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10 Terrible Cases of Mistaken Identity


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Identical Twins Beat the Rap(s)
A twin (or two) pulled an Ocean's 11-style heist at the German department store Kaufhaus des Westens, aka KaDeWe. Andreas Rentz/Getty Images
A twin (or two) pulled an Ocean's 11-style heist at the German department store Kaufhaus des Westens, aka KaDeWe. Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

No list of mistaken identity would be complete without a few evil twins. Here are a few cases in which a criminal used his fellow monozygote to escape justice.

Our first case takes us to Germany's famous Kaufhaus des Westens, the largest department store in continental Europe. In January 2009, one of the three thieves in masks and gloves who stole $6.8 million in jewelry from the KaDeWe left behind a latex glove. When die Polizei ran a DNA test on the sweat found within, they identified two matches: 27-year-old identical twins Hassan and Abbas O. (German law prevents their full names being used). Unfortunately for the officers, the thief did not leave behind a fingerprint: Identical twins have distinctive fingerprints, but they share 99 percent of the same DNA. Unable to pin down which brother, if not both, committed the heist, they had to let them both go [source: Himmelreich].

The news provides plenty of other evil-twin examples. In 2009, identical twins in Malaysia escaped a death sentence for narcotics trafficking when prosecutors failed to prove which one owned the smack. In 2011, an Arizona nightclub murder went unresolved because eyewitnesses disagreed about which twin actually did the killing [source: Palmer].

Although eyewitness accounts will likely always pose a problem, the science of epigenetics, reportedly holds some promise of distinguishing the DNA of twins [source: Palmer]. Epigenetic factors change how the same genes are expressed differently in different people due to environmental factors, life events or the substances we consume.


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