Whether they were guilty of having potty mouths, stealing shoes, wrecking cars, or smuggling contraband, the animals on this list (adapted from an episode of The List Show on YouTube) found themselves on the wrong side of the law.
In the 1500s, France found itself embroiled in an unusual court case. The defendant? Weevils, a type of small beetle with a big appetite. In 1587, the insects were decimating the vineyards around St. Julien, France, leaving the town with no choice but to put them on trial. The weevils’ lawyer argued that God had put the beetles on Earth, and wouldn’t have created them without also providing them with proper sustenance. The prosecution countered that argument by saying the weevils were meant to be subordinate to humans.
This case, like other ecclesiastical trials of the past, was likely less about punishing the hungry beetles and more about easing a general fear of lawlessness amid uncertain times. The citizens of St. Julien decided to offer a plot of land to the weevils, but the defense attorney rejected it, saying it didn’t provide enough food for the critters. The final result of the trial is unknown because, in an odd twist of fate, the last page of the court records was destroyed—perhaps by vengeful weevils.
Not every animal accused of a crime has been able to avoid time behind bars. In 2008, police in Chiapas, Mexico, arrested a donkey after he bit one man in the chest and kicked another. The donkey spent three days in jail—in a cell usually reserved for drunk people—and wasn’t released until his owners paid for the victims’ medical bills and covered their salaries for the days they missed work due to their injuries. As Officer Sinar Gomez said, “Around here, if someone commits a crime they are jailed—no matter who they are.”
That’s not the only time asses have been thrown in the slammer. In Orai, India, eight donkeys served jail time for snacking on nearly $1000 worth of saplings that had been planted near a local jail as part of a community cleanup campaign. The equines’ poor meal choice earned them four days in jail. Fortunately for the donkeys, their owner enlisted some powerful help to ensure their freedom. After unsuccessfully pleading for their release, he persuaded a politician to accompany him to the jail and secure the donkeys’ freedom in exchange for a promise to keep a closer eye on them.
In 2016, a goat was arrested (along with its owner) in Janakpur, India, after munching on some flowers from the district magistrate’s garden. The goat and its owner were eventually released on bond.
As it turns out, India’s police have made quite a few animal arrests. In 2015, they detained a pigeon in the town of Manwal, near the Pakistani border—an area that had long endured political tensions between the two countries. After a teenage boy discovered a strange message stamped on the bird’s body, he brought it to the local police station. Because the message was written in Urdu, the officers opted to keep the bird in their custody because they suspected it may have been a spy.
Just a few years earlier, in 2011, the situation was reversed: This time, it was Pakistani officers who detained an animal that had wandered over from India. A monkey was found roaming the town of Bahawalpur, and was captured and detained by authorities for trespassing (though some have speculated that it may have been related to the pigeon incident). The monkey was placed in a zoo, where he feasted on fruit and delighted curious visitors.
Not every accused monkey has been given such a cushy sentence. In 2004, a city in India was terrorized by a particularly problematic primate. The monkey stole food from people’s houses, threatened children with bricks, accosted pedestrians by ripping the buttons off their shirts, and even swiped a person’s math textbooks and calculator. To put an end to the attacks, local authorities placed the animal in a barred cell built in the corner of a zoo that was specifically reserved for badly behaved monkeys. A sign outside the tiny jail read, “These monkeys have been caught from various cities of Punjab. They are notorious. Going near them is dangerous.”
A monkey has also been arrested in Florida, though that animal, a capuchin named Mookie, was able to serve his sentence at home. After Mookie bit a man on the shin in a parking lot outside a convenience store, he was placed under a 30-day house arrest—a quarantine officials imposed to make sure the primate wouldn’t show signs of rabies, in case the disease had prompted the attack. Mookie wound up being rabies-free, and is believed to have bitten the man because he was startled. Sadly, Mookie’s mandatory isolation forced his owner to cancel the beach party he had been planning for the monkey’s upcoming 20th birthday, but all was not lost. On the eve of his release, Mookie celebrated with his owner, Brad Berman, and 20 family members. They shared a vanilla-frosted cake with Mookie’s picture on it and enjoyed some cheese pizza. As Berman told Florida Today, “[Mookie] doesn’t like pepperoni.”
One unlucky creature got itself in hot water not for physical violence, but for verbal abuse. In 2015, police in the Indian state of Maharashtra arrested a parrot named Hariyal. The very vocal bird had picked up a habit of cursing at an elderly woman. She was in the middle of a nasty property dispute with her stepson, and she believed the parrot had picked up its foul habit from him. Supposedly, the man had spent two years training Hariyal to verbally abuse his stepmother whenever she passed by. He and the bird were summoned to the police station, where the parrot was detained and later handed over to the Maharashtra forestry department.
A drug cartel in Colombia trained a bird named Lorenzo to be their lookout. Whenever police happened to go near the cartel’s headquarters, Lorenzo would scream for the men to run. In 2010, when police finally managed to sneak around Lorenzo and avoid triggering his warning call, they discovered a cache of drugs and weapons, as well as other lookout birds.
Avian security systems aren’t limited to Colombia. In 2019, a bird living in a Brazilian community called Vila Irmã Dulce was trained to shout “Mom, the police!” whenever officers got too close. Authorities discovered the bird during a raid on a drug den. The animal’s owners had no need to worry about their loyal lookout snitching on them—the bird didn’t make a peep after its capture.
A bird ended up at the center of another case in February 2014. Hira, a parrot, was apparently the only witness to the murder of Neelam Sharma. Hira didn’t outright snitch and say the killer’s name, but Neelam’s widower, Vijay, noticed the bird became extremely agitated whenever his nephew visited the house, or even when his name was said. According to some reports, after Vijay mentioned this to the police, his nephew confessed to the crime. Sadly for Hira, his help in solving the case flew largely under the radar: The police later downplayed his involvement, and the local news reported his name as Hercule the Parrot.
In 2013, prison guards spotted a white cat creeping around the gates of the medium security prison they guarded in Arapiraca, Brazil. The cat was a familiar face around the property—the inmates may have raised it—but this time, something was off: Tape was wrapped around the animal’s body. Upon closer examination, the guards found saws, drills, a phone and charger, a memory card, batteries, and an earphone stuck to the tape. Authorities couldn’t figure out which prisoner had been attempting to use the feline as an accomplice to his jailbreak; the cat was briefly detained, then transported to an animal shelter.
Prisoners in Russia had a similar idea. In 2013, authorities captured a cat after discovering it was being used to smuggle phones and chargers into a prison near Syktyvkar. One day, while the cat sat atop a fence, the officers noticed the electronics taped to its stomach and detained it.
Sometimes, rather than committing the crimes, cats help solve them. In 1989, when a pet shop worker named Lori Auker’s body was discovered three weeks after she went missing, police began to investigate her estranged husband, Robert Auker. Despite the fact that Robert had meticulously cleaned his car, and the fact that it went through multiple owners after his father traded it in following Lori’s disappearance, forensic workers were still able to discover fur that matched the victim’s two cats. The same fur was also found on a splint Robert had worn the very same day Lori vanished. With other evidence also implicating him, Robert was convicted. Turns out, cat fur’s tendency to cling to everything isn’t always such a bad thing—unless you’re trying to get away with murder.
In a case with decidedly lower stakes: A wild beaver took a little unsanctioned trip to a dollar store in St. Mary’s County, Maryland, back in December 2016. Rather than browse for cheap holiday knick-knacks, the beaver wandered around the store, knocking things to the ground. The local sheriff’s department arrested the rowdy patron, then released it to a wildlife rehabilitation center.
In 2008, a bear in Macedonia raided a beekeeper’s hives and stole his honey. The beekeeper blasted Serbian “turbo-folk” music to scare the repeat offender away, but that didn’t deter it from stopping by and stealing a sticky snack once the music stopped. The bear failed to show up to court to answer for its crimes, probably because, you know—bear—and was eventually found guilty of theft and damage. Because no one owned the wild animal, the government was ordered to pay the beekeeper the equivalent of $3500 USD for the damages it caused to his hives.
In 2017, a different bear got off scot-free after vandalizing and stealing a Subaru in Durango, Colorado. The bear broke into the SUV, tore the steering wheel off, pulled the radio out of the dashboard, broke the rear window, and used the car as its own personal toilet. Then, the animal somehow released the parking brake, causing the car to roll backward and crash into a mailbox and a few utility boxes. After causing extensive damage, the furry vandal fled the scene of the crime.
In Canada, police had the opposite problem: Instead of dealing with an animal who fled the scene of the crime, they had to deal with one who wouldn’t leave their crime scene alone. A bird believed to be a crow named Canuck had already earned a reputation as a beloved troublemaker in Vancouver. In 2016, his antics got him in a tussle with the law. When police were dispatched to a car fire, they encountered a man wielding a knife. Canuck, who had been spotted sitting on the burned car, scooped up the knife and flew away with it. A cop had to chase him for a bit before the bird finally dropped his shiny evidential treasure.
Foxes are the canine version of Carrie Bradshaw. They just can’t get enough shoes! In 2010, a fox went on a crime spree in the German town of Foehren, snatching peoples’ footwear and stashing it in her den, perhaps for her kits to play with.
In May 2018, a police station in the Japanese city of Nagaokakyo received calls from eight households saying that shoes had vanished from outside their houses over night. A police stakeout revealed that a pair of foxes had been snatching people’s sandals from their porches. Officers followed the duo back to their den, where they discovered 40 pairs of sandals. It’s believed the foxes were hoarding the shoes not to beef up their wardrobe, but as the result of an instinct to stock up on food and other items while building their nests. Rather than arrest the vulpine criminals for the thefts, police officers sent out leaflets advising people to start storing their shoes inside. And in 2020, a fox stole more than 100 shoes from the residents of Zehlendorf, an area in Berlin.
Instead of stuffing their treasures underground, some foxes opt to share their contraband goods. In 2014, a woman in Leeds, England, reported that a fox had been dropping shoes off in her back garden for months, at one point bringing her new items each day. She installed a shoe rack outside her house, so neighbors could come reclaim their footwear.
Speaking of returning stolen goods to neighbors, a family in Southampton, England, found themselves in the awkward position of amassing a collection of other peoples’ underwear. Oscar, their 13-year-old foster cat, had developed a habit of stealing people’s intimates from their clothing lines, including at least 10 pairs of underwear, among other items like socks and rubber gloves, and proudly gifting them to his humans. Afraid the community would suspect a panty pilferer with more perverted motives, Oscar’s humans turned him into the police. Fortunately for Oscar, he wasn’t arrested, and his foster family opted to adopt him.
For years, Steven the seagull would wander into a Scottish bakery and steal items off the shelves, visiting the store upwards of 10 times each day. Steven was particularly fond of chips, and gained internet fame after pictures of him deftly snatching a bag of salt and vinegar chips went viral.
A wild grasshopper was the key to solving a 1985 murder in Texas. Investigators uncovered little physical evidence at the scene of the crime. They did, however, find a grasshopper with a missing limb on the victim’s clothes. They later discovered a severed insect leg stuck to the cuff of a suspect’s pants. The leg was matched to the grasshopper, which led to the suspect’s conviction.
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