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The Mystery of Identity Thief Lori Erica Ruff

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Wikimedia // Public Domain

Last spring, we brought you 8 Mysterious People Without a Past, a list of individuals who seemed to have had much of their early existence wiped from history.

We now need to revise that list to seven, since one of those mysteries has now been solved. Lori Erica Ruff, a Texan who committed suicide in 2010 and left behind a series of puzzling documents hinting that she wasn’t who her family thought she was, has now been identified. She wasn’t Lori Erica Ruff—she was a Pennsylvania woman named Kimberly McLean.

According to the Seattle Times, a crowd-sourced investigation into Ruff’s background began after the paper ran a story on her in 2013. Papers belonging to Ruff, who had been married with a child, surfaced after her suicide indicating she had once been known as Lori Kennedy, and prior to that, as Becky Sue Turner, the name of a young girl who had died in a Washington state fire in 1971.

Ruff’s apparent identity theft pulled in former Social Security Administration investigator Joe Velling, who hoped that publicity from the Times piece would urge amateur sleuths to provide some leads. It did. Late in 2015, Velling received a call from a former nuclear physicist and forensic genealogist named Colleen Fitzpatrick, who had been following the case online. Based on her own research, and a DNA sample the Ruff family submitted that indicated Lori had a first cousin named Michael Cassidy, Fitzpatrick suggested Velling contact the Cassidy family in Philadelphia.

Velling traveled to the city and approached a member of the Cassidy family, who saw Lori’s driver’s license photo. The response? "My God, that’s Kimberly!” The family member confirmed Ruff was actually Kimberly McLean, daughter of Deanne Cassidy and James McLean, who had run away from home in Pennsylvania at the age of 18.

According to Deanne’s brother, Tom, Kimberly grew irate after her mother and father separated in the 1980s. Dismayed by having to move and attend a new school, she told Deanne she’d be leaving for good. McLean assumed a series of aliases before marrying Blake Ruff in 2004 and settling down—leaving no trace of Kimberly McLean, at least until Fitzpatrick began researching her family tree. Although questions about the case remain, Lori Ruff's name has now been removed from the federal government's database for missing and unidentified persons.

[h/t Seattle Times]

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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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