit and run incidents before claiming their bodies and making millions of dollars over the course of a few years.
In 2005 a detective looking into the case of one of Golay and Rutterschmidt’s charges realized that the women were enacting the same crime over and over without notice and finally in 2006 the LAPD stepped in to make an arrest. After a short trial the women were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Christopher Hightower after doing away with an entire family for a few thousand dollars
Chris Hightower was a Sunday school teacher in Barrigton, Rhode Island who needed money. One of Hightower’s jobs was as a broker who handled small commodities accounts for the Brendels, so he should have known that the family didn’t have a lot of money to give him. He had his sites set on robbing them blind. On September 21, 1991, Hightower approached Ernest Brendel with the intention of asking him for money, and if that didn’t work out he was just going to rob him.
Hightower’s life was in a tailspin and he approached the Brendel’s home and did away with the family. Hightower started using the Grendel’s credit cards immediately and he even started driving around in their car while asking for a ransom but no one could give him the $75,000 that he wanted so he continued to freak out. After the bodies of the Brendels were discovered in November Hightower was quickly tied to the deaths and after he was indicted he received life without parole.
Nannie Doss did away with all of her husbands to gain their life insurance policies
Just because someone looks like a sweetheart doesn’t mean that inside they’re not completely despicable. From the 1920s to 1954 Doss did away with four out of five of her husbands and while authorities believe that she did the same to some of her relatives they were never able to prove the crimes. After getting out of her first marriage she entered into a 16 year union with Frank Harrelson and during their time together she likely offed her grandchildren before mixing a mystery substance into Harrelson’s moonshine, ending his life in World War II.
Over the course of the next 10 years Doss did away with her husband and family members without anyone noticing until her final husband, Samuel Doss, who told her that she could only watch television shows with educational content. Nannie Doss was set to receive two life insurance payouts from her latest husband, but after the coroner discovered a large amount of arsenic in Samuel Doss’s body Nannie was arrested in 1954. Nannie blamed her murder spree on a childhood brain injury, but none the less she was given a life sentence.
The Ogden Hi-Fi murders were a brutal crime that shocked Utah
We often think that we’re safe when we’re shopping, nothing bad can happen when we’re just in a store, right? On April 22, 1974, while a disparate group of strangers were shopping for electronics when they were set upon by two burly men who submitted them to horrible tortures all in the name of stealing $24,000 of stereo equipment. The two men who burst into the shop took everyone captive and forced them to drink drain cleaner before shooting them execution style. One victim, Orren Walker, survived thanks to wild luck and he was able to help the police put the two robbers and their getaway driver behind bars.
In an frightening twist, the three men who robbed the hi-fi store were all from the nearby Air Force base, and were able to use their military training to force their victims to drink drain fluid against their wishes. The two robbers received the death penalty and their driver served 13 years in prison.
Dorothea Puente was a killer granny who made thousands a month from killing her boarders
The amount of elderly women who’ve pulled off pension and life insurance scams is mind boggling, was someone giving out handbooks to black widows to people who grew up in the Depression? Dorothea Puente ran a boarding house in Sacramento, California in the early ‘80s where she took in elderly and mentally ill people in exchange for signing over their Social Security checks - it’s believed that this practice brought in more than $5,000 a month of the elderly killer. After she was finally brought to justice the police came to the conclusion that she accomplished nine murders, and they believe that there were six more victims but they were never able to confirm those deaths. Boarders need not worry, Puente will be spending the rest of her life in prison.
Jonestown started as a money-grab for Jim Jones and turned deadly
The Jonestown massacre is one of the worst mass murders to be committed in the 20th century, but before Jim Jones forced his followers to swallow cyanide laced Flavor-Aid he sucked them dry of their money so he could live a luxurious life of drugs and guns. From the onset of the People’s Temple, Jones was taking money from his congregation under the auspices of building a church. While he technically followed through on his promises - he built a church and created a community for his flock, he was also using that money to make a wild amount of personal purchases that ranged from bribing officials to buying his famous sunglasses, and massive amounts of prescription medication that he brought with him to Guyana. Supposedly Jones had taken enough money from his congregation to be able to make a $7 million donation to the Soviet Union.
Stella Nickell poisoned Excedrin so she could get her husband's life insurance
Inspired by the Tylenol poisoning that took Chicago by storm in 1982, Stella Nickell thresher hat in the ring as one of America’s most greedy criminals. Her spree started on June 5, 1986 when her husband popped four extra-strength Excedrin and collapsed a few minutes later. His death was ruled to be natural causes, because his death occurred a year after Stella took a life insurance policy out on him the police didn’t say boo. Six days later a woman named Sarah Snow passed away in a similar manner after taking extra-strength Excedrin tablets. Investigators grew suspicious and when they searched Nickell’s home they found two bottles of Excedrin, each of them had been tampered with. It wasn’t until Nickell’s daughter came forward with information about her mother checking out a book poisoning from the library that the police had any actual evidence. After her indictment Nickell was saddled with two 90 year terms, one for each death.
Sante Kimes and her son tried to get $10 million out of an elderly New York widow
Sante Kimes spent a lifetime on the grift, but not because she needed the money. While she was stealing cars and mink coats she was married to a California real estate mogul, she just liked living a life of crime. In the 1980s she served five years in prison after the maids working for her and her husband complained that they were living in slave-like conditions.
After getting out of prison the Kimes family went on an international trip that lasted until Mr. Kimes passed in 1994 - that’s when people around Sante started dropping like flies. In the time between the passing of her husband and her arrest Ms. Kimes was suspected of arson, robbery, and forgery. In 1998 Ms. Kimes and her son attempted to take over an elderly woman’s townhouse on East 65th Street. After strangling the owner of the townhouse Ms. Kimes disposed of the woman’s body in various spots across the city. Ms. Kines was convicted of the murder and a second killing in 2004, which earned her 126 years in prison. She passed away in jail in 2014.
Graverobbing was big business in the 19th century
There’s a lot of talk about the gig economy these days, but it’s a major part of the economy since the 19th century. At the time folks weren’t driving for ride share companies but instead they were stealing fresh bodies from cemeteries. In the late 1800s medical students needed fresh bodies to practice on and enterprising people were happy to help them out. In some instances medical students robbed the graves themselves, but if they had the cash they weren’t against just buying them off of the numerous rakes who were more than happy to make some extra bucks by committing one of the most mind boggling crimes in history. It sounds horrible, but graverobbing was a thriving business that finally came to an end in the 20th century, decades after it was considered a normal practice.
Dr. Thomas J. Hicks sold babies on the black market
Doctor Hicks wasn’t a monster in the way that someone like Georgia Tann was a monster, but he did make quite a bit of money off of selling newborn babies on the black market. He ran a secret abortion clinic out of a yellow brick building in a small town in Georgia, and in some cases he would take extra money to sell unwanted infants on the black market. No one knows how many children he sold or how much money he made, and while he helped a lot of families there are plenty of these former “black market” babies who’ve grown into adults wondering who their parents are. One woman whose parents purchased her from Hicks expressed shock at the whole situation saying:
Knowing that this was all illegal. I mean, I know my parents. My parents would not do this, OK? They wouldn’t even throw a piece of paper out the window of their car. No way. And they drove down in the middle of the night? Only had this many hours to come get a baby. Got me through a window! Holy cow. ‘And do not contact anyone,’ they said to them, ‘we’ll forge you a birth certificate.’ And they did this?
Richard Allen Minsky was a creep who extorted thousands of dollars from women he picked at random
It’s everyone’s fear: the phone rings and a voice on the other end says something nasty. Is it someone you know, or is it a stranger? Richard Allen Minsky preyed on people for decades, and while the police first caught onto him in 1982 they believe he started calling up women and creeping them out in the late ‘70s. Basically, Minsky cold called people and waited for one of the women he picked to accidentally give him enough information for him to pose as an attorney who was representing one of their loved ones. Minksy would convince the women to either pay a bribe in cash or sex to him - this series of sexual assault and extortion went on for years. The authorities don’t know how many women Minsky assaulted and extorted but they believe that in 1998 he ripped off $50,000 from women in Los Angeles and San Diego over the course of three months. He finally received a life sentence on March 29, 2001.
Louis "Buddy" Musso spent his last days being tortured for his life insurance
Life insurance money isn’t meant to sustain a group of people for a long period of time, it’s a way to keep a family afloat after the loss of a loved one. That’s why when treacherous people kill someone for their life insurance money they either have to make a living out of these crimes or they end up snatched by the cops. In 1998 Suzanne Basso and five other awful people tortured and murdered the mentally disabled Lou “Buddy” Musso a couple of weeks after he moved in with Sue. The six pieces of human trash held Musso captive for days, burning him with cigarettes until they left him in a bathtub with bleach and kitchen cleaner. They then dropped off his boby in Galena Park, Texas where he was discovered by a jogger. Sue Basso hoped to collect the whopping $65,000 dollars from Bud’s life insurance, instead the ringleader of the crimes was sentenced to death after the police caught up with her.
Mary Elizabeth Wilson inherited small amounts of money from her deceased lovers
Not every killer who murders for money gets super rich over their crimes. Some of them, like Mary Wilson, made a nominal amount of money off of offing multiple husbands. Her first husband John Knowles passed away in November 1955 and she waited an entire five months before remarrying in 1956. Both men were believed to have passed away from natural causes and she inherited around £42.
When it came to marriage number three Wilson waited a whole 12 days to poison her husband and she brought in £50 - wow. She really hit it big on her fourth husband when he left her £100, a bungalow and life insurance. After getting four husbands under her belt the world was aware of what she was up to. Local gossip brought her crimes to light to the police and they exhumed the bodies of each of her husbands to find high levels of phosphorus. Wilson was sentenced to death after going to trial, but her advanced age warranted a life sentence.
Stuart Alexander committed murder for meat
Sausage men are serious about their business, and when it comes to keeping costs down they’ll do whatever they can to make a few extra bucks. Stuart Alexander was the heir of the Santos Linguisa Sausage Factory in San Leandro, California, when he took over the business he started a long and dreadful fight with the USDA that ended in murder. While bickering with the USDA Alexander posted a sign outside his factory stating:
To all of our great customers, the USDA is coming into our plant harassing my employees and me, making it impossible to make our great product. Gee, if all meat plants could be in business for 79 years without one complaint, the meat inspectors would not have jobs. Therefore we are taking legal action against them.
If things had just stayed at this level this would just be a fun story, but on June 21, 2000, Alexander shot and killed the two USDA inspectors and a state inspector who entered his factories. In 2004 tried to claim insanity but he was convicted on three counts of first-degree murder on October 19, 2004. He passed away from a pulmonary embolism on December 27, 2005.
In 1920 a coal company went to war with its workers
Before regulations were introduced to the coal business, mine owners did pretty much whatever they wanted to their employees without fear of retribution from the federal government. They employed children in dangerous jobs, sent men underground for criminal amounts of time, and paid them so little that many coal workers were in debt to their companies for food and housing. One of the most horrific things that happened to coal workers took place on May 19, 1920, in Matewan, West Virginia when a gun fight broke out between a pro-union sheriff and mayor and a group of cads from the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency. In just 15 short minutes 10 people lost their lives - seven detectives, two miners and the mayor. Various versions of this fight continued on for months as coal miners struck out at their companies, and it took FDR stepping in to put an end to the bloodshed.
John Paul Getty III was actually kidnapped after years of joking that he was going to fake his own abduction
You know that thing where you joke about something so much that you will it into existence? John Paul Getty III may have done that with his own abduction after years of joking that he wanted to fake his own kidnapping so he could get some money out of his grandfather. In July 1973 16-year-old John Paul Getty III was kidnapped while he was on a trip to Rome with the guys behind it asking for $17 million. When J. Paul Getty refused to pay the kidnappers sent over the boy’s ear. This inspired Getty’s grandfather to offer $2.2 million because that’s all he could legally write off. He finally upped he ransom to $2.9 million and after he paid nine Italian kidnappers were arrested but much of the ransom money was in the wind. Still, Getty had his grandchild back and that was nice, right?
Richard Boggs worked with a group to steal the identity of a dead man
No matter how good a scheme is it’s rarely perfect. Criminals with well thought out schemes are brought down by minor issues with their plan, but the plan that Richard Boggs laid out with a couple of friends for collecting on the $1.5 million in life insurance that his friend Melvin Hanson had taken out was full of holes. On April 16, 1988 Boggs, a neurosurgeon, lured a 32-year-old man into his office before taking him down with a stun gun and suffocating him with Hanson. Then, he swapped out his victim’s information with Hanson’s and called the police.
He claimed that the man was Hanson and that he passed away in the middle of an examination. As you might imagine the police didn’t believe Boggs, mostly because he claimed that the examination took place at five in the morning. The police called Boggs’ business partner, John Hawkins, who backed up the killer’s story likely because he planned the crime.
Once the police closed the case Hawkins cremated the body and disappeared, but his casing of $1 million worth of life insurance checks led to speculation from the federal government and the three men were tracked down. Boggs and Hanson were convicted of Greene's murder and multiple counts of fraud, earning life sentences while Hawkins received a lighter sentence that saw him gain parole in 2010.
Lucille Miller years after she set her husband on fire for his life insurance policy
The double indemnity clause on most life insurance policies ensures that your loved ones will receive a double payout if they pass away through accidental means. It’s also one of the leading excuses behind black widows killing their husbands. On October 8, 1964, Lucille Miller found out just how sweet that payout could be when she killed her husband in their Volkswagon Beetle. She claimed that they accidentally struck a dog while driving to the grocery store and the car caught on fire. Thanks to the fact that she was receiving a $140,000 payout the police realized that she killed her husband. She was sentenced to life in prison but in 1971 she was released on parole. Her next run in with the law came when she attempted to steal a $7 blouse.
Alfred Leonard Cline, the “Buttermilk Bluebeard”
Bluebears have long been the scourge of scorned women. They lull them into believing the they’re safe and sound, in love even, before taking them for all their worth and sometimes even killing them. Cline is a fascinating study in a criminal because he was never actually convicted of murder even though he probably (read: definitely) killed his wives. Cline often married women of status, convinced them to put their possessions in his name and had them drink classes of buttermilk full of sedatives. Once the women passed away Cline bribed local doctors to state that the women passed away from heart failure. After taking women for more than $82,000 he was put away for forgery but not for murder. No matter, because he served 126 years in Folsom Prison before passing away from a heart attack in August 5, 1948.
The Murders of Bernice and Ben Novack Jr. were made to avoid a prenuptial agreement
Narcy Novack was the wife of hotelier Ben Novack Jr. and in an attempt to get at his fortune she hired hitmen to beat her husband and mother-in-law to death so she could have their fortune to herself. According to the courts Novack didn’t act alone - they believe that she worked together with Alejandro Gutiérrez-García, Joel González, and Denis Ramírez to participate in both murders. While Novack could have just divorced her husband to leave the relationship she only would have gotten $65,000, but if he died she was set to receive a large portion of Novack’s estate which included a hefty collection of Batman memorabilia. At the age of 56 Novack was given a 27 year sentence for her part int he crimes.
Sidney Harry Fox took out a life insurance policy on his mother so he could kill her
Life insurance scams have been around since the idea of making putting the cost of a life on someone, and in 1927 Sidney Harry Fox illustrated just how anyone can turn into an absolute monster in an attempt to get a little money out of a loved one. Fox and his mother were both traveling thieves. They moved from town to town in England cashing hot checks and stealing what they could to survive. Fox even married a woman in order to kill her for £6000. Fox was divorced and imprisoned in 1929, and once he was released he asked his mother to take out a will in his favor. Why she would do this directly after he tried to kill someone for insurance money is confusing at best, but she did it anyway, and in October 1929 he strangled his mother to death before setting her room on fire in order to stage her murder scene. The authorities knew that Fox was a rat from his previous crimes and he was hanged Maidstone Jail on April 8, 1930.
Shawn Bentler wiped out his family to gain their fortune
Shawn Bentler had a leg up on most of society. He was born into a well to do Iowa family, and rather than work hard to continue his family’s success he took the short route and brutally snuffed out his parents, grandparents, and sister in an attempt to get his grubby mitts on his inheritance. In 2002 Bentler moved from Bonaparte, Iowa to Quincy, Illinois to attend JWCC, but in the early hours of October 14, 2006, he stormed into his parent’s home with a .22-caliber rifle and took five members of his family out one at a time. Bentler was out away with five consecutive life sentences thanks to a 911 call from his sister where she said her brother was “going to do something” and the fact that when Bentler took the stand he said that he had stolen from his parents and hated his father.
Belle Gunness disappeared before she could be tried for her crimes
There’s no way of knowing exactly how many people Belle Gunness killed but authorities were able to round up at least 14 bodies that belonged to her. This killer woman started her spree in 1884 and mixed up her murders with some arson in order to gain insurance money on a candy shop and her home. In that time she also killed one of her husbands by smashing in his skull and claiming that a meat grinder fell on him. After her home burned down authorities discovered the remains of multiple bodies on her property and realized that she’d dismembered many of her victims. Gunness was never caught after her home burned down she was believed to be dead but there were sightings of her long after she was believed to have passed away.
William Palmer was the "Prince of Poisoners"
Known as the “Prince of Poisoners” after his crimes came to light, William Palmer went out of his way to kill nearly everyone around him including family members and friends. After using strychnine to brother and mother-in-law he defrauded his mother of thousands of pounds only to blow all of his money on horse races. In 1855 Palmer poisoned his friend John Cook similarly to how he took out his four children and while no one batted at an eye at those deaths what with the infant mortality rate and all, Cook was a grown man and not one to just keel over. Palmer was convicted of murder in 1856 and hung after a short trial in the Old Bailey.
Henri Landru never met a widow he couldn’t defraud
After Henri Landru was ripped off by his boss while in his early 20s he decided to throw himself into a life of crime where he preyed on recently widowed women. He persuaded them to invest in whatever scheme he could think of and then take off with their money; he wasn’t particularly great at ripping women off and he served multiple prison sentences between 1900 and 1914.
As World War I raged in Europe Landru placed ads in the “lonely hearts” columns where he described himself as a widower with two children and a “comfortable income,” and when women fell for his scheme he was cavalier about disposing of their bodies and taking off with whatever money and jewelry they had on them. From 1914 to 1919 he racked up 11 victims but his luck ran out when one of his victim’s sisters tracked him down with the police and they dug up the grounds around his villa. The authorities discovered hundreds of human bone fragments which was definitely enough evidence to bring him in. He was found guilty on November 29, 1921, and he was sent to the guillotine on February 25, 1922.
Ruth Snyder tried to off her husband seven times
Some people are just good at getting their friends and family to kill themselves and Ruth Snyder is one of those people. In 1925 she convinced her husband to take out life insurance to the tune of $48,000 along with a double indemnity clause (and you thought you’d stop reading about that). She then started an on the side relationship with a married corset salesman. After Snyder took out insurance on her husband he survived seven attempts on his life but on March 20, 1927, she and her beau garroted her husband and shoved a chloroformed soaked rag in his mouth.
Snyder claimed that a burglar broke into her house and killed her husband, but her behavior was inconsistent with that of someone who suffered a break in and there was little evidence of anyone trying to rob the place. What items she claimed were stolen were actually hidden in the house and she was quickly brought in by the authorities. On January 12, 1928, Snyder became the first woman to be executed in Sing Sing since Martha Place was electrocuted in 1899.
The Deptford poisoning cases were a boon for insurance policies
Poisoning has been the way to get rid of someone for money or pleasure for as long cads have been getting rid of their enemies. In the 19th century there was a rash of poisonings carried out by Amelia Winters and her daughter Elizabeth Frost. The duo set up multiple insurance policies for the people they knocked off and throughout 1888 and 1889 they purchased 20 insurance policies and five of the people whom they purchased policies for passed away.
The thing that differentiates this case from other poisonings of the era is that Winters and Frost purchased insurance policies for people they weren’t related to. Apparently the insurance companies didn’t check on whether the women were related or not. After the women were could Winters passed away before she could be sentenced and Frost served seven years in prison.
Judy Buenoano took out anyone who got in her way
While most black widow style killers stick to one M.O. Judy Buenoano liked to change things up when she did her work. The beginning of her very long crime spree got its start with the 1971 murder of her husband James Goodyear, from there it’s unclear who she killed next. Officially her next kill was in 1978 when she took out her boyfriend Bobby Joe Morris in Colorado in 1978, but she’s believed to be involved in the a 1974 murder in Alabama.
Over the course of her history in crime she poisoned people, blew up their cars, and gave them “vitamin pills” which were actually full of arsenic and formaldehyde. Buenoano received a series prison sentences for her various crimes: a life sentence for a death of a husband here, a few years for insurance fraud there, a couple of years for arson, and the death penalty for another murder. She was truly an accomplished criminal.
Reed Slatkin loved to make shirtless deals
Regardless of the church, pastors tend to be more trustworthy when they’re in a group and not striking out on their own. From 1975 to 1984 Reed Slatkin was an ordained minister in the Church of Scientology but in ’84 he went out on his own to take on his own “investment clients.” After going all loan wolf Slatkin started bringing in money from his investors and then having them bring in money in from investors below them to make some kind of wacky pyramid scheme. From 1986 to 2001, Slatkin raised approximately $593 million from about 800 wealthy investors and in May 2001 the SEC shut down his scam. Slatkin took in Scientologists and non-believers alike for a series of various scams and while it’s not clear what he offered, it’s likely that the opaque nature of his schemes was purposeful.
Mary Ann Cotton was the poison queen of the 19th century
Mary Ann Cotton was your classic serial killer who wiped people out for insurance money, but Cotton was an overachiever and it’s believed that she murdered nearly 21 people - at least 11 of them her 13 children. More often than not Cotton used arsenic to get rid of her targets, likely because she enjoyed the pain it caused the victims. Over the course of her spree she knocked off four husbands and two lovers, wracking up a hefty amount of cash in the process. The rumor mill did Cotton in, and the police started investigating her after stories of her family members disappearing and they discovered that she had a habit of losing people close to her. After her conviction a local paper published this report:
After conviction the wretched woman exhibited strong emotion but this gave place in a few hours to her habitual cold, reserved demeanour and while she harbours a strong conviction that the royal clemency will be extended towards her, she staunchly asserts her innocence of the crime that she has been convicted of.
Cotton was hanged at Durham County Gaol on March 24, 1873, by William Calcraft. It was reported that she died from strangulation and not from her neck breaking. It’s likely that this was deliberate.