7 Bizarre Objects Used in Jailhouse Smuggling Schemes

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By Lauren Hansen

Even the lowest-security prisons will take precautions against smuggling, requiring visitors, for example, to check their belongings at the door. But for the desperately crafty, such safeguards only inspire workarounds utilizing the unexpected — from toys to animals, both dead and alive — to sneak illicit goods across the secure threshold. Here, a rundown of some of the crazy/genius vessels used in botched smuggling attempts throughout history.

1. A cat


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On New Year's Eve, guards at a medium-security prison in northeast Brazil noticed something curious about a passing stray cat, namely that it had a bag strapped to its middle. After detaining the diminutive criminal, authorities found quite the haul, including two saws, two concrete drills, a headset, a memory card, a cell phone, and batteries. This wasn't the cat's first appearance on the prison grounds and authorities say they believe the feline was raised by inmates. While they can't blame the cat for its wrongdoing, officials admit it will be difficult to nab the real offenders, "since the cat does not speak." In the meantime, all 250 inmates are considered suspects and their wily accomplice has since been taken to a local animal shelter.

2. A coloring book

Not just for kids anymore, coloring books can also offer criminals hours of creative fun! In March 2011, the relatives of three New Jersey inmates dissolved the drug Subozone into a paste and then painted it into a coloring book. To seal their story they scribbled "To Daddy" atop the book's pages and mailed the seemingly innocent present to the facility. But authorities were already on the lookout, having received a tip that drugs were being smuggled in drawings. The book was apprehended and the prisoners, and family members, charged.

3. A baby

Balloons are often used to smuggle drugs, either as a vessel that is swallowed or just on their own, in the hopes that the latex masks the scent from dogs. While one woman's use of a cannabis-stuffed balloon wasn't unique, her placement of it was: on her baby. The limp party decoration, which was filled with 20 grams of weed, was concealed on the toddler the woman was holding as she tried to enter a New Zealand prison in 2010. Her "sad and desperate" attempt at drug smuggling, however, was foiled.

4. A pigeon

Before becoming a nuisance to New Yorkers, pigeons were actually vital during war times when, in lieu of radio, they took messages to soldiers. Carrier pigeons, as they were called, were trained at a home base, transported manually, and then set free with a note attached to the foot, because, as Brazilian inmates recently proved, the birds "instinctively fly home — always." In 2009, prisoners in southeastern Brazil reportedly bred and raised pigeons inside their jail. The birds were smuggled out, outfitted with cell phone parts by people on the outside, and then sent back to the jail. At least two made it "home" but were caught and their goods confiscated.

5. Dead birds


Not all inmates have the time, patience, and wherewithal to train carrier pigeons. Some prisoners go for the more stripped-down approach and use dead birds as their gamey packages. The plan is pretty straightforward: Get a friend on the outside to stuff dead birds with your choice of illegal drugs, have friend throw said bird over jail walls into exercise yards, pick up bird. The last step, as New Zealand prisoners found in 2007, is the most important step unless you want to spend more time locked up.

6. A cockroach

In 1938, Amarillo, Texas, County Jailer Dick Vaughn could not for the life of him figure out how two of his prisoners in solitary confinement were getting hold of cigarettes. Daily searches of the prisoners and their cells provided no clues. And yet, like clockwork, the shrewd inmates would be found puffing away. Finally, a prisoner broke down and pointed out the secret courier: A large black cockroach, a cigarette tied to its back, which scurried through a crack under the solitary cell floor. The pest was so prompt and efficient that it had regular employment with the prisoners. Rather than inciting anger, however, the lowly deliveryman inspired awe in the warden who released the men from solitary confinement, saying "anybody who could make a cockroach work deserved more freedom for his activities."

7. A wooden leg


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In August 1934, five prisoners from Indiana's Hamilton County jail escaped thanks to the group's leader, William H. Mason, who had, you might say, a leg up on his keepers. After losing his foot and lower leg to infection some years back, Mason began using a prosthetic to help him walk. During his Hamilton County incarceration, Mason received a new wooden leg in the mail, which officials came to believe carried saws, hidden in the cork part of the foot, that would help the bandits escape. The men inevitably sawed through the bars of the second floor window, ripped away the heavy mesh covering, and jumped 12 feet to the ground with the help of a metal chain.

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January 8, 2013 - 12:00pm
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