Special Report

20 Biggest Crime Stories of the Year

Mario Tama / Getty Images

As 2019 fades into history, America ruefully looks back on another year of mass murders, bias-inspired crimes, child and sex abuse cases, fraud involving the privileged class, and other misdeeds.

Using media sources such as The New York Times, National Public Radio, and The Associated Press, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed hundreds of popular news stories to create a list of the year’s biggest crime stories. We selected stories that stood out for how many lives they impacted, for being in some respects unprecedented, and for involving people or institutions of great importance to the public. We also aimed for a variety of subjects to cover the wide range of notable 2019 crime stories.

America was shaken by two mass-shooting events in a 24 hour period this past August, renewing the debate over gun control in Washington, D.C. as well as in living rooms and workplaces across the nation. These are the deadliest mass shootings in our nation’s history.

Crimes such as a shooting in a California synagogue and church burnings in Louisiana reminded us that bias and hate remain intractable problems in the United States.

Other crimes involved the entitled elite, such as the college admissions scandal in which affluent and well-connected people used their status to gain an unfair advantage for their children to get into America’s most exclusive universities. It was a reminder that in a nation that prides itself on merit, the playing field is not level. Here are the worst scandals that shocked Hollywood.

Click here to see the 20 biggest crime stories of the year

Source: Photo by Logan Riely / Getty Images

169 arrests in sex trafficking sting ahead of Super Bowl
> Date: Jan. 31

A joint effort between local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies resulted in the arrest of 169 people on sex trafficking charges. The arrests were made in Atlanta during the days leading up to the Super Bowl and included 26 alleged traffickers and 34 people accused of trying to have sex with minors. Several sex trafficking victims were rescued as a part of the police effort.

Source: United States Department of Homeland Security

Drug lord El Chapo convicted
> Date: Feb. 12

In a New York federal district court, Mexican drug lord Joaquín Guzmán — commonly known as El Chapo — was found guilty of 10 federal criminal counts, including engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise; conspiracy to launder money from drug sales; international distribution of cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and other drugs; and use of firearms.

Guzmán has been involved in the drug trade for decades — he became the leader of the Sinaloa Pacific Cartel in the 1980s. Though he has been held in maximum security prisons in Mexico before, he has escaped each time. Guzmán claims to have killed between 2,000 and 3,000 people. He now faces a life sentence without the possibility of parole.


Source: Paul Marotta / Getty Images

College admissions scandal
> Date: March 12

On March 12, the Justice Department announced charges in the biggest college-admission scam in the history of the nation. The scandal exposed how far wealthy and well-connected parents are willing to go to get their children into the nation’s most prestigious universities.

Among those caught up in the scandal were actresses Lori Loughlin as well as Felicity Huffman and her husband, fashion mogul Mossimo Giannulli, who pleaded not guilty to bribery charges for allegedly paying an admissions consultant $500,000 to create a bogus sports profile for their daughter to help her get into USC. Huffman was sentenced to 14 days in prison for paying thousands of dollars to have her daughter’s SAT scores falsely boosted.

Source: TARIK KIZILKAYA / Getty Images

YouTube star charged with child abuse
> Date: March 20

An Arizona woman was accused of neglecting and physically abusing her seven adopted children who were featured in videos on YouTube. The children appeared on a family comedy called “Fantastic Adventures” that received 242 million views and had 800,000 subscribers. YouTube shut down the series amid child abuse allegations.

The incident raised concerns about the lack of oversight in using underage children on the video-sharing platform. Machelle Hobson allegedly denied the children food and water, limited their bathroom visits, and pepper-sprayed them if they did not perform to her standards.

Child actors are protected by legal safeguards with strict rules regarding the number of hours they work in the television and motion picture industries, but the standards have not been outlined for newer media like YouTube. Hobson, who was charged with child abuse, died of natural causes in early November.

Source: Louisiana Office of State Fire Marshal

Three historically black churches burned in 10 days
> Date: March 26, April 2 and April 4

In late March and early April 2019, three churches in Louisiana’s St. Landry Parish were burned to the ground: St. Mary Baptist Church, Greater Union Baptist Church, and Mount Pleasant Baptist Church. Each church had a congregation that was predominantly or exclusively black. Months later, suspect Holden James Matthews, a white man, was indicted by a federal grand jury on hate crime and arson charges. If convicted, Matthews could face decades behind bars.


Source: Alex Wong / Getty Images

Robert Mueller investigation
> Date: April 18

Special counsel Robert Mueller was tasked with finding if any connections existed between the Trump campaign and Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. After two years of investigation and 2,800 subpoenas, Mueller found there was no conspiracy and could not conclude that President Donald Trump had obstructed justice.

Mueller also concluded that, though the investigation found links between the Russian government and individuals in the Trump campaign, “the evidence was not sufficient to support criminal charges” of a conspiracy with Russia. Though the report did not find evidence of criminal wrongdoing, it was perhaps the highest profile criminal investigation in the United States in recent memory.

Source: Mario Tama / Getty Images

Poway synagogue shooting
> Date: April 27

On the last day of the Jewish holiday of Passover on April 27, a gunman shouting anti-Semitic slurs went into a synagogue in Southern California and opened fire with an assault-style weapon, killing one person and wounding two others. The attack occurred in Poway, a town located 25 miles north of San Diego. The incident at the synagogue followed a series of religiously influenced assaults, including a mass shooting at a New Zealand mosque the previous month and a church bombing in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday a week earlier. The California synagogue attack happened six months after a synagogue in Pittsburgh was attacked in an incident that left 11 dead in one of the worst anti-Semitic acts in American history.


Source: New Canaan Police Department

Connecticut mom missing
> Date: May 24

Jennifer Dulos has been missing since she dropped her children off at school on May 24 — and her husband, Fotis Dulos, is a prime suspect in her disappearance. Prosecutors think Dulos carried out a violent attack on his wife in the garage in their New Canaan home. His wife’s blood was detected on items there, but her body has not been found. The case took a strange turn on Dec. 4. Fotis Dulos appeared in civil court because his estranged wife’s family is suing him for failing to repay $2 million in loans from his wife’s family for Dulos’ homebuilding business. Outside the courtroom, Dulos told reporters he wished his wife and her family happy holidays and that “I just pray that they give my kids my love and my best wishes.”

Source: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Virginia Beach shooting
> Date: May 31

On May 31, DeWayne Craddock, a former Virginia Beach city employee, opened fire in a municipal building in Virginia Beach as city employees were preparing to leave for the weekend. The gunman killed 12 people and wounded four others before police killed him after an intense gun battle. The violence took place hours after Craddock, an engineer who had worked for the city for 15 years, sent an email to his superiors informing them of his intention to quit.

Source: Sandy Huffaker / Getty Images

Navy SEAL chief accused of war crimes found not guilty of murder
> Date: July 2

Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher stood trial this summer for war crimes committed in 2017. He was charged with stabbing and killing an Iraqi boy and posing for a photo with the boy’s body, as well as killing a young girl and an elderly man. Somewhat unexpectedly, Gallagher was found not guilty.

The national news spotlight that the case received was partially the result of President Donald Trump’s interest in it. The president had indicated before the trial that he would pardon Gallagher, and Trump Organization lawyer Marc Mukasey was among the high profile defense attorneys assigned to the case. Gallagher was allowed to retire from the SEALs after Trump reversed a Navy decision to have his status as a SEAL revoked.


Source: Stephanie Keith / Getty Images

Sexual abuse cases against Jeffrey Epstein
> Date: July 8

Financier Jeffrey Epstein was arrested in July 2019 in New Jersey’s Teterboro Airport on sex trafficking and conspiracy charges. The arrest received international attention, in part due to Epstein’s many powerful connections and associates, including entertainers and politicians. Denied bail, Epstein was found dead the following month in his Manhattan jail cell. His death was officially ruled a suicide. After his death, nearly two dozen women spoke out in court against Epstein. Victims of his alleged assaults included girls as young as 14.

Source: Mario Tama / Getty Images

El Paso, TX, Walmart shooting
> Date: Aug. 3

A shooting at Walmart in El Paso on Aug. 3 killed 22 people and wounded 24 others in the deadliest shooting incident of the year and one of the worst in U.S. history. The assailant, Patrick Crusius, drove more than 10 hours from a Dallas suburb to El Paso to carry out the attack. Investigators believe the shooting was racially motivated because the shooter is suspected to have posted a hate-filled anti-immigrant manifesto online before the rampage, speaking of a “Hispanic invasion of Texas.” Notably, the Walmart served a mostly hispanic clientele. Crusius, 21, has pleaded not guilty.


Source: Matthew Hatcher / Getty Images

Shooting in Dayton, OH
> Date: Aug. 4

The nation was staggered by a second mass shooting within 24 hours of the shooting tragedy in Texas when a gunman shot and killed nine people and injured 27 others in downtown Dayton, Ohio, at around 1 a.m. on Sunday morning. The gunman, Connor Betts, was shot and killed by police. Betts, wearing a mask and bulletproof vest and brandishing a .223-caliber high-capacity rifle, targeted victims in a district known for its nightlife. His sister was among his victims.

Betts’ social media posts and comments from friends paint a picture of a person obsessed with violence and guns. While questions remain about his motivations, some officials have speculated that he was also motivated by misogyny.

Source: Cengiz Yar / Getty Images

Drive-by shooting in Odessa and Midland, TX
> Date: Aug. 31

A drive-by shooting attack left seven people dead and 24 wounded in the west Texas cities of Odessa and Midland on Aug. 31. Odessa police said the attack began when a state trooper on Interstate 20 attempted to pull over the suspect. The motorist, later identified as Seth Ator, shot the trooper and then drove west toward Odessa from Midland. The gunman stole a postal truck and shot indiscriminately while in transit. Police followed him to a movie theater in Odessa, where he wounded two police officers before he was killed.

Source: Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office

Accused serial killer captured
> Date: Sept. 15

In September 2019, authorities in Florida placed suspected serial killer Robert Hayes under arrest. Hayes was officially charged with the 2016 murder of a woman whose body was discovered on the side of the road in West Palm Beach, Florida. He is also the leading suspect in three other murders dating back to 2005. Police linked Hayes to the killings with DNA evidence.


Source: Photo by Stewart F. House / Getty Images

Police officer who killed unarmed black man convicted of murder
> Date: Oct. 1

In a story that underscored the racial tension in the nation, former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger was found guilty of murder in the shooting death of her neighbor, a black man. She was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Guyger shot her unarmed neighbor, Botham Jean, in his apartment, which she said she mistook for hers and thought he was robbing her apartment.

Source: Mark Wilson / Getty Images

Largest darknet child pornography website takedown
> Date: Oct. 16

More than 330 people were arrested in mid-October following an international takedown of one of the world’s largest child pornography websites, and reportedly the first one to accept bitcoin in exchange for content. Federal officials seized over 8 terabytes of child pornography, equal to about 10,000 full CD-ROMs. The operation reportedly saved nearly two dozen children worldwide from abusive situations. Arrests connected with the takedown spanned 23 states and Washington D.C. as well as 11 countries.


Source: Mario Tama / Getty Images

Saugus High School shooting
> Date: Nov. 14

Sixteen-year-old Nathaniel Berhow came to Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, California, the morning of Thursday, Nov. 14 and pulled out a .45 caliber semiautomatic pistol. Berhow killed two of his classmates and injured three others before turning the gun on himself. He died from the self-inflicted wound the following day. The mass shooting is one of hundreds that were carried out in 2019.

Source: Handout

Former CIA agent sentenced to 19 years for China espionage
> Date: Nov. 22

Last year, former CIA agent Jerry Chun Shing Lee was charged with conspiracy to spy on behalf of the Chinese government. Lee is believed to have received $840,000 from Chinese intelligence officials, and while Lee admitted to conspiring, he maintains that he never actually revealed any secrets. In November 2019, Lee was sentenced to 19 years in prison.
Source: John Moore / Getty Images

Probe opened on opioid makers
> Date: Nov. 26

Six pharmaceutical companies are under federal investigation and face potential criminal charges for their role in the opioid crisis. Federal prosecutors are working to determine what, if any, laws were broken in connection with shipments of mass quantities of opioid painkillers.

The companies include Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, Mallinckrodt, Johnson & Johnson, Amneal Pharmaceuticals, and distributor McKesson Corp. One company, Ohio-based Miami-Luken Inc, shipped 3.7 million hydrocodone pills between 2008 and 2011 to a pharmacy in a small West Virginia town of only about 400 people.

According to the most recent data for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, of the more than 70,000 drug overdose deaths in 2017, more than two-thirds involved an opioid. Such drug-related deaths were six times more common in 2017 than in 1999, according to the CDC.


Source: Josh Brasted / Getty Images

Pensacola Navy base shooting
> Date: Dec. 6

In early December 2019, Second Lieutenant Mohammad Alshamrani of the Royal Saudi Air Force opened fire at Naval Air Station Pensacola with a legally purchased 9 mm handgun, killing three and injuring eight others. The FBI dispatched 80 agents to investigate the shooting and released a statement saying investigators were treating it as an act of terrorism. Through a series of tweets posted before the killing, the shooter reportedly quoted Osama bin Laden and called the United States evil.

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