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10 of the Most Shocking Cases of Mistaken Identity

Having a doppelganger may be a great thing until your “other half” turns out to be a criminal. Mistaking someone for another can cause a simple embarrassing moment of hugging or shouting after a total stranger. However, when your physical features are presented as evidence, and you have to plead innocence to a convinced jury, it becomes excruciating and embarrassing for law enforcement. Law enforcement is however not allowed to make such mistakes because they can get tragic. Despite the effort to be vigilant and catch the real bad guys, some cases end up implicating innocent people. These are ten historical cases of mistaken identity that acted as an eye-opener for law enforcement.

Adolf Beck & John Smith

Adolf Beck vs John Smith

The British court of appeal was actually established because of this case. Adolf Beck became the victim of John Smith’s crimes serving a whole prison sentence because of a deaf jury and blind justice. He was a 54-year-old Norwegian investor that came to London and put all his money in a collapsing mine. While suffering from his financial woes, he rented a small apartment on Victoria flat that turned out to be the worst nightmare of his life. While walking out of his house one day, Ottilie Meissonier, a woman he had never met before shouted that she knew him and that he had stolen jewelry worth $30 from her three weeks earlier.

His string of misfortunes continued as 16 more women identified him as the swindler leading to an arrest and an 8-year conviction. After serving 5 of those years, he was released only to be arrested again for swindling someone’s expensive jewelry. Luck shone on him this time around as John Smith; his look-alike was arrested red-handed pulling off another robbery. This time, Beck proved the world wrong including the parliament. His infinite suffering was settled at $5000, but his case remains one of the most embarrassing situations for the British judiciary.[1][2]

Orlando Nembhard & Brandon Nembhard

In February 2011, many people saw Orlando Nembhard carrying a pistol outside a clubhouse in New York in which a man was shot. All the witnesses were sure it was him until his twin brother Brandon with a striking resemblance and 99.9% DNA match came forward. The Chandler Police department was forced to halt proceedings because witnesses got confused in the stand and the case was getting shaky.

Both brothers had a baby face, tall, slender build and preferred similar clothing. They were both at the clubhouse that night, and despite the arrest of Orlando, some witnesses claimed it was Brandon that killed the man. The judge got confused and released Orlando because the case against him could not hold. Everyone knew only one of the brothers committed the crime, but no one could tell who, even the brothers remained silent. The victim’s father recommended locking the twins in a room and allowing them to battle it out, but this was against the law. At last, one or both of them walked away with murder.[3]

Daniel C. Ott & Daniel E. Ott

Daniel E. Ott
Daniel E. Ott

It took six months for the LAPD to figure out a mistaken identity shooting and nine years to catch the real culprit in this case. Joseph Rosebrook, the mastermind of an infamous chop shop in Ohio was released from prison in 2014 only to go back in for murder nine years later. He was trying to kill Daniel C. Ott, an Ohio car thief who had worked with him earlier but later testified against him. The car-thief-Ott was put in witness protection escaping two assassination attempts, but the third one got Daniel E. Ott a man linked to him by name only.

Rosebrook had hired the Services of Chad South, a hitman to kill Ott. He did not take the payment when he realized he killed the wrong man but still got 28 years for the murder. Daniel E. Ott, the victim, was a 31-year-old greenh0use nursery worker from Burton county with no connection to the car theft ring. The two criminals were later charged with murder alongside Rosebrook’s brother Carl who was supposed to deliver the money to Chad. Daniel C. Ott, however, continues to enjoy LAPD protection despite the pain his name caused.[4]

Chris Dorner & Margie Carranza and Emma Hernandez

Chris Dorner vs Margie Carranza & Emma Hernandez

Margie Carranza and her mum were delivering newspapers in their blue Toyota Tacoma when 7 LAPD officers started firing on them. The car was pumped with over 100 rounds of ammunition, but surprisingly, both women survived. They had been mistaken for a rogue officer who had gone on a rampage and reported to have stolen a truck which the police mistook for theirs. It is one of the most expensive cases of mistaken identity a US police department has ever paid. The LAPD fired Christopher Dorner before going on a revenge mission that terrorized LA for the better part of Spring 2013. He went on a shooting spree killing four people including two police officers and the daughter of a retired officer. He accused the department of corruption and racism and swore to kill a list of officers he named after killing the first 2.

The bounty on his head was set at $1 million, but the department was sued for over $20 million after the officers went on another shooting spree during the chase. The shooting happened in March 2013 while police were responding to a call reporting Dorner having stolen another truck. Emma Hernandez, Margie’s mother, was shot twice in the back while Miss Carranza was cut by broken glass. They were paid $4.2 million for their troubles. The department was also being sued for another shooting involving a black truck also mistaken for Dorner’s truck. LAPD apologized saying the officers were scared after Dorner killed their colleagues.[5][6]

Will West & William West

Left to right: William West and Will West

Fingerprint identification was used as early as 1858 in India, but it was not adopted because most governments believed Bertillon measurements were enough to identify someone. This method, however, failed, in this case, forcing the system to start using fingerprints. Before William West arrived at Leavenworth Penitentiary in 1903 for a minor crime, the prison service had not seen a case of two people with such matching features without known blood relationship. That is why M.W. McClaughry, the prison clerk, was convinced he had seen William at the facility before and even pulled a photo that resembled his.

With all features matching a Will West who was already serving life in prison for first-degree murder, William West was in big trouble if another identification method was not presented. His look-alike was also a man of color with a similar name, and the Clerk was convinced it was him. The two prisoners could not be told apart. The system, however, corrected itself in this case because “fingerprints don’t lie.”[7]

Thomas Berdue & James Stuart

It is the famous American version of Adolf Beck, only this time, the penalty was not eight years, it was death. James Stuart was a renowned robber in San Francisco during the California gold rush in the mid-1800s after leaving his service at the Sydney Penal Colony for forgery for which he served over 12 years. He was accused of killing at least 14 people between 1849 and 1850. His murder spree peaked in December 1850 when he was arrested for killing Sherriff Moore of Marysville and stealing $4000 from his home. James Stewart or English Jim as he was popularly known never served the 14-year sentence he was given, he broke out of jail leaving trouble for poor Thomas Berdue who looked just like him. Coincidentally, Berdue had the same scar on the ear and eye as Stewart putting him in even more danger.

Police arrested Berdue on Feb 20th, 1851 mistaking him for James Stuart. He was identified by six men who knew English Jim well, or so they thought. Thomas Berdue’s fate was sealed when J.C Jansen of the Jansen and Bond Co identified him as one of the men that had robbed his company of $2000 gold coins the day before, a crime credited to English Jim. Berdue was sentenced to death despite his innocence claims, but his execution was postponed over the next six months saving his sentence for the real criminal. The real James Stuart came back to San Francisco 6 months later and attempted to rob a ship at the San Francisco Bay for which he was arrested and positively identified. He was hanged just 2 hours after the guilty verdict. Berdue was released and given $2000 for his troubles after which he boarded a boat at the bay never to be seen in the city again.[8][9]

Ralph Alsman & John Dillinger

Having a criminal for a look-alike is dangerous even in this era of reformed law enforcement. However, there was no look alike as dangerous as John Dillinger during the great depression. Dillinger was the most dangerous criminal in the Midwest at the time terrorizing local banks and robbing police armories. He was the subject of one of the longest manhunts in US history because of his elusive nature leaving Ralph Alsman, his doppelganger in big trouble. Ralph Alsman had the same height and built as the outlaw with a similar cleft chin and a mole to one eye.

The resemblance led to Ralph being arrested 17 times even after leaving his hometown in fear of being shot. The innocent look-alike was from Brooksville Indiana, more than 50 miles from Dillinger’s hometown Mooresville. He was six years younger than Dillinger, but his striking resemblance led him to be arrested more times than Dillinger himself. He was only saved when the FBI finally caught up with the real John Dillinger in July 1922 at a theatre in Chicago and shot him.[10]

Richard Jones & Rick Amos

mistaken identity Richard Jones vs Rick Amos

Richard Jones was serving his 16th year of the 19-year aggravated assault and robbery sentence when fellow inmates informed him of another inmate that looked just like him. The robbery happened in 1999 was carried out by a person that looked just like him except he was celebrating a birthday party at the time. The woman who was robbed of her purse at a Walmart parking lot identified him because of the skin color; she never saw his face. When the Midwest innocence project caught the real perpetrator’s image, they launched an appeal for poor Richard who had missed all the birthdays of his youngest daughter; she didn’t even remember him anymore.

The detectives in the case had done a shoddy work relying on evidence from witnesses working for quick cash. The witnesses could not identify Rick and Richard apart forcing a court in Kansas to release him and later pay him $1.1 million in damages. Rick could however not be prosecuted because the time for filing a case in the crime had passed. At least one person received justice despite the horrible mistake.[11]

Hassan & Abbas

It was the most embarrassing case for German law enforcement when DNA put two identical twins at a crime scene and could not tell them apart. The crime was a $6.5 million Jewelry heist at the Kaufhaus des Westens department store. The robbers used gloves, but one love was left at the scene with sweat samples implicating the two twins. The brothers remained tight-lipped with their lawyer confirming that they were only enjoying their constitutional right and that the glove could have placed at the scene by anyone.

They both had criminal records for theft and fraud, but the law required the police to identify and implicate each criminal individually. It was difficult because the twins’ sweat samples matched in all aspects. The authorities were forced to release them in the hope that more evidence would arise. The twins continued to smile and high five each other as the case crumbled on the authorities making it a perfect robbery for whoever did it.[12]

An Alaskan Convict & His Bone Marrow Donor

A rape victim in Alaska had traces of semen that matched the DNA profile of a known convict. The Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory in Alaska was however shocked because the man was already in prison serving a sentence. They still went ahead to put the man under investigation in case he had sneaked out of prison. After further questioning, the man, whom the police did not identify, was confirmed to have received a bone marrow transplant many years back from his brother.

As it turned out, the transplant gave the man his brother’s DNA implicating him in the crime. The revelation allowed the police to track down the real culprit. The man was lucky to be in prison after all! Claims of Miscarriage of justice through DNA have been based on this case since then to caution law enforcement from over trusting DNA results. However, a mouth swab sample would not have caused this mistake as is the case in the UK. Maybe sometimes, simple solutions are the best.[13]

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