What Crime Most Changed the Course of History?

Erin L. Thompson, art-crime specialist

An Italian wishing to return Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece to its homeland stole the Mona Lisa from the Louvre in 1911. Museum officials swear they recovered the painting in 1913, but the theft launched our modern age of artistic skepticism: Some still think the painting on display is a copy.

Anthony E. Zuiker, creator and executive producer, CSI franchise

People of the State of California v. Orenthal James Simpson was the crime of the century. Not only was “The Juice” on trial for double murder, but our entire judicial system was on trial for evidentiary integrity and racial sensitivity. The jury rendered a not-guilty decision in 1995, but America is still guilty of disharmony in 2017.

Josh Braun, executive producer, The Keepers

The Manson-family murders were one of the first crimes that became a celebrity spectacle. They also changed people’s day-to-day perception of how safe they were at home: Suddenly the bogeyman was real.

Peter Landesman, writer and director, Mark Felt—The Man Who Brought Down the White House

In crimes of ideology, it’s rarely the crime itself that sends people to ruination, but the cover-up. Watergate ended a presidency, and ever since, -gate has been stuck to political crimes like an STD.

Graham Roumieu

Reader Responses

Jim Lee III, Charlotte, N.C.

Caesar’s murder by stabbing in the Roman Senate in 44 b.c., which led to major political changes and helped Rome become a great empire.

Paul Jones, L’Île-Perrot, Quebec

Hitler used the Reichstag fire of February 27, 1933, as an excuse to crack down on his opposition. He persuaded German President Paul von Hindenburg to pass draconian laws that suspended civil liberties, allowing the Nazis to seize control.

Gloria Kottick, Iowa City, Iowa

For the civil-rights movement in the United States, a pivotal awakening came with the horrific murder, in 1955, of Emmett Till by two racially motivated white men, who accused him of whistling at a white woman. Gradual, painful progress toward a civilized society has ensued since that event.

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