8 "Crimes Of The Century" That Shocked the World

Sometimes the most sensational crimes leave the most lasting impact. Throughout the development of the news business, the saying "if it bleeds, it leads" has been the justification for selling newspapers and growing TV ratings.  

These crimes were some of the biggest of their times - and some are still famous, even today. 

1
1836 - The Murder of Helen Jewett

Helen Jewitt
Helen Jewitt as depicted in a 19th century book. Library of Congress

A media sensation in the early days of modern media, the April 1836 murder of prostitute Helen Jewett was one of the first real "crimes of the century."

Lurid stories about the crime and the trial of her accused killer (Richard Robinson) grabbed headlines in the New York Herald, and helped define "tabloid journalism".   

Read more about the case, the trial and the verdict 

2
1891 - The Russell Sage Affair

Russell Sage
Russell Sage. SuperStock/SuperStock/Getty Images

In an era when Americans accumulated wealth at record levels, financier Russell Sage nearly became the victim of a bizarre extortion scheme.

He narrowly escaped being killed by a powerful bomb after a visitor to his office tried to extort money from the man in December 1891.

The facts behind the case—which included a police officer taking the severed head(!) of the bomber to Sage's house for identification—created quite the media frenzy.

What happened next? →

3
1906 - The Murder of Architect Stanford White

Stanford White
Stanford White. Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Architect Stanford White designed some of the most iconic structures in New York City, including the first Penn Station, The Washington Square Park arch, and the New York Herald Building. But, it was at another building he designed, the first Madison Square Garden, that White met an untimely end. 

In June of 1906, he was shot in the building's roof garden by Harry K. Thaw. Thaw was trying to defend the honor of his wife, showgirl Evelyn Nesbit, who White had had an affair with.

More about the lurid scandal that surrounded the case 

4
1921 - Murders in the Osage Hills

Anna Brown
Anna Brown, the first victim. FBI

In May 1921, Anna Brown, an Osage Native American, was found in a remote ravine in northern Oklahoma.

It was the start of a crime spree that ended up with more than two dozen people dead. This would become one of the most complicated cases ever investigated by the FBI.

How the FBI finally solved the crime 

5
1924 - Leopold and Loeb Murder Bobby Franks

Clarence Darrow
Clarence Darrow, whose defense of Leopold and Loeb would earn him national fame. Chicago History Museum/Archive Photos/Getty Images

On May 21, 1924, two Chicago teenagers attempted to commit the perfect crime. Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb kidnapped 14-year-old Bobby Franks, killed him in a rented car, and then dumped Franks' body.

The trial introduced the world to the legal wizardry of Clarence Darrow, who would again make headlines during the Scopes Monkey Trial the following year.

What made this crime particularly twisted 

6
1932 - Charles Lindbergh's Baby is Kidnapped

Charles Lindbergh, Jr.
Charles Lindbergh, Jr., whose life would cut tragically short. BIPS/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Charles Lindbergh was used to making the news, as an American hero because of his famous transatlantic flight. This time, sadly, he made headlines for a much more somber reason in March 1932, when his son was kidnapped from his home in New Jersey.

The crime would make national headlines as the public followed every twist and turn of the case. The accused kidnapper, Bruno Richard Hauptmann, would later be convicted of the crime and sentenced to death in the electric chair.

How detectives solved the case 

7
1947 - The "Black Dahlia" Murder

Elizabeth Short
Elizabeth Short, the victim in the "Black Dahlia" case. Hulton Archive/Archive Photos/Getty Images

On January 15, 1947, Elizabeth Short was found murdered. Her body had been left in a vacant lot in Los Angeles. When police arrived, they found her body maimed in a brutal way and left in a vulgar position. 

The press nicknamed Short "The Black Dahlia," and her lifestyle was called into question during the investigation.

The sensational condition of her body drove hundreds of people to converge on the scene, leaving it a shambles. Their enthusiasm destroyed much of the possible evidence detectives could have used to find her killer.

The case remains one of Los Angeles' longest unsolved crimes.

Why police couldn't arrest her killer (Warning: Graphic content) 

8
1989 - The Copelands: Unexpected Killers

Ray Copeland
Ray Copeland's Mug Shot.

A particularly disturbing case started in October 1989 when Missouri police received a tip that a human skull and bones were found on farmland owned by an elderly couple, Ray and Faye Copeland.

In a short amount of time, five other bodies were found around the farm.

What made the case unusual was the age of the accused. Why this couple, both in their 70s, went from being loving grandparents to serial killer is both morbid and perplexing.

What made the Copelands kill? 

Next: Read About America's Most Infamous Murder Mysteries