Famous criminalsare those individuals whose criminal behaviors become widely known to thegeneral public for their unscrupulous acts. Described below is a sample of individuals whose extreme transgressions have brought the ire or admirationof their communities and the attention of society as famous criminals.
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Joseph ADONIS (1902 - 1972)
Adonis was bornJoseph Doto. Alleged to be vane and self-centered, he changed his nameto Joe Adonis, and was known to the inner-circle as 'Joey A.'.In 1927, with other underworld figures he formed the Seven Group to controlthe illicit alcohol trade. He was also involved in controlling gamblingin sections of New Jersey and New York. In 1951 he pleaded guilty to violatingNew Jersey's gambling laws and served a two year prison term. Rather thenencounter New York's indictment against him for violating their state gamblinglaws, as well as perjury charges brought about by the Federal Governmentconcerning his citizenship, he accepted deportation to Milan, Italy, wherehe died of natural causes.
Albert ANASTASIA (1903 - 1957)
A senior Mafioso leader of New York's underworld, Albert Anastasia wasknown as the 'Lord High Executioner' of Murder, Incorporated.He was involved in numerous violent criminal acts, the narcotics tradeand those victimless crimes of gambling and prostitution. Appearing beforeSenator Estes Kefauver's United States Senate Crime Investigating Committee,Anastasia (with known organized crime figures Adonis, Cohen, Costello,Lansky and others) stated he was innocent of any wrong doing and lackedsufficient knowledge concerning the syndicate and its operations. He wasshot to death while having a haircut in a New York Hotel. The murder wasallegedly perpetrated by individuals representing Mafia leader Vito Genovese.
Arizona Donnie Clark 'Kate' BARKER (1872- 1935)
Known to the public as the infamous 'Ma' Barker, she was bornnear Springfield, Missouri, and in 1892 married George Barker, with whomshe had four sons, (viz.,) Herman, Lloyd, Dock and Fred. She instructedher sons and other known felons of the time on the mechanics of robbingbanks and trains. Barker left her husband, undertaking a criminal careeras maternal advisor to the so-called 'Barker Gang.' She was alsoinvolved in extortion and kidnapping. Barker was killed in a shoot-outon Lake Weir, Florida, by Federal Bureau of Investigation agents headedby Edward J. Connelley.
Clyde Chestnut BARROW (1909 -1934)
Partof the 'Bonnie and Clyde' famous duo, Clyde Barrow was born toa Texas farm family. Prior to living with Bonnie Parker and undertakinga violent crime spree of robbing banks, he was involved in numerous robberieswith his brother, Buck Barrow. After serving a prison sentence in Texas,Clyde Barrow increased his violent criminal activities. It was with BonnieParker, that Clyde Barrow, his brother Buck and his wife, Blanche, alongwith a robber named William Jones and a thief named Ray Hamilton, formedthe legendary 'Barrow Gang.' After a succession of robberiesand murders, the 'Barrow Gang' disintegrated with the killingof Buck Barrow and the arrest of his wife, Blanche. It was on May 23, 1934,that Clyde Barrow with his partner, Bonnie Parker, died in an ambush conductedby famed lawman Frank Hammer and five other law enforcement officers outsideof Gibsland, Louisiana. Hammer was known for hunting criminals as preyand attempting to think as they would in order to predict their next activityand implement his plans for capture.
Joseph BONNANO (1905 - 2002)
Joseph 'Joey Bannanas' Bannano arrived in the United States fromCastellammare del Golfa, Italy, and got involved with the Brooklyn Mafia.In 1931, Bonnano with Gagliano, Luciano, Mangano and Profaci was involvedwith Salvatore Marazano, the 'capo di tutti capi' (supreme head)in reorganizing the Sicilian sydndicate into what is currently termed theCosa Nostra. He became one of the five New York Mafia families. Bonnanobegan his career in Brooklyn by owning a garment factory and getting involvedwith usery, drugs and the numbers. He was one of a number of syndicateheads who was arrested by the New York State Police at the famed Apalachinmeeting. Being extremely ambitious, Bonnano was once kidnapped in 1964by the organized crime commission and agreed to retire. He was only one,of a rare few, who was released alive from such an experience. After hidingfor almost a year-and-a-half, he returned and got involved in the so-calledBanana War for control of his family with his son. In 1967, Banno had aheart attack. He attempted to retire in Tuscon, Arizona, however, a numberof bombing attempts were made against him by members of the syndicate.In their failure, Joseph Bannona finally did retire; his family succumbedto the leadership of one Natale Evola.
Theodore Robert BUNDY (1946 - 1988)
Primarily known for the sexual assault and strangulation of women, Ted Bundyutilized his charm, physical looks and law studies background to disarmhis prey prior to attacking them. On several occasions he attempted toask for assistance while wearing a false caste in order to get near hisvictim. He was arrested for the breaking in and entering the rooms of twoFlorida State University co-eds who he killed. Bundy's fame was broughtabout by his own attempt to represent his legal interests and the significantnumber of murders he was alleged to have committed against women in thePacific Northwest, the West and Florida. After several appeals, he wasexecuted.
Alphonse CAPONE (1900 - 1944)
Once known as PublicEnemy Number one, Al ('Scar Face') Capone is, perhaps, one ofthe most famous criminals in America. Coming from an impoverished ItalianNeapolitan family, Capone began his career in crime as a Lieutenant inthe Five Points gang in Manhattan. Johnny Torrio, head of the Chicago syndicate,offered Capone a position to assist him with Chicago's illict liquor andbeer trafficking. Later they expanded into prostitution, gambling and therunning of saloons. Violence, murder and mayhem were Capone's trademarks.To insulate himself from the authorities, he corrupted numerous officialsas well as used sawn-off shotguns and sub-machine guns to assure his power.Aside from being violent by nature, he was also outgoing, gregarious andflamboyant in his style. It has been alleged that over 500 murders werecommitted by Capone's henchmen, and well over 700 violent criminals werein his employ. To acquire Chicago's Gold Coast, he had Dion O'Banion assassinated;to gain control of the Mafia's Unione Sicilione, he had three of the Gennabrothers killed while forcing the remaining three brothers to emigrateto Marsala Sicily, Italy. For protection he traveled in a specially designedsteel lined automobile. Capone was also involved in ordering the killingof the George 'Bugs' Moran gang in the famous St. Valentine'sDay Massacre. He served eight years in a federal penitentiary for failureto pay his income taxes and died in 1947 at his estate located in PalmIsland, Florida, from syphilis and related causes.
Caryl CHESSMAN (1921 - 1960)
Known as a 'criminal genius' for his ability to extend his deathsentence appeal to last for twelve years, Caryl Chessman was also knownas the 'red light bandit.' He would use a red light, similarto a police officer, to stop his victims and then rob, sexual assault andkidnap them. For the later endeavor involving female victims, he was chargedunder California Penal Law for a capital offense. While in prison, Chessmanwrote three books: TRIAL BY ORDEAL; CELL 2455 DEATH ROW, and THE FACE OFJUSTICE. Chessman was executed in the California State Prison at San Quentinon May 2, 1960, just minutes before Judge Goodman attempted to grant himone more stay of execution. Chessman's fame was based on his ability toextend his execution, his publications and the intricacies of his variouslegal manuvers.
Jeffrey DAHMER (1960 - 1997 )
One of the most bizarre criminals in the 1990s. Jeffrey Dahmer was accusedof sadistically murdering, mutilating and canibalizing male victims inhis apartment. Court records noted he allegedly dismembered fifteen menor boys in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. For several weeks his case brought theattention of the Milwaukee Sentinel and the Milwaukee Journal, as wellas the local electronic media and the national media which made him knownas a 'media criminal.' The defense pleaded Dahmer was insaneand a necrophilec. Being raised in a broken home, sexually abused as achild and having above average intelligence, Dahmer complemented the classicpattern for a serial murder. The twelve member jury found him sane. Hewas sentenced to fifteen life terms in prison since Wisconsin does nothave a death penalty. He was clubbed to death in a prison bathroom.
Albert Henry DESALVO (1933 -1973)
Known as the 'Boston Strangler,' DeSalvo was accused of rapingand strangulating thirteen women in Boston, Massachussetts. One of hisfirst victims was Anna Slesers, a divorcee and active participant in Latvianendeavors in Boston. She was sexually assaulted and strangled with a cordfrom her robe. The key or trademark was the manner in which the bow shapedknot was tied with the cord that was used to strangulate the victim, andthe way the victim's lower extremities were parted. DeSalvo's killingsoccurred from August, 1962 to January, 1964. His victims ranged from nineteento eighty-five years of age. He was identified for police by one victimwhom he sexually assualted, but left live. DeSalvo was found guilty onNovember 26, 1973. He was later stabbed to death with sixteen wounds byfellow inmates in Walpole State Prison.
John Herbert DILLINGER (1903- 1934)
Aclassic famous criminal, John H. Dillinger (aka) 'Gentleman Johnnie,'was admired by the impoverished, but to J. Edgard Hoover he was PublicEnemy Number One. During the Depression Era he robbed banks and later wasinvolved in numerous murders. His criminal activities began when he wasseventeen years old robbing grocery stores or gas stations. He was broughtup in Indianapolis, Indiana, in a Quaker family. One of the first bankshe robbed was in Daleville, Indiana, which set the pattern for his adultcriminal endeavors. In January, 1934, Dillinger was arrested for killingpolice officer William O'Malley during a East Chicago bank robbery. Whilewaiting for trial at Crown Point Prison in Indiana, Dilinger carved a woodenautomatic pistol and used it on jailer Sam Cahoon to gain his noted escape.After several other crime sprees, on Sunday evening, July 22, 1934, hewas shot to death by FBI agents led by Melvin Purvis outside the BiographTheatre in Chicago. He was identified by Anna Sage, the famed 'Ladyin Red,' because of the dark red colored dress she wore when she accompaniedDillinger that fateful Sunday evening.
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John Wayne GACY, JR. (1942 - 1994)
Gacy's fame was throughhis serial killing of male prostitutes in the 1970s. Born during WorldWar II, Gacy was a building contractor in Northern Illinois. He was citedfor killing over thirty individuals whose remains he buried in his homeor on his property in a Chicago suburb. The luried manner in which he dismemberedhis victim's bodies brought him national attention through the media asa mass murderer.
Gary GILMORE (1940 - 1977)
Gilmore's crime as a robber and murderer did not contribute to his fameas did his case, which reinstated the death penalty in the United States.Throughout his stay at the Utah State Prison he did not contest his execution.He requested the state to execute him or otherwise, if he was releasedfrom prison, he would probably return to a life of violent crime. On appeal,the U.S. Supreme Court brought back capital punishment and Gilmore wasexecuted by the State of Utah. The death penalty once again became partof the punitive aspect of the American system of criminal justice.
John GOTTI (1940 - 2002)
John Gotti was bornin South Bronx, New York. His family originated from Naples, Italy. Hebegan his criminal activities as a gang leader of the Fulton-Rockaway Boysgang. Later, as a teenager, he became a member of Carmine Fatico's syndicateand got involved in auto theft, burglaries and related crimes. In 1969,Gotti was arrested and found guilty of hijacking goods at Kennedy InternationalAirport. When he was released from prison in 1972, the syndicated promotedhim to acting capo of the Bergen Gang of the Gambino Family. In 1973, heassisted in the killing of James McBratney, who it was alleged, kidnappedand murdered Carol Gambino's nephew. After serving two years in the GreenHaven Prison for McBratney's killing, Gotti assumed greater authority andpower in the Gambino crime family and got involved in racketeering, useryand gambling. Three attempts were made by Federal proseuctors to prosecuteGotti but they failed. In 1992, Gotti was finally indicted and found guiltyof racketeering and the murder of ex-godfather Paul Castellano. Gotti'sflamboyant behavior, dress, charitable donations, bantering with the mediaand apprarent enjoyment of teasing the authorities brought him nationalcelebrity status.
John HINCKLEY, JR. (1955 - )
Hinckley was raised in a very affluent family in Colorado; throughout hismaturation period he demonstrated signs of extreme withdrawl. At twenty-sixyears of age, he attempted to assassinate, with a handgun, President RonaldReagan. Hinckely's insanity plea brought national attention and attemptsfor handgun legislation. He was determined insane and placed for treatmentin St. Elizabeth Hospital for the mentally ill in Washington, DC. In hisattempt on the President's life, several individuals were wounded. Oneof them was James Brady, the President's press secretary. Through thisincident, Mr. Brady and his spouse have attempted on numerous occasionsto have Congress pass the Brady Bill which would limit access time to obtaininga handgun.
Charles H. KEATING, JR. (1923- )
Keating is an example of a white collar criminal par excellence. Nationallyknown for his insider trading of securities, the selling of over $4.5 billionof uninsured junk bonds and the fraudulent sale of a parent company's assets,Keating was the primary architect with four other associates (Judy J. Wischner,Charles H. Keating III, Robert M. Wurzelbacher and Andrew F. Liggett) forthe failure of the Lincoln Savings and Loan Association and its parentcompany - American Continental Corporation. He is noted for possibly contributingto the fall of many associations within the savings and loan industry inthe early 1990s. In addition, it was alleged he provided significant moniesfor the political campaigns of Senators Alan Cranston, Donald Riegle andDennis DeConcini for their political support. On April 10, 1992, underthe Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations ACT (RICO), Keatingwas found guilty of fraud and given ten years in prison. The accountingfirm of Ernst and Young, and the law firm of Jones, Day, Reavis and Pogueagreed to pay damages.
Charles LUCIANO (1897 - 1962)
A key figure in attemptingto nationalize organize crime, Luciano, a Sicilian overlord of New Yorkcrime was known as 'Lucky.' He was involved in the 1930s in NewYork City prostitution and drug trafficking. In 1936 he was found guiltyof running a prostitution ring and sentenced to Dannemora New York StatePrison. Six years later he was transferred to Great Meadow Prison wherehe held a number of meetings with recognized underworld figures to assistthe United States Government's war efforts. Luciano is attributed withassuring the rackets did not harm the New York docks during World War II,as well as providing underground saboteurs in Sicily. For this activity,in 1946, New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey, had Luciano taken to EllisIsland and deported to Italy. For several years he lived near his hometown of Lercara Friddi and then moved to Havana, Cuba, to run his 'DopeInternational' business. Deported back to Italy by President Batistista,he died of natural causes.
Charles MANSON (1934 - )
Abrutal killer and cult leader, Manson was known for the 1969 Sharon Tatemurders he committed with his followers (i.e.,) the Manson Family, involvingactress Sharon Tate and six other individuals. He portrayed himself asa 'savior' who violently opposed society. Manson had disfiguredhis anatonmy and had branded his forehead with the letter 'X'to signify being an outcast. The violent perversity of his acts in havinghis followers hack to death their victims and write in blood the the words'pig' and 'war' reflected his satanic orientation.He and his followers were also charged and found guilty in murdering Lenoand Rosemary LaBianca in the same manner.
Lee Harvey OSWALD (1939 - 1963)
Oswald'sfame is historically attributed to his alleged assassination, in 1963,of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. He was an ex-marine who not onlyserved but lived in Russia, married a native Russian woman (Marina), spokeRussian fluently, was knowledgeable about the socio-ecnomic and politicalfactors characterizing the Soviet Union, and had a close familiarity withweapons. The Warren Commission concluded Lee Harvey Oswald was the soleperpetrator in killing President Kennedy in Dallas, Texas, from the TexasSchool Book Depository. Twenty-nine years later (1992), controversy emergedconcerning a number of possible conspiracy theories involving the CentralIntelligence Agency, organized crime figures, the former Soviet Union,highly placed United States Government officials and others in assistingOswald. None of the proposed conspiracy theories have been substantiated.
James Earl RAY (1928 - 1998)
Ray has been known as the man who shot and killed Dr. Martin Luther Kingon his hotel veranda in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1968. Belonging to a whitesupremacy group, he exposed a philosophy of hate crime. Although not established,it is conjectured he was part of a conspiracy group. While serving timefor King's assassination, he escaped from prison in Tennessee. Authoritieswere able to locate and arrest him. Ray has made several attempts at theappeal process. He died of liver cancer.
Benjamin SIEGEL (1906 - 1947)
Born in the lower eastside of New York City, Benjamin Siegel (aka 'Bugsy' Siegel) wasa colorful mobster. Attributed to his fame was his involvement with selectstars from the motion picture industry in the 1930s and 40s, and in establishingthe Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas for gambling purposes on behalf of theMafia. Siegel began his criminal career as a murderer, extortionist, gamblerand enforcer for the mob on the east coast. In the mid 1930s the Mafiosihad Siegel move to the west coast where he gained significant control overthe trafficking of drugs, select motion picture stars and minor actors,as well as a gambling wire service. Given his outoing personality, physicalappeal and ability to socialize, Siegel initially represented the mob'sinterests in California and Nevada quite well. It has been alleged he knewsuch individuals as George Raft, Gary Cooper, Clark Gable and even a Countessnamed Dorothy DiFrasso. In 1946 he secretly married Virginia Hill, a baglady for the syndicate. Siegel and Hill had a tumultuous relationship.By failing to pay back the mob for the monies he borrowed to build theFlamingo Hotel, he was murdered with a .30-30 carbine while sitting ona coach in the plush living room of Virginia Hill's home in Beverly Hills,California.
Charles STARKWEATHER (1940 -1959)
Along with his adolescent companion, Caril Ann Fugate, mass murder Starkweatherkilled and mutilated his victims in the mid 1950s. He began his killingrampage on December 1, 1957, when he shot a teenage gas station attendant.The illogical approach to the selection of his victims, coupled with hisobsessive identity of teenage idol and motion picture actor, James Dean,led to his fame. It was on January 21, 1958, that Starkweather increasedthe momentum to his killing pattern by shooting Mr. and Mrs. Marion Bartlett,Caril's mother and step-father. He also battered to death her one yearold baby step sister. Six days later on January 27, 1958, he killed a teenageboy and girl as well as an elderly male presumed to be in his 70s. In theend, Starkweather killed a total of eleven people prior to being caughtand executed in the Nebraska State Penitentiary.
Joseph M. VALACHI (1904 - 1971)
Valachi's life was characterized by violence and crime. During his pre-teenageyears, he served time in a reform school for assaulting fellow students.His introduction to organized crime started with his marriage to MildredReina, who was the daughter of an underworld figure. Valachia served asa 'torpedo' (a contracted murderer), was involved in drug trafficking,extortion and gambling. While serving time in prison, it is alleged hewas given the kiss of death by former boss Vito Genovese for supposedlyagreeing to be an informant for the Federal Government. After three unsuccessfulattempts were made on his life in prison, Valachi clubbed to death a fellowinmate he believed was the possible assassin. The man he assaulted andkilled had no association with the Mafia. Since Valachi never had any intentionof becoming an informant, the attempts made on his life infuriated himand caused him to vindictively provide the Federal Bureau of Investigation,the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (now the Drug Enforcement Administration)and Senator McClellan's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations with insiderinformation. It was Valachi's decision to go public that created his fame.His testimonies provided the government with precise data on the structure,operation, personalities, issues and events that characterized organizedcrime.
Throughout human history there have been individuals who aggressively violatedthe conventional norms of society. The nature of their anti-social behaviorcontributed to their fame. The individuals briefly identified in this sectionreflect the diverse ethnic, education, gender, racial, economic and socialstratas that characterize a famous criminal. For a more inclusive portraitof such criminals and other violent personalities, the reader should examinethose publications cited in the reference section. This site is only a partial listing.
James A. Adamitis, Ph.D.
Abadinsky, Howard. Organized Crime. Chicago, Illinois, 2006.
Bequai, August. White-Collar Crime: A 20th Century Crisis. 5th. ed.Lexington, Massachusetts, 1985.
BPC Publishing Limited. Crimes and Punishment - A Pictorial Encyclopediaof Aberrant Behavior. Paulton, England, 1973.
Hammer, Richard. Playboy's Illustrated History of Organized Crime. Chicago,Illnois, 1975.
Kaplan, David A. 'Silence of the Wolves.' Newsweek. Feb. 3,1992, p. 50(2).
Kelly, Robert J. Organized Crime - A Global Perspectie. Totowa, NewJersey, 1986.
Kohn, George C. Dictionary of Culprits and Criminals. Metuchen, NewJersey, 1986.
Magnusson, Ed. 'You Sold Your Office: A Scandalous CongressionalFund-Raising System Goes on Trial Along with the Senate's Keating Five.'Time. Nov. 26, 1990, p. 35.
Mathews, Thomas. 'Secrets of a Serial Killer.' Newsweek. Feb.3, 1992, p.44(5).
Nash, Jay R. Bloodletters and Badmen: A Narrative Encyclopedia of AmericanCriminals from the Pilgrims to the Present. New York. 1992.
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Perry, Brian. 'Lincoln's Keating Booked on 42 Counts; Bail is $5Million.' American Banker. Sept. 19, 1990, p. 15.
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Reichel, Philip. The Handbook of Transational Crime and Justice. Sage Publications. 2004.
Ringer, Richard. 'RICO Suit Against Keating is Expected.'American Banker. Sept. 14, 1989, p. 1(2).
Ripley, W. L. Springer's Gambit. Leisure Books. 2007.
Schneider, Karen S. 'Day of Reckoning - Jury Findings in Jeffrey Dahmer Murder Case.' People Weekly. March 2, 1992, p. 38.
Selwin, Raab. Five Famlies: The Rise, Decline and Resurgence of America's Most Powerful Maifa Empires. St. Martin's Press. 2005.
Sher, Julian and William Marsden. Angels of Death: Inside the Biker Gangs' Global Crime Empire. Transition Vendor. 2007.
Stevens, Amy. 'Lincoln S & L -Case Bondholders to Get About $70 Million.' The Wall Street Journal. Sept. 16, 1992, p. B11.
Stone, Michael. 'After Gotti - With the Top Wiseguys Taking theHeat, is the Mob Facing a Meltdonwn?' New York. Feb. 3, 1992, pp.22-30.
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Weiner, Neil Alan., and Marvin E. Wolfgang. Violent Crime, Violent Criminals.Newbury Park - Beverly Hills, California, 1988.