The Mystery of Identity Thief Lori Erica Ruff

Wikimedia // Public Domain
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]

When They See Us, Ava DuVernay’s Central Park Five Series, Is Netflix’s Most Watched Show

Atsushi Nishijima, Netflix
Atsushi Nishijima, Netflix

On the night of April 19, 1989, white investment banker Trisha Meili was attacked and raped while jogging through Central Park. The case made global headlines, particularly after five African-American teenagers who came to be known as the Central Park Five were arrested and convicted of the crime, despite a lack of evidence. (They each confessed to being there, but all have insisted those admissions were coerced.)

The convictions were vacated in 2002 after Matias Reyes, a serial rapist serving a life sentence, confessed to being the perpetrator. Yet the case remains one of the most controversial in American history. Now, more than 30 years after the attack occurred, When They See Us, Oscar-nominated filmmaker Ava DuVernay's limited series depicting the crime and those involved in it, has become Netflix’s biggest hit.

The streaming platform tweeted that When They See Us has been the most-watched series every day in the U.S. since its May 31 premiere. Lucifer had previously held that title.

The series even out-performed the newest season of Black Mirror, including one newly dropped episode featuring Miley Cyrus. Netflix declined to elaborate further on how it tabulated the viewer data, which isn't surprising given how hush-hush the company is with such information. 

As with all retellings, DuVernay's four-part series has created some controversy of its own. Eric Reynolds, a former NYPD officer who arrested two of the Central Park Five, spoke to CNN about what he deemed some glaring inaccuracies in the show. While the show claims the five accused minors were sometimes questioned without their parents present, Reynolds said that the teens's parents were with them throughout their interrogations, and that prosecutor Linda Fairstein was not at the precinct when the investigation commenced. “All you need to do is look at the videos," Reynolds said.

When They See Us currently holds a 95 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and some predict it will be Netflix’s first Emmy win for best series. Despite numerous nominations for series like House of Cards, The Crown, Orange Is the New Black, Stranger Things, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and Master of None, the streaming network has never taken home the top prize for Outstanding Series in either the drama or comedy categories.

[h/t Esquire]

Who Stole My Cheese? Archivists Are Cataloging 200 Years of Criminal Records From the Isle of Ely

Internet Archive Book Images via Flickr, Wikimedia Commons
Internet Archive Book Images via Flickr, Wikimedia Commons

And you thought your parents were strict. In 16th century England, the same courts that tried murderers were also tasked with getting to the bottom of cheese thefts.

As The Guardian reports, archivists from the University of Cambridge have begun cataloging close to 270 court documents from the Isle of Ely, a historic region of England known for its magnificent, gothic-style cathedral as well as being the home of Oliver Cromwell for more than a decade (Cromwell was appointed governor of the isle in 1643).

Some of the documents, which are dated from 1557 to 1775, relate to matters that may seem macabre—or even ridiculous—in the modern world. But they offer a keen insight into the area's past. "This project enables us to hear the voices of people from all backgrounds ... long dead and forgotten, and for whom there is no other surviving record," archivist Sian Collins told The Guardian.

One such person was yeoman John Webbe, who was charged with defamation by one William Tyler after Tyler's wife, Joan, overheard Webbe tell someone that: "Tyler thy husband is a knave, a rascall & a thief for he stole my goodes thefyshely [thievishly] in the night."

Then there was poor William Sturns, whose only crime was a hunger that led him to steal three cheeses; ultimately, he was deemed not guilty. "Unfortunately we don’t know what type of cheese it was," Collins told Atlas Obscura. "But cheesemaking was fairly common in the area at the time."

Not all of Ely's court cases were about backtalk and dairy products, though. The university’s website details how in 1577, Margaret Cotte was accused of using witchcraft to kill Martha Johnson, the daughter of a local blacksmith. Margaret was eventually found not guilty, which is part of what makes this project so important.

"Martha and Margaret may not appear in any other records," Collins said. "This is all we know about them."

[h/t The Guardian]

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