There are crimes and cases that captivate the public imagination. The stories live on long after the events have ended and sometimes even after the outcome has been forgotten.
So why do some cases stay with us? Is it the chilling crimes that speak to the darker side of human nature or the moral outrage caused by gross injustice?
Perhaps it’s the decision’s important, society-changing consequences or simply the presence of a celebrity that makes them appealing.
Whatever it is, there are undoubtedly some trials that permeate the collective memory and continue to resonate with us.
We’ve investigated five of the world’s most amazing cases for you.
Charles Manson and the Family
Along with several of his disciples, cult leader Charles Manson was convicted of the 1969 murders of actress Sharon Tate and six others. Interestingly, Manson was found guilty of murder and conspiracy to murder despite not being present during the acts.
It’s not just the particularly vicious nature of the stabbing murders, but also the disturbing lack of remorse and the strange motive that continue to attract attention.
During the trial, Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney, Vince Bugliosi connected the murders to Manson’s bizarre desire for a war between blacks and whites that he labelled ‘helter skelter’. All were sentenced to death, which subsequently became life sentences when California abolished the death penalty.
Countless films, television series and books have since been produced about Manson, the Family and the murders. Manson, despite recent reports of his suicide, remains in prison at the age of 80.
Brown v Board of Education of Topeka
The name may not ring a bell, but the impact of this case has been immense. Until Brown v Board of Education, black students and white students in the United States had been educated in different schools on the grounds that they were ‘separate but equal’. In 1954, however, the Supreme Court declared that the segregation of schools was unconstitutional. The unanimous decision was a major win for the Civil Rights Movement and helped pave the way for integration.
If you were alive in the mid-1990s you couldn’t escape the OJ Simpson trials. In fact, 100 million Americans watched or at least listened to the verdict.
Until the stabbing deaths of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend, Ronald Goldman, Simpson had been best known as a professional American football player. After the murders and ensuing trial it was impossible to think of Simpson without thinking of the brutal murders and what many considered a major miscarriage of justice: Simpson was acquitted.
He was later convicted in a civil case and ordered to pay $33,500,000 in damages to Goldman’s family, of which he has paid very little to date.
Brought by Eddie Mabo, a Torres Strait Islander who was born on Murray Island, in 1982, this case sought recognition that Indigenous populations had legal ownership of the Murray Islands in the Torres Strait. After a decade in the courts and following Mabo’s death, the High Court’s landmark decision overturned the doctrine of terra nullius, or nobody’s land, in Australia and recognised Native Title or Indigenous land rights.
This was significant because it was the first time that the unique connection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders with the land was acknowledged. As a consequence of this acknowledgement, the Native Title Act was enacted on 1 January 1994.
For four years following the end of World War II, 24 Nazi war criminals were indicted by the International Military Tribunal in what was referred to as ‘the greatest trial in history’. The majority were convicted and sentenced to death, though some questioned the validity of the trials. The impact of Nuremberg Trials continue to this day, with their findings highlighting the vast injustices of the Nazi terror and informing international law jurisprudence into the 21st century. In addition, the trials helped establish precedents in terms of what constitutes international war crimes and set the scene for a permanent international court, which is now the ICC in The Hague.
Despite covering various crimes and occurring in different countries, what all of these amazing cases have in common is the extraordinary publicity they received and their sustained impact on people.