5 Clever Convicts Who Flew the Coop

While we would never condone breaking out of the joint, we can't help but be impressed with these folks, who did so using brains (and dental floss) over brawn.

1. FedEx-Con

While in jail, accused murderer Jean-Pierre Treiber worked in the prison's stationery manufacturing department. In September 2009, Treiber constructed a cardboard box like he did many times during his shift. But instead of filling it with paper and pens, he crawled inside himself. Sitting among the other boxes to be delivered to a nearby store, his box was loaded onto the truck without hesitation. Once on the road, Treiber cut through the tarp covering the truck bed and hopped out, disappearing into familiar the countryside where he had worked as a forestry warden before his imprisonment. Thanks to fellow inmates covering for him, prison guards didn't notice Treiber was missing for nearly seven hours, giving him a head start on the massive manhunt that followed. While out of prison, he repeatedly contacted a French political magazine by mail to proclaim his innocence, saying he broke out because he was frustrated with French law. No amount of publicity, though, could keep the police from pursuing him, and he was eventually captured three months later near Paris.

2. Once, Twice, Three Times a Chopper...

According to one of the coolest Wikipedia pages ever—List of Helicopter Prison Escapes—the first guy to use a chopper to break out of prison was Joel David Kaplan in 1971. Kaplan might have been the innovator, but Pascal Payet took the idea to a whole new level.

payet_chopperWhile awaiting trial for a 1997 robbery and murder, Payet and some outside accomplices first used a whirlybird in October 2001 to enable his escape from a high-security compound in the south of France. Now free, he didn't just jet off to some tropical island and live out his days, though. Instead, he helped coordinate the helicopter escape of three other criminals from the exact same prison in 2003. When he was finally captured in 2005, he received a 30-year sentence for his initial crimes, then had an additional 13 years tacked on for the two helicopter stunts. But, hey, if it worked twice, why not a third time? In July 2007, Payet escaped from a prison in Grasse, France, using a helicopter again. He was recaptured a few months later in Spain, and is still behind bars...for now.

3. Do They Get Netflix in Prison?

shawshank1Using only a thick gauge wire, it took weeks for Jose Espinosa, convicted of manslaughter, to scrape the mortar away from the cinder blocks on the outside wall of his cell. He then broke up the bricks using a 10-pound shut off wheel from a water pipe and hid the chunks in his footlocker. All his hard work resulted in a 16" x 18" hole just big enough to squeeze through. In the cell next to his, Otis Blunt, who was being held on weapon and robbery charges, was using the same tools to burrow his way into Espinosa's cell. The two of them planned to make a break for it together.

How do you conceal these excavation projects from the watchful eyes of New Jersey County prison guards? You take a cue from Hollywood—The Shawshank Redemption, to be exact—and cover your escape plan with photos of pin-up girls in bikinis. But unlike Andy and Red, these escapees did not live happily ever after. Both were captured just a few weeks later and sent back to prison. Believe it or not, but they pleaded Not Guilty to escape charges.

4. 4 out of 5 Escapees Recommend It

Dental floss is pretty tough stuff. So tough, it's been used in some surprising ways for clever jailbreakers to gain their freedom.

One such fellow was Scott Brimble, who, in 2002, was serving a 64-day sentence in a Washington jail for not properly registering as a sex offender. He complained of being claustrophobic, so was given more time in the exercise yard. However, he used this time wisely by slowly sawing away at a fence using dental floss and toothpaste, which acted as an abrasive. Soon he had cut through enough of the fence he was able to pry it open and escape.

Another guy, Robert Shepard, convicted of manslaughter and armed robbery, traded cigarettes to other inmates for as much dental floss as he could get his hands on. He wove the floss into an 18-foot long rope about the thickness of a telephone cord and used it to climb over a wall. As a result, the state of Maine quickly prohibited the sale of all dental floss inside prisons, inspiring one jailbird to sue for "stress and anxiety over the inability to fight tooth decay."

5. "I Wanna Be A Toys 'R' Us Crook!"

Jeffrey Manchester was sent to jail for drilling through the roof of fast-food restaurants and then, after closing time, dropping in to rob the safe. Then he broke out of prison in June 2004 by hiding in the undercarriage of a delivery truck, concealing himself with a piece of cardboard held in place by magnets that attached to the truck's frame. But it was after he escaped that his true ingenuity shined through.

While on the lam, Manchester chose a most unusual hiding place—a Toys 'R' Us store in a strip mall. Every night for months, he'd tuck himself into a cubbyhole behind the bicycle display until the store closed. Then he'd steal baby food off the shelves for dinner and ride the bikes around the store for exercise. The next morning, he'd walk right out as though he were any other customer, but always returned each evening.

circuit_cityAs the holiday season approached, the Toys 'R' Us became more crowded, increasing his chances of getting caught. So, Manchester moved next door to the abandoned Circuit City. Using drywall and paint, he built himself a small apartment carefully concealed beneath a stairwell. He also constructed a secret, hidden door that allowed him easy access between the two buildings.

Soon after the move, Manchester decided to rob the Toys 'R' Us safe. He took a video baby monitor off the Toys 'R' Us shelf and set it up inside the store, so he could watch the nightly closing routine from the comfort of his apartment. He had planned to isolate the staff, clear out the safe, and make his escape through the secret door. That night, though, two employees slipped out the back and called police. A chase ensued and Manchester panicked, leaving through his escape hatch where police found his empty hide-out. Thanks to a fingerprint he'd left on a paint can, police were able to identify him and the manhunt began.

His picture was recognized by officials at a local church who called him "John"—a new congregation member known for giving toys to kids. "John" was dating a fellow church member who had no clue she was seeing an escaped convict. A sting operation used his new girlfriend as bait, and Manchester was re-arrested without a struggle when he showed up for her 40th birthday party.

Bonus: Sometimes It's Just This Easy

Finally, this prison escape doesn't involve any special tools, advanced planning, or even opposable thumbs (or a prison). Here's a panda in a zoo making its escape by getting a boost from a friend. As for the booster: Better luck next time, pal!

Michael Campanella/Getty Images
10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
Michael Campanella/Getty Images
Michael Campanella/Getty Images

Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. And the man holds nearly 20 honorary doctorates (in addition to his real one). In honor of his 59th birthday, here are 10 of our favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes.


"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.


"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." 
—From Space Chronicles


"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes ... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms."
—From Death by Black Hole


"Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.)
—From Space Chronicles



"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'"
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit


"In [Titanic], the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs ... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?"
—From Death by Black Hole


"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death."
—From Space Chronicles


"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do."
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit


Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html
Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."


A still from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Studios

"[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader."
—From Death by Black Hole

How Apple's '1984' Super Bowl Ad Was Almost Canceled

More than 30 years ago, Apple defined the Super Bowl commercial as a cultural phenomenon. Prior to Super Bowl XVIII, nobody watched the game "just for the commercials"—but one epic TV spot, directed by sci-fi legend Ridley Scott, changed all that. Read on for the inside story of the commercial that rocked the world of advertising, even though Apple's Board of Directors didn't want to run it at all.


If you haven't seen it, here's a fuzzy YouTube version:

"WHY 1984 WON'T BE LIKE 1984"

The tagline "Why 1984 Won't Be Like '1984'" references George Orwell's 1949 novel 1984, which envisioned a dystopian future, controlled by a televised "Big Brother." The tagline was written by Brent Thomas and Steve Hayden of the ad firm Chiat\Day in 1982, and the pair tried to sell it to various companies (including Apple, for the Apple II computer) but were turned down repeatedly. When Steve Jobs heard the pitch in 1983, he was sold—he saw the Macintosh as a "revolutionary" product, and wanted advertising to match. Jobs saw IBM as Big Brother, and wanted to position Apple as the world's last chance to escape IBM's domination of the personal computer industry. The Mac was scheduled to launch in late January of 1984, a week after the Super Bowl. IBM already held the nickname "Big Blue," so the parallels, at least to Jobs, were too delicious to miss.

Thomas and Hayden wrote up the story of the ad: we see a world of mind-controlled, shuffling men all in gray, staring at a video screen showing the face of Big Brother droning on about "information purification directives." A lone woman clad in vibrant red shorts and a white tank-top (bearing a Mac logo) runs from riot police, dashing up an aisle towards Big Brother. Just before being snatched by the police, she flings a sledgehammer at Big Brother's screen, smashing him just after he intones "We shall prevail!" Big Brother's destruction frees the minds of the throng, who quite literally see the light, flooding their faces now that the screen is gone. A mere eight seconds before the one-minute ad concludes, a narrator briefly mentions the word "Macintosh," in a restatement of that original tagline: "On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like '1984.'" An Apple logo is shown, and then we're out—back to the game.

In 1983, in a presentation about the Mac, Jobs introduced the ad to a cheering audience of Apple employees:

"... It is now 1984. It appears IBM wants it all. Apple is perceived to be the only hope to offer IBM a run for its money. Dealers, initially welcoming IBM with open arms, now fear an IBM-dominated and -controlled future. They are increasingly turning back to Apple as the only force that can ensure their future freedom. IBM wants it all and is aiming its guns on its last obstacle to industry control: Apple. Will Big Blue dominate the entire computer industry? The entire information age? Was George Orwell right about 1984?"

After seeing the ad for the first time, the Apple audience totally freaked out (jump to about the 5-minute mark to witness the riotous cheering).


Chiat\Day hired Ridley Scott, whose 1982 sci-fi film Blade Runner had the dystopian tone they were looking for (and Alien wasn't so bad either). Scott filmed the ad in London, using actual skinheads playing the mute bald men—they were paid $125 a day to sit and stare at Big Brother; those who still had hair were paid to shave their heads for the shoot. Anya Major, a discus thrower and actress, was cast as the woman with the sledgehammer largely because she was actually capable of wielding the thing.

Mac programmer Andy Hertzfeld wrote an Apple II program "to flash impressive looking numbers and graphs on [Big Brother's] screen," but it's unclear whether his program was used for the final film. The ad cost a shocking $900,000 to film, plus Apple booked two premium slots during the Super Bowl to air it—carrying an airtime cost of more than $1 million.


Although Jobs and his marketing team (plus the assembled throng at his 1983 internal presentation) loved the ad, Apple's Board of Directors hated it. After seeing the ad for the first time, board member Mike Markkula suggested that Chiat\Day be fired, and the remainder of the board were similarly unimpressed. Then-CEO John Sculley recalled the reaction after the ad was screened for the group: "The others just looked at each other, dazed expressions on their faces ... Most of them felt it was the worst commercial they had ever seen. Not a single outside board member liked it." Sculley instructed Chiat\Day to sell off the Super Bowl airtime they had purchased, but Chiat\Day principal Jay Chiat quietly resisted. Chiat had purchased two slots—a 60-second slot in the third quarter to show the full ad, plus a 30-second slot later on to repeat an edited-down version. Chiat sold only the 30-second slot and claimed it was too late to sell the longer one. By disobeying his client's instructions, Chiat cemented Apple's place in advertising history.

When Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak heard that the ad was in trouble, he offered to pony up half the airtime costs himself, saying, "I asked how much it was going to cost, and [Steve Jobs] told me $800,000. I said, 'Well, I'll pay half of it if you will.' I figured it was a problem with the company justifying the expenditure. I thought an ad that was so great a piece of science fiction should have its chance to be seen."

But Woz didn't have to shell out the money; the executive team finally decided to run a 100-day advertising extravaganza for the Mac's launch, starting with the Super Bowl ad—after all, they had already paid to shoot it and were stuck with the airtime.

1984 - Big Brother


When the ad aired, controversy erupted—viewers either loved or hated the ad, and it spurred a wave of media coverage that involved news shows replaying the ad as part of covering it, leading to estimates of an additional $5 million in "free" airtime for the ad. All three national networks, plus countless local markets, ran news stories about the ad. "1984" become a cultural event, and served as a blueprint for future Apple product launches. The marketing logic was brilliantly simple: create an ad campaign that sparked controversy (for example, by insinuating that IBM was like Big Brother), and the media will cover your launch for free, amplifying the message.

The full ad famously ran once during the Super Bowl XVIII (on January 22, 1984), but it also ran the month prior—on December 31, 1983, TV station operator Tom Frank ran the ad on KMVT at the last possible time slot before midnight, in order to qualify for 1983's advertising awards.* (Any awards the ad won would mean more media coverage.) Apple paid to screen the ad in movie theaters before movie trailers, further heightening anticipation for the Mac launch. In addition to all that, the 30-second version was aired across the country after its debut on the Super Bowl.

Chiat\Day adman Steve Hayden recalled: "We ran a 30- second version of '1984' in the top 10 U.S. markets, plus, in an admittedly childish move, in an 11th market—Boca Raton, Florida, headquarters for IBM's PC division." Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld ended his remembrance of the ad by saying:

"A week after the Macintosh launch, Apple held its January board meeting. The Macintosh executive staff was invited to attend, not knowing what to expect. When the Mac people entered the room, everyone on the board rose and gave them a standing ovation, acknowledging that they were wrong about the commercial and congratulating the team for pulling off a fantastic launch.

Chiat\Day wanted the commercial to qualify for upcoming advertising awards, so they ran it once at 1 AM at a small television station in Twin Falls, Idaho, KMVT, on December 15, 1983 [incorrect; see below for an update on this -ed]. And sure enough it won just about every possible award, including best commercial of the decade. Twenty years later it's considered one of the most memorable television commercials ever made."


A year later, Apple again employed Chiat\Day to make a blockbuster ad for their Macintosh Office product line, which was basically a file server, networking gear, and a laser printer. Directed by Ridley Scott's brother Tony, the new ad was called "Lemmings," and featured blindfolded businesspeople whistling an out-of-tune version of Snow White's "Heigh-Ho" as they followed each other off a cliff (referencing the myth of lemming suicide).

Jobs and Sculley didn't like the ad, but Chiat\Day convinced them to run it, pointing out that the board hadn't liked the last ad either. But unlike the rousing, empowering message of the "1984" ad, "Lemmings" directly insulted business customers who had already bought IBM computers. It was also weirdly boring—when it was aired at the Super Bowl (with Jobs and Sculley in attendance), nobody really reacted. The ad was a flop, and Apple even proposed running a printed apology in The Wall Street Journal. Jay Chiat shot back, saying that if Apple apologized, Chiat would buy an ad on the next page, apologizing for the apology. It was a mess:


In 2004, the ad was updated for the launch of the iPod. The only change was that the woman with the hammer was now listening to an iPod, which remained clipped to her belt as she ran. You can watch that version too:


Chiat\Day adman Lee Clow gave an interview about the ad, covering some of this material.

Check out Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld's excellent first-person account of the ad. A similar account (but with more from Jobs's point of view) can found in the Steve Jobs biography, and an even more in-depth account is in The Mac Bathroom Reader. The Mac Bathroom Reader is out of print; you can read an excerpt online, including QuickTime movies of the two versions of the ad, plus a behind-the-scenes video. Finally, you might enjoy this 2004 USA Today article about the ad, pointing out that ads for other computers (including Atari, Radio Shack, and IBM's new PCjr) also ran during that Super Bowl.

* = A Note on the Airing in 1983

Update: Thanks to Tom Frank for writing in to correct my earlier mis-statement about the first air date of this commercial. As you can see in his comment below, Hertzfeld's comments above (and the dates cited in other accounts I've seen) are incorrect. Stay tuned for an upcoming interview with Frank, in which we discuss what it was like running both "1984" and "Lemmings" before they were on the Super Bowl!

Update 2: You can read the story behind this post in Chris's book The Blogger Abides.

This post originally appeared in 2012.


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