If you were asked to name a celebrity who has gone to jail for committing a crime, you could probably reel off quite a lengthy list of suggestions. But, strangely enough, there aren’t too many well-known examples of celebrities assisting authorities in tracking down criminals or solving crimes.
While examples of famous folk helping put bad guys away might not exactly be commonplace, there are a few fascinating cases.
1. Ashton Kutcher testifies against a serial killer
Known for his glittering film and television career, as well as being something of a savvy businessman, Ashton Kutcher has been a mainstay in the cinemas and living rooms of the world since the turn of the century. But did you know that his testimony evidence helped convict Michael Gargiulo, the man known as ‘The Hollywood Ripper’?
In May 2019, Kutcher testified in a courtroom in Los Angeles about how he called in on Ashley Ellerin's home for a date back in 2001, not knowing that the young woman was dead inside. She had been stabbed 47 times by Gargiulo.
Mr Kutcher claimed that when Ashley did not answer the door, he glanced in her window and noticed what he believed to be wine stains on the floor. Of course, they turned out to be blood.
‘I knocked on the door and there was no answer,’ he said in court. ‘I knocked again, and once again, no answer. At this point I pretty well assumed she had left for the night, and that I was late, and she was upset.'
Gargiulo was found guilty of the murder of the 22-year-old fashion design student and received the death sentence. It's thought he killed anywhere between three and ten young women in California.
2. David Schwimmer provides key evidence in a knife assault
Actor-turned-director David Schwimmer will always be remembered for the role he played in the smash hit sitcom Friends. However, police officers in the NYPD might remember him for something else.
One morning at 5:40am, an altercation between a sex worker and their client occurred outside a building connected to Schwimmer’s East Village home. The historic $4m apartment block had fairly comprehensive security cameras set up and, as such, caught the fracas very clearly on tape.
Police couldn’t do much with the reported assault, with just the word of those people involved. They needed evidence. After a little door knocking they stumbled across Mr. Schwimmer who was only too pleased to be able to help.
21-year-old Robert Rainey of Newark, New Jersey, was charged with criminal possession of a weapon, assault and robbery.
3. Teri Hatcher speaks out to jail a dangerous child abuser
In 2002, Sarah Van Cleemput of Sunnyvale, California, killed herself with a gunshot to the head. She was just 14 years of age. It soon became clear that Sarah took her own life because of the trauma caused by the years of sexual abuse that she had suffered. When police established the identity of the man responsible, they began to build a case. Eventually, in 2006, it reached court.
Part of the prosecution's plan involved having some of Richard Hayes Stone's other victims speak out and tell of their abuse. One of those people turned out to be the Desperate Housewives actress Teri Hatcher. Stone was her uncle by marriage and had sexually abused her since she was a young girl.
Hatcher wrote a testimony which was sent to Stone's representatives. Stone then pleaded guilty after seeing the statement, meaning that Hatcher didn't have to go to court. This was something she later admitted to being pleased about, worrying that her appearance could be interpreted as attention-seeking or distracting and affect the case.
She later said: ‘At the end of the day, there was no way I was not going to put this girl first, before whatever damage might be done to me.’
Thanks, in part to Hatcher's written testimony, Stone received a sentence of 14 years, which he was to serve at Chuckawalla Valley State Prison in Blythe, California. Six years into his sentence, in 2008, he died of colon cancer.
4. Naomi Campbell’s evidence helped put away a warlord
As one of the world’s most beautiful and famous women, the Naomi Campbell of the 1990s was used to receiving unsolicited gifts from people. In 1997, after an exclusive VIP dinner hosted by Nelson Mandela, the supermodel was gifted some ‘dirty-looking stones’ by an attendee. That man, it transpired, was Charles Taylor. The brutal and bloodthirsty Liberian warlord. The stones? Blood diamonds.
Campbell, once tipped off as to the possible provenance of the diamonds, gave them to a children’s charity run by an aide of Mandela’s to ‘do something good with’. She later reluctantly attended a war trials tribunal (she understandably feared that her attendance could pose a risk to her family’s safety) to give evidence against Taylor, who was the first ex-leader of an African nation to be tried in an international war crimes court. He was accused of arming rebels in the neighbouring Sierra Leone in return for blood diamonds. Those he gifted to Campbell were perfect evidence.
Along with the claims of his incriminating gift to Campbell, Taylor was prosecuted for a myriad of war crimes and various crimes against humanity including murder, rape and even cannibalism. He received a prison sentence of 50 years and is currently serving that time in a maximum-security prison in the UK.