Yellowstone National Park contains a 50-square mile "zone of death" where, legal scholars suggest, a person could commit murder without fear of prosecution. This zone is the part of the park that extends into Idaho.
The reason for this free-pass-for-murder lies with the Sixth Amendment which guarantees a defendant the right to a trial by a jury "of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed." The zone is in the State of Idaho, but because of the unique legal status of Yellowstone, it's in the judicial District of Wyoming. Therefore, to prosecute anyone a court would need to form a jury of people who live simultaneously in the State of Idaho and the District of Wyoming, and no one fits that bill because no one lives in the Idaho part of Yellowstone. Without being able to create a jury, a trial couldn't proceed.
A similar zone exists in the part of Yellowstone that extends into Montana. However, a few people live there, so a jury could, in theory, be formed from its residents.
This legal loophole was first pointed out in 2005 by Brian Kalt, a professor at Michigan State Law School, in an article published in the Georgetown Law Journal. Kalt urged Congress to pass legislation to fix the loophole before someone tested the loophole by committing murder in the death zone. The simplest fix, he proposed, would be to change the district lines so that the part of Yellowstone in Idaho would be included in the District of Idaho.
To date, Congress has not done anything to fix the problem. Part of the reason for this is political inertia. But there's also resistance to changing the District lines because this would place part of Yellowstone under the jurisdiction of the more liberal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals which, it's feared, environmentalists could use to their advantage. So the "zone of death" remains.
The idea of a legal "zone of death" has naturally appealed to the imaginations of artists. The zone was featured in a best-selling mystery novel, Free Fire, by CJ Box. And in 2016 it became the subject of a film, Population Zero (trailer below).
March 1937: A tricked-out payroll satchel foiled would-be robbers. From Newsweek (Apr 3, 1937):
In Harrison, N.J., bandits last week held up a messenger and seized his satchel containing a $2,700 pay roll. They didn't notice their victim pull a wire in the bag's handle as he handed it over. Ten seconds later revolver blanks inside the satchel started exploding and clouds of sulphur smoke belched from holes in the bottom. In terror the gunmen dropped their loot and fled.
Quite ingenious, but seems like it would work only once, since after that everyone would know what the trick was. So how did they protect the payroll subsequently?
January 1973: Texas State Rep. Jim Kaster filed a bill that would have required criminals to give their victims twenty-four hours notice before they committed a crime. Argued Kaster, "Obviously the criminal is not going to do it, but this would be another punishment that could be added to the penalty." No surprise, the bill was defeated.
The strange case of Roberta and William Randall of Phoenix, Arizona. She shot him in the face while he was napping, then forgot she shot him. He didn't realize he had been shot. Apparently the hole in his cheek didn't make him suspicious. Nor did the note she had written for him, "Bill, you've been shot. Call 911."
Democrat and Chronicle - Feb 27, 1992
The Arizona Republic (Mar 17, 1991) offers a few more details about this mysterious case:
Companies do all kinds of things to boost staff morale. They hire motivational speakers, have team-building exercises, give employees gifts, etc.
But the industrial psychologist Lawrence Zeitlin, in an article published in June 1971 in Psychology Today ("A little larceny can do a lot for employee morale"), argued that the most effective way a business could boost morale was by allowing its employees to steal a little from the company.
He argued that theft added to a sense of "job enrichment" by making the job more interesting. It gave employees a sense of satisfaction at getting away with it. Also, workers "often looked upon theft as a condition of employment." Furthermore, he noted, allowing the theft could be cheaper than installing elaborate security precautions.
In her book Management and Ideology, business author Judith Merkle provides some background info on Zeitlin's article:
Before its publication in Psychology Today the Harvard Business Review had previously turned down the article. It was, after all, a classic application of amoral Scientific Management techniques, and it offended the HBR down to its puritan roots. The interesting point is, however, that the control practices recommended in this article bear a close family resemblance to the working practices of Stalinism. Allowing theft, while keeping the rules against theft, certainly makes theft more thrilling, but it also opens up the way to arbitrary and discriminatory uses of power through the selective application of dead-letter rules. This is, of course, the first step in the destruction of the rule of law, and, in the long run, leads to the introduction of de facto totalitarianism.
Another case of a serial thief with a strangely specific focus. Police in Columbus, Ohio are on the lookout for Sean Patrick Burk, who is suspected of multiple thefts of boxes of Crest White Strips. And only Crest White Strips. They're calling him the "Dental Hygiene Hoodlum."
Says the City Attorney, "Serial thieves generally target certain items but it is unusual for us to see such brand loyalty where an offender only steals large quantities of a single product, over and over again."
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Alex is the creator and curator of the Museum of Hoaxes. He's also the author of various weird, non-fiction books such as Elephants on Acid.
Paul Di Filippo
Paul has been paid to put weird ideas into fictional form for over thirty years, in his career as a noted science fiction writer. He has recently begun blogging on many curious topics with three fellow writers at The Inferior 4+1.
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