the daring acts of a smiling bandit

Roy G. Gardner (1884 – 1940) was once America’s most infamous prison escapee.

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He was the most dangerous inmate in the history of Atlanta Prison and was dubbed by newsmen the “Smiling Bandit”, the “Mail Train Bandit”, and the “King of the Escape Artists”. He was said to be attractive and charming, standing just under six feet tall, with short, curly auburn hair and blue eyes.

red haired David Wenham found here

Gardner began his criminal profession as a gunrunner around the time of the Mexican Revolution. He smuggled and traded arms to the Venustiano Carranza forces until he was captured by soldiers from Huerta’s army and was sentenced to death by firing squad, but, on March 29, 1909, he broke out of the Mexico City jail along with three other American prisoners after attacking the guards.

Mexican revolutionaries found here

Eventually, Gardner ended up in San Francisco, where he robbed a jewelry store. He was arrested, and spent some time in San Quentin, but was paroled after saving a prison guard’s life during a violent riot. Gardner landed a job as an acetylene welder at the Mare Island Navy Yard, married, fathered a daughter, and began his own welding company. 

San Quentin prisoners found here

Gardner then gambled all of his money away on a business trip in Tijuana at the racetracks. On the night of April 16, 1920, Gardner robbed a U. S. Mail truck of about $80,000 in cash and securities. The job went smoothly, but the outlaw was arrested three days later burying his loot.  He was sentenced to 25 years at McNeil Island Federal Penitentiary but vowed he would never serve the sentence. As he was transported on a train with Deputy U. S. Marshals Cavanaugh and Haig, Gardner peered out of the window and yelled, “Look at that deer!”. The lawmen looked, and Gardner grabbed Marshal Haig’s gun from his holster. He then disarmed Marshal Cavanaugh at gunpoint. The outlaw handcuffed the two humiliated lawmen together and stole $200. He jumped off the train, and made his way to Canada.

Muntjac deer found here

He slipped back into the United States the next year, and started robbing banks and mail trains across the country. Gardner tied up the mail clerk to Train No. 10 eastbound from Sacramento and robbed the express car of $187,000 on May 19, 1921. The next morning, Gardner told the mail clerk of Train No. 20 to throw up his hands or he would blow his head off. When the train reached the Overland Limited, the elusive bandit darted down the tracks with an armful of mail. 

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Gardner was recognized at the Porter House Hotel and a convoy of police arrived in Roseville . Three federal agents captured him while he was playing a game of cards in a pool hall and he was sentenced to another 25 years at McNeil Island for armed robbery.

Trying to reduce his sentence he told Southern Pacific Railroad detectives that he would lead them to the spot where he buried his loot. The officers found nothing, and Gardner announced, “I guess I have forgotten where I buried it”. He was heavily shackled, with the addition of an “Oregon Boot”, and was once again transported on a train to McNeil Island, this time by U. S. Marshals Mulhall and Rinkell, both fast shooting veterans. During the journey, Gardner asked to use the bathroom, in which an associate had earlier hidden a .32 caliber pistol. Gardner came out of the bathroom, pointed the gun at Mulhall’s protruding pouch, and ordered another prisoner to handcuff the two humiliated lawmen to the seat. He relieved the officers of their weapons and cash before hopping onto another moving train.

Oregon boot found here

He arrived in Centralia, Washington, where he plastered his face with bandages to hide his identity, leaving one eye slit. Gardner told the Oxford Hotel staff that he had been severely burned in an industrial accident near Tacoma. Officer Louis Sonney became suspicious of the bandaged man, and when he saw a firearm in Gardner’s hotel room, he accused him of being the “Smiling Bandit”. Gardner fought back, but was arrested and a doctor removed the bandages to show that he was indeed the notorious train robber. This time Gardner, who was sentenced to another 25 years, was heavily ironed, and finally brought to McNeil Island.

Bandaged Berlusconi found here

After six weeks at the penitentiary, Gardner had convinced two other prisoners, Lawardus Bogart and Everett Impyn, that he had “paid off” the guards in the towers. On Labor Day, 1921, at a prison baseball game, they ran 300 yards to the high barbed wire fence where Gardner cut a hole, and the three men made it to the pasture as bullets whirled about their heads. Gardner was wounded in his left leg, but hid behind a herd of cattle. About the same time, he saw Bogart fall, badly wounded. Impyn was shot dead; his dying words were, “Gardner told us those fellows in the towers couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn“.

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Guards scoured the beaches and confiscated every boat on the shoreline, but no trace of the dangerous outlaw could be found. Gardner lived in the prison barn, getting nutrition from cow’s milk, and then swam the choppy waters to Fox Island where he lived off fruit in the orchards. Roy Gardner was now the “Most Wanted” criminal, and committed several crimes in Arizona before he was captured by a mail clerk during a train robbery in Phoenix in 1921. He was sentenced to an additional 25 years, this time at Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary. Headlines screamed, “Gangster Gardner brags, ‘Leavenworth will never hold me'”.

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In 1926, he tried to tunnel under the wall and saw through the bars in the shoe shop. The following year, he led a prison break and attempted an armed escape with two revolvers holding the Captain and two guards hostage, but the escape failed. In 1934 he was transferred to Alcatraz. While at Alcatraz, his wife divorced him. Gardner was paroled and released in 1938 after his appeal for clemency was approved.

On the evening of January 10, 1940, Garder wrote four notes at his hotel room in San Francisco, one of which was attached to the door warning: “Do not open door. Poison gas. Call police.” He sealed the door from the inside, then killed himself by dropping cyanide gas into a glass of acid and inhaling the poison fumes. 

“Please let me down as light as possible, boys,” Gardner wrote in a letter to newsmen. “I have played ball with you all the way, and now you should pitch me a slow one and let me hit it.”

Published in: on February 11, 2012 at 8:48 am  Comments (49)  
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roasted chestnuts and bolting butterflies

Papillon was the supposed autobiography of Henri Charrière. Perhaps he based some of his story on this man’s adventures

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René Belbenoit (April 4, 1899 – February 26, 1959) was a French prisoner on Devil’s Island who successfully escaped to the United States. He later wrote a book, Dry Guillotine, about his exploits.

Belbenoit was born in Paris and abandoned by his mother as an infant. His father was unable to raise young René himself, so the boy was sent to live with his grandparents. When René was 12, his grandparents died and he went to Paris where worked at a popular nightclub, the Café du Rat Mort (the Dead Rat) in the Place Pigalle. During World War I, Belbenoit served with distinction in the French Army from 1916 – 1917.

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In 1920, Belbenoit, having stolen some pearls from his employer, the Countess d’Entremeuse, was sentenced to eight years of hard labor in the penal colony of French Guiana, referred to as Devil’s Island. The fact that Belbenoit had had a veteran’s pension let him avoid the harshest work.

Two weeks after his arrival, Belbenoit tried to escape for the first time with another man. They took a raft to Dutch Guiana but were captured and shipped back to the penal colony. During his incarceration, Belbenoit begun to write his memoirs. He kept them in a bundle of wax cloth. He earned some money by selling roasted chestnuts and capturing butterflies.

Spicebush Swallowtail found here

Next Christmas Belbenoit again attempted escape with nine others who had stolen a log canoe. The canoe capsized and they took to the jungle where three of the men were violently murdered. Eventually local Indians who sheltered them gave them to Dutch authorities who sent them back to the French. In the following years, Belbenoit tried to escape two more times and was transferred from island to island.

Chateau D’If prison found here

In 1931, Belbenoit sent a copy of his writings about the prison conditions to a new governor. Before the governor was transferred back to France, he gave Belbenoit a one year permit to leave the penal colony. Belbenoit spent most of the year working in the Panama Canal Zone as a gardener. However, with the permit soon to expire he decided to go back to France in order to argue his case. He was arrested and sent to the island of Royale where he was put into solitary confinement for almost a year.

Panama Canal found here

On November 3, 1934 Belbenoit was officially released – but that just meant he became a libéré, a free prisoner who was still not allowed to return to France. When a visiting moviemaker gave him $200, Belbenoit decided to try to escape once more. On March 2, 1935 he and five others took to the sea with a boat they had bought. When his companions after three days at sea began to argue, he had to pull a gun to force them to continue. When they reached Trinidad, British authorities decided not to give them back to the French. They continued on but sixteen days later ran aground on a beach in Colombia and natives stole their clothing. They reached Santa Maria, where a local general fed them, but also notified the French consul and took them to the local military prison.

Santa Maria found here

A sympathetic local newspaperman helped him to escape in exchange for writing about prison conditions. Belbenoit traveled slowly north and stole a number of native canoes to continue his journey. In Panama he spent about two months with the Kuna tribe and later sold a large collection of butterflies in Panama City. In 1937 in El Salvador he hid in a ship to Los Angeles

Kuna and Embera tribeswomen found here

In 1938 his account, Dry Guillotine, was published in United States. The book attracted the attention of the U.S. immigration authorities and Belbenoit was arrested. He received a visitor’s visa but in 1941 was told to leave the country. Belbenoit traveled to Mexico and a year later tried to slip back into the United States but was again arrested and sentenced to 15 months in prison. After his release, Belbenoit acquired a valid passport and went to Los Angeles to work for Warner Bros. as a technical advisor for the film Passage to Marseille.

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part angel, part demon

After reading Andrew Barrow’s heartfelt memoir about the short life of his younger brother I did a little googling to find out more about him. Among other things, he’s also the author of this obituary for the poet Philip O’Connor

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“As thin as a skeleton, his face already eroded, his smile never calm, he lived off doughnuts and Woodbines, ogled at women and spoke in cryptograms, spoonerisms and jingles, delivering sentences backwards and falling about in drunken exhilaration.

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Philip O’Connor’s life had been full of folly from the beginning. Born in Leighton Buzzard in 1916, delivered – he claimed – by the King’s physician, and encouraged by his mother, a fallen gentlewoman of mixed Asiatic, Dutch and Burmese blood, to consider himself descended through his father from the last King of Ireland, O’Connor had a disorderly childhood. Taken to France as a baby, he was abandoned at the age of four with Madame Tillieux, matronly proprietor of a patisserie in the seaside resort of Wimereux near Boulogne. Two years later, his mother returned to claim him and was met with violent protests. “Non!” screamed young Philip, scurrying to Madame’s black skirts. “Ce n’est past Maman, t’es Maman. ‘Suis Francais.”

Wimereux found here

Back in England a few years later, O’Connor was again adopted, this time by a one-legged bachelor civil servant who wore size 13 boots and owned a small wooden hut on Box Hill near Dorking. In circumstances unthinkable in today’s suspicious climate, here the dreamy little lad and his shy misogynist guardian set up house.

NOT this one legged man (found here)

By the time he left school, O’Connor’s megalomania or messianism was already pronounced: “The word ‘fool’ had fastened itself sharply, hissingly on my tongue.” Autocratic bad temper, omniscience and almost epileptic exhibitionism had become his trademarks.

O’Connor’s extreme outsider status was reinforced in his late teens by a longish period tramping across England – an experience which formed the basis for his book Vagrancy published in 1963. His time on the road was followed by a six-month stay in the Maudsley Hospital, where he was diagnosed as the youngest schizophrenic in the ward. He then bounced, or fell, back into Fitzrovia and into a marriage with the daughter of a Scottish lawyer, whose inheritance he was to squander on pate de foie gras and percussion instruments.

Gene Krupa found here

The marriage ended after five years and O’Connor embarked upon a number of other relationships, fathering an unknown number of attractive and intelligent children, in whose upbringing he was to play little part.

Some of his wives and girlfriends attempted to tame him and at various times O’Connor earned a living by pushing an old man round Salisbury in a bath-chair, wielding the lights at the Bedford Music Hall in Camden Town, and as an operator on the continental telephone exchange. In this last role, he boasted that he had eavesdropped on a private conversation between the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.

bath-chairs found here

Along the way he took up with a woman who earned her living taking baths with older men, then improved his lot by marrying a wealthy woman who financed a high-living fling that ended when her money and her sanity ran out. (After she tried to kill him, she was confined to a mental hospital and Philip O’Connor went on to other lovers.)

In material and emotional terms, O’Connor’s life was stabilised by his meeting at the age of 51 with the young, beautiful and beguiling American Panna Grady, whose self-effacing generosity to artists and writers in her New York apartment in the Dakota building had been on an epic scale. O’Connor began a love affair which was to last for the rest of his life.

Panna Grady and friends (including Andy Warhol) found here

O’Connor and Grady never married, but they created an atmosphere of strange fastidiousness around them in which O’Connor’s hisses and cackles were matched by a neurasthenic fear of the sounds and movements of others. This private world hedged in by Grady’s antique screens and Chinese tapestries was rarely penetrated or understood by others, though O’Connor could on occasions be an exhilarating host. Reluctant to shake hands – he was more likely to extend a dangling finger – he had considerable skills as a cook, dabbled interestingly with chickens but was just as likely to offer visitors a glass of boiling rum as a tumbler of the best champagne.

It could be argued that Philip O’Connor never grew up. Most of his life he avoided responsibility for others and himself. He was, said Stephen Spender, “part angel, part demon”.

In his own words, he “bathed in life and dried myself on the typewriter“.

Lego Vintage Typewriter found here

dante’s inferno

Lana Turner’s eighth husband led an interesting life….

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“Ronald Dante, or Ronald Pellar, or whatever his name really is, is not just any old guy, but a prolific con man with a history that is almost impossible to believe. 

In the 1970s, he was convicted of trying to murder a rival hypnotist.

A decade earlier he was actress Lana Turner’s eighth husband. She was one of his seven wives.

Lana Turner as a child found here

In the 1990s, he operated one of the greatest diploma-mill scams in U.S. history, although in his opinion it wasn’t a scam at all. The government disagreed.

Dr. Dante, a name he made up when he was a young man because he liked the way it sounded, said he was born in 1920. When he was 5, Dante claimed, he and his family were in Kuala Lumpur when Malaysian insurgents attacked. His mother, father and sister were killed, leaving only himself and his 10-year-old brother, who were sent to a Chicago orphanage.

image found here (click to read fine print)

At 11, Dante said, he walked away from the orphanage with his brother and hit the streets. His first “business venture” involved buying gold-plated watches for $2.99, packaging them in cases with a $150 price tag attached, and selling them to businessmen who assumed they were buying stolen merchandise for $25.

erotic watch found here

Dante, who still speaks in the deep baritone that made him a sensation as a hypnotist, said he attended several colleges as a young man, including the University of Wisconsin. It was there he met a hypnotist who taught him stage presence, he said.

In 1969 he met “sweater girl” actress Turner in a Los Angeles discotheque called The Candy Store. He soon would become her eighth and final husband.

Lana

He had a persuasive voice and strange, compelling eyes,” she wrote in her 1982 autobiography. “He claimed to have been brought up in Singapore and to have earned a doctorate in psychology there, but the press dug up something to debunk that. Shortly after our wedding he was shot at, or so he said, in an underground garage, by a gunman wearing an Australian bush hat. It got a lot of attention in the papers – maybe that was what he wanted.”

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Six months after the marriage, she found Dante’s motorcycle and all his belongings gone and a note typed on blue stationery. “It’s obvious that you have your thing to do, and I have mine, and I have to keep on doing it,” the note said.

Dante continued to perform as a hypnotist, and in the early 1970s was working in a Tucson nightclub. In 1974 he was found guilty of attempting to contract for the murder of Michael Dean of San Diego, the widely known hypnotist and entertainer. 

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After being released from prison, he created a permanent-makeup business in which he taught thousands of people how to tattoo eye liner and lip liner, using felt-tip pens and cantaloupes as demonstration tools. The Federal Trade Commission had problems with the company. For one thing, Dante said, he called his graduates “dermatologists,” which angered legitimate dermatologists, who are physicians. The government sued and eventually Dante settled the civil case.

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From the mid-1980s until the late 1990s, according to court documents, Senate committee transcripts and official reports, Dante made somewhere between $10 million and $20 million selling advanced degrees to people in one of the great diploma-mill scams in U.S. history. 

Dante bristles when “diploma mill” or “scam” is mentioned in the same breath with Columbia State. “They all realized what they were getting,” he said. “I mean, come on, who’s kidding who? They were getting a Ph.D. in a month.”

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After an ABC television news show featured him in a story about Columbia State University, he was kidnapped – he says by Mexican federal police – and taken to the United States, where a five-year prison sentence was enforced.

At the time of his kidnapping, Dante said, he had $26 million stashed on the yacht in cash, gold coins, cashier’s checks and American Express checks. While he was in prison, all the money disappeared.

 These days, Dante makes paper flowers, a skill he said he learned while married to Lana Turner. He also has put together a DVD he hopes to sell about how to make the flowers, as well as a DVD about being a hypnotist.

paper flowers found here

His website correctly says he has been listed in Guinness World Records for almost 20 years as having been paid the highest lecture fee: more than $3 million about hypnotherapy at a two-day course held in 1986 in Chicago.

 “That was a good weekend,” Dante said.

 He proudly produces a copy of “Marquis Who’s Who” from 1993, which lists Ronald Pellar as holding a doctorate from Columbia State University and of having been a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps.

 Is the Marine Corps reference true?

 Dante smiled slightly. “Of course not,” he said

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worthy of an Oscar

Oscar Levant (1906-1972) was a concert pianist, composer, actor, comedian, radio personality, television host, and bestselling author.

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In 1932 Oscar married Barbara Wooddell, a Ziegfeld Follies showgirl. Walter Winchell wrote in his newspaper column, “Barbara, who is lovely and nice, is marrying Oscar Levant, who isn’t.” Oscar and Barbara were divorced less than nine months after getting married. Oscar said later that, “Besides incompatibility, we hated each other.”

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In 1939 when Oscar married the movie actress June Gale, Walter Winchell wrote, “Oscar Levant, who knows most of the answers, explained that June Gale married him for his beauty, when everybody knows she married him for his theatre passes.”

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In 1938, after an article in the New York Post declared Oscar to be “the wag of Broadway”, and gossip columnist Dorothy Kilgallen devoted a New York Journal piece to “Town Wit – Oscar Levant”, the producers of a new radio show called “Information, Please!” hired Oscar to appear as a guest. The response to Oscar’s spontaneous wit during this program that challenged “experts” to answer questions sent in by listeners was so phenomenal that he was immediately hired to be one of the show’s four regulars.

In 1940 Oscar began to perform in what were called “concerts with comments”, where he preceeded and followed his piano pieces with humorous comments often made at his own expense.  In 1947 Oscar was invited to perform for President Harry Truman in the White House. His recital was attended by eight justices of the Supreme Court, various cabinet officers, congressmen, and senators, and Mrs. Woodrow Wilson. As the Levants were leaving the White House after the recital Oscar turned to his wife and said, “Now I guess we owe them a dinner.”

Harry Truman aged 13 found here

In 1944 Oscar received a draft notice from the army. One of the army’s examiners asked him, “Do you think you can kill?” Oscar replied, “I don’t know about strangers, but friends, yes.” He was sent back to civilian life. 

His caustic repartee occasionally got him into hot water: one television offering, Oscar Levant’s Words About Music, was yanked off the air in 1956 when he commented on a certain starlet’s conversion to Judaism and marriage to a well-known playwright: “Now that Marilyn Monroe is kosher, Arthur Miller can eat her.”

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Among the things that Oscar had a phobia about were any mention of the word “death”, or any word associated with death such as “funeral”, “coffin”, etc.; the numbers 13 and 411 (the hospital room number his mother was in when she died); lemons (which reminded him of the lemon he was awarded in his youth for being the worst dancer at a party); cats (a bad omen); dread of the word “luck” in any connotation, especially when being wished “good luck”; a hatred of the name Sarah (his sister–in–law’s name); and blackbirds (which filled him with terror because they were funereal–looking).

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In July, 1965, Oscar Levant published a volume of random memories titled “The Memoirs of an Amnesiac”. Four weeks after its release it appeared on The New York Times bestseller list. While promoting his book on The Merv Griffin television show, he was asked what he would do if he had his life to live over again. Oscar responded, “I’d talk my parents out of it.”

Some of his more well known quips…..

Of Elizabeth Taylor: “Always a bride, never a bridesmaid.”

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Of Perry Como: “Perry Como’s voice actually comes out of his eyelids.”

Of Debbie Reynolds: “She’s as wistful as an iron foundry.”

Of Grace Kelly: “She just married the first prince who asked her.”

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Of Doris Day: “I knew Doris Day before she became a virgin.”

Of Richard Nixon: “He swings a big mouth and carries a little stick.”

Of Zsa Zsa Gabor: “Zsa Zsa Gabor has learned the secret of perpetual middle age.”

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“Someone once asked me where I lived and I said, ‘On the periphery ‘.”

“I paid thousands of dollars to psychiatrists to forget my childhood.”

“My psychiatrist once said to me, ‘Maybe life isn’t for everyone’.”

“I was thrown out of one mental hospital because I depressed the patients.”

“There is a fine line between genius and insanity, and I have erased that line.”

patience please for the prince

Evangelist Glenn Wilbur Voliva was a disciple of John Alexander Dowie who, in the late 19th century, set up the township of Zion City on the shores of Lake Michigan. Dowie, who had denounced sex, oysters and life assurance, became the victim of a power struggle with Voliva who took over as Chief Administrator in 1905.

more erotic nature to be found here

He gained nationwide notoriety by his vigorous advocacy of flat earth doctrine. He offered a widely publicized $5000 challenge for anyone to disprove flat earth theory. Voliva also frequently predicted the end of the world: his predictions that the end would come in 1923, 1927, 1930, and 1935 were incorrect.

Still from Encounters at the End of the World found here

Lipstick, scanty clothes, high heels and swimming costumes were all strictly forbidden, as were cigarettes and alcohol. There were no theatres or cinemas and no butcher, chemist or doctor was allowed to practice within the city precincts. Nobody was allowed to whistle or sing or drive a vehicle in excess of 5 mph.

Angie Dickinson in scanty clothes and high heels found here

Transgressors were subject to arrest by Voliva’s Praetorian Guard, a regime whose helmets were inscribed with the word ‘Patience’ and who carried miniature bibles instead of truncheons. Punishment included a one hour lecture on sin.

World’s smallest Bible found here

Here in Australia we have our own independent sovereign state ruled by His Majesty Prince Leonard of Hutt.

The Principality of Hutt River was created in 1969 as a province in response to a dispute with the government over what the Casley family considered draconian wheat production quotas.

Prince Leonard found here

In correspondence with the governor-general’s office, Casley was inadvertently addressed as the “Administrator of the Hutt River Province” which, under the application of Royal Prerogative, makes this recognition binding on all courts. After the government threatened him with prosecution, Casley styled himself His Majesty Prince Leonard I of Hutt to take advantage of a law that a monarch could not only not be charged, but that anyone who interfered with his duties could be charged with treason.

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n 1976, Australia Post refused to handle Hutt River mail, forcing mail to be redirected via Canada. Following repeated demands by the Australian Taxation Office for the payment of taxes, on 2 December 1977 the province officially declared war on Australia. Prince Leonard notified authorities of the cessation of hostilities several days later. The mail service was restored and tax requests ceased.

Canada Mail found here

The Principality of Hutt River is situated 517 km north of Perth. Exports include wildflowers, agricultural produce, stamps and coins. Tourism is also important to its economy with 40,000 tourists visiting the principality every year.

Order your Hutt River stamps here

Although actual residents are very few, the principality claims a world-wide citizenry of 13,000. The Principality has no standing army, but a number of its citizens have been awarded military commissions. Honorary guardsmen attend the prince on formal occasions, and despite being completely landlocked, naval commissions have been conferred on supporters of the principality.

Prince Leonard and Princess Shirley found here

Prince Leonard is married to Her Royal Highness Princess Shirley, by whom he has seven adult children. His son, Crown Prince Ian, who is the Prime Minister of the Principality, has been designated as Prince Leonard’s eventual successor as “heir presumptive”.

it started with a bicycle theft

Forrest Silva Tucker is best remembered for one of the most innovative escapes in San Quentin’s history. But twenty years later in 1999 he wasn’t so lucky…

San Quentin weightlifters found here

A 78-year-old career bank robber, who once tweaked San Quentin guards by escaping with two colleagues in a prison- made kayak named “Rub-a-Dub-Dub, Marin Yacht Club,” is in trouble again.

DIY kayak found here

Forrest Silva Tucker, a reputed member of the real “Over The Hill Gang” in Boston, is in custody on suspicion of robbing a Florida bank and leading sheriff’s deputies on a car chase.

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In trying to avoid arrest Thursday, Tucker allegedly blundered into an enclosed schoolyard and was captured after he lost control of his vehicle and crashed into a palm tree.

Deputies said the chase ensued after Tucker, wanted for a bank robbery earlier that day in the town of Jupiter, was spotted visiting his girlfriend in Pompano Beach.

real life girlfriend from “Dog Day Afternoon” found here

You don’t normally think of a 78-year- old man having a girlfriend, but apparently he had quite a way with the ladies,” said a spokesman for the Broward County Sheriff’s Department.

Back in August 1979, Tucker and fellow inmates William McGirk and John Waller had daringly launched a home made kayak from a partially hidden beach on prison grounds.

Their flimsy craft, made of pieces of plastic sheeting, wood, duct tape and Formica, lasted just long enough for them to paddle several hundred yards to freedom right under the noses of the tower guards.

Toothpick ferris wheel made by San Quentin inmates found here

Within a matter of months, McGirk and Waller were back at San Quentin. They were tried twice for escape, but both times amused jurors refused to convict them. Tucker, meanwhile, remained free.

The next time he surfaced was a few years later in a Boston credit scam. The judge hearing the case freed him on his own recognizance after Marin County prosecutors said they did not want to try him for the San Quentin escape. Lost in the official correspondence between the two states was the fact that Tucker still had years to serve on his original San Quentin sentence. Tucker walked out of the Boston court and never went back.

At the time of his arrest for the Bay Area robberies, Tucker already had a rap sheet going back to a 1936 bicycle theft. There were also two other convictions, including a Florida bust in which he had escaped from a South Dade County hospital by picking the lock on his leg irons.

Shop for your human restraints here

Over the next few years, Tucker was identified by law enforcement agencies as a member of a group of elderly criminals in Massachusetts called the “Over the Hill Gang,” which robbed supermarkets in Boston and its suburbs. He was suspected in 17 armed robberies over the years, most recently in southeastern Florida.

Tucker’s 20 years as a California fugitive came to an ignominious end against a palm tree last week.

Cell tower disguised as palm tree found here

fool for love

Yesterday I saw “I Love You Phillip Morris” starring Jim Carrey and Ewen McGregor. I’m not a fan of Carrey’s work nor did I like the script but I was intrigued enough to investigate the true story it was based on…..

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Nine years into a 144-year jail sentence for assorted charges, including felony escape and embezzlement, Russell is one of the Michael Unit’s most notorious and closely guarded inmates. Ask him why he is here, incarcerated and alone, and he will answer without missing a beat that it is because he was a fool for love.

Bryan Ferry was also once a Fool for Love

Steven Jay Russell has many other names. As well as the 14 known aliases he used while fabricating bogus credentials and passing himself off variously as a judge, a doctor, an FBI agent and a bar student, he has been nicknamed “Houdini” and “King Con” for his remarkable ability to escape from prison. From 1992, when he was imprisoned for the relatively minor charge of insurance fraud, Russell managed to escape four times from several different Texan jails over a five-year period.

Houdini image found here

Russell’s shenanigans were driven by his obsessive love for a fellow inmate called Phillip Morris whom he met in jail. Russell and Morris, who was serving a sentence for failing to return a rental car, were both released on parole in 1995. Setting up home together in Houston, Russell went in search of money to lavish on his lover. He persuaded a medical insurance company to hire him as their chief financial officer on the basis of a greatly exaggerated CV with all references directed back to him. In five months, he embezzled $800,000 from dormant accounts to fund the couple’s glamorous lifestyle of Mercedes-Benz cars, jet-skis and matching Rolex watches. Russell even had his teeth capped and plastic surgery on his eyes.

Steven Russell found here

Eventually, he was found out and sent back to jail, but not before impersonating a judge over the telephone and demanding his own bail money be lowered from $900,000 to $45,000 (he paid with a cheque that later bounced). Despite managing repeatedly to outwit the federal authorities, Russell was always caught because, each time he escaped, he would end up beating a path to Morris’s door.

Phillip Morris found here

Russell’s escapes were never violent but they were ingenious. Twice, he simply walked through the front gates. In 1993, while languishing in the Harris County Jail in Houston for making a false insurance claim about an injured back, Russell disguised himself as a workman with a walkie-talkie and a pair of women’s black trousers stolen from the infirmary. “I tapped on the security gate with my walkie-talkie and the guy let me through,” he explains, nonchalantly.

Jim Carrey as Steven Russell found here

Three years later, he stockpiled green felt-tip pens from prison art classes, squeezing the ink from the cartridges into a sink of water and dying his overalls the colour of surgical scrubs. “You have to be very careful because if you wring them out, you get streaks in the material,” he says matter-of-factly. Underneath the makeshift medical clothes, Russell taped plastic bags tightly to his body so that police dogs would not be able to follow his scent once he was on the run.

Surgeon’s scrubs USB keys found here

He was out but not for long. Within the year, he was back in jail, this time plotting his most daring escape ever. Over a 10-month period in 1998, Russell began to feign the symptoms of Aids. He ate almost nothing and took laxatives in order to look as emaciated as possible. He wrote up fraudulent health records on the prison library typewriter and sent them to the relevant department in the internal mail system for inclusion in his medical file. Astonishingly, Russell was so persuasive that the Texas authorities never ran their own tests and he was transferred to a nursing home. From there, he posed as his own doctor over the telephone and received permission from parole officers to take part in a non-existent treatment programme. A few weeks later, the bogus doctor called the prison to let them know that, sadly, Russell had died.

In reality, Russell was very much alive and on his way, once again, to be with Phillip Morris. “That escape was the most difficult,” says Russell. “I had to completely discipline myself to lose the weight and did lots of reading up on the symptoms of Aids. But now he claims that he is resigned to a future behind bars – he says that planning all those escapes was “exhausting”

a dash of this and a filip of that

In 1972 some Canadian parapsychologists undertook an experiment.

The Experimenters

The members of the experiment attempted to create, through intense and prolonged concentration, a collective thought-form. The group consisted of Iris Owen, a former nurse and wife of the mathematician A. R. G. Owen; Margaret Sparrrows, former chairperson of an organization of individuals with high IQs; Andy H., housewife; Lorne H., industrial designer and husband of Andy H.; Al P., heating engineer; Bernice M., accountant; Dorothy O’ D., housewife and bookkeeper; and Sidney K., sociology student. Dr. A. R. G. Owen or Dr. Joel Whitton, psychologist, attended the group meetings.

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The group fabricated the fictitious identity, physical appearance, and personal history of their “Philip Aylesford” who was born in England in 1624.  He had an illustrious role in the Civil War, becoming a personal friend of Charles II and working for him as a secret agent. But Philip brought about his own undoing by having an affair with a Gypsy girl. When his wife found out she accused the girl of witchcraft, and she was burned at the stake. In despair Philip committed suicide in 1654 at the age of thirty.

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The Owen group began conducting sittings in September 1972 during which they meditated, visualized, and discussed the details of Philip’s life. After going for months with no communication, the group attempted table-tilting through psychokinesis.

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Some weeks after changing to the séance setting the group established communication with “Philip.” He answered questions that were consistent with his fictitious history, but was unable to provide any information beyond that which the group had conceived. However, “Philip” did give other historically accurate information about real events and people. The Owen group theorized that this latter information came from their own collective unconsciousness.

One session was held in front of a live audience of fifty people and was videotaped to be shown on television. In other sessions sounds were heard in various parts of the room and lights blinked on and off. The levitation and movement of a table were recorded on film in 1974. “Philip” seemed to have a special rapport with Iris Owen.

As the group became more comfortable with their encounters with Philip, they began to treat him as just another member of the group. They learned his personality as if he was a good friend. And Philip would play tricks on them. At times, he would move the table around the room, especially to rush up to those arriving late as if to greet them and say “Hi”. Other times, the table would trap certain individuals in corners.

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During one especially active night, one of the members jokingly admonished Philip by telling him that he could be sent away and replaced. After that, Philip’s activity began to decrease until it stopped altogether and the experiment was ceased.

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Published in: on February 8, 2011 at 7:43 am  Comments (42)  
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vito and joey

Hit man Vito Arena was a thief who started out by stealing cars for the Gambino family.

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“Just before his 36th birthday Vito fell passionately in love with 17 year old Joey Lee, the son of an Irish chauffeur. After a few months Joey moved into Vito’s apartment and before he knew it, found himself keeping watch outside while Vito and his chums carried out a contract murder.

In June 1981, Vito and Joey were pulled over whilst driving a stolen Chevrolet. Officer Friedman found gloves, a knife, an ice pick, 3 bullets and a red photograph album in the car. The album contained photos of Vito and Joey in a variety of sexual embraces.

order your bullet ice cube tray here

“I realised then I’d met my first gay hit man. I didn’t even know they existed” said Friedman.

Vito offered to do a deal and bartered information for leniency for Joey. Vito got 18 years, but Joey only got one. The plea baragin also included fixing Joey’s overbite.

get your overbite fixed here

By July 1983, Joey had served 13 months. He might have stayed longer had prison authorities not realised they had the first convict on record to stay voluntarily past his term. Vito continued to make demands. He asked for a radio, Bruce Springsteen records and more hot water.

Bruce found here

He insisted on the return of his red photo album and requested a barber’s chair for his cell block. He also asked for an operation to have the fat sucked from his face. When asked why, he said “I felt my appearance was awful.”

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