The Magic Castle in Hollywood has been a private club for magicians since 1963, and its walls are lined with portraits of magicians past and present. Among them is a portrait of one of the earliest American organized crime bosses and conmen, Jefferson Randolph "Soapy" Smith. And though it may seem strange that this "mecca of magic" honors a criminal, Soapy's legacy reveals just how blurry the line is between a delightful trick and a dirty one.
In November of 1988, Robin Woods was sentenced to sixteen years in the notoriously harsh Maryland Correctional Institution. In prison, Robin found himself using a dictionary to work his way through a book for the first time in his life. It was a Mario Puzo novel. While many inmates become highly educated during their incarceration, Robin became such a voracious and careful reader he was able to locate a factual error in Merriam Webster's Collegiate Encyclopedia. He wrote a letter to the encyclopedia's editor, beginning an intricate friendship that changed the lives of both men. [more inside]
Melinda Dawson found out on the same day in 1998 that her adoptive mother had been killed and that her husband Clarence was being charged with the murder. Clarence was convicted in 1999 and given two life sentences. Left alone with her two sons, no money, and no experience, Melinda set out to try and prove that he was innocent. She started with a suspect list. [more inside]
When Melinda Dawson was seven years old, she learned that she was adopted under mysterious circumstances. As she got older and had children of her own, she tried to learn something about her biological parents. And when she went to the county courthouse and asked to see a copy of her birth certificate, she discovered that she was an unwitting participant in something much bigger and more complicated than she could have imagined.
When Axton Betz-Hamilton was 11 years old, her parents' identities were stolen. At that time, in the early 90s, consumer protection services for identity theft victims were basically non-existent. So the family dealt with the consequences as best they could. But then when Axton got to college, she realized that her identity had been stolen as well. Her credit score was in the lowest 2%. As she was working to restore her credit, she inadvertently discovered who had stolen the family's identity. It would change everything forever.
In 1979 a peaceful protest by Communist workers in Greensboro NC turned into a massacre by the Klan. The police were nowhere to be found. This episode examines the incident and the investigation of who was ultimately to blame. [more inside]
Pull your swords out of your stones and step into the Gaming Hut for a consideration of the Chosen One trope. [more inside]
Ed Crawford had never been to a protest until he heard about the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Robert Cohen, a staff photographer with the St. Louis Post Dispatch, ended up taking a photograph of Ed that would be seen around the world, and change both of their lives.
Phoebe Judge and Lauren Spohrer from the podcast Criminal stop by to talk about the linguistic challenges of crime reporting. They also share their episode ‘Pants on Fire’, about lying. It’s an extremely useful handbook if you fancy becoming either a human polygraph, or an excellent liar. [more inside]
In February of 1896, a little boy discovered a woman's headless body in a farmer's field in Fort Thomas, Kentucky. No one knew who she was, or what had happened. [more inside]
The Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona has the largest collection of petrified wood in the world. The beautiful wood is more than 200 million years old, and visitors to the park often take a little piece home with them as a souvenir. But stealing the wood has serious consequences, both legal and, some say, supernatural. See photographs of the conscience letters and learn more about Ryan Thompson's book here. Check out our original episode illustrations at thisiscriminal.com. Say hi on Twitter @criminalshow. Criminal is a proud member of Radiotopia from PRX. [more inside]
Julius Robinson had killed for revenge before, and so when his sister was brutally murdered in her sleep last year, he says he planned to "get" the killer. He felt like his family expected him to get revenge, because that's what he'd always done, both in and out of prison. But when he learned that the killer was actually his 17-year-old nephew, he struggled against his family's expectations and his own.<
Police officer John Edwards was patrolling a quiet neighborhood in Bellaire, Texas when he saw an SUV driven by two young African-American men. It was just before 2am on December 31, 2008. Edwards followed the SUV and ran the license plate number. When his computer indicated that the SUV was stolen, Edwards drew his gun and told the two men to get down on the ground. It wasn't until later that he realized he'd typed the wrong license plate number into his computer. He was off by one digit. By the time he realized his mistake, one of the men had already been shot in the chest at close range. But there's a major difference between this shooting case and so many others that we've heard about recently. This is the story of Robbie Tolan.
On July 17th, 1889, the residents of Clayton County, Iowa woke up to news of the worst crime in their history. [more inside]
Dan Stevenson has lived in Oakland's Eastlake neighborhood for 40 years. He says crime has been an issue for as long as he can remember, but he isn't one to call the police on drug dealers or sex workers. He's a pretty "live and let live" kind of guy. Or he was. Before he finally got fed up and took matters into his own hands.To learn more about Criminal, visit thisiscriminal.comCriminal is a proud member of Radiotopia from PRX. [more inside]
In June 2014, authorities released information about a massive child pornography ring being conducted in North Carolina. Four suspects had already been arrested, and the police were asking the public for help finding a fifth suspect. But they didn't need to look very hard -- the suspect was about to turn himself in, almost by accident.
Raymond Chandler is often called the greatest American crime novelist, famous for murder mysteries like "The Big Sleep" and "Farewell, My Lovely." He's the subject of several biographies, and his correspondence and manuscripts are archived at Oxford. But something very, very important to Chandler had gotten lost. No one noticed until a pair of Chandler's biggest fans, newlyweds in their seventies, got on the case. [more inside]