The lifestyles of the rich and famous are coveted are envied by many around the world. It seems that when you’re rich, the world’s a playground and – just like on the school yard – you make the rules for yourself. With wealth, fame is often the precursor or the result. Indeed, there are those who amass riches but maintain anonymity: If you’re a member of the royal family or an entrepreneur, fame is hardly the number one priority – it’s usually simply a result of circumstance. But what about those wealthy people who become not famous but, rather, infamous? Those whose luxurious playground became a battle ground, whose name became known because of corruption, obsession and violence?
There is no doubt that the wealthy live a different life, and there are a select few who perhaps give in to the megalomaniacal tendency to believe they have more power and influence than others, a feeling that sometimes makes them feel justified in committing murder. It’s a sad truth that the justice system favours the rich: The ‘one percent’ can afford better lawyers, and they may even have the money to hire people to do the dirty work for them. But eventually, if the law catches up with them, money can only do so much. Sometimes, though, money can do just enough to let you off the hook.
Some of the most notorious murderers – whether convicted or alleged – possessed notable wealth. Some of the most complex and brilliantly planned murders were committed by people who had not only their freedom but their enormous wealth to lose. Let’s look at ten of the wealthiest people who were responsible for ending a life.
10. Lizzie Borden: 1892
The story of Lizzie Borden is chilling enough to disturb even the hardiest crime reader. Even though she was born into wealth, she didn’t live the life of a wealthy person. Her father, Andrew Borden, was allegedly incredibly cheap – to the point that their house didn’t have indoor plumbing. The murders of Andrew and Abigail Borden – Lizzie’s stepmother – caused a media sensation as photos of the bodies became public. Andrew was struck by a hatchet axe around 10-11 times and Abigail was struck 19 times. Lizzie was tried and acquitted for their murders, and proceeded to live a more comfortable life than her father would have ever allowed. The case has appeared in the news again recently when Lizzie’s attorney’s journals were found, but it’s not confirmed that they provide any confirmation of Lizzie’s liability. Although she was acquitted, Lizzie became a legendary figure and public opinion maintained she was responsible for the murders – there’s even a popular children’s rhyme about her crime.
9. H.H. Holmes: 1896
Dr. Henry Howard Holmes is known as one of America’s first serial killers. Holmes, a pharmacist, used his considerable wealth to purchase a lot and build and design a hotel for the express purpose of murder. He came across a vast amount of money after working for a terminally pharmacist and living in his building. After the pharmacist died, Holmes ‘bought’ the building from his grieving widow who mysteriously disappeared after she accused Holmes of failing to pay the agreed installments. Holmes was known to select primarily female victims to work for him, as well as hotel guests and his lovers. He confessed to killing 27 people, with nine of those confirmed. Some believe, however, that he killed over 200 people. He was tried, was found guilty, and was hanged in 1896.
8. Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb: 1924
Known as the crime of the 20th century, Leopold and Loeb were two young men from the rich neighborhood of Kenwood on Chicago’s south side – who wanted nothing more than to commit the perfect crime. The teenangers’ murder of 14-year old Bobby Franks became infamous for its dark brutality. The two law students – both academically gifted and from wealthy families – developed a close and intimate relationship during their university years. Their obsession with crime and passion for Nietzsche’s ‘Superman’ ideal led them to spend seven months planning the murder: The plan was to select a boy at random, kill him, and send a ransom note demanding money. But these two young men were in no need of money; this was a thrill-seeking mission. They rented a car under another name, purchased a chisel, and drove around the Harvard School For Boys selecting Robert “Bobby” Franks as the unfortunate victim. It’s unclear who struck Franks first, but they stuffed a sock into Franks’ mouth and taped it shut before knocking him unconscious. Franks died of suffocation. Leopold and Loeb then stripped his body, poured acid on his face and genitals to prevent identification, and dumped the body. However, the perfect crime did not, in fact, have a perfect ending; reports didn’t align and were inconsistent. Loeb was the first to confess and then Leopold followed. They were charged with murder and kidnapping, sentenced to serve life imprisonments.
7. Carl Coppolino: 1965
Dr. Coppolino – sometimes known as the “Doctor of Death” – was charged with second degree murder of his wife, Carmela, whom he killed with an injection of the anesthetic, succinylcholine chloride. The motivation? To be with his lover and wealthy divorcee, Mary Gibson. About six weeks after Carmela passed away in Florida, Coppolino married Gibson. It’s alleged that Coppolino committed the murder for money, as he was in financial difficulty at the time. He quickly joined the ranks of the rich and famous upon his marriage to Gibson but his fall from grace was abrupt when information came to light regarding a motive for murder. Coppolino was tried for the murder of his neighbour Colonel William E. Farber, of which he was acquitted, and for the murder of Carmela Coppolino – of which he was found guilty, and was sentenced to a life in 1967; though he was released after 12 years due to good behavior.
6. Michael Skakel: 1975
The nephew of Robert Kennedy’s widow, Ethel, Michael Skakel was born in 1960 and came from a prominent family that was very well off. In 1973, Skakel’s mother died of brain cancer and he began abusing alcohol. In 1975, 15 year old Martha Moxley was found dead at the Skakel house underneath a tree, and broken pieces of a golf club around her. It was concluded that she was beaten to death. She was last seen with Michael’s brother, Thomas, who had kissed her beforehand. Alibis were inconsistent, but no one was charged at the time. Michael then confessed to the murder to two friends, bragging “I’m a Kennedy, I can get away with murder.” In 1998, the murder was revisited and Michael found himself as the prime suspect. He was sentenced in 2002, but has been granted a new trial as of 2013 and has been released until that begins. He was recently given permission to travel.
4. Issei Sagawa: 1981
Japanese-born Issei Sagawa was the member of a wealthy family. He was convicted of murdering and cannibalizing a Dutch woman named Renee Hartevelt in Paris, in 1981. He had been in Paris to pursue his PhD in literature. Sagawa allegedly had low self esteem, seeing himself as small, weak, and ugly – he selected Renee as a victim because she was beautiful and healthy, and he wanted to absorb her energy. The two were classmates and he had invited her to his apartment under the ruse of studying for their class. After shooting her and eating her over several days he attempted to dump the corpse in a lake, when he was caught. His rich father paid for a defense lawyer and he was declared unfit to stand trial due to insanity. Japan couldn’t detain Sagawa due to the French police refusing to release documents pertinent to the detention. In 1986, Sagawa checked himself out of the mental facility and has been free ever since. He has become a notorious celebrity in Japan and had written books about the murder he committed. He now lives in Tokyo but his freedom remains controversial.
5. Lyle and Erik Menendez: 1989
The Menendez brothers, Lyle and Erik, were born to wealthy parents – their father was a corporate executive of The Hertz Corporation. The boys shot their parents in their den, went out, and after returning home reported the murders to the police. The brothers were not initially considered as suspects, but following their parents’ deaths their unusual behaviour – going on a spending spree to the tune of over $1 million – aroused suspicion and Erik consequently confessed to the murders to his psychologist, who reported it to the police. Lyle was arrested shortly after. Both brothers were found guilty and are serving life sentences.
3. Dana Ewell: 1992
Dana Ewell was born into a wealthy family, the son of multi-millionaire Dale Ewell. In 1992, on Easter Sunday, Ewell’s college roommate Joel Radovcich gunned down Dale, his mother Glee, and his sister Tiffany – with a promise from Ewell that he would get half of the fortune. Ewell coordinated the murders to obtain full, sole access to his grandmother’s trust account; he stood to inherit millions of dollars. Ewell was known for lying and exaggerating about his personal wealth. When his father found out about Ewell’s attitude to his wealth, he limited his son’s access to his funds, giving him money in installments instead of at will which angered Ewell. The murder was staged as a break in, but detectives weren’t convinced and proceeded to keep Ewell under surveillance for years; they noticed he was spending the family fortune rapdily. The breakthrough in the case came when Radovcich’s friend, Ernest Jack Ponce, came forward and provided a detailed plan and account of the murders. The two men were tried and convicted of three counts of first-degree murder.
2. Allen Blackthorne: 1997
Wealthy businessman Allen Blackthorne made a fortune selling medical equipment. He lived in a multi-million dollar mansion with his fourth wife and his kids – but he had a violent history with his ex-wife, Sheila Bellush. Stalking, custody battles for their daughters, restraining orders, and more marked this couple’s stormy divorce. Sheila eventually met and married Jamie Bellush, but was continually harassed by her ex-husband. She and Bellush eventually moved to Florida – but that didn’t stop Blackthorne, who hired a private investigator named Chuck Chambers to track her down. Blackthorne then organised a hit-man, Jose Luis Del Toro, to kill his wife. All the men involved in Sheila’s murder confessed and Blackthorne was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder and domestic violence; he’s currently serving a life sentence.
1. Joran van der Sloot: 2010
Dutchman Joran van der Sloot first made headlines as a prime suspect in the disappearance of American schoolgirl Natalee Holloway while he was studying abroad in Aruba in 2005. He was never convicted of this crime, but in later life he was found guilty of killing and robbing Stefanie Tatiana Flores Ramirez in Peru, in 2010. Born in 1987 in the Netherlands and the son of very wealthy parents, Joran’s father Paul’s involvement in the case was the centre of media attention and controversies in headlines worldwide. Joran was sentenced to 28 years for Stefanie’s murder; although Natalee Holloway’s disappearance is still unsolved, Van der Sloot claimed that he sold her into sexual slavery for money (a claim he later retracted).
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