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7 Fugitives who Became Folk Heroes

Last week, in the wake of the arrest of Colton Harris-Moore and his surprising internet fandom, we took a look at what made some criminals into folk heroes in the manner of the legendary Robin Hood. Five factors stood out in case after case:

1. The outlaw is a victim of injustice from authorities, and is paying back the favor.
2. The outlaw helps common people.
3. The outlaw is sacrificing his life for a political stance.
4. The outlaw does things the average Joe would love to try, if he had the courage.
5. The outlaw's outlandish adventures provide entertainment like a long-running serial.

Let's see how these factors contributed to the celebrity status of a few more outstanding cases. One thing that immediately arises is that factor one, paying back "the man" for unfair treatment, can be experienced vicariously. If the police or the victims of crime can be seen as oppressors to the masses or just having an unfair edge, then it doesn't matter whether the criminal himself experienced a particular injustice.

1. Attila Ambrus

After some notice as a hockey player, Attila Ambrus committed 29 robberies of banks, post offices, and travel agencies in Hungary between 1993 and 1999. Millions cheered on his crime spree, as they saw him as the "Hungarian Robin Hood" and his robberies as a redistribution of wealth (vicarious factor one) from corrupt authorities to the everyday man. Banks were state owned until 1989, after which some fell into the hands of corrupt entrepreneurs. Ambrus never killed anyone, but he never gave away any of his ill-gotten gains, either. He was dubbed the "Whiskey Robber" because he had a shot at a nearby bar before his robberies, and the "Gentleman Bandit" because he treated bank tellers politely, even flirting with them. Ambrus' sports background, good looks, and popularity among women fed his reputation (factor four). After he was arrested in 1999, he escaped from prison by tying bed sheets together. Ambrus committed a few more robberies and fed his public relations machine, which gathered fans on an internet site and started negotiations for the movie rights to this story (factor five). He was rearrested and is in prison in the Satoraljaujhely maximum security prison.

2. John Dillinger

John Dillinger got himself into plenty of trouble with the law early in his life, but didn't rob his first bank until 1933, at the height of the Depression. His spectacularly daring prison escape afterward made a great story for the newspapers and radio. From then on, he was destined to become a legend. In 1933-34, most ordinary citizens were hurting for cash, and the banks were seen as one of the causes of their misery (vicarious factor one). The police were also seen as oppressors, especially after the experience of Prohibition just a few years before. Dillinger and his gang were blamed for (or credited with) more bank robberies than they could have possibly committed. Dillinger's status as Public Enemy #1 only elevated his stardom among ordinary citizens. It's true that Dillinger was generous with his proceeds (factor two), but it wasn't an altruistic campaign -a tiny sliver of bank robbery proceeds went a long way in convincing everyday people to protect the gang. Dillinger was living a 1930s version of the American Dream, as honest work didn't pay off nearly as well as theft (factor four). A newsreel about the case was shown in theaters, and federal authorities were outraged at the public's reaction.

Movie audiences across America cheered when Dillinger's picture appeared on the screen. They hissed at pictures of D.O.I. special agents. When he heard the news, D.O.I. Director J. Edgar Hoover was outraged . He put the town of Mooresville under surveillance, and threatened to prosecute the Dillinger family unless they cooperated with the D.O.I.

Dillinger's very public death at the hands of federal agents in front of the Biograph Theater in Chicago made a fitting climax to the epic story (factor five) of a man who dared to stick it to authorities (factor one).

3. Bucky Phillips

Ralph James "Bucky" Phillips escaped from prison in April of 2006, only a week short of completing his sentence for parole violation. Police suspected he was behind the shooting of three police officers in two separate incidents while he was on the run. One New York state trooper died from his injuries. One day after Phillips was put on the FBI's Most Wanted List, he was captured on September 8, 2006. A couple of months later, he pleaded guilty to murder and attempted murder, and was sentenced to 40 years to life. During the months Phillips was on the run, he became somewhat of a folk hero not for anything he did personally, but for the way police pursued him (vicarious factor one). New York residents were annoyed at the intrusive nature of the investigation. Phillip's family was harassed. State troopers stopped a couple of men in the woods, ex-Marines Bradley Horton on an ATV and Peter Krupa on a dirt bike. The two men rode off, and police opened fire, shooting Horton in the back five times. Horton died later that night. Police denied the shooting was related to the search for Phillips, but other reports contradict that stance. While Phillips was at large, t-shirts were being sold that said "Run, Bucky Run!" and his supporters set up the Bucky Phillips Defense Fund. The site lists many irregularities in the case, although it does not proclaim his innocence.

4. D.B. Cooper

A man calling himself Dan Cooper, later known as D.B. Cooper, held a planeload of passengers hostage with what appeared to be a homemade bomb in 1971. His goal wasn't an alternate destination or terrorism, but money. Cooper demanded $200,000 and two parachutes, which were delivered when the plane landed in Seattle. He allowed the passengers to leave the plane, then ordered the crew to fly at a low altitude to Mexico City. Over the Lewis River outside of Portland. Oregon, Cooper jumped out of the plane with one parachute and a briefcase full of cash. He was never seen again. Some of the money was found in 1980, 40 miles from the site of the search for Cooper, but it may have washed down the river. Meanwhile, the story of D.B. Cooper grew into legend. The mystery of the story gave rise to several possible endings (factor five), and many men claimed to be Cooper over the years. We can imagine that he was killed and his body scattered over the countryside, eaten by animals, or just dead but never found. We can also imagine him in some tropical country, enjoying margaritas and smiling to himself (factor four).

5. Gregorio Cortez

Gregorio Cortez was born in Mexico but grew up in south Texas. Two sheriffs were looking for a Mexican horse thief in 1901. During questioning at Cortez' home, the officers shot at Cortez and wounded his brother. Cortez shot back, killing one officer in what could be considered self-defense depending on your point of view, and ran away. Police arrested Cortez' family members. A posse found Cortez' hiding place, and a gunfight left two more lawmen dead. Cortez was only on the run for ten days, but became a polarizing force in south Texas, as one group wanted to lynch him and the another defended him, citing the unfair treatment Mexicans received from police (factor one). Cortez' supporters continued to fight for a pardon after he was convicted. Cortez was released after receiving a conditional pardon in 1913, joined the cause of the Mexican Revolution (factor three), and died of pneumonia in 1916. To this day, some say he was the original horse thief and others say he was purely a victim of racism.

6. Billy Miner

Ezra Allen Miner, who went by the name Bill, was nicknamed "the Gentleman Bandit" because he was polite and considerate as he held up stagecoaches and trains in the Old West in between adventures in other countries (factor four). He is credited with the origin of the familiar phrase, "Hands up!" Miner became a folk hero in Canada after he was arrested for the robbery of a Canadian Pacific Railway train in 1906. The company was very unpopular at the time (vicarious factor one), and Canadians lined the railway to cheer Miner on as authorities transferred him to prison. Miner never killed anyone, and he spent a large portion of his adult life in prison. He had a couple of wild escapes (factor five) under his belt before he died in the Georgia State Penitentiary in 1913.

7. Tampa Bay Mystery Monkey

A rhesus macaque dubbed the Tampa Bay Mystery Monkey has been on the loose in Florida for over a year. The monkey is not charged with any crime, but has been seen stealing food from homes and trash cans in the area around Tampa Bay. This monkey has become first a local, then a national legend as he evades capture time and time again. His Facebook page shows him to have over 80,000 fans! You can buy a Mystery Monkey t-shirt to  show your support. Although not technically a criminal, the monkey is a fugitive, and his folk hero status is due to factor five, because his escapes and antics have proven to be quite entertaining.

These stories have been drastically shortened for this article, you should follow the highlighted links to learn more about these and other outlaw folk heroes. Also see the previous article, Outlaws as Folk Heroes.

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13 Fascinating Facts About Nina Simone
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Nina Simone, who would’ve celebrated her 85th birthday today, was known for using her musical platform to speak out. “I think women play a major part in opening the doors for better understanding around the world,” the “Strange Fruit” songstress once said. Though she chose to keep her personal life shrouded in secrecy, these facts grant VIP access into a life well-lived and the music that still lives on.

1. NINA SIMONE WAS HER STAGE NAME.

The singer was born as Eunice Waymon on February 21, 1933. But by age 21, the North Carolina native was going by a different name at her nightly Atlantic City gig: Nina Simone. She hoped that adopting a different name would keep her mother from finding out about her performances. “Nina” was her boyfriend’s nickname for her at the time. “Simone” was inspired by Simone Signoret, an actress that the singer admired.

2. SHE HAD HUMBLE BEGINNINGS.


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There's a reason that much of the singer's music had gospel-like sounds. Simone—the daughter of a Methodist minister and a handyman—was raised in the church and started playing the piano by ear at age 3. She got her start in her hometown of Tryon, North Carolina, where she played gospel hymns and classical music at Old St. Luke’s CME, the church where her mother ministered. After Simone died on April 21, 2003, she was memorialized at the same sanctuary.

3. SHE WAS BOOK SMART...

Simone, who graduated valedictorian of her high school class, studied at the prestigious Julliard School of Music for a brief period of time before applying to Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music. Unfortunately, Simone was denied admission. For years, she maintained that her race was the reason behind the rejection. But a Curtis faculty member, Vladimir Sokoloff, has gone on record to say that her skin color wasn’t a factor. “It had nothing to do with her…background,” he said in 1992. But Simone ended up getting the last laugh: Two days before her death, the school awarded her an honorary degree.

4. ... WITH DEGREES TO PROVE IT.

Simone—who preferred to be called “doctor Nina Simone”—was also awarded two other honorary degrees, from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Malcolm X College.

5. HER CAREER WAS ROOTED IN ACTIVISM.

A photo of Nina Simone circa 1969

Gerrit de Bruin

At the age of 12, Simone refused to play at a church revival because her parents had to sit at the back of the hall. From then on, Simone used her art to take a stand. Many of her songs in the '60s, including “Mississippi Goddamn,” “Why (The King of Love Is Dead),” and “Young, Gifted and Black,” addressed the rampant racial injustices of that era.

Unfortunately, her activism wasn't always welcome. Her popularity diminished; venues didn’t invite her to perform, and radio stations didn’t play her songs. But she pressed on—even after the Civil Rights Movement. In 1997, Simone told Interview Magazine that she addressed her songs to the third world. In her own words: “I’m a real rebel with a cause.”

6. ONE OF HER MOST FAMOUS SONGS WAS BANNED.

Mississippi Goddam,” her 1964 anthem, only took her 20 minutes to an hour to write, according to legend—but it made an impact that still stands the test of time. When she wrote it, Simone had been fed up with the country’s racial unrest. Medger Evers, a Mississippi-born civil rights activist, was assassinated in his home state in 1963. That same year, the Ku Klux Klan bombed a Birmingham Baptist church and as a result, four young black girls were killed. Simone took to her notebook and piano to express her sentiments.

“Alabama's gotten me so upset/Tennessee made me lose my rest/And everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam,” she sang.

Some say that the song was banned in Southern radio stations because “goddam” was in the title. But others argue that the subject matter is what caused the stations to return the records cracked in half.

7. SHE NEVER HAD A NUMBER ONE HIT.

Nina Simone released over 40 albums during her decades-spanning career including studio albums, live versions, and compilations, and scored 15 Grammy nominations. But her highest-charting (and her first) hit, “I Loves You, Porgy,” peaked at #2 on the U.S. R&B charts in 1959. Still, her music would go on to influence legendary singers like Roberta Flack and Aretha Franklin.

8. SHE USED HER STYLE TO MAKE A STATEMENT.

Head wraps, bold jewelry, and floor-skimming sheaths were all part of Simone’s stylish rotation. In 1967, she wore the same black crochet fishnet jumpsuit with flesh-colored lining for the entire year. Not only did it give off the illusion of her being naked, but “I wanted people to remember me looking a certain way,” she said. “It made it easier for me.”

9. SHE HAD MANY HOMES.

New York City, Liberia, Barbados, England, Belgium, France, Switzerland, and the Netherlands were all places that Simone called home. She died at her home in Southern France, and her ashes were scattered in several African countries.

10. SHE HAD A FAMOUS INNER CIRCLE.

During the late '60s, Simone and her second husband Andrew Stroud lived next to Malcolm X and his family in Mount Vernon, New York. He wasn't her only famous pal. Simone was very close with playwright Lorraine Hansberry. After Hansberry’s death, Simone penned “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” in her honor, a tribute to Hansberry's play of the same title. Simone even struck up a brief friendship with David Bowie in the mid-1970s, who called her every night for a month to offer his advice and support.

11. YOU CAN STILL VISIT SIMONE IN HER HOMETOWN.

Photo of Nina Simone
Amazing Nina Documentary Film, LLC, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

In 2010, an 8-foot sculpture of Eunice Waymon was erected in her hometown of Tryon, North Carolina. Her likeness stands tall in Nina Simone Plaza, where she’s seated and playing an eternal song on a keyboard that floats in midair. Her daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly, gave sculptor Zenos Frudakis some of Simone’s ashes to weld into the sculpture’s bronze heart. "It's not something very often done, but I thought it was part of the idea of bringing her home," Frudakis said.

12. YOU'VE PROBABLY HEARD HER MUSIC IN RECENT HITS.

Rihanna sang a few verses of Simone’s “Do What You Gotta Do” on Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo. He’s clearly a superfan: “Blood on the Leaves” and his duet with Jay Z, “New Day,” feature Simone samples as well, along with Lil’ Wayne’s “Dontgetit,” Common’s “Misunderstood” and a host of other tracks.

13. HER MUSIC IS STILL BEING PERFORMED.

Nina Revisited… A Tribute to Nina Simone was released along with the Netflix documentary in 2015. On the album, Lauryn Hill, Jazmine Sullivan, Usher, Alice Smith, and more paid tribute to the legend by performing covers of 16 of her most famous tracks.

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13 Secrets From the Guinness Archives
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Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images

Guinness has been a staple in Irish pubs for nearly 260 years. With so much history, it's no surprise that the Guinness Storehouse Archives—which are open to the public—are stuffed with intriguing artifacts that tell some pretty wild stories. Here are a few.

1. THE LEASE TO THE DUBLIN BREWERY WAS INTENDED TO LAST 9000 YEARS.

In 1759, founder Arthur Guinness signed a lease for a four-acre property at St. James’s Gate in Dublin. The lease required a down payment of £100, an annual rent of £45, and a term of 9000 years (not a typo). Such lengthy leases were relatively common back then: “At the time in Ireland, there was a lot of instability to do with land tenure,” explains Fergus Brady, Archives Manager at Guinness. Centuries earlier, the British had begun confiscating land from native Irish in an effort to build plantations, and extra-long leases were a means of avoiding this fate. As Brady explains, “You see these really long leases: 99-year or 999-year leases. It seemed to be a legal custom at the time that they used the number nine.”

2. ARTHUR GUINNESS WAS NOT AFRAID TO DEFEND HIS PROPERTY WITH A PICKAXE.

In 1775, the Dublin Corporation—that is, the city government—demanded that Arthur Guinness pay for the spring water flowing to his brewery. When Guinness argued that he was already paying for water rights through his 9000-year rental agreement, the Dublin Corporation sent a sheriff and a committee to his brewery to cut off the water supply. Guinness was livid. He seized a pickaxe and unleashed a torrent of obscenities so colorful that the Dublin Corporation’s goons eventually retreated.

3. GUINNESS ONCE DEPLOYED FIELD AGENTS TO CATCH COUNTERFEITERS.

Guinness Apology
Guinness Archive, Diageo Ireland

In the 19th century, there was no such thing as brand consistency. Guinness did not bottle its own beer; instead, it shipped the suds in wooden casks to publicans who supplied their own bottles and applied their own personalized labels. Occasionally, these publicans sold fake or adulterated Guinness. To prevent such sales, the company sent special agents called “travellers” into the field to collect beer samples, which it tested in a laboratory. “If a publican was found to be serving adulterated or counterfeit Guinness, they had to give a public apology in their local newspaper—and even the national newspapers,” archivist Jessica Handy says.

4. FOR 21 YEARS, THE COMPANY HIRED A GUY TO TRAVEL THE WORLD AND DRINK BEER.

In 1899, Guinness hired an American ex-brewer named Arthur T. Shand to be a “Guinness World Traveller.” It was arguably the coolest job in the world. For 21 years, Shand traveled the world taste-testing beer. According to Brady, “His job was to travel the world and taste Guinness, say whether it was good or bad, who our bottlers in the market were, who our major competition was, what kind of people were drinking our product.” Shand traveled to Australia and New Zealand, to Southeast Asia and Egypt. “He was sort of a Guinness sommelier,” Brady says.

5. THE COMPANY'S HARP LOGO CAUSED TROUBLE WITH THE IRISH GOVERNMENT.

The Celtic harp—based on the 14th century “Brian Boru Harp” preserved at Trinity College—became a trademarked Guinness logo in 1876. Forty-five years later, when Ireland gained independence from England, the Irish Free State decided to use the same Celtic harp as its official state emblem. This became awkward. Guinness owned the trademark, and the Irish government was forced to search for a workaround. You can find their solution on an Irish Euro coin. Look at the coin, and you’ll notice that the harp’s straight edge faces the right; meanwhile, the harp on a glass of Guinness shows the straight edge facing left [PDF].

6. GUINNESS REPORTEDLY SAVED LIVES ON THE BATTLEFIELD.

The old slogan “Guinness is good for you” sounds like a marketing gimmick, but it was born out of a genuine belief that the beer was, in fact, a restorative tonic. The health claim dates back to 1815, when an ailing cavalry officer wounded at the Battle of Waterloo reportedly credited Guinness for his recovery. For decades, the medical community widely claimed that the dark beer possessed real health benefits—and they weren’t necessarily wrong. “There was little safe drinking water at the time,” Handy says. “But with brewing, consumers knew they were getting a safe beverage.”

7. THE COMPANY CREATED A SPECIAL RECIPE FOR CONVALESCENTS.

A label for Guinness invalid stout
Guinness Archive, Diageo Ireland

From the 1880s to the 1920s, Guinness produced a special “Nourishing Export Stout”—a.k.a. “Invalid Stout”—that contained extra sugars, alcohol, and solids and came in cute one-third pint bottles. “It was very common practice for people to buy a couple bottles and keep them as a tonic, even if it was just a glass or half a glass,” Handy says. In fact, Guinness went as far as asking general practitioners for testimonials attesting to the beer’s medical benefits. According to Brady, “Many of them wrote back and said yes, we prescribe this for various ailments.” One doctor even claimed a pint was “as nourishing as a glass of milk.”

8. DOCTORS REGULARLY PRESCRIBED THE BEER TO NURSING MOTHERS.

From the 1880s to the 1930s, many physicians believed Guinness was an effective galactagogue—that is, a lactation aid. The company sent bottles to hospitals as well as wax cartons of yeast (which supposedly helped skin problems and migraines). Hundreds, possibly thousands, of doctors prescribed the beer for ailments such as influenza, insomnia, and anxiety, David Hughes writes in A Bottle of Guinness Please: The Colourful History of Guinness. According to Brady, the company was sending beer to hospitals as late as the 1970s.

9. THE COMPANY ONCE DROPPED 200,000 MESSAGES-IN-A-BOTTLE INTO THE OCEAN.

A Guinness message in a bottle
The message within every bottle dropped in the Atlantic Ocean in 1959.
Guinness Archive, Diageo Ireland

In 1954, Guinness dumped 50,000 messages-in-a-bottle in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. In 1959, they repeated the stunt again, with 38 ships dropping 150,000 bottles in the Atlantic. The first bottle was discovered in the Azores off Portugal just three months after the initial drop [PDF]. Since then, the bottles have turned up in California, New Zealand, and South Africa. Just last year, a bottle was discovered in Nova Scotia. (If you find one, you just might be offered a trip to the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin.)

10. THE PERSONNEL FILES IN THE GUINNESS ARCHIVES CONTAIN SOME DOOZIES.

The Guinness corporate archives are open to the public. According to Handy, “Some of the stories you get in there are amazing, because you get accident reports and you get crazy stories of people bouncing on bags of hops outside the brewery." This may sound less surprising considering that, back in the day, Guinness employees were given an allowance of two pints of beer every day [PDF].

11. A GUINNESS SCIENTIST MADE A STATISTICALLY SIGNIFICANT MARK IN THE FIELD OF STATISTICS.

If you’ve taken a statistics class, you might be familiar with the Student’s t-test or the t-statistic. (It’s a method of working with a small sample size when the standard deviation is unknown.) The t-test was first described by William S. Gosset, a brewer and statistician at Guinness who was attempting to analyze a small sample of malt extract. Gosset’s discovery not only helped Guinness create a more consistent-tasting beer, it would lay the bedrock for one of the most important concepts in statistics: statistical significance.

12. GUINNESS IS SO BIG IN AFRICA, IT LAUNCHED A SUCCESSFUL FEATURE-LENGTH FILM.

Guinness began exporting beer to Africa in 1827. In the 1960s, it opened a brewery in Nigeria—followed by Cameroon and Ghana. Today, there are reportedly more Guinness drinkers in Nigeria than there are in Ireland. “In Ireland, England, and the United States, everybody thinks that Guinness is synonymous with Ireland,” Brady says. “But in Nigeria, there’s a very very low conception of that.” The beer is such a cultural staple that a fictional character who advertised the product named Michael Power—a James Bond-like, crime-fighting journalist—became the star of a feature film in 2003 called Critical Assignment, which was a box office smash. (Of course, there’s some branding built into the script. As Brady explains, “There are definitely scenes where Michael Power is enjoying a pint of Guinness.”)

13. DISPENSING BEER WITH NITROGEN WAS ORIGINALLY CONSIDERED LAUGHABLE.

In the 1950s, Guinness scientist Michael Ash was tasked with solving the “draft problem.” At the time, dispensing a draft pint of Guinness was ridiculously complicated, and the company was losing market share to draft lagers in Britain that could be easily dispensed with CO2. “The stout was too lively to be dispensed with CO2 only,” Brady says. “Ash worked on the problem for four years, working long hours day or night, and became a bit of a recluse apparently. A lot of doubters at the brewery called the project ‘daft Guinness.’” But then Ash attempted dispensing the beer with plain air. It worked. The secret ingredient, Ash discovered, was nitrogen. The air we breathe is 78 percent nitrogen. Today, a Guinness draft contains 75 percent nitrogen. Not only did the discovery make dispensing the beer easier, it created a creamy mouthfeel that’s been the signature of Irish stouts since.

Full disclosure: Guinness paid for the author to attend an International Stout Day festival in 2017, which provided the opportunity to speak to their archivists.

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