What’s in a number? When it comes to criminal records, the number of arrests one person racks up can mean anything. They can be a sign of relentless career criminals, or the actions of someone struggling (and failing) to become a better person, or someone whose beliefs do not align with society’s. For your amusement and edification, we’ve compiled a list of celebrities, musicians, gangsters, activists, serial and spree killers, and mobsters, all of them with impressive arrest records.
Russell Jones (ODB)
Russell Tyrone Jones, best known as Ol’ Dirty Bastard, became famous in the 90’s as one of the co-founders of the hip-hop group The Wu-Tang Clan. While he was a talented musician and rapper, he was in the news for his legal troubles just as often as his music. In 1993, he was convicted of assault, after a robbery attempt. In 1997, he was arrested again for failure to pay child support for three of his thirteen children. He was convicted again in 1998 for attempted assault against his wife. Later that same year, he was arrested for shoplifting a pair of $50 sneakers; the hip-hop star had more than $500 in cash on him at the time. He was arrested twice for “criminal threatening”, and then again for attempted murder (the charges were later dropped). In 1999, he had another slew of arrests and convictions: for driving without a license, for being a convicted felon and wearing a bulletproof vest, for traffic offenses, for possession of crack-cocaine and marijuana. He escaped from court-mandated rehab and helped record a new Wu-Tang album while still a fugitive. He died in 2004 from an accidental drug overdose.
Robert Downey Jr.
Robert Downey Jr.‘s career has had the same dips and swoops of a roller coaster. He first started garnering notice in the 80’s, with films like Weird Science and Less Than Zero, and received an Academy Award Nomination for playing the title role in a 1992 Charlie Chaplin biopic. But even while he was rising through the ranks in Hollywood, he was buckling under the weight of drug addiction. In 1996, he was arrested while speeding down Sunset Boulevard, for possession of drugs and an unloaded .357 Magnum. A month later, he was arrested for breaking parole and for trespassing when he wandered into a neighbor’s house and fell asleep on one of their couches. He spent four months in jail after missing a court-ordered drug test in 1997. He was arrested for missing another one in 1999, and was slapped with a three year term in the California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison. During the trial, Downey told the judge, “It’s like I’ve got a shotgun in my mouth, with my finger on the trigger, and I like the taste of the gun metal.”
After spending a year in the facility, Downey was released early. He joined the cast of Ally McBeal, revitalizing both the show and his career, but couldn’t keep out of trouble or away from drugs. In Thanksgiving 2000, he was arrested for possession of cocaine and valium, and for being under the influence of a controlled substance. A month later, while out on parole, a police officer found Downey wandering the streets of Culver City barefoot, and was arrested on suspicion of being under the influence of drugs. He was sentenced to three years of probation and mandatory rehab, and lost his role on Ally McBeal. This time, however, the actor managed to stay sober, and has since rebuilt his career to the point of his current stardom.
Even before Guns n’ Roses was a household name, Axl Rose was well-known to the police force of Lafayette, Indiana. He was arrested more than 20 times, and served up to three months in jail at one time. He left Lafayette after authorities threatened to charge him as a habitual offender.
As the frontman for Guns n’ Roses, Rose was charged several times with inciting a riot with his bad behavior: ranting at the crowds and security personnel, showing up late or not at all, and leaving the stage and refusing to return. In 2009, he assaulted a photographer, though the photographer declined to press charges. Both of Rose’s exes have also sued him for domestic abuse. The suits were settled out-of-court.
Gotti was one of the most powerful Mafia men in America. He became the head of the Gambino Family in 1985, after arranging for the murder of his boss, Paul Castellano. He was popularly known as the “Teflon Don”, because despite his numerous arrests and indictments, none of the charges could stick to him. His criminal career began early. He had a record of truancy, petty theft, and bullying as a kid, and had nine arrests between the ages of 17 and 25. He became a part of the Gambino family after serving two prison sentences for hijacking shipments from the Idlewild Airport and the New Jersey Turnpike. He was arrested again in 1974, for being part of the hit team sent against James McBratney, an Irish-American gangster from a competing organization. After serving two years under a manslaughter charge, he was released again, and quickly rose through the ranks of the Gambino family, becoming the head of the organization after orchestrating the murder of Paul Castellano. In the 80’s, he was indicted twice more: once for assault and robbery, and then again under racketeering charges. The victim in the first crime dropped the charges once he learned who his attacker was, and the second trial resulted in a hung jury. In 1986, he was arrested for the attempted murder of a union organizer, and again in 1990 on more charges of racketeering. Though he didn’t know it, Gotti’s days were numbered. The FBI was building an extensive case against him, and the third time he was arrested for racketeering, the charges stuck. He died in 2002 of throat cancer while serving a life sentence.
Best known for his song “Okie from Muskogee”, Merle Haggard is an old-school badass country singer. Haggard started rebelling at the age of nine after his father’s death, committing petty crime and skipping school. His mother sent him to several juvenile homes in an attempt to straighten him out, but to no affect. Haggard ran away to Texas when he was 14, but returned a few months later, and was arrested for truancy and and petty larceny. He spent the next few years in and out of detention centers for petty crimes and an assault charge. In 1957, not long after beginning his musical career, Haggard was arrested for robbing a tavern in Bakersfield, California, and sent to San Quentin prison for three years. While in prison, he saw Johnny Cash play a concert, which led him to joining the prison band. He later wrote the song Mama Tried about his experiences in prison.
Mike Tyson is an undisputed champion of the boxing ring. He rose to fame as one of the youngest boxers to win the World Boxing Council Championship, at 20 years old, after defeating Trevor Berbick by a technical knockout. Before becoming a champion, however, Tyson was a Brooklyn bad-boy. He was arrested more than 30 times before the age of thirteen, and was part of a gang called the Jolly Stompers, who committed armed robberies. He was sent to reform school at the age of thirteen, where he first began learning to box. He was released from reform school into trainer Cus D’Amato’s full custody at the age of fourteen, and began his amateur career a few years later.
As a boxer, he was known for his offensive maneuvers, often managing to KO his opponents in the first round. He also became known for being unstable and quick to violence: his marriage to Robin Givens was notoriously rocky, and Tyson’s public tantrums became media fodder, including one memorable day when the police were called to Tyson’s hotel room after the boxer started throwing furniture out the windows. In 1991, Tyson was charged and convicted with the rape of 18-year-old Desiree Washington, and served three years in prison. After his release, his staged comeback fight against Evander Holyfield ended with Tyson’s defeat: a rematch in 1997 ended after Tyson bit off a portion of Holyfield’s ear.
Unlike many of the people on this list, Gerhard Puff began his criminal career as an adult, garnering his first arrest at the age of 20 for disorderly conduct in 1934. Once he started, though, it seemed as if Puff couldn’t stop. A year later, he was jailed for stealing domestic animals, and served three years in prison. While imprisoned, Puff assaulted a guard, adding an additional nine months onto his sentence. He returned to prison in 1942, with a conviction of assault with intent to commit armed robbery. He escaped in 1945, and was a fugitive for two weeks before being apprehended while driving a stolen car. He was released again in 1947. Eight months later, he was back in prison again, this time for breaking and entering. He was released in 1951, and managed about a week of freedom before being arrested again for armed robbery. While awaiting bail, Puff met his future partner in crime, George Heroux. Heroux later posted Puff’s bail, and the two man robbed a bank a week later, making off with over $62,000 worth of cash, bonds, and American Express traveler’s checks. Puff made it onto the FBI’s most wanted list, and later killed an agent while being apprehended. He was executed at Sing Sing in 1954.
Arthur Williams, better known by his media-given nickname of the Elevator Bandit, was born in Hamilton Heights area of Manhattan in 1944. He earned the nickname through his method of posing as a salesman, veteran, or a messenger, earning his victims’ trust before pulling a weapon out and demanding their cash and jewels. He was a habitual offender, with 134 convictions, and spent a cumulative 33 years in prison. During a two month stint outside prison, he managed to rob 38 people. He was paroled in 2010 for good behavior, having become a preacher at 63 years old. He was free for less than a year before going back to his old habits. He drove from Alabama to New York to rob a boutique and two roadside motels, all while carrying an oxygen tank. He was killed when he crashed his car during a subsequent police chase in Maryland.
Gary Gilmore was the first person to be executed in the US after the reinstatement of the death penalty, in 1976. Gilmore began getting in trouble with the law as an adolescent with arrests for petty crime, car theft, and assault. By age 14, he was running a car theft ring with some of his friends in Portland, OR. In 1962, he was sentenced to a year’s imprisonment for armed robbery and assault. Two years later, he was sentenced to 15 years as a habitual offender, after another armed robbery. He was released in 1972, but was back in prison within a month. He was released on parole again in 1976, and went to live with some cousins in Utah. There, he committed his first murder, of a gas station clerk in Orem, Utah. The next night, he robbed and killed a motel manager in another nearby town. He was arrested a few nights later, and executed by firing squad in 1977.
Emma Goldman was a preeminent anarchist in the late 19th/early 20th century. She was an outspoken supporter of the rights of workers and women, was an accomplished lecturer, writer, and thinker. Her first run-in with the law came when her long-time lover Alex Berkman attempted to assassinate Henry Clay Frick, a steel factory manager employed by Andrew Carnegie. Goldman was arrested and held for a few weeks in connection, but was later let go. A year later, Goldman was indicted on charges of inciting a riot when she urged unemployed workers in New York to take food to feed themselves and their families, by force if necessary. She was arrested again in 1901, in connection to the assassination of President McKinley, when his murderer mentioned her as on of his inspirations. She was released, but was arrested again a few years later during a meeting of fellow anarchists. After distributing pamphlets and essays about birth control, Goldman was arrested in 1916 under obscenity laws, and spent two weeks in a workhouse.
When the US entered World War 1, Goldman founded the No Conscription League with Alex Berkman. The two were arrested during a raid of their offices, and Goldman was imprisoned for two years under the Espionage Act. Goldman was deported to Russia in 1919, during the first Red Scare. She continued her activism, touring through Russia and Europe, including a stint in Spain during that country’s Civil War. She died in Toronto in 1940.
Calvin Cordozar Pancho Broadus, Jr., better known by his stage name of Snoop Dogg, was one of the preeminent rappers of the 90’s, coming to embody West Coast gangsta sound. Snoop Dogg is rumored to be a member of the Crips, and was convicted on charges of cocaine possession after graduating from high school, and spent the next few years drifting in and out of prison. After becoming famous through his collaboration with Dr. Dre, and releasing his debut album, Snoop Dogg was implicated in the drive-by shooting of Phillip Woldermarian, though he was eventually acquitted. That same year, he was arrested for illegal possession of a firearm. In 1998, 2001, 2007, and twice in 2006, he was arrested for marijuana possession. In 2005, he and two other rappers were sued for assaulting a fan at a concert. In 2006, Snoop Dogg and several members of his entourage were arrested after vandalizing a duty-free shop in Heathrow airport in London. The incident had him banned from the UK for several years.
John Dillinger is the reason that the FBI exists in its current capacity. Though the organization had its beginnings early in the 20th century, under Hoover’s leadership, the Bureau came into its own with the first War on Crime, of which Dillinger was the number one target.
Dillinger was a troubled child. He ran into trouble with the law while still a young boy, with episodes of severe juvenile delinquency with his gang “the Dirty Dozen”. He drank and got into fights, visited prostitutes, and stole cars. He was arrested for auto theft in 1922, and narrowly escaped another charge in 1923 by enlisting in the Navy. He jumped ship five months later, and was eventually dishonorably discharged. Dillinger’s next arrest came in 1924, after he and another man robbed a grocery store. His father convinced Dillinger to confess, but the judge handed him a harsh sentence that left Dillinger jaded and bitter. He was released in 1933, after serving eight years.
While in prison, Dillinger had become friends with two men, Harry Pierpoint and Russell Clarke, who became his criminal mentors. After his release, Dillinger robbed a string of banks in Ohio, as a way to raise funds for breaking out Pierpoint and Clarke. Dillinger was arrested and incarcerated in Lima, Ohio. Pierpoint decided to return the favor Dillinger had done him, and broke him out of prison. From there, Dillinger embarked on a truly legendary career as a bank robber. He was arrested again in 1934, but made another daring escape, this time by using fake wooden guns to bluff his way out. He became Public Enemy Number One shortly thereafter, as well as the object of public adoration, a dashing celebrity in his own right. The end came in July of that same year, when Dillinger was killed during a shootout with the FBI at the Biograph theater.
Aileen Wuornos never had any breaks in her short life. She was abandoned by her mother, and forced to go live with her grandparents at a young age. She claimed that she was sexually assaulted by her grandfather, and became impregnated after being raped by family friend at 14. After giving birth, and giving the baby up for adoption, Wuronos’s grandfather kicked her out of the house, and she supported herself through petty crime and prostitution. She was arrested twice, once for disorderly conduct and drunk driving, and again two years later, for assaulting a bartender. She hitchhiked down to Florida, where she met a wealthy yacht club president. They were married for a short time, but her husband had the marriage annulled after Wuornos went to jail on another assault charge.
Wuornos committed her first murder in 1989, of a 51 year old electronics shop owner. Wuornos later claimed that the man raped her, and the killing was in self-defense; considering that the man actually had a history of sexual assault, it’s plausible. What’s certain, however, is that Wuornos continued to kill by the same modus operandi for the year and a half, with a total of six (possibly seven) victims. She was arrested in 1991, and was sentenced to death. She was executed by lethal injection in 2002, despite doubts to her conviction’s legality and her own sanity.
Foxy Brown, aka Inga DeCarlo Fung Marchand, recorded a number of albums in the 90’s and early 2000’s. She was just as famous for her legal troubles and quick temper as for her music. She was arrested in 1997 after spitting on two hotel workers, and then again for missing a court date. In 2000, she was arrested for driving without a license after crashing her car. In 2004, she was charged with assaulting two manicurists in New York, after she refused to pay her $20 bill. 2007 found the rapper in court on several different occasions, for assaulting a beauty store employee, hitting her neighbor with her cell phone, leaving New York despite being on probation, and almost running over a stroller with a baby inside while behind the wheel. After serving a year in prison, during which she got into a few altercations with fellow inmates and guards, she was released in 2008. She managed to keep herself out of trouble for all of two years, when in 2010, she was arrested for violating an order or protection. Her crime this time: verbally abusing a neighbor, and then mooning her. Keep it classy, Foxy.
We’ve saved the best criminal for last. Henry Earl, a 61-year-old from Lexington, Kentucky, was first arrested when he was 20 years old for carrying a concealed weapon. It was to become the first step towards a truly illustrious career of criminal activity. Earl was arrested 33 more times in the 70’s, then 230 times during the next decade. As of April 30, 2011, Earl has been arrested more than 1000 times, spending an average of 243 days in jail each year. He’s never been arrested on any violent charges, or on theft.
Fark.com picked up Earl’s story, and the man became an overnight sensation and cult celebrity. He appeared on several shows and news outlets, including Jimmy Kimmel Live and MSNBC. According to his website, he is currently in jail again.