The Sea Waif: A Murder on the Ocean and the Little Girl Who Stayed Alive

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It began with a man in a boat and a little girl in a raft. On November 13, 1961, the tanker Gulf Lion was plying the waters of the Northwest Providence Channel in the Bahamas when it crossed paths with a small dinghy towing a life raft. The man in the dinghy shouted up to an officer on the tanker, identifying himself as Julian Harvey, captain of the ketch Bluebelle. The little girl in the raft, he said, was Terry Jo Duperrault, and she was dead.

Harvey, a handsome war hero and charter boat captain, was hauled aboard the tanker, where he told his harrowing tale. He'd been taking the Duperrault family of Green Bay, Wisconsin, back to Florida after a week-long cruise through the Bahamas on the Bluebelle when a squall struck in the middle of the previous night. It damaged the yacht's mainmast so badly the post plunged straight through the cabin and hull of the boat, taking another mast with it and rupturing gas lines in the engine room, which caused a fire to break out. Harvey said his passengers—the five-member Duperrault family and his own wife, Mary Dene—were either caught in the felled rigging or jumped overboard as the Bluebelle went down.

It was the same story he'd tell Coast Guard investigators three days later in even greater detail; he described emptying two fire extinguishers onto the flames with little effect and, once in the dinghy, how he shouted over and over into the squall, trying to locate the other passengers. When he did spot little Terry Jo, she was floating face down in the water in her life jacket, already dead.

It was a horrific tale, to be sure. There was just one problem: At the very moment Harvey was telling his story to the crew of the Gulf Lion, the real Terry Jo was clinging to a small life raft several miles away, slowly withering under a murderous tropical sun.

 

Terry Jo was in many ways your average 11-year-old girl. In the 2010 book Alone: Orphaned on the Ocean, co-authored by psychologist Richard D. Logan and Terry Jo (who now goes by Tere Fassbender), the authors describe a pretty blonde girl who loved animals and her family and enjoyed spending time in the wooded areas around her home in Green Bay, pretending to be Tarzan swinging through the forest. In fact, up until November 12, 1961, her life was the very model of mid-century, middle-class bliss.

The week on the Bluebelle had been a trial run for a months-long, round-the-world voyage Terry Jo's father, Dr. Arthur Duperrault, had planned for the family. The Duperrault patriarch was an accomplished sailor in his own right, having frequently traversed the waters of Green Bay. But he was looking for something more ambitious for his family, which included his wife, Jean, their 14-year-old son, Brian, and daughters Rene, aged 7, and Terry Jo. So he packed them in the car and drove down to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where he chartered the ketch Bluebelle from owner Harold Pegg, destination: The Bahamas. Their captain and tour guide would be Julian Harvey, accompanied by his sixth wife, Mary Dene.

Terry Jo had spent the week in the Bahamas snorkeling and spearfishing through crystal waters, exploring tiny, uninhabited islands, and dining on fresh seafood with locals. The vacation seemed like it would be one to remember, even if it was just a prelude to a grander adventure.

As the Bluebelle began its return journey to Florida on Sunday night, November 12, Terry Jo descended into the small cabin she shared with her sister below deck. The rest of the family—including Rene—stayed in the cockpit, the children napping, the adults, including Harvey and his wife, savoring the last dregs of their vacation. At around 11 p.m., something startled Terry Jo from her sleep.

"Help, Daddy, help!"

It was her brother, Brian, screaming. There were sounds of running and stamping. Paralyzed with fear, Terry Jo stayed in her bed for many minutes, finally working up the courage to get out of her berth to see what was happening. What she found just outside the door would be enough to sink the most hardened heart: her mother and brother lying dead, in a pool of blood. As she descended into shock, Terry Jo ascended to the deck, where the lights on the boat illuminated the figure of Julian Harvey walking toward her.

"What happened?" she asked. Harvey angrily shoved her back down the companionway, but the brief exchange had given Terry Jo enough time to notice that nothing else was amiss on the boat: no downed rigging, no splintered masts. Even the weather was calm. Later in life, an interview under sodium amytal would prompt Terry Jo to remember seeing blood and a knife on deck, but in that moment, there was too much to keep track of.

Blue waves and bubbles
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Terry Jo returned to the cabin, where she huddled in her bed. She heard the sounds of sloshing water, and soon, oily bilge water began to creep into her room. Suddenly, Harvey's frame filled up the doorway. He stood for a long time looking at her with what seemed to be a rifle in his hands, while she shrunk against the wall and held her breath. After an agonizing moment, he turned and ascended to the deck. The little girl remained frozen until the water crested the bunk. The Bluebelle was sinking.

As she waded through the foul water quickly filling the cabin, Terry Jo must have prayed she wouldn't bump into what would now be the floating bodies of her mother and brother. Back up on deck, she saw that Harvey had launched the dinghy and life raft, and shouted to him, "Is the ship sinking?" He confirmed it was and shoved the line holding the dinghy into her hands, but it slipped through. When he realized his escape vehicle was drifting away, he dove into the sea, leaving the girl alone to die in the dark on the rapidly capsizing sailboat.

 

Nearly everyone who heard Julian Harvey's story found something off about it. Some crew members of the ship that picked him up found him far too calm and collected for someone who just lost his wife and an entire family of clients and nearly escaped death. The Bluebelle's owner, Harold Pegg, found Harvey's account of the mast failure preposterous, given that the ketch had been recently inspected and cleared. Even Harvey's old friend James Boozer, who heard multiple, varying iterations of Harvey's story, felt there were holes.

Anyone with a birds-eye-view of Julian Harvey's life would have found a few other elements not in his favor. While it was true that Harvey was a skilled WWII bomber pilot, served in the Korean War, and even managed to pull off a dangerous test flight of a modified B-24 bomber, peers in the military periodically noted his propensity for ditching missions due to "engine failure." By the end of his career in the military, even his supporters noted his nerves were shot—a fact apparently made clear by the worsening of a facial tic and stutter.

Anchored sailboat in blue waters, view from drone 
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Then there were the wives. Mary Dene Jordan was the sixth, and until her, Harvey had a habit of wooing, rapidly marrying, and then abruptly dumping his partners, usually with a cursory "I don't love you anymore." His affairs were legend at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, where Harvey was stationed with his second (or possibly third) wife Joan in 1949. They'd soon turn darker. One rainy night, Harvey was driving his wife and mother-in-law back from the movies when, as he described it, his car swerved on a bridge and rolled over the side into the bayou below. The car sank, and Harvey alone survived. As bystanders dove into the water to look for Mrs. Harvey and her mother, the pilot calmly described, perhaps even boasted, about how he'd been able to escape the car while it was mid-air. Not only did evidence at the scene point to that not being the case, but it was apparent that Harvey had made no attempt to save his relatives. Nor did he seem overly broken up about their deaths. He soon cashed in his wife's life insurance policy.

Finally, the Bluebelle wasn't the first boat to sink under Harvey's watch. Twice before Harvey had filed insurance claims for destroyed boats. Both cases, while suspicious, were decided in his favor. Later, friends would admit that in the first wreck, Harvey had probably steered the boat into an obstacle on purpose, and in the case of the second, had flat-out admitted to setting his vessel on fire.

But Harvey's history was largely unknown to the Coast Guard investigators who interviewed him three days post-rescue. He repeated what was broadly the same story he told the crew of the Gulf Lion, but under the questioning of investigators, holes began to appear.

For one, the idea of a mast plunging straight through the deck of a sailboat was unlikely; masts broken by squall winds tilt over, rather than fall straight down. Harvey asserted that after the mast failure, he had asked Dr. Duperrault to steer the Bluebelle while he went to find cable cutters to cut through the downed rigging. As the fire broke out in the engine room and spread up through the cockpit, the course he'd asked Duperrault to follow—into the wind—actually began fanning the flames. Yet, he insisted, Duperrault kept steering in the same direction—an inconceivable move for any person of common sense, let alone a Navy veteran and experienced sailor like Arthur Duperrault.

There was also the fact that no one at the lighthouse on a nearby island saw a fire at sea that night, nor did Harvey try to make it over to that island after he found the body of who he thought was Terry Jo, but was actually 7-year-old Rene, and placed it on the raft. Finally, and perhaps most tellingly, Harvey, the sailboat captain, admitted that at no point during his hours of drifting did he think to look for the flares that were in the dinghy's emergency kit.

In the long run, Harvey's dark history and tortured tale wouldn’t much matter. Just as he was wrapping up his testimony for investigators, a captain of the Coast Guard rushed into the room. In a scene out of a police procedural, he broke the news: They'd found a survivor.

 

Terry Jo had been on the ocean for three and a half days when she was picked up by a Greek freighter. By then, she was hours from death, if not closer—severely dehydrated, badly sunburned, mostly unconscious. The fact that she was alive at all—that she'd managed to find, launch, and hold on to a small cork-and-rope life raft as the Bluebelle sank; that she hadn't fallen off or been attacked by a predator; that she was even able to give her name to the crew of the ship that found her despite her body largely shutting down—it was all a miracle.

Within a month, the image of her tiny frame surrounded by a vast blue expanse, captured by a crewman with a camera on the ship that found her, would be familiar to readers of LIFE magazine the world over; Terry Jo's photo and story was featured in a spread alongside news of the disappearance of Michael Rockefeller in New Guinea. By then, she'd be home with her aunt, uncle, cousins, and grandmother in Wisconsin, trying to achieve some kind of normalcy. It would be decades, however, before she'd talk about what happened to anyone other than the Coast Guard investigators who interviewed her in her Miami hospital room.

Motel entrance at night
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"Oh, my God!" is what Harvey said when he found out about Terry Jo's rescue. After a few moments regaining his composure, he commented on how wonderful the news was and then abruptly exited the room, leaving puzzled investigators in his wake.

The next day, the manager at the Sandman Motel in Miami called the police after the maid smelled something funny in the bathroom of Room 17 and couldn’t get the door open. Behind the door was the corpse of Julian Harvey, handsome as ever but covered in self-inflicted slash wounds. He'd left a note addressed to his friend James Boozer: "I'm a nervous wreck and just can't continue. I'm going out now. I guess I either don't like life or don't know what to do with it." The message also arranged for the adoption of Harvey's son, and requested that Harvey's body be buried at sea.

After two interviews, in which her story never deviated, the Coast Guard came to accept Terry Jo's version of events that night on the Bluebelle. In his book on the incident, Richard D. Logan theorized that Harvey had murdered his wife in their cabin on the Bluebelle that night, possibly for insurance money, and intended to tell the Duperraults she'd fallen overboard. She'd put up more of a fight than he expected, alerting Dr. Duperrault, who went to investigate. Harvey stabbed Duperrault with the knife that Terry Jo would later remember seeing on the deck, then killed Mrs. Duperrault and Brian. Little Rene most likely drowned, although it has never been made clear whether she fell, was thrown overboard, or was forcibly held under by Harvey before he dragged her into the lifeboat tied to his dinghy.

Terry Jo received support from all over the world after her story broke. She went on to live a full life; she fell in love, had children and grandchildren, moved around, and found work she loved with Wisconsin's Department of Natural Resources as a Water Management Specialist. Call it ironic, call it fate, but Terry found her life's mission protecting bodies of water. In the afterword of the book she co-authored with Logan, she wrote:

What I want to stress to all who read this book is never give up, always have hope, and try to look on the bright side of things. Be positive, be trusting, and try to go with the flow; have compassion, give of yourself to those in need, and be loving and kind. I believe that what you give comes back to you.

Julian Harvey was buried at sea per his wishes.

46 Weird Laws Still on the Books

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sfe-co2/iStock via Getty Images

You go about your day trying to be a good citizen, but you have no idea how many laws you're probably breaking. Maybe you're throwing snowballs, yelling at an umpire, or using high-tech equipment to make sure your shoes fit right. You know, everyday stuff.

Just to be safe, check out this list of 46 weird laws so you know what not to do.

1. Vermont banned banning clotheslines.

Colorful clothes hanging on a clothesline
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You read that right. In 2009, Vermont made it illegal for groups like neighborhood associations to ban clotheslines.

2. You can't throw rocks at trains in Wisconsin.

A train moving down the tracks.
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Wisconsin has a law that you cannot "propel any stone, brick, or other missile at any railroad train." I think this means that you can technically drop a brick onto a railroad train, but no one's ever tested it.

3. You can't make fake drugs in Arizona.

A bottle of pills and money.
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In Arizona, you can not manufacture or distribute "imitation controlled substances," which I guess is why they didn't film Breaking Bad there.

4. Blasphemy is still illegal in Michigan.

A woman screaming in her car.
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Blasphemy laws used to be very common in the United States, but there are still some in existence, including in Michigan, where cursing God is a G**-d*** misdemeanor.

5. Dogs can't hunt big game mammals in California.

Two dogs running in a field.
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Allowing dogs to pursue big game [PDF] mammals, such as bears or bobcats, is illegal in California. We were surprised to learn that this was an issue, because our office dog runs away from squirrels - although to be fair, they are larger than her.

6. Don't bite while boxing in Utah.

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Bad news for Damon Salvatore and Mike Tyson, boxing in Utah cannot feature any biting.

7. Swearing at sports events is illegal in Massachusetts.

Angry fans at a sporting event.
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If you're over 16, it's against to law to swear at players or officials during sporting events in Massachusetts, so I guess at the end of every Red Sox game, 37,000 people are taken into custody.

8. You can't use a false name at a hotel in New Hampshire.

Hotel front desk.
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In New Hampshire, it is illegal to check into a hotel using a false name.

9. Pretending to be a religious figure is illegal in Alabama.

Hands held in prayer.
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And speaking of false identities, at public places in Alabama, you cannot pretend to be a minister, nun, priest, or rabbi if you aren't one, thereby making productions of The Sound of Music technically illegal. Unless the nuns are played by nuns, that is.

10. You couldn't throw snowballs in Severance, Colorado until 2019.

Kids having a snowball fight.
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This one isn't technically still on the books, but it juuuuuuuuust got changed. Thanks to a precocious 9-year-old boy, it's finally legal to throw snow balls in a Colorado town known for its snow.

11. You have to believe in something in order to hold public office in Texas.

A hand on a book while taking an oath.
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In Texas, officials aren't allowed to be, "excluded from holding office on account of his religious sentiments, provided he acknowledges the existence of a Supreme Being." So, if someone doesn't believe in a Supreme Being...exclude away?

12. Bingo games can't last more than five hours in North Carolina.

A group of senior citizens playing bingo.
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That's great news if, like me, you find Bingo boring after four minutes.

13. You can't sniff glue with the intent to get high from it in Indiana.

A bottle of glue.
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In Indiana, you're not allowed to sniff toxic vapors of any kind (including glue) with, "intent to cause a condition of intoxication, euphoria, excitement, exhilaration, stupefaction, or dulling of the senses." So if you're doing it for other reasons, that's fine.

14. Adultery is still a crime in New York.

Man looking at a woman walking down the street.
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Spitzer. Giuliani. Weiner. Paterson. FDR. They all did something punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $500 fine.

15. Biting someone's arm off is illegal in Rhode Island.

A cat biting its owner's arm.
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Rhode Island has a law against biting off the limbs of another person. It's a shame you have to legislate things like that, but I, you know, guess it will be good for when the zombies come...

16. Teachers can't talk to students about hand-holding in Tennessee.

A group of children holding hands.
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The Gateway Sexual Behavior Law in Tennessee prevents teachers from discussing anything that might be considered a "gateway" to sex. That includes kissing and hand-holding.

17. You can't sell your eyes in Texas.

A woman holding money in front of her face.
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When they sang, "The eyes of Texas are upon you," they meant that the state already has a pair and doesn't need to buy yours. It's not just eyes, either. It's illegal to sell any of your bodily organs.

18. Dance halls can't be close to cemeteries in South Carolina.

A group of kids at a dance hall.
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In South Carolina, dance halls are not allowed to be within a quarter-mile of a rural church or cemetery.

19. They also can't be open on Sundays.

A business hanging a closed sign.
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South Carolina also requires their dance halls to be closed on Sundays. It's almost like they don't like dancing.

20. Florida passed a law in 1974 allowing the state to ban alcohol sales during hurricanes.

A man and woman drinking beer on the beach.
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As a matter of public safety, the state wanted to curb people's ability to throw "hurricane parties," which are apparently a thing in Florida.

21. Utah doesn't have happy hour.

A group of people holding pints of beer.
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It's illegal to discount booze or do anything that might promote overindulgence, so Happy Hour is right out.

22. You can't use X-rays for shoe fittings in Washington.

An X-ray of a foot.
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Don't worry Dorothy, they fit.

23. You can't wound a fish with a firearm in Wyoming.

A woman holding a gun to a goldfish.
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You literally cannot shoot fish in a barrel in Wyoming, where they have a law against fishing with firearms that specifically says you cannot "wound" the fish with a gun, either.

24. Delaware doesn't like r-rated movies at drive-ins.

A movie drive-in sign.
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The state has a ban on playing R-rated movies specifically at drive-in theaters (because they're outside, maybe?), but it's probably unconstitutional and no one enforces it.

25. Don't try to corrupt public morals in Florida.

Thumb and fingers pulling out a red block that reads "Ethics" out of a stack of blocks.
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Attempting to "corrupt public morals" makes you guilty of a misdemeanor in Florida. How high is the bar here, exactly?

26. You can't live on a boat for more than 30 days in Georgia.

A photo of a house boat.
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That's during a calendar year, which presumably means you could spend 59 legal days crashing on your boat from December to January.

27. Silly string has been banned in Southington, Connecticut since 1996.

Children playing with Silly String.
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No word on whether Serious String is still allowed. Selling or using the silly stuff in public places comes with a $99 fine.

28. Hitting a vending machine is a no-no in Derby, Kansas.

A woman at a vending machine.
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Even if you're really frustrated because you paid for those Cool Ranch Doritos, and you desperately need those Cool Ranch Doritos and... GIMME MY DORITOS!

29. You can't make someone get a microchip in Wisconsin.

A person holding a microchip.
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In Wisconsin, "no person may require an individual to undergo the implanting of a microchip." ONLY IN WISCONSIN? Can we take this thing nationally?

30. Billboards are illegal in Hawaii.

A photo of a Hawaiian island.
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This is probably the best idea.

31. You've gotta keep your hypnotizing indoors in Everett, Washington.

A woman being hypnotized on a couch.
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Planning to mesmerize people? Absolutely do not do it with your storefront signage or out on the street or at your theater's ticket booth.

32. Avoid hunting in cemeteries in Enfield, New Hampshire.

A photo of a foggy graveyard.
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You also can't hop the fence to get in [PDF].

33. People with sexually transmitted diseases can't get married in Nebraska.

A sign welcoming people to Nebraska.
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The law says, "No person who is afflicted with a venereal disease shall marry in this state." As you're probably guessing, that's a tough one to enforce, so if you get a marriage license without being detected, the marriage license still counts.

34. Every tanning bed in Iowa needs a warning sign.

A tanning bed.
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The hazards of using tanning beds must be posted conspicuously next to every single tanning bed.

35. Doors to public buildings in Florida must open outward.

A government building in Texas.
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Which makes sense. If you're running away from an alligator in the library, you don't want to have to stop to pull a door open.

36. Reno, Nevada, doesn't allow people to lie down on sidewalks.

A welcome sign in Reno, Nevada.
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So what's even the point of visiting?

37. you can be fined for leaving your car door open too long in Oregon.

A man with his car door open.
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Sounds silly, but cyclists get why.

38. You also can't throw your urine out of your car there.

Cup of urine.
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Oregon also has a law preventing improper disposal of human waste while you're on the road, so if you're traveling with containers of urine through Oregon, don't toss them out.

39. It's illegal to play dominoes in Alabama on a sunday.

A man playing dominoes.
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You also aren't supposed to hunt, shoot, play cards, or race that day. You also can't promote or engage in a bear wrestling match (any day).

40. Do not molest butterflies in Pacific Grove, California.

A butterfly landing on someone's hand.
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When the monarch butterflies make their annual pilgrimage to town, give them a wide berth. Look with your eyes, not with your hands, people.

41. Emergency medical technicians aren't allowed to help dogs in Massachusetts.

A police dog.
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A bill was put forward in 2019 to allow them to treat police dogs who are injured in the line of duty.

42. You can't sell dog hair in Delaware.

A dog next to a pile of dog hair.
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You can't "recklessly" sell cat hair, either, nor "any product made in whole or in part" by your furry friends' fur.

43. Farmers can't sell pickles to customers at farmers' markets in Connecticut.

A pickle jar.
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It's a myth that a pickle has to bounce to be legally a pickle, but it's not a myth that you can't sell a pickle (bouncing or otherwise) if you're a farmer in Connecticut. Salsa, too. Anything with a pH value at 4.6 or below is forbidden, but there's a bill trying to change that.

44. You can't screech your tires in Derby, Kansas.

Tire marks on the pavement.
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According to code 10.04.200, you can be fined $500 for your tire noise, so drive politely out there.

45. You can't wear a bullet-proof vest while committing a crime in New Jersey.

A bulletproof vest.
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If you're planning to rob a bank, you'll get in double trouble if you're wearing bullet-resistant gear during the stick-up.

46. It's illegal to be drunk on a train in Michigan.

Seats on a train.
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Once that train enters Ohio, shots for everybody.

For more on these weird laws, check out the full video below.

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14 True Crime Songs About Murder and Mayhem

Bob Dylan performs a concert at the Warfield in San Francisco, California, in 1979.
Bob Dylan performs a concert at the Warfield in San Francisco, California, in 1979.
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The phrase “ripped from the headlines” doesn’t just apply to Law & Order episodes and Lifetime movies. Songwriters throughout the history of popular music have drawn inspiration from real-life tales of murder and mayhem to craft their tunes. From old-timey folk ballads to modern-day trap bangers, true crime songs shock and excite us while forcing us to consider the darkness lurking all around. Here are 14 of the best examples.

1. “Nebraska” // Bruce Springsteen

In January 1958, a 19-year-old Nebraska teenager named Charles Starkweather went on an interstate killing spree that left 11 people dead. Along for the ride was his 14-year-old girlfriend, Caril Ann Fugate, whose role in the slayings remains a point of debate. On the title track of his 1982 album Nebraska, Bruce Springsteen sings from the perspective of Starkweather on the electric chair, offering a chilling explanation for his crimes: “Well, sir, I guess there’s just a meanness in this world.”

2. “Georgia Lee” // Tom Waits

“Why wasn’t god watching?” asks Tom Waits in this 1999 ballad about Georgia Lee Moses, a 12-year-old black girl who was abducted and murdered in Petaluma, California, in 1997. Moses was a middle school dropout from a troubled home, and barely anyone noticed when she went missing. “Georgia Lee did not get any real attention,” Waits told LA Weekly in 1999. “And I wanted to write a song about it.”

3. “Annie Christian” // Prince

Over disorienting synths and a clipped beat, Prince references a handful of true crimes in this 1981 parable about evil in society, which was included on his Controversy album. The titular character—whose name is a play on “antichrist”—is apparently responsible for a string of child murders in Atlanta, the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan, the killing of John Lennon, and even the high-level government corruption unearthed by the FBI’s Abscam investigation.

4. “Stagger Lee” // Lloyd Price

On December 25, 1895, William “Billy” Lyons and his buddy “Stack” Lee Sheldon were knocking back drinks in a St. Louis bar. They began arguing about politics, and Billy snatched the white Stetson off Stack’s head. When Billy refused to give the hat back, Stack shot him dead. The murder made Stack (alternately known as “Stagolee,” “Stack-O-Lee,” “Stack O’Lee,” and “Stagger Lee”) an American folk antihero. He’s been immortalized in hundreds of songs by artists ranging from Ma Rainey to Nick Cave. R&B singer Lloyd Price reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with 1959’s “Stagger Lee,” the most famous telling of this timeless story.

5. “1913 Massacre” // Woody Guthrie

Woody Guthrie penned this plaintive 1941 folk ballad about the “Italian Hall Disaster” of 1913, which took place at a Christmas party for striking miners and their families in Calumet, Michigan. Someone yelled “Fire!” in the crowded hall, and the resulting stampede killed 73 people, most of them children. It’s unknown who gave the false fire call, but many people—Guthrie included—believe it was an anti-union operative looking to spoil the party.

6. “Suffer Little Children” // The Smiths

Growing up in Manchester, England, in the ‘60s, Steven Patrick Morrissey was haunted by the “Moors Murders,” a gruesome series of child murders perpetrated by couple Ian Brady and Myra Hindley. Morrissey name-checks three of the five victims in “Suffer Little Children,” a song about the case featured on the 1984 self-titled debut album by his band The Smiths. Morrissey’s lyrics created a great deal of controversy, but the singer claimed he meant no harm. He even became friendly with Ann West, mother of Lesley Ann Downey, one of the slain children.

7. “Darkness” // Eminem

Depending on your point of view, Eminem either denounces or glorifies gun violence on 2020’s instantly controversial “Darkness.” Eminem raps this novelistic song from the perspective of Stephen Paddock, the mass shooter who killed 58 people at the 2017 Route 91 Harvest festival in Las Vegas, before reportedly turning the gun on himself. “You’ll never find a motive, truth is I have no idea,” Em raps. “I am just as stumped, no signs of mental illness.” The music video ends with a message urging fans to vote and help change America’s gun laws.

8. “Brenda’s Got a Baby” // 2Pac

2Pac was moved to write this harrowing 1991 hip-hop classic after reading a newspaper article about a 12-year-old Brooklyn girl who threw her newborn baby into a trash compactor. (Miraculously, the child survived.) In a 1997 interview with The New Yorker, Pac said he considered the song a political statement about poverty, child abuse, drugs, and other issues. “It talked about how the innocent are the ones that get hurt,” he said.

9. “Deep Red Bells” // Neko Case

“He led you to this hiding place,” sings Neko Case to open this 2002 country-noir stunner. The “you,” she explained to The New York Times Magazine in 2009, is one of the young women killed by Gary Ridgway, a.k.a. the “Green River Killer,” throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s. Ridgway is said to have murdered at least 49 women, many of them prostitutes and runaways. Case—who grew up in Tacoma, Washington, before Ridgway was apprehended—carried a knife with her to school.

10. “Son of Sam” // Dead Boys

For a yearlong stretch beginning in July 1976, New Yorkers lived in fear of the "Son of Sam," a mysterious figure who murdered six people with a .44 caliber revolver and taunted police with handwritten letters. In August 1977, police apprehended the killer, David Berkowitz, who claimed he was given the murderous orders by his neighbor’s dog. (Berkowitz later admitted that story was bogus.) Cleveland-born, New York City-based punk rockers Dead Boys seem to accept Berkowitz's initial explanation for the slayings on their 1978 tune “Son of Sam,” painting the infamous serial killer as a helpless slave (in his own mind, anyway) to demonic forces.

11. “I Don’t Like Mondays” // The Boomtown Rats

On the morning of Monday, January 29, 1979, a 16-year-old San Diego girl named Brenda Ann Spencer opened fire on Grover Cleveland Elementary School, which was located right across the street from her house. She killed two people and injured nine others, eight of them children. Asked why she did it, Spencer told a reporter, “I don’t like Mondays. This livens up the day.” Upon hearing this, The Boomtown Rats frontman Bob Geldof—the Live Aid guy—dashed off “I Don’t Like Mondays,” a mournful response to the senselessness of it all. The song reached #1 on the U.K. charts.

12. “Wildside” // Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch

Mark “Marky Mark” Wahlberg followed his 1991 chart-topper “Good Vibrations” with “Wildside,” a series of musical vignettes about the sorry state of the nation. He references two real-life crimes that shook his hometown of Boston. First, the murder of a pregnant woman named Carol Stuart by her husband, Charles, who blamed the killing on a fictitious black man in hopes of pocketing the insurance money. Next, the tragic death of 12-year-old Tiffany Moore, who was gunned down in a drive-by shooting.

13. “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.” // Sufjan Stevens

Sufjan Stevens’s 2005 concept album Illinoise references many famous figures from the Prairie State, including serial killer John Wayne Gacy Jr., who murdered at least 33 boys and young men in the ‘70s. What’s interesting—and a little unsettling—is how tenderly Stevens sings of the man known as the “Killer Clown.” “I felt insurmountable empathy not with his behavior but with his nature, and there was nothing I could do to get around confessing that, however horrifying that sounds,” Stevens said in a 2005 interview.

14. “Hurricane” // Bob Dylan

In the court of public opinion, Bob Dylan’s epic 1975 song “Hurricane” went a long way toward clearing Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, an African American boxer convicted of killing three white people in Paterson, New Jersey, in 1966. Carter always maintained his innocence, and Dylan’s song blames the racist criminal justice system for jailing a man who “coulda been the champion of the world.” After being released in 1976 and then convicted again in a second trial, Carter was finally freed in 1985, when a federal judge ruled that the prosecution had based its case on “racism rather than reason and concealment rather than disclosure.”

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