The World’s Dumbest Criminals

Crime never pays—especially if it’s planned badly

Illustration: Serge Bloch
Illustration: Serge Bloch

Early one morning a woman in Bridgend, Wales discovered a burglar rummaging through her downstairs cupboards. The startled robber fled—but not before the homeowner caught a glimpse, revealed as he bent over, of his strange underpants.

The quirky boxers would prove the thief’s undoing.

Darren Machon, 39, was already wanted by police and was arrested after a car chase in the town centre later that day. The suspect was changing his clothes in the holding cell when one of the officers noticed his undies, adorned with cartoon graphics of burgers, donuts and fries; the same fast-food medley that the burglary victim had described her intruder as wearing.

Machon’s “novelty underpants” were held up as evidence against him in Cardiff Crown Court in last August. He was sentenced to two years and ten months for burglary and dangerous driving.

Big risk, no reward
Two men withdrew money from a roadside filling station bank machine the hard way in Stockport, England: They pumped explosive gas into the ATM and exploded it. The pair of crooks managed to scoop roughly 25,000 pounds sterling out of the machine, and fled.

When police arrived at the scene, they found the partially destroyed ATM. But, as if leaving a tip, the thieves had spilled some of their stash as they drove away. The trail of bank notes led police directly to their hideout beneath a sign-bearing highway gantry. Dangling above the motorway, the frightened crooks were almost relieved to be arrested before they fell into traffic. They pled guilty to theft and “causing an explosion likely to endanger life” and were sentenced to a total of 15 and a half years.

No leg to stand on
No one would describe serial thief Paul Bartlett as having masterful attention to detail.

The 47-year-old crook wearing a homemade balaclava had robbed three stores in the area of Birmingham, England in three days—making off with alcohol, cigarettes and cash. In one raid, he wasted time scooping up change from the cash drawer (quipping to the cashier that he was that broke). At another point he accidentally called his accomplice, Adam Breen, by his real name, which helped police zero in on the duo.

When constables searched Bartlett’s house they found, among other incriminating items, a one-legged pair of pants. The other leg Bartlett had used to fashion the crude balaclava he wore for the heists.

Bartlett, who had 27 previous convictions for 78 offenses, was sentenced to 13 years in prison. Breen received five years two months.

Not very “smart”
Barrister Charlotte Johnson was defending 26-year-old Bobby Heath from Strood in Kent, who had been charged with drug and driving offenses, when she realized her smartphone was missing. Images from the court’s closed circuit TV system revealed Heath slipping it into his pocket.

Heath was tried, found guilty of theft, and jailed for two weeks. “This crime shows he doesn’t care who he targets or what misery he causes,” said police constable David Paine.

Trapped between bars
Last July police and firefighters had to rescue a thief from the entrance of a launderette he was trying to rob. The man broke the glass in the door with a rock and then tried to force open the bars so that he could slip into the Madrid facility. He failed, and ended up prone with his head trapped between two of the bars.

Illustration: Serge Bloch
Illustration: Serge Bloch

Loose change and morals
A man who broke into a Welsh post office was apprehended after he tried to buy a used car with an enormous pile of coins.

Security cameras in the post office captured Daniel Allen Thomas, 29, leaving the premises with cash and cigarettes. Shortly after, he offered a man selling his Renault Clio £1,000 in loose change, which weighed 9.5kg. The suspicious vendor declined and so Thomas returned with notes.

Police caught their man after a widespread social media appeal. Confronted with security camera footage and evidence from the car sale, Thomas initially denied that it was him. And then he didn’t. He was sentenced to two years in prison.

Ruff justice
A man fleeing on foot after a high-speed chase with police thought he was scot-free. He appeared to be outrunning the cop who was pursuing him—44-year-old traffic officer PC Steve Hutton of Wiltshire, England. Then the young thief heard: “Police officer with a dog, stay still!” followed by savage barking. The sound stopped the terrified youth in his tracks.

The officer, out of breath, quickly handcuffed the man before the truth registered: there was no dog; it was officer Hutton himself who had been barking.

The young man was questioned but was later released.

Drunken sailors
In the fishing town of La Rochelle, along the Atlantic French coast, four young men in their twenties spotted a catamaran tethered to the pier of a sailing club, and decided to take a pre-dawn joyride.

They unhitched the Hobie Cat, hopped on and, with great brio, headed for open sea.

But they had failed to notice a couple of things: First, it was a small boat, meant for two sailors, maximum. Second, the plugs in the hulls were not screwed. Before the youth could nose the boat much beyond the dock, it sank.

The quartet was rescued, and tossed in the drunk tank to—literally and figuratively—dry out. They eventually paid 2,000 Euros to have the boat restored.

Watch where you’re going!
A German mugger made the police’s job easy.

Having snatched the purse of an 81-year-old woman in broad daylight in the town of Hildesheim, the thief hopped on a bicycle and made off. To make sure that nobody was following him he made a quick turn and failed to see a lamp post and crashed into it. He abandoned the bicycle and fled on foot.

However, the crook had dropped a rather important item when he hit the pavement: a letter with his home address on it.
Police arrived at the robber’s home almost before he did.

Illustration: Serge Bloch
Illustration: Serge Bloch

Read directions before use
Just before suppertime one evening last July, a 24-year-old man along with his 17-year-old mate, decided to rob a pharmacy in the western city of Perth, Australia. One of them got the notion to disable the clerk with pepper spray. He brandished the can and let fly a stream of burning capsicum. Unhandily, the nozzle was pointed backwards and the thief blasted himself in the face.

Meanwhile, his accomplice, armed with a knife, cut himself.

The crooks fled, only to be tracked down a short time later by the local police. Last heard, they were explaining their double mishap before a district court judge.

For whom the bell tolls
Around 2am, a thief broke into a church in the German town of Muhlhausen. In the pitch dark, he groped around for the light switch. He found the junction box and tried several switches. Suddenly, the church bells started booming. The man, 32, hurriedly grabbed a wooden figure and fled—only to be arrested by police performing routine traffic patrol.

Back burgling in no time
An alarm tripped in the wee hours of the morning brought police to a café in the Flanders region of Belgium— but not before the burglar had fled with around 2000 Euros. Images captured by the security cameras at the Café De Gouden Vis (the Golden Fish) showed the crook wearing a cast on his right leg. As he made his awkward getaway on a bicycle, police tracked his progress via security cameras in the town to a nearby house. Turned out the crook had stolen the bike in Mechelen the previous week and, caught in that act, dashed off, but fell from a roof and broke his ankle. He was taken by police to hospital where he was fitted with a cast. Upon his release from custody, he began his rehabilitation by robbing the café, for which he was arrested again.

Let me out!
When a driver left his car to go pay for parking, a thief in Barcelona, Spain seized his opportunity. He hopped in. But then the driver remotely locked the door of the Audi as he walked away. The crook was trapped inside.

After almost four hours in the hot car, sweat-soaked, dehydrated and growing woozy from lack of oxygen, the man was finally rescued by police, after bystanders noticed the curiously fogged-over windows.

“Lucky you it was a cloudy day,” an officer remarked after arresting the thief. “If it had been sunny, you would be dead”.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest