By Nancy Farrell
On Tuesday March 29th, discussions began in the class-action lawsuit disputing the workplace policies of Wal-Mart, marking the start to what could be the largest Supreme Court case concerning women’s rights in decades. With six California women filing suit against the discount retail powerhouse, Wal-Mart faces some very serious gender inequality charges. As women’s rights issues come into the national spotlight once again, it is important to recognize the many milestones women’s rights activists have achieved throughout history and understand the many challenges still ahead. The following is a list of the 10 most significant Supreme Court cases dealing with women’s rights in the history of the United States.
- Muller v. Oregon (1908): While this Supreme Court case outcome was not exactly successful for women’s rights, it was a landmark case in the history of gender equality. Unanimously, the Supreme Court upheld an Oregon state law limiting women to working no more than ten hours a day (which was not the case for men). This ruling was negative in that it expressed an opinion of inequality between men and women. Claiming that the ruling was set in place to "protect" women, this result only upheld the patriarchal ideal that women are the lesser sex. However, Muller v. Oregon did ignite some positive consequences, beginning a widespread public discussion of women’s rights and gender equality.
- Roe v. Wade (1973): Now one of the most infamous Supreme Court cases in history, Rowe v. Wade struck down a Texas law restricting abortion. Texas had a law in place that made it a felony for a woman to get an abortion and the courts ruled that the state’s interest in protecting both the health of a pregnant woman and the potential life needed to be balanced against a woman’s right to privacy. The Roe v. Wade decision reshaped much of politics today and started the national debate over the morality of abortion.
- Adkins v. Children’s Hospital (1923): In this case, the Supreme Court held that a federal law establishing a minimum wage for women was unconstitutional. Although the states were still regulating the hours worked by women (as established in Muller v. Oregon case), the Supreme Courts ruled that regulating hours was different from regulating the wages women could make. As a result of the Adkins v. Children’s Hospital ruling, women have the same rights as men do when it comes to work wages. This case should hold an interesting place within the Wal-Mart Stores Inc. v. Betty Dukes case that began this week.
- Griswold v. Connecticut (1965): One of the most important cases in women’s rights history, Griswold v. Connecticut dealt with a Connecticut state law banning the use of contraceptives. This landmark ruling established a right to privacy within a marriage, even though this was not explicitly guaranteed in the Constitution. Married women were granted the undeniable right to use contraceptives by the right to privacy. While this ruling did not address the question of use contraception outside of marriage, it was a step in the right direction for women’s rights.
- Phillips v. Martin Marietta Corp. (1971): Title VII prohibits discrimination by employers on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. Supreme Court case Phillips v. Martin Marietta Corp. marked the first sex discrimination case under Title VII. The Court unanimously ruled that employers could not refuse to hire women with pre-school aged children while hiring men with children of the same age.
- Reed v. Reed (1971): In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court struck down an Illinois law concerning sex discrimination within the appointment of administration over an estate. A couple that had separated lost their son who did not leave a will. The man and woman, Sally and Cecil Reed, were battling over control of their son’s estate. An Illinois law stated that "males must be preferred to females" when dealing with appointing estate administrators and so Cecil Reed was named administrator of the estate. This specification was found undeniably gender bias and the Court held that the law’s dissimilar treatment of men and women was unconstitutional.
- Eisenstadt v. Baird: While the Supreme Court case Griswold v. Connecticut approached the issue of contraceptive use among married couples only, Eisenstadt v. Baird opposed a Massachusetts law banning the distribution of contraceptives to unmarried persons. With this case, a right to privacy was extended to individuals, married or single. This case extended the right announced in the Griswold v. Connecticut case to any procreative sexual intercourse. While this case was more focused on the equal rights of those who are married and those who are single, it intrinsically involves the rights of women and the own control over their personal lives.
- Pittsburgh Press Co. v. Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations (1937): This Supreme Court case dealt with First Amendment Issues of free speech and with sex discrimination issues. The Court ruled that a Pittsburgh ordinance that made it illegal to indicate a gender requirement in job postings was legally sound. The Pittsburgh Press printed job listings in three separate categories: "Jobs-Male Interest," "Jobs-Female Interest," and "Male-Female." These gender specifications were deemed unconstitutional by every court they were presented to.
- International Union, UAW v. Johnson Controls, Inc. (1991): Johnson Controls, Inc. had a policy that barred fertile women from obtaining jobs involving exposure to lead because of the potential harm inflicted to fetuses as a result of lead poisoning. However, the company did not have a similar policy in place for fertile men, even though it was known that lead exposure could have dangerous effects on the male reproductive system. The Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the company could not discriminate with job positions based on gender.
- United States v. Virginia (1996): The Supreme Court ruled 7-1 against the Virginia Military Institute’s male-only admissions policy. Virginia Military Institute (VMI) was the only public institution left in the United States with a male-only bias. In response to the gender debate, VMI offered a female-only parallel program at a separate location. This suggestion was shot down by the Court, claiming that the female-only program could not offer the same prestige, alumni connections, faculty, or military training as VMI. While a District Court initially ruled in the school’s favor, the Fourth Circuit ruled that VMI was in direct violation of the U. S. Constitution.
By Nancy Farrell
It’s hard not to blame the writers and producers of Law & Order for using the news as fuel for their stories. They’ve got a couple dozen episodes to film every season, and multiple franchises to keep up with. The flagship title ran from 1990-2010 and logged a ridiculous 456 episodes; after a while, it’s probably easier to just make up stuff based on the front page of CNN than it is to come up with something wholly original. But it’s not like the show only came to its "ripped from the headlines" format late in the game. Since the franchise’s inception, episodes have borrowed heavily from real life, sometimes to the point where disclaimers had to be made to keep the network out of hot water. Maybe we’re more aware now than before of the way the multiple series lift plots from real life, but the bottom line is that it’s hardly anything new. Here are some of the most shameless instances of "borrowing" in the franchise’s history.
- "Haystack," Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: Nancy Grace, the unhinged blonde lady from cable, has appeared on L&O several times in various incarnations, including the barely disguised "Faith Yancy" on Criminal Intent. (Presumably "Shmancy Mace" was too on-the-nose.) In the 2007 episode "Haystack" of SVU, a reporter accuses a woman of trying to kidnap and murder her own baby, a charge that leads to the woman committing suicide. This is basically a reworked version of the trouble Grace got into with Melinda Duckett, a 21-year-old mom who killed herself after appearing in an interview with Grace in which Grace badgered Duckett about the specifics of her past and whereabouts during the disappearance. Eventually, Duckett’s estate sued for wrongful death, and the case was settled out of court, with Grace establishing a trust whose funds will be given to Duckett’s son, if he’s found alive, or given to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
- "Subterranean Homeboy Blues," Law & Order: "Subterranean Homeboy Blues" was the second episode ever aired of the original Law & Order, which means the show’s been borrowing from the news for more than two decades now. To be fair, though, this episode has a bit more originality and spark than some of the others. The installment deals with a woman who shoots and kills two men on the subway, and though the shooting is initially thought to be self-defense, it comes to light that it might be a revenge killing. The story is inspired by the actions of Bernhard Goetz, who killed four men on the New York subway in 1984 after saying they tried to rob him. He was branded the Subway Vigilante and came to represent a city fed up with crime. The fictional version, to its credit, changed the gender and played a bit looser with the story.
- "Floater," Law & Order: Airing in the fall of 2003, "Floater" was inspired by the trial of Gerald Garson, a New York Supreme Court Justice who was convicted of taking bribes to change the verdicts of divorce proceedings and who eventually served time for his crimes from 2007-2009. When the episode aired, Garson’s indictment was still fresh. The L&O version changed the judge to one who messes with murder cases — this is Law & Order, after all, so somebody’s gotta die — but ran with the angle of a crooked judge willing to break the law for the right price.
- "Torch," Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: The life and death of Cameron Todd Willingham have become a kind of touchstone for organizations dedicated to pursuing justice for those they believe to be wrongly accused, or by groups who want to abolish the death penalty. A mammoth 2009 story in The New Yorker pushed the case into the popular consciousness, at which point all bets were off for L&O. In April 2010, the episode "Torch" took the basics of the case — young girls die in a fire, their father is suspected of arson — and ran with it. The TV episode was (pardon the pun) a bit overcooked, but it also worked out more happily than the real case. On the show, the father was found innocent thanks to holes in the theories of the fire scientists. Willingham wasn’t so lucky.
- "Innocence," Law & Order: The Innocence Project is one of several advocacy groups devoted to securing new trials for those who might be wrongly imprisoned. In 2010, the episode "Innoncence" revolved around the fictional Innocence Collective and their similar cause. The episode was based in part on allegations of impropriety by students working with the Medill Innocence Project: a pair of witnesses claimed to have been coerced into giving certain testimony in a murder case. The TV version of events turns the group (or at least certain members of it) into committed bad guys, blinded by a cause, which can’t have felt good to the actual Innoncence Project. At least it’s just TV.
- "Out of the Half-Light," Law & Order: Airing in December 1990, "Out of the Half-Light" was based mostly on the Tawana Bradley case of 1987. Bradley, a black teenager, accused six white men (including some cops) of raping her in the woods. Public sentiment was with her until a lack of evidence did her in. A grand jury eventually decided that she hadn’t been a victim of such assault. The TV adaptation played to the racial angle that had so galvanized the public in the original case, though obviously, there’s only so much nuance you can achieve in 44 mninutes. The episode helped cement the series’ habit of looking to the headlines for story ideas.
- "Bombshell," Law & Order: Criminal Intent: The Criminal Intent series is all about "major cases," which is the simplest way to say that these episodes are almost always going to be cobbled together from the front page of The New York Post. The 2007 episode "Bombshell" is no exception. See if this sounds familiar: a former stripper and model marries a famous billionaire, has a son, and sees that son die as an adult of an overdose. If you said "That’s the short version of Anna Nicole Smith’s Wikipedia page," give yourself a prize. This episode isn’t the only one in the L&O-verse to use Smith’s sad life as fuel for a story, though it is the one that hews closest (for whatever that’s worth) to the basic facts. In the episode, as in real life, the woman soon dies, leaving behind a baby.
- "Fed," Law & Order: Airing in the 20th and final season of the original Law & Order, the 2009 episode "Fed" was built on the death of Bill Sparkman, a Census Bureau representative who was killed in the fall of that year. (The show works fast.) Sparkman’s body was found tied to a tree, with the word "fed" written on his chest. It looked like a homicide, but investigators later determined it was a suicide staged to look like a murder. Now, a twist like that would be easy and fine to use in a TV show, but L&O throws in everything else, too. The TV episode deals with an election campaign volunteer whose body is also found with "fed" written on the chest, which leads to weird cover-ups that rope in the brain-dead hijinks of fake pimp James O’Keefe and the purported ACORN scandal. In other words, way too much for one hour of TV. It’s a prime example of how the series often feels it has to rip from seven headlines at once.
- "Weeping Willow," Law & Order: Criminal Intent: Law & Order often uses adorably awful mirror versions of real-life things in its stories. This episode features the not-at-all-awkwardly-titled YouLenz, which is as close as the producers could get to YouTube without paying for it. The hour revolves around a female video blogger with the handle "WeepingWillow17," which is just a lazy half-step from "Lonelygirl15." It’s not that they shouldn’t use the Lonelygirl thing for plot fodder; it’s that they don’t even change the names that much. The Lonelygirl15 affair was a series of viral videos on YouTube meant to drum up support for an eventual feature, but the Law & Order version is much more sordid, involving a staged kidnapping and a heartless girl (Michelle Trachtenberg) looking for fame at any cost. It’s intended to be a commentary on modern celebrity culture, but it’s not much more nuanced than "Computers are bad."
- "Indifference," Law & Order: Trivia: this is the only episode of Law & Order in which the narrator actually told people that the story resembled a real-life case. It’s not uncommon for the series to have title-card disclaimers ("All similarities are purely coincidental," etc.), but for the narrator to actually speak the warning aloud is a pretty big deal, and a sign of just how much the episode owed to the real world. The episode was based on the case of Joel Steinberg, a New York attorney who was supposed to find an adoptive family for a young girl but instead took her and raised her as his own with his live-in girlfriend, Hedda Nussbaum. On the show, the detectives discover that a psychiatrist and his wife, both addicted to drugs, are abusing their child, and the various lies they’ve told to keep her come to light after she dies. It’s interesting that 20 years ago, an episode that owed such a debt to real-life crime paid tribute with a vocal disclaimer, while today it’s commonplace for Law & Order to mash up several news stories and not even pretend to care that they’re unoriginal. If only we’d know how good we had it.
By Nancy Farrell
Murders happen every day, but very rarely are they committed by people who can’t see over the witness stand. According to the U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, juvenile offenders were involved in approximately 1,043 murders in 2006, which accounts for 10 percent of all murders. Children may commit a small percentage of all murders in the United States overall, but they aren’t a demographic that we can afford to ignore. Here are the 10 youngest murderers in history:
- Carl Newton Mahan: Carl Newton Mahan was six years old when he killed his friend Cecil Van Hoose, 8, over a piece of scrap iron on May 18, 1929 in eastern Kentucky. Since times were tough, the two young boys were out looking for scrap metal to sell to a junk dealer for money. They began fighting over a piece of scrap iron, and Cecil hit Carl in the face with it. Carl ran all the way home with Cecil in tow. He grabbed his father’s shotgun and threatened to shoot Cecil — and he did. Carl went to trial for the murder of Van Hoose. The original sentencing was 15 years in reform school, but it was later turned over and the judge issued a "writ of prohibition" that kept him from going to reform school. At that time, Carl was the youngest murder defendant in the state of Kentucky and possibly in the country.
- Robert Thompson and Jon Venables: Robert Thompson and Jon Venables were both 10 years old when they abducted and killed two-year-old James Bulger in 1993. The young boys snatched the toddler from a shopping mall while his mother was inside a store, and took him on a 2.5-mile walk across Liverpool. The boys were seen walking by approximately 38 people, but many assumed he was their younger brother. Venables and Thompson took Bulger to a railway line where they tortured and brutally attacked the toddler. Bulger suffered multiple skull fractures from blows to the head, and was sexually abused by the two older boys. After the beatings, they left Bulger’s lifeless body across the railway tracks so that his body would be cut in half. Police were able to pin Venables and Thompson because of video images that captured Bulger’s abduction from the mall. DNA testing matched the blood found on the boys’ shoes to Bulger. Thompson and Venables were arrested and controversially tried and convicted in an adult court. They were both found guilty of murder and sentenced to custody until the age of 18.
- Lionel Tate: In 2001, Lionel Tate, 14, was convicted of first-degree murder for brutally beating 6-year-old Tiffany Eunick in 1999. Tate became the youngest person ever sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole. On the night of the murder, Lionel’s mother Kathleen Grossett-Tate was babysitting the kids. She let 12-year-old Tate and 6-year-old Eunick play downstairs while she went upstairs to take a nap in preparation for her overnight shift as a Florida State Trooper. About 45 minutes later, Tate told his mother that the young girl wasn’t breathing. Tiffany was pronounced dead at the hospital. Tate, who was nearly 6 feet tall and 166 pounds, admitted to wrestling with the 48-pound girl and holding her in a headlock and slamming her head into a table, but the autopsy showed more serious injuries inflicted by Tate, including a crushed skull, broken ribs and a shredded liver that had been pushed through her rib cage. The Broward State Attorney’s Office tried Lionel as an adult and punished him with a severe sentence to life in prison without parole. The conviction and sentencing shocked the nation and spurred discussion about the prosecution of children in America.
- Mary Bell: In 1968, 11-year-old Mary Bell was convicted of killing two young boys, 4-year-old Martin Brown and 3-year-old Brian Howe. Bell strangled Martin Brown and left his lifeless body in an abandoned house in Newcastle, England. Two weeks later, she and her 13-year-old friend Norma Bell (no relation) strangled Brian Howe, carved the letter M into his stomach with scissors and disposed of his body on waste ground. Howe’s hair had been cut and his genitals were mutilated. The girls were tried and convicted of manslaughter, but Norma was acquitted. Bell received life in detention, but only served 12 years before she was released and given lifelong anonymity.
- Andrew Golden and Mitchell Johnson: Andrew Golden, 11, and Mitchell Johnson, 13, were responsible for killing four students and one teacher and wounding 10 others at Westside Middle School in Jonesboro, Arkansas on March 24, 1998. The incident became known worldwide as the Westside Middle School Massacre. Golden and Johnson had carefully planned the attack. On the morning of the shooting, the boys snuck into Andrew’s grandparent’s house and stole several guns and ammo from his grandfather’s collection and loaded their weaponry into Mitchell’s parents’ minivan. Mitchell was marked absent from school that day, but Andrew attended so that he could pull the fire alarm and meet up with Mitchell in the woods to prepare for their ambush. As soon as students and teachers started filing out of the school for the fire drill, the boys started the shooting spree. Police captured the boys in the woods and took them into custody. Under Arkansas law, the boys couldn’t be tried as adults because of their age, but they were charged for five accounts of murder in Juvenile Court and held as juvenile delinquents until age 18 and served an additional three years for federal gun charges.
- Jordan Brown: In 2009, 11-year-old Jordan Brown shot and killed his father’s pregnant fiancé Kenzie Houk and her unborn son as well. According to police reports, Jordan walked into his father’s room and shot Houk with a hunting rifle while she was sleeping, and boarded a school bus like normal. Houk’s body was discovered by her 4-year-old daughter Adalynn. Police have reason to believe Jordan is the killer after discovering gun residue on his shirt, a fresh shell casting outside and Houk’s oldest daughter’s testimony that she saw Jordan holding the gun. Brown was arrested and charged as an adult for the murder of his soon-to-be stepmom. The case hasn’t gone to trial yet, but Jordan’s father stands by his son’s innocence. The state of Pennsylvania is tough on crime laws and considers any kid charged with murder an adult in court. In order to move Jordan’s case to juvenile court, a judge will have to overturn the rule. If convicted as an adult, Jordan could become the youngest person in U.S. history to be sentenced to life in prison without parole.
- 8-Year-Old Boy Kills Father and Friend: In 2008, an 8-year-old boy, whose name was not released, was arrested and charged with shooting and killing his father and his father’s friend in their St. Johns, Arizona home. The young boy confessed to shooting both men with a .22 caliber rifle, but police felt something bigger caused the boy to commit such a premeditated murder. The boy also kept a tally of spankings he received from his father, but there was not enough evidence to support the possibility of abuse. He was originally charged with two counts of first-degree murder, but the charges for his father’s death were dropped by his plea deal. Two years later, the 10-year-old was sentenced to a residential treatment facility and intensive probation until 18 years of age.
- Eric Smith: Eric Smith was 13 years old when he sexually abused and murdered four-year-old Derrick Robie on August 2, 1993 in Steuben County, New York. Eric and Derrick lived in different parts of town, but attended the same recreation program a block away from the Robie household. Derrick’s mother was tending to her youngest son and wasn’t able to walk Derrick to the end of the driveway like she normally did. That day, she let her son walk one block alone for the first time. Within those short five minutes, Derrick was lured from the sidewalk into the woods and strangled by Eric. Derrick was sexually abused and his belongings were strewn around his body. Even the contents of his lunchbox were poured out and smashed near him. As details unfolded, Smith became police’s number one suspect. The innocent looking redhead with thick glasses admitted to killing Derrick, but never gave any real reason why he did it. In 1994, Smith was tried and convicted of second-degree murder and received a sentencing of nine years to life in prison, which was the maximum term given to juvenile murderers.
- 9-Year-Old Girl Kills Playmate: In 2005, a 9-year-old girl, whose name wasn’t released, was responsible for stabbing 11-year-old Queen Washington during a fight over a ball. They were playing at the 9-year-old’s home in Brooklyn during a Memorial Day barbeque, and when her mother stepped out of the house, the fight ensued. When the mother returned, the 9-year-old had stabbed Washington in the chest with a steak knife. She collapsed in the hallway and was pronounced dead at the hospital. The killer is likely the youngest person in New York City to commit a murder. The girl was charged with manslaughter and the case will go to family court because she is younger than 14.
- Andrew Wurst: Andrew Wurst was 14 years old when he entered his 8th grade graduation dance and opened fire, killing John Gillette and wounding another teacher and two students. Wurst showed up late to the Parker Middle School dance held at a restaurant in Edinboro, Pennsylvania, carrying his father’s .25 caliber pistol. According to Wurst’s suicide note, he was going to kill only himself, but he decided to shoot Gillette and open fire on the crowd. He was detained by the owner of the restaurant, who held him on the ground and searched him for weapons. Wurst pled guilty in a plea bargain to third-degree murder and attempted murder to avoid trial, but was sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison.
Prison breaks loom large in pop culture: they’re in movies, TV series, books, even cartoons. It’s the chaos they cause, more than anything, that makes their stories so riveting. It’s also interesting to note that not all prison breaks are created equal. Some of them are escape attempts by hardened criminals (and these never, ever end well), but quite a few others are rooted in political activism or a desire to break free from imprisonment by an enemy combatant. The most notorious escapes of all time were perpetrated by abused men and women in prison camps who just wanted to fight back. No matter where they fall on the spectrum, these prison breaks were all impressive in their own way.
- The Great Escape, March 1944: The story of Stalag Luft III, a German-run POW camp in what is now Poland, was immortalized in the 1963 film The Great Escape, but the real story is even more incredible. In late March of 1944, a coalition of Allied troops banded together to break out of the prison, putting into motion a plan that had been working since early 1943. The men dug three tunnels underneath their cabins that shot out into the German countryside, using wood slats from their beds to shore up the holes as they went. They even installed makeshift air pumps to supply oxygen to the men digging (the tunnels were 30 feet below the surface and stretched out a great length), as well as a series of lights to guide the work. Despite weather setbacks, 76 men were able to escape via the tunnel system on a moonless night in March. Of those, 73 were captured, and 50 were executed. The rest were shipped off to other camps. It remains one of the biggest and most daring POW prison breaks in history, involving 200 planned escapees and more than 600 construction workers.
- Alcatraz, June 1962: The fantasies of Michael Bay notwithstanding, nobody ever made it off the Rock alive. There’s only been one possibly successful escape attempt, and it came in June 1962. After three dozen inmates had made 14 unsuccessful attempts, four men — Frank Morris, Allen West, and brothers Clarence and John Anglin — banded together and got closer than anyone else ever had to realizing their freedom. On June 11, Morris and the Anglin brothers escaped through holes they’d cut in the walls of their cells, climbed to the roof, and entered a raft fashioned from prison-issue raincoats and rubber cement. West wasn’t able to get out of his room in time and was left behind by the others, so he returned to his cell and eventually revealed all the details to investigators. (He was subsequently never charged with trying to escape.) Despite an investigation of the area, the men were never found, leading officials to surmise that the men drowned while trying to make it to shore. No one really knows, though.
- Maze Prison, September 1983: This is the largest prison escape in British history, and it’s actually known as "the Great Escape" to Irish republicans and others sympathetic to their cause. Her Majesty’s Prison Maze closed in 2000, but the Northern Ireland prison ran for almost 30 years, and the maximum-security prison was mostly devoted to housing inmates related to the constititional battles of Northern Ireland known as the Troubles. The Troubles themselves saw a number of escapes, but the Maze breakout was by far the biggest. On September 25, a pair of prisoners used guns that they’d had smuggled in to take over one of the prison blocks, holding guards hostage to prevent an alarm from being sounded. They stole guard uniforms and eventually worked their way en masse to the gate. A few were eventually stopped, but 35 men breached the perimeter and got out. Some were caught within a day, and over the next two decades, many more would die in paramilitary ops or find themselves caught and returned to prison. By 2003, only two escapees remained at large.
- John B. Connally Unit, December 2000: The John B. Connally Unit is a maximum-security prison in Kenedy, Texas, about 60 miles southeast of San Antonio. It’s basically the middle of nowhere. George Rivas, who was 30 at the time, was serving 18 consecutive sentences (each 15-years to life) for kidnapping and burglary he’d committed in El Paso. He became the ringleader of a group that would be known as the Texas Seven when they staged an escape and went on the run. On the morning of December 13, Rivas and the other men physically overpowered 16 other people, including guards, civilian maintenance men, and even three other prisoners not involved with the plan. As their hostages grew, the Seven took their clothes and cash. They made their way down and out to a maintenance truck and drove off. A crime spree followed, ranging from San Antonio up to Dallas and then into Colorado as the men kept running. Tips eventually led to the capture of the runaways, one of whom killed himself before being captured. They were all returned to prison and sentenced to death, and one of them has already been executed.
- Sobibor, October 1943: The Polish village of Sobibor was home to a gruesome death camp in World War II. It’s estimated by some sources that more than 200,000 Jewish citizens were executed there during the war. Yet for all its horror, the camp was the site of one of the few successful uprising and prison breaks in the war. On October 14, 1943, a pair of Jewish prisoners managed to kill almost a dozen SS members and a few guards as part of a plan to weaken the camp’s infrastructure and allow an open revolt. The plan originally called for a more stealthy overthrow, but the dead Germans were soon discovered, at which point about half of the camp’s 600 prisoners fled into the forest. Many were soon caught by guard teams or met their fate on nearby minefields, though at least 50 of them outlived the war.
- Libby Prison, February 1864: Prison breaks in the Civil War were obviously far different in their planning and execution than those today. Modern prisons have high-quality cameras, multiple lockdown points, and guards with hevay firepower; tech in the mid-19th century was decidedly less capable. For this reason, prison breaks were actually pretty common during the Civil War, though most were smaller than the breakout staged at Virginia’s Libby Prison, a Confederate camp that housed hundreds of Union soldiers. Over time, prisoners tunneled out through a room that had grown infested with rats and padded with straw. By February 9, the tunnel was done, and men crawled through and then sauntered out of the camp. The casual manner and distance fooled the Confederate guards. All told, 109 men escaped, with 48 being recaptured, two drowning in a nearby river, and 59 successfully making it back to Union territory.
- Crown Point County Jail, January 1934: John Dillinger was nothing if not bold. He was already an established criminal by the time he and some of his men were caught in late 1933. Dillinger was sent to Indiana and placed in a jail in Crown Point to stand trial for murder and other crimes. Police and officials bragged that the prison was escape-proof, which is pretty much all the invitation Dillinger needed to break out. His lawyer smuggled in a wooden prop gun, and using that, Dillinger was able to get the drop on a pair of guards and get them to release him before they knew the weapon was fake. He stole the sheriff’s car and drove away to Chicago. It was a daring, brash escape that cemented Dillinger’s reputation, but it was also the beginning of the end. He would be dead by July 1934, shot outside a movie theater by federal agents.
- Mecklenburg Correctional Center, May 1984: Currently a medium-security facility, Virginia’s Mecklenburg Correctional Center began its life as a maximum-security prison intended to house the worst of the worst, and for a while it was the location of the state’s male death row inmates. In May 1984, six of those death row inmates made a break for it by taking advantage of guards who had grown inattentive. They overpowered guards, took control of the block, and bluffed their way out the gate by claiming to have a bomb. Two of the group, brothers James and Linwood Briley, were doing time after carrying out a killing spree in 1979. The six men parted ways once they crossed into North Carolina, but as is usually the case, they were eventually picked up and pinned down by cops who were actively searching for them. All six men were soon returned to prison, and between fall 1984 and December 1996, they were executed.