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Woody Harrelson's Hitman Father

Over the course of his 20-plus year career, Woody Harrelson has played good cops and bad cops, pornographers, and cold-blooded killers. But even his darkest roles can't compare to the drama he's dealt with behind the scenes. His father, Charles Harrelson, was a hitman convicted of killing two, and suspected of more.

The elder Harrelson wasn’t around for much of Woody's childhood. He left his family in 1968 when his son was just seven. Years later, Woody was listening to the radio and heard news anchors discussing the murder trial of Charles V. Harrelson. Figuring that there couldn't possibly be that many Charles V. Harrelsons out there, Woody questioned his mother about his father’s whereabouts. That’s when he learned where his dad had been.

Charles Harrelson had already served five years in prison for the murder of a Texas grain dealer. He had been sentenced to 15, but let off early for good behavior in 1978. His brief stint as a free man didn't last long. Harrelson was convicted of the murder of U.S. District Court Judge John H. Wood, Jr., after Texas drug lord Jamiel Chagra testified that he had hired Harrelson to kill the judge for $250,000. Chagra was facing a life sentence for smuggling drugs, and hoped that his case would get transferred to a more lenient judge after Wood’s demise. Harrelson received two life sentences.

The hitman also confessed to killing John F. Kennedy, an admission he later recanted:

In 1988, Woody Harrelson told People magazine that he was working on his relationship with his father. “This might sound odd to say about a convicted felon, but my father is one of the most articulate, well-read, charming people I've ever known," the actor, now 54, explained. "Still, I'm just now gauging whether he merits my loyalty or friendship. I look at him as someone who could be a friend more than someone who was a father."

Woody tried to get his father a retrial, though he wasn’t convinced he was deserving of it. "I don't know [that] he did deserve a new trial … just being a son trying to help his dad. Then I spent a couple of million beating my head against the wall,” he told the Guardian in 2012. His efforts were indeed for naught: The elder Harrelson had a heart attack and died in prison in 2007.

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History
Mata Hari: Famous Spy or Creative Storyteller?
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Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Nearly everyone has heard of Mata Hari, one of the most cunning and seductive spies of all-time. Except that statement isn't entirely true. Cunning and seductive, yes. Spy? Probably not. 

Margaretha Geertruida Zelle was the eldest daughter of a hat store owner who was quite wealthy thanks to some savvy oil investments.  When her mother died, her father remarried and shuffled his children off to various relatives. To escape, an 18-year-old Margaretha answered an ad in the paper that might have read something like this: "Dutch Colonial Army Captain Seeks Wife. Compatibility not important. Must not mind blatant infidelity or occasional beatings."

She had two children with Captain Rudolf MacLeod, but they did nothing to improve the marriage. He brazenly kept a mistress and a concubine; she moved in with another officer. Again, probably looking to escape her miserable existence, Margaretha spent her time in Java (where the family had relocated for Captain MacLeod's job) becoming part of the culture, learning all about the dance and even earning a dance name bestowed upon her by the locals—"Mata Hari," which meant "eye of the day" or "sun."

Her son died after being poisoned by an angry servant (so the MacLeods believed).

Margaretha divorced her husband, lost custody of her daughter and moved to Paris to start a new life for herself in 1903. Calling upon the dance skills she had learned in Java, the newly restyled Mata Hari became a performer, starting with the circus and eventually working her way up to exotic dancer. 

To make herself seem more mysterious and interesting, Mata Hari told people her mother was a Javanese princess who taught her everything she knew about the sacred religious dances she performed. The dances were almost entirely in the nude.

Thanks to her mostly-nude dancing and tantalizing background story, she was a hot commodity all over Europe. During WWI, this caught the attention of British Intelligence, who brought her in and demanded to know why she was constantly traipsing across the continent. Under interrogation, she apparently told them she was a spy for France—that she used her job as an exotic dancer to coerce German officers to give her information, which she then supplied back to French spymaster Georges Ladoux. No one could verify these claims and Mata Hari was released.

Not too long afterward, French intelligence intercepted messages that mentioned H-21, a spy who was performing remarkably well. Something in the messages reminded the French officers of Mata Hari's tale and they arrested her at her hotel in Paris on February 13, 1917, under suspicion of being a double agent.

Mata Hari repeatedly denied all involvement in any spying for either side. Her captors didn't believe her story, and perhaps wanting to make an example of her, sentenced her to death by firing squad. She was shot to death 100 years ago today, on October 15, 1917.

In 1985, one of her biographers convinced the French government to open their files on Mata Hari. He says the files contained not one shred of evidence that she was spying for anyone, let alone the enemy. Whether the story she originally told British intelligence was made up by them or by her to further her sophisticated and exotic background is anyone's guess. 

Or maybe she really was the ultimate spy and simply left no evidence in her wake.

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crime
German Police Tried to Fine Someone $1000 for Farting at Them
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Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images for IMG

In Berlin, passing gas can cost you. Quite a lot, actually, in the case of a man accused of disrespecting police officers by releasing a pair of noxious farts while being detained by the police. As CityLab reports, Berlin’s police force has recently been rocked by a scandal hinging on the two farts of one man who was asked to show his ID to police officers while partying on an evening in February 2016.

The man in question was accused of disrespecting the officers involved by aiming his flatulence at a policewoman, and was eventually slapped with a fine of 900 euros ($1066) in what local media called the "Irrer-Pups Prozess," or "Crazy Toot Trial." The errant farter was compelled to show up for court in September after refusing to pay the fine. A judge dismissed the case in less than 10 minutes.

But the smelly situation sparked a political scandal over the police resources wasted over the non-crime. It involved 18 months, 23 public officials, and 17 hours of official time—on the taxpayers’ dime. Officials estimate that those two minor toots cost taxpayers more than $100, which is chump change in terms of city budgets, but could have been used to deal with more pressing criminal issues.

[h/t CityLab]

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