We like to think that the laws of society will protect us, and that those who do bad things will be punished for it. we like to think that the system is working in our favor and that we will be protected and looked after, that those who have wronged us will face justice and get what is coming to them, and in most cases this is perhaps true. Yet, there are some people who have been forced to take matters into their own hands, and take care of the business that the system couldn’t or wouldn’t do. Here we will look at some amazing cases of people who turned things around on those who would do them harm, and took the law into their own hands.
In some of these cases of vigilante justice, we are dealing with a parent avenging their children. It is understandable, and most of us would like to think we’d do anything to protect our kids. But some perhaps take it further than most. Take the case of André Bamberski, whose beloved 14-year-old daughter, Kalinka, turned up dead in July of 1982 in Pechbusque, France. Bamberski heard the news from his ex-wife, Daniele, who at the time lived in Lindau, Germany, along with her new husband a doctor by the name of Dieter Krombach and Kalinka’s brother, and the news shocked him to the core. The devastated Bamberski immediately began looking into the circumstances surrounding the death and would uncover a good amount of suspicious behavior on the part of his ex-wife’s husband.
It would turn out that on the evening before Kalinka had turned up dead, Krombach initially said he had injected her with a substance he claimed would help her tan more easily, after which he had given her a sleeping pill later that night to help her sleep. This was already strange enough as it is, because Krombach supposedly refused to name the compound he had used, but things got even more sinister when an autopsy showed that the girl had several needle marks on various points of her body, and also showed signs of having been sexually assaulted. Also interesting was that her stomach was full of undigested food from a meal she had eaten at 7PM, which did not mesh well with the estimated time of death at 4AM. When questioned further by police, Krombach would change his story and say that he had actually injected Kalinka with a compound to help treat her anemia, and that when he had found her unconscious, he had then injected her with dopamine and dilaudid to snap her out of it.
It was all pretty suspicious, but police did not consider Krombach a suspect and did not even bother to interview him further, in the end stating that there had been no foul play involved at all. Indeed, the final coroner’s report came to the conclusion that Kalinka had simply died of sunstroke, because she had been out at the beach the previous day. None of this in any way was satisfactory for Bamberski, who read the reports differently. To him, his only daughter had been drugged and raped by a madman, which had led to her death, accidental or not. With no help from the police, he became obsessed with tracking down the truth on his own.
He began with ordering a second autopsy, which turned up the detail that the anemia agent that Krombach had injected her with, which was composed of iron and cobalt, had likely been injected much later than was claimed. In addition, the exhumed body was missing its sexual organs, which had removed during the autopsy but disposed of, making any investigation into the rape allegations a dead end. Still, Bamberski demanded that with this new evidence the case should be reopened, but authorities refused, forcing him to again take matters into his own hands once again. He went to Krombach’s neighborhood and distributed leaflets pointing the finger at him as a murderer, but this backfired when the doctor threatened to pursue defamation charges against him.
Krombach would eventually be arrested again, and this time was charged with the murder and sentenced to 15 years in prison, yet Germany would not extradite him for trial, and he ended up essentially a free man, serving no prison time at all. In the meantime, the doctor would be arrested on an unrelated charge of drugging and raping a patient, for which he also received merely a slap on the wrist. This particular case brought to light several other accusers who claimed that Krombach had drugged and assaulted them as well, but nothing stuck and he was never officially charged. The infuriated and frustrated Bamberski then went a step further, using private detectives to track the man down and help him launch the next part of his plan, which basically involved paying a crew to physically kidnap Krombach in 2009 and bring him to France, where he was still wanted for the murder. There they dropped him off and police received an anonymous tip to his location.
There was quite a bit of a dispute between France and Germany as to whether Krombach should be sent back home, and they also demanded that Bamberski be extradited to be charged with the kidnapping. France in the end refused, Bamberski was release on bail, and Krombach was sentenced to 15 years in prison for “deliberate violence leading to involuntary death” in the Kalinka case. In the end Bamberski got a 1-year suspended prison sentence for his role in Krombach’s abduction, but he also gained peace of mind and the satisfaction that justice had finally been done for his daughter. All because he refused to let the case be swept under the carpet and did what no one else would.
Another parent who would not be stopped in his quest for justice was a man named Gary Plauche, of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, who had a 10-year-old son named Jody. On February 14, 1984, Jody disappeared from his family’s home, and authorities managed to track him down to a hotel all the way over in Anaheim, California, where he was being held captive by his karate teacher, Jeff Doucett. Jody’s hair had been dyed black to disguise him, and there was ample evidence that he had been repeatedly raped and molested. It was all rather shocking, as Doucett had been seen as a trusted family friend, but it would later turn out that this had been going on with Doucett for quite some time.
For Jody’s father, it was all a bit too much, and he did not take it well at all. Doucett was arrested on kidnapping charges and scheduled to be brought back to Baton Rouge to face trial, but when they arrived they did not realize that Gary Plauche was waiting there too, and to him a trial wasn’t enough. As Doucett was led through the airport by officers, Plauche, who was heavily disguised, waited for them to pass him at a phone booth, after which he produced a firearm from under his coat and shot his son’s molester dead right as news cameras were filming and right in front of the shocked police. Before being tackled and arrested himself, Gary was heard to say, “If it were your son, you would have done the same thing.” The case was all over the news at the time, creating much debate on vigilante justice, but most people were rooting for him, admitting that they would have in fact probably done the same thing if they could. He and his family received much support and sympathy from the community, and most did not see him as some coldblooded killer. Gary would end up serving a 7-year prison sentence, after which he went back to his old life, before passing away in 2014 at the age of 68, a hero to some and a menace to others. Which do you think he was? What would you have done?
Other stories of criminals getting sweet comeuppance are those who have been targeted by their own victims. In September of 2006, 51-year-old Susan Kuhnhausen, of Portland, Oregon, came home from her job as a nurse and it would seem that she had a rather uninvited guest, when she was confronted by an intruder dressed in black and wielding a claw hammer, later found to have been sent to kill her by her own husband. The man came at her swinging the hammer and hit her across the head with it, but Susan was about to show that she was tougher than most.
The terrified woman grappled with the trespasser and bit down hard into his arm, causing him to drop the hammer. They then struggled across the room knocking over furniture, and during the melee Susan unbelievably managed to get a top position and get the would-be hitman into a choke-hold. She claims that she gave him the choice to give up and she would call an ambulance, but he had not responded and kept fighting. Susan continued the hold, hanging on for dear life, until the intruder’s body went still. She then ran as fast as she could to a neighbor’s house to call 911, and arriving authorities would find that the hitman was dead, strangled to death by his intended target. The man was soon identified as a Edward Dalton Haffey, who police believed was merely a burglar who had chosen the wrong home to mess with, but Susan thought differently. She was sure he had been a hitman sent by her estranged husband, Michael Kuhnhausen, with whom she had been undergoing a messy divorce.
A police investigation would uncover several suspicious clues that supported this. Haffey was found to have been a janitor working for Michael at his video store, and he was also a drug addict who was seen as willing to do anything for drug money. It was also found that Michael had purchased a gun and written a suicide note shortly after the attack on his wife, although he hadn’t gone through with it. Most damning of all was a note found in Haffey’s backpack that read “Call Mike. Get Letter.” Although Michael denied that he had hired a hitman to kill his wife, the courts thought differently, and he was charged with criminal conspiracy to commit murder and given a 10-year prison sentence, dying in incarceration in 2014. As for Susan, she was hailed as a hero, although the fact that she had taken a life haunted her.
A hitman is scary enough, but what about a serial killer? Our next case concerns the sadistic killer Wayne Nance, of Missoula, Missouri, who allegedly claimed his first victim in 1974. In April of that year he murdered his neighbor, Donna Pounds, breaking into her house, raping her, throwing her into the basement, and shooting her 5 times in the back of the head. Although Nance was investigated by police, no hard physical evidence was ever found to concretely link him to the crime. In 1979 the remains of an unidentified woman were found near some railroad tracks, and in 1984 another was turned up in some woodlands just outside of town, followed by yet another in 1985, when a bear hunter found skeletal remains scattered across a hillside in West Missoula. All of the bodies had been raped and shot in the head several times with the same caliber weapon, leading to think that a serial killer was at work. Also in 1985, a couple by the name of Mike and Teresa Shook were having a quiet dinner at home when there was a knock at the door. When Mike opened it he was ruthlessly stabbed to death by an unknown attacker, who then proceeded to rape Teresa and stab her to death as well. After this, the intruder set the house on fire, but all three children survived.
At the time police knew they had a maniac on their hands, but they did not suspect Nance. Indeed, he was completely off their radar, living a quiet, unassuming life and working at a furniture store. It was here that he would apparently begin obsessing over his store manager, Kris Wells, which was already creepy, but even more so when one evening Kris and her husband Doug drove home to find Nance lurking in the bushes outside their home. Nance claimed that he thought he had seen an intruder as he passed and was just checking the place out, but as soon as Doug turned away, he smashed him over the head with a concealed handgun. This sparked a melee, with the two men grappling about in the dark before Nance pointed the gun at them and had Kris tie her own husband up, after which Nance tied her up. He then bound Kris in their bedroom and brought Doug down to the basement, where he stabbed him with a butcher knife and left him for dead. He then headed back towards the bedroom, where he was most likely intending to rape Kris. Unfortunately for him, things were not going to go to plan.
It turns out that Doug was not as dead as Nance had thought. In fact, he was still conscious, and had enough strength to get out of his binds. What happens next is like something out of a suspense thriller. Doug managed to fetch a rifle he kept down in the basement and struggle up the stairs of the basement, eventually reaching the bedroom, where he shot Nance once, before beating him with the rifle itself and then collapsing from his wounds. The two men were brought to the hospital, both in critical condition, but only one made it out alive, as Nance would soon die of his injuries. When police searched Nance’s home, they would uncover evidence that would incriminate him in at least two murders, and he was suspected of being the one behind the unsolved killings mentioned earlier, possibly many others. Thanks to this new evidence, two previously unidentified murder victims were identified as Marci Bachman and Devonna Nelson, and if it had not been for this victim turning the tides Nance may not have ever been caught at all.
Finally, we come to the truly harrowing story of Mary Vincent, who was just 15 years old when she faced a tragic experience that would change her for the rest of her life. On September 29, 1978, Mary was hitchhiking her way to Los Angeles after running away from home, looking to relocate there to pursue a dancing career. It did not take long before she was picked up by an unassuming man by the name of Lawrence Singleton, who offered to take her as far as Interstate 5. She got in, but began to get unsettled when they drove right by the interstate and kept going. Mary told the driver to turn around and bring her back, and after apologizing, Singleton complied and headed back towards their missed stop. Along the way, he stopped the vehicle to get out and take care of nature’s business, and Mary also decided to stretch her legs and stroll about. It was here where things would take a turn for the macabre.
As Mary walked around getting some fresh air, she was unaware that Singleton was creeping up behind her with a hammer in hand, which he used to smash her head to knock her out cold. When she awoke, he was in the process of raping her, and when he was done, he got a hatchet out of his car, hacked off both of her arms, and tossed her down a culvert, then driving away to leave her for dead. It was out in the middle of nowhere, and as Singleton drove off, he must have thought that she would die and never be found. Oh, how wrong he was. Mary not only survived, but was able to hobble back to the road, where she was found waving her mangled arms in the air by a passing motorist.
She was in dire condition, but she would survive and give a detailed description of her attacker, which brought the police right to his door. Singleton would be found guilty of attempted murder and receive a 14-year prison sentence, but unbelievably he was released after serving only 8, and since he had written threatening letters to Mary from prison she was afraid he was going to hunt her down and finish the grim work he had started on that desolate, lonely road. In the meantime, her life had been ruined, her dancing career dashed, spiraling into a deep depression, and it was only after she got married and had two children that she began to take control of her life again. She spoke out about what had happened to her and about the dangers of hitchhiking, and in the meantime, Singleton was out on parole and back in society.
A few years after his release, Singleton was once again arrested, this time for the stabbing death of a prostitute by the name of Roxanne Hayes, at his new home in Tampa, Florida. When Mary heard about this, she decided to testify at the trial, telling the court of the atrocities she had faced at his hands while displaying her prosthetic hooks for arms. It was partly due to her testimony and the brutality she showed he was capable of that Singleton would receive the death penalty this time, although he would die of cancer in 2001 before it was ever carried out. Mary felt that she never did get the justice she sought, once lamenting, “I wanted to look into his eyes. But now I won’t be able to find out whatever I was looking for. I feel like I was cheated again.” However, it was partly due to her courage that he was never able to do the same thing to another woman ever again.
These have been just a few of the more spectacular cases of people turning the tides on their tormentors, and it really does stir the debate on how much vigilante justice should be accepted. For some, these people are heroes, for others they are a threat to our very way of doing justice, but many can probably relate to at least having this cross our minds if we were in these circumstances. It is a grey area, unclear whether we should cheer them on or not, but most of us can probably sympathize to some degree. Whatever the right answers are or wherever you fall on the debate, the one thing that is clear is that these criminals picked the wrong people to mess with.