To close out 2016, we're bringing you two lighter stories of people exhibiting everyday genius under ... unusual circumstances. Comedian Dave Holmes' story begins with an upsetting phone call from the IRS. Then we meet a Baton Rouge attorney with a story of wild resourcefulness at Louisiana State Penitentiary, also known as Angola.
A word of caution, this episode contains language that may not be suitable for everyone.
Since 1938, a weekly African-American owned newspaper called The Evening Whirl has covered crime in St. Louis with a style all its own, using alliteration and rhyme, and often omitting the usual crime-reporting words like "accused" or "alleged." The paper has been widely criticized for its casual approach to fact-checking and sensational writing style. But the paper's owner, Anthony Sanders, who has been helping out with it since he was 18 years old, doesn't have any plans to change it. As the pages of The Whirl have said: “If that’s too much for you, pick up the Times and read the theatre reviews.”
Sgt. David Mascarenas is the Dive Supervisor for the Los Angeles Police Department. He's been diving his whole life, and prides himself on never refusing a dive, no matter how treacherous. At least until the summer of 2013, when a murder investigation led him into unusually murky waters.
Since 1965, there's been an unsolved murder in Houston, Texas. The main suspect managed to disappear and police were never able to find him. The case is still considered open. In 1997, a couple of accountants decided to look into the murders, and were able to uncover evidence that the police missed. They think they've solved the mystery.
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 2005, Danny Egipciaco had the opportunity to participate in a robbery of a drug supplier's stash house. He was told he'd take home between $100K-200K. In the end, the robbery never happened, so why has Danny spent the last ten years at Fort Dix Correctional Institution?
When we're kids, we have ideas of what we want to be when we grow up -- movie star, doctor, astronaut. But what if we dream of being like Butch Cassidy, Jesse James, or John Dillinger? And what happens when you're not a kid anymore but you're still obsessed with becoming an outlaw?
Michael Ross was the first person in Connecticut to be sentenced to death since 1960. He claimed that he wanted to die in order to atone for what he had done. One journalist spent twenty years trying to figure out whether or not his remorse was real.
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.
Jane Toppan was born in Massachusetts in 1857. She attended the Cambridge Nursing School, and established a successful private nursing career in Boston. Said to be cheerful, funny and excellent with her patients, nothing about "Jolly Jane" suggested she could be "the most notorious woman poisoner of modern times."
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.
In 2010, an eighth-grader brought a loaded gun to a middle school in Hastings, Minnesota. We speak with two students and the principal about the minutes and hours in lockdown.
As a young woman in the 60s, Andy Austin talked her way into a job as a courtroom sketch artist in Chicago. She spent 43 years sketching everyone from disgraced governors to John Wayne Gacy, and says she only made someone look bad on purpose once.
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. Criminal is a proud member of Radiotopia from PRX
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.
In 1983, three men were prepared to plead guilty to a violent sexual assault in Anderson, South Carolina. Defense attorneys did not want their clients to go before a jury, and arranged a plea deal. This left the sentencing in the hands of the judge, who gave the assailants a very controversial choice.
The 500-year-old Treaty Oak in Austin, Texas was once called "the most perfect specimen of a North American tree." But in 1989, Austin's city forester realized that the Treaty Oak didn't look so good, and began to wonder whether someone had intentionally tried to kill it.
In March 1964, a 35-year-old African American woman named Johnnie Mae Chappell was walking along the side of the road in Jacksonville, Florida. At the same time, four white men were driving around listening to the race riots on the radio. They had a gun on the dashboard. As they passed Chappell, one of the men leaned out the car window and shot her. As the police investigated her death, evidence began to mysteriously disappear, making it impossible to punish the men who admitted to committing the crime.
Shortly after Meridy Volz moved from Milwaukee to San Francisco, she received a phone call from a friend asking her to take over a small bakery business. Meridy agreed to run the bakery, but she only wanted to sell one thing: pot brownies. Her brownies were a massive success, and soon she was making enough money to support three families. Meridy tells her story alongside her daughter, Alia Volz, who describes what it's like when San Francisco's "original brownie lady" is your mom.
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.