Outlaws are essentially criminals; men and women who work outside of the law’s watchful gaze. Although, often violent and exploitative, outlaws are also celebrated. They’re dissidents who stand against society and live by their own rules, until society finally catches up to them, and puts an end to their freedom. Some famous outlaws fought against tyrannical regimes, and others were just drawn to the life of bandit. This is a list of 9 incredible famous outlaws.
Phoolan Devi is an Indian woman, and ex-bandit-turned-politician known as the ‘Bandit Queen’. Her incredible story from start to finish is filled with revenge, murder, banditry and assault. She was born into a poor family in 1963, forced into an abusive child marriage, escaped then joined a gang of bandits. She was the only woman in the gang, and became romantically involved with another member, but this love story would come to a quick end. Her gang lost a gunfight to the rival Rajputs, her lover was killed and she was kidnapped. They took her to Behmai village where they took turns raping her for weeks. Phoolan escaped, and joined up with what was left of her gang.
For the next few months they continued to live as bandits, until the day they stormed Behmai village. They massacred the men who raped her and killed her lover, killing 22 people. The news reported on it as an act of righteous rebellion. She and her gang eluded the police for two years before turning themselves in, in 1983. Charged with 48 crimes, she was certain to spend most of her life in prison, but, miraculously, after 11 years all the charges were dropped. She was released, stood for election, and won. For the first time in her life, she was able to live a peaceful, comfortable existence. In 2001, a member of the Rajput gang whose comrades she had slaughtered gunned her down in her bungalow as an act of revenge.
Pancho Villa was a Mexican revolutionary who fought against two different dictators at separate times, before becoming a bandit and fighting in a civil war. Villa was the son of a field labourer, but his parents died while he was young. The owner of the estate he worked, abused his sister so Pancho murdered him. Afterwards he fled to the mountains where he spent his adolescence as a fugitive. He joined Francisco Madero’s uprising and performed well, rising through the ranks. Eventually, in 1912, Madero’s forces became suspicious of Villa, and he was sent to prison. Pancho promptly escaped prison, and left for America. He returned after Madero’s assassination in 1913. Formed a band of mercenaries, and won victory after victory. In 1914 he, and his ally Carranza succeeded in winning the revolutionary war.
Lampião is the most famous Brazilian outlaw in history. His rise to crime started with him feuding with his neighbours. It became an increasingly violent feud. Eventually he became a famous member, and then the leader of a gang called the Cangaco. He spent 16 years travelling across Brazil getting by through extortion, robbery, and kidnappings. The Cangaco became involved with powerful political figures, enjoying their protection, and doing their dirty work. The police, and even the army, had a hard time dealing with his well organised gang. In the end, it was largely due to luck that they even managed to kill him. His story was reported on worldwide, and he came one of the most famous outlaws of all time.
Billy The Kid
Billy the Kid is one of the most famous outlaws in western history. A famous gunslinger, and cowboy from the Old West. He famously took part in the Lincoln County War, were he killed three people. He murdered a total of eight people before he was shot dead at the age of 21. He was orphaned at 14, and committed his first serious crime at 16 robbing a Chinese laundry, and then escaping from jail. Two years later, in 1877, he got into an altercation with a blacksmith which ended with the blacksmith taking a permanent vacation to the land of the dead. He became a cattle rustler, and joined the Lincoln County War. He was arrested for his involvement, and escaped from jail killing two sheriff deputies before being hunted down and killed by Sheriff Pat Garrett.
Salvatore Giuliano was a Sicilian bandit who became one of Italy’s most famous outlaws after the Allied invasion of Sicily in 1943, as part of Operation Husky. Salvatore shot a police officer in 1943 to escape arrest for black market food smuggling. At this point 70% of Sicily’s food supply was provided by the black market. He was the leader of a gang of bandit smugglers. He was seen as a bandit for the people, and his exploits gained worldwide coverage. For the Italian government he was an embarrassment and they ultimately sent 2000 police and soldiers to deal with him.
Dick Turpin – “Your money or your life!”
Dick Turpin was an English highwayman who became a legend in England for the stories of his exploits. He started his career by joining a gang of deer thieves, then escalated his banditry to stealing other animals, general burglary, and even murder. When his gang was broken up by the authorities he turned to highway robbery. Turpin “the Butcher” and Thomas Rowden “the Pewterer” began robbing the rich as they travelled, and building up heavier and heavier bounties. But as their bounties went up, so did their reputations. In 1737 Turpin was almost caught by the authorities but managed to escape.
Some of his accomplices were arrested on “suspicion of being dangerous rogues and robbing upon the highway”. After murdering a man, Turpin caught a ferry under the name John Palmer, and began to live under the alias at Yorkshire. While there he lived a little too lavishly, and caught the attention of the authorities. He was suspected of being a horse thief, and arrested. His real identity was revealed after a letter he sent from prison fell into the authorities hands, and he was arrested.
The Pirate Queen Grace O’Malley
Grace O’Malley was a pirate, who controlled a large fleet of ships, which she used to defend Irish land from the English. She became the chieftain of her clan, and used its influence to raise up the fleet of ships she had under her command. Although, there was an attempt to erase her presence from history, her legend lived on through folktales told by the Irish.
Michael Spillane “Last of the Gentleman Gangsters”
Michael Spillane was an Irish-American gangster who controlled Hell’s Kitchen, a neighbourhood in Manhattan. He was overturned by a younger, and much more violent group of thugs known as the Westies. Spillane controlled the area and used it for racketeering, and kidnapping, but disallowed the sale of drugs. Spillane has often been called “The last of the gentlemen gangster”.
Ishikawa Goemon is the Robin Hood, of Sengoku Era Japan. He too, stole from the rich in order to alleviate the plight of the impoverished, but his story came to a shocking and twisted end. Goemon, is one of Japan’s most famous outlaws, and lived from 1558 to 1594. He’s a semi-mythical figure, whose existence, although has yet to be proven, is believed by many. Goemon was born into a samurai family in the service of the Miyoshi clan. Goemon’s father was killed, and so he swore to take revenge. He began studying under a master ninja called Momochi Sandayu, but was forced to escape after sleeping with one of his master’s mistresses. However, he wouldn’t leave empty handed. He stole a prized sword from his teacher before fleeing. Disaster struck Goemon after a dashed attempt to infiltrate Fushimi castle.
At some point, the powerful warlord Hideyoshi Toyotomi captured Goemon’s son. Goemon tried to sneak into Fushimi castle where he was being held, but was caught by the guards. In outrage, Toyotomi had them both boiled alive in the same cauldron. Goemon desperately held his son above the water in an attempt to save him, but their eventual fate was clear. Goemon had two choices, the first was to hold him above the water and free him from pain for as long as possible. Goemon took the second choice. He plunged his son’s body to bottom of the cauldron, closest to the fire below. His son died quicker that way, and Goemon raised his sons body into the air while slowly boiling to death as one final act of defiance.