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4 More Terrible People and How They Were Captured

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Last week, we looked at a few very terrible people, and how law enforcement officials identified them and hunted them down. Here are a few more infamous killers, and how they were captured.

1. Whitey Bulger

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Whitey Bulger spent twelve years on the FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitives List, and his bounty (a handsome $2 million) was surpassed only by that of Osama bin Laden ($25 million). In the early days of his career in crime, Bulger was an armed robber, though he wasn’t a very good robber, and ended up at Alcatraz in 1959. When he got out, he spent some time as a bookie for the mob, and during a war between crime families, killed a rival mobster. Only he wasn’t much better as a killer than he was as a robber, and he killed the wrong guy. This didn’t help relations among the rival families, so Bulger did the only thing he could think of to save his own neck: He (allegedly) killed the leaders of his own crime family.

He would eventually find fame as a shakedown artist who targeted criminals, ordering the deaths of those who “stepped out of line.” This earned him a fairly good reputation as far as people with bad reputations go—he was kind of a gun-toting criminal Batman who didn’t wear a costume. Eventually, the FBI even recruited him as an informant. Accordingly, people all around Bulger started going to jail for doing really bad things, and Bulger, who was also doing really bad things, avoided arrest. In the absence of criminal competition, Bulger consolidated power in Boston, and used his sway with his FBI minders to have the competition locked up. Also, he had a bunch of guys killed. Here’s where things get thorny. Bulger was an FBI informant, but he wasn’t the only informant, and those other informants were informing on Bulger. And then an FBI agent started informing Bulger of the other informants. Did Bulger forgive the mobsters who were ratting against him? No, he did not. Suddenly people started developing extra holes in their heads.

Whitey Bulger soon got into the drug business, and won the lottery. (No, really, he won the lottery.) The ticket had been purchased from a store that he owned, and the guy who bought it claimed that Bulger was his partner. The purse was $14 million.

Eventually, law enforcement agencies that were not the FBI decided to nab Bulger under the RICO Act (that thing Harvey Dent did at the beginning of The Dark Knight) and once again, an FBI agent tipped off Bulger. On the lam he went. The list of places Bulger visited reads like it came from a Nabokov novel. In short, Bulger was everywhere but inside of a prison.

By 1999, the FBI had pulled itself together and placed Bulger on the Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list (more on that below). He appeared on America’s Most Wanted practically as often as John Walsh. Over the years, these media efforts paid off for investigators, and he was finally nabbed in Santa Monica, California at the age of 81. Bulger claims to have killed 40 people, though he’s also pleaded not guilty to everything, so go figure.

(The Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list, one of J. Edgar Hoover’s many innovations as director of the FBI, is a perfect representation of his uncanny skills at public relations. In short, one of Hoover’s first orders of business after taking the helm of the newly minted FBI was to build an impenetrable shield of public support. He knew that such support would be essential to surviving the hostile political waters of Washington. His efforts went far beyond a few press releases—he encouraged the creation of pulp magazines, bubble gum cards, and comics. Likewise, he worked with Hollywood to produce such “G-Men” films as Public Enemy’s Wife, Show Them No Mercy, and The FBI Story. One film—Public Enemy Number One—even put Hoover in its advertisement campaign. The common image we have today of FBI special agents—of dark suits and neckties—is a direct result of these efforts, and has endured for 80 years. The Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list was an accidental success that Hoover capitalized on. He and the editor-in-chief of the International News Service collaborated to find ways to promote the Bureau’s prowess at hunting down fugitives. The resulting news story was so popular that the FBI created an official list, and has maintained it since 1950. The upshot to all of this is that Hoover and his Bureau were made invincible early on and successfully weathered some pretty awful events, including Ruby Ridge, Waco, the Whitey Bulger affair, COINTELPRO operations, and so on. J. Edgar Hoover went on to serve as FBI director for an astonishing 48 years. For comparison, a seat on the Supreme Court is a lifetime appointment, and even then, the longest-service justice only lasted 36 years. Hoover’s story, and how the whole of the intelligence community attempted to emulate his press savvy, are recounted at length in my new book.)

2. Saddam Hussein

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So after Shock and Awe, Saddam Hussein got the impression that the United States didn’t like him much, and he bolted from Baghdad. The name of the mission that caught him was Operation RED DAWN, and the places it searched were called Wolverine 1 and Wolverine 2. Really. Here’s how it all went down: U.S. intelligence and the Joint Special Operations Command had been hunting Saddam pretty relentlessly since the invasion, eventually narrowing his location to somewhere in the vicinity of Ad-Dawr, Iraq. A 600 soldier force descended upon the Wolverine sites, and combed the desert in Spaceballs fashion. They turned up little. Soldiers from 4th Infantry Division then spread out and formed a cordon, and Delta Force went after a suspicious little farm nearby with a suspicious little hut and a suspicious little trap door covered in dirt. (They deduced that something suspicious was going on.) Beneath the trap door was an eight-foot-hole. At the bottom was Saddam Hussein, a pistol, a couple of AK-47s, and 750 dollars Americano. Said Saddam: “I am Saddam Hussein, President of Iraq, and I want to negotiate,” and everyone laughed. After a trial, Hussein was executed by hanging.

3. John Allen Muhammad

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You probably know this guy as the D.C. Sniper. He was born in Baton Rouge, trained in the Louisiana Army National Guard, and served in the Gulf War. At some point, he became a big fan of al-Qaeda, and Osama bin Laden in particular. Muhammed was a big supporter of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, and a year later, he went on a determined killing spree of his own in Washington, D.C. (His previous murders in Louisiana and Georgia were leisurely by comparison.) He used his Chevrolet Caprice as a mobile sniper nest. With an accomplice driving, Muhammed could climb into the trunk from the back seat, and fire his rifle from the prone position through a small hole near the license plate. In October 2002, he randomly killed or wounded 13 people. He would have been captured earlier—he had, in fact, been stopped multiple times by police officers on various occasions over the course of his killing spree—but everyone was focused on a mysterious white van. Eventually, witness accounts helped determined that a blue Caprice was a vehicle of interest. On October 24, a witness spotted the vehicle at a rest stop, Muhammed and his accomplice asleep inside. Police closed off the rest stop, and arrested him. In 2009, he was killed by lethal injection.

4. Adolf Eichmann

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When it comes to evil, you’re going to have a hard time finding someone worse than Adolf Eichmann. With his logistical prowess and German work ethic, he helped exterminate six million Jews. You probably won’t be surprised to learn that he didn’t just surrender when things went bad for the Nazis. You probably will be surprised to learn that the Army caught him right away, but nobody worried too much about him because he said his name was Otto. He eventually slipped away from custody and spent a couple of years hiding in Germany, and later Italy (here he called himself Ricardo, because why not?). In 1950, he found a home in Argentina, where he managed a rabbit farm, among other jobs.

The Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, doesn’t care for Nazi war criminals, and immediately set about hunting them down. Evidence later narrowed Eichmann’s location to Argentina, where his son undid him. It seems the junior Eichmann had a girlfriend, and liked to brag to her about his father’s talents in genocide. The girlfriend’s father went to the district attorney, who then approached the Mossad. After an investigation and round-the-clock surveillance, the Mossad and Shin Bet snatched up Eichmann at a bus stop outside of Buenos Aires. They dressed him as a flight attendant to smuggle him on a plane, and pumped him full of drugs so that he looked drunk, and so that no one would ask questions. They brought him to Israel to stand trial. Said Eichmann years before: "I will leap into my grave laughing because the feeling that I have five million human beings on my conscience is for me a source of extraordinary satisfaction." He was found guilty of committing crimes against humanity (among other things), and was committed to death by hanging.

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10 Hush-Hush Facts About L.A. Confidential
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On this day 20 years ago, a rising star director, a writer who thought he’d never get the gig, and a remarkable cast got together to make a film about the corrupt underbelly of 1950s Los Angeles, and the men and women who littered its landscape. This was L.A. Confidential, a film so complex that its creator (legendary crime writer James Ellroy) thought it was “unadaptable.” In the end, it was one of the most acclaimed movies of the 1990s, a film noir classic that made its leading actors into even bigger stars, and which remains an instantly watchable masterpiece to this day. Here are 10 facts about how it got made.

1. THE SCRIPTING PROCESS WAS TOUGH.

Writer-director Curtis Hanson had been a longtime James Ellroy fan when he finally read L.A. Confidential, and the characters in that particular Ellroy novel really spoke to him, so he began working on a script. Meanwhile, Brian Helgeland—originally contracted to write an unproduced Viking film for Warner Bros.—was also a huge Ellroy fan, and lobbied hard for the studio to give him the scripting job. When he learned that Hanson already had it, the two met, and bonded over their mutual admiration of Ellroy’s prose. Their passion for the material was clear, but it took two years to get the script done, with a number of obstacles.

"He would turn down other jobs; I would be doing drafts for free,” Helgeland said. “Whenever there was a day when I didn't want to get up anymore, Curtis tipped the bed and rolled me out on the floor."

2. IT WAS ORIGINALLY INTENDED AS A MINISERIES.

When executive producer David Wolper first read Ellroy’s novel, he saw the dense, complex story as the perfect fodder for a television miniseries, and was promptly turned down by all the major networks at the time.

3. JAMES ELLROY DIDN’T THINK THE BOOK COULD BE ADAPTED.

Though Wolper was intrigued by the idea of telling the story onscreen, Ellroy and his agent laughed at the thought. The author felt his massive book would never fit on any screen.

“It was big, it was bad, it was bereft of sympathetic characters,” Ellroy said. “It was unconstrainable, uncontainable, and unadaptable.”

4. CURTIS HANSON SOLD THE FILM WITH CLASSIC LOS ANGELES IMAGES.

To get the film made, Hanson had to convince New Regency Pictures head Arnon Milchan that it was worth producing. To do this, he essentially put together a collage of classic Los Angeles imagery, from memorable locations to movie stars, including the famous image of Robert Mitchum leaving jail after his arrest for using marijuana.

"Now you've seen the image of L.A. that was sold to get everybody to come here. Let's peel back the image and see where our characters live,” Hanson said.

Milchan was sold.

5. KEVIN SPACEY WAS ON HANSON’S WISH LIST FOR YEARS.

Though the other stars of the film were largely discoveries of the moment, Kevin Spacey was apparently someone Hanson wanted to work with for years. Spacey described Hanson as a director “who’d been trying for years and years and years to get me cast in films he made, and the studio always rejected me.” After Spacey won an Oscar for The Usual Suspects, Hanson called the actor and said, “I think I’ve got the role, and I think they’re not gonna say no this time.”

6. SPACEY’S CHARACTER IS BASED ON DEAN MARTIN.

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Though he cast relative unknowns in Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce, Hanson wanted an American movie star for the role of Jack Vincennes, and decided on Kevin Spacey. In an effort to convince Spacey to take the role, Hanson invited him to dine at L.A.’s famous Formosa Cafe (where scenes in the film are actually set). While at the cafe, Spacey asked a vital question:

“If it was really 1952, and you were really making this movie, who would you cast as Jack Vincennes?” Hanson said “Dean Martin.”

At that point, Spacey looked up at the gallery of movie star photos which line the cafe, and realized Martin’s photo was right above him.

“To this day, I don’t know whether he sat us in that booth on purpose, but there was Dino looking down at me,” Spacey said.

After his meeting with Hanson, Spacey watched Martin’s performances in Some Came Running (1958) and Rio Bravo (1959), and realized that both films featured characters who mask vulnerability with a layer of cool. That was the genesis of Jack Vincennes.

7. HANSON CHOSE MUCH OF THE MUSIC BEFORE FILMING.

To help set the tone for his period drama, Hanson began selecting music of the early 1950s even before filming began, so he could play it on set as the actors went to work. Among his most interesting choices: When Jack Vincennes sits in a bar, staring at the money he’s just been bribed with, Dean Martin’s “Powder Your Face With Sunshine (Smile! Smile! Smile!)” plays, a reference to both the character’s melancholy, and to Spacey and Hanson’s decision to base the character on Martin.

8. THE CINEMATOGRAPHY WAS INSPIRED BY ROBERT FRANK PHOTOGRAPHS.

To emphasize realism and period accuracy, cinematographer Dante Spinotti thought less about the moving image, and more about still photographs. In particular, he used photographer Robert Frank’s 1958 collection "The Americans" as a tool, and relied less on artificial light and more on environmental light sources like desk lamps.

"I tried to compose shots as if I were using a still camera,” Spinotti said. “I was constantly asking myself, 'Where would I be if I were holding a Leica?' This is one reason I suggested shooting in the Super 35 widescreen format; I wanted to use spherical lenses, which for me have a look and feel similar to still-photo work.”

9. THE FINAL STORY TWIST IS NOT IN THE BOOK.

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[SPOILER ALERT] In the film, Jack Vincennes, Ed Exley, and Bud White are all chasing a mysterious crime lord known as “Rollo Tomasi,” who turns out to be their own LAPD colleague, Dudley Smith (James Cromwell). Though Vincennes, Exley, and White are all native to Ellroy’s novel, the Tomasi name is entirely an invention of the film.

10. ELLROY APPROVED OF THE MOVIE.

To adapt L.A. Confidential for the screen, Hanson and Helgeland condensed Ellroy’s original novel, boiling the story down to a three-person narrative and ditching other subplots so they could get to the heart of the three cops at the center of the movie. Ellroy, in the end, was pleased with their choices.

“They preserved the basic integrity of the book and its main theme, which is that everything in Los Angeles during this era of boosterism and yahooism was two-sided and two-faced and put out for cosmetic purposes,” Ellroy said. “The script is very much about the [characters'] evolution as men and their lives of duress. Brian and Curtis took a work of fiction that had eight plotlines, reduced those to three, and retained the dramatic force of three men working out their destiny. I've long held that hard-boiled crime fiction is the history of bad white men doing bad things in the name of authority. They stated that case plain.”

Additional Sources:
Inside the Actors Studio: Kevin Spacey (2000)

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The Time a Wrestling Fan Tried to Shoot Bobby Heenan in the Ring
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For a man who didn't wrestle much, Bobby “The Brain” Heenan wound up becoming more famous than a lot of the men flexing in the squared circle. The onscreen manager of several notable grapplers, including André the Giant and “Ravishing” Rick Rude, Heenan died on Sunday at the age of 73. His passing has led to several tributes recalling his memorable moments, from dressing up in a weasel suit to hosting a short-lived talk show on TNT.

While Heenan’s “heel” persona was considered great entertainment, there was a night back in 1975 when he did his job a little too well. As a result, an irate fan tried to assassinate him in the ring.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Heenan was appearing at the International Amphitheater in Chicago as part of the now-defunct AWA wrestling promotion when his performance began to grate on the nerves of an unnamed attendee seated on the floor. Eyewitnesses described the man as friendly up until wrestlers Verne Gagne and Nick Bockwinkel started their bout with Heenan at ringside in Bockwinkel’s corner.

“Get Heenan out of there,” the fan screamed, possibly concerned his character would interfere in a fair contest. Heenan, known as “Pretty Boy” at the time, began to distract the referee, awarding an advantage to his wrestler. When the official began waving his arms to signal Heenan to stop interrupting, the fan apparently took it as the match being over and awarded in Bockwinkel’s favor. He drew a gun and began firing.

The man got off two shots, hitting three bystanders with one bullet and two more with the other before running out of the arena. (No fatalities were reported.) Security swarmed the scene, getting medical attention for the injured and escorting both Heenan and the wrestlers to the back.

According to Heenan, the shooter was never identified by anyone, and he was brazen enough to continue attending wrestling cards at the arena. ("Chicago really took that 'no snitching' thing to heart back then," according to Uproxx.)

Heenan went on to spend another 30 years in the business getting yelled at and hit with chairs, but was never again forced to dodge a bullet.

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