5 Hard Criminals Who Went Legit And Became Famous

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by Sarah Philip

We tend to think of criminals as bad people, and to be fair, the reason they’re criminals is because they’ve done bad things. But not everyone remains a lifelong jerk just because they stole that one thing that one time. There are, in fact, occasions when an individual who has made some poor choices pays their debt to society and then proceeds to make way more killer choices.

But not like the “murder” version of “killer”. That would make them even more terrible and- here, we’ll just show you:


Career Criminal Creates A Multimillion-Dollar Bread Empire

Dave Dahl was the kind of kid who didn’t fit in well with his all-American family. He used drugs, and and started stealing everything from video games to stereos, just to fund his habit. He eventually found himself on the meth path, claiming that it made him more confident to socialize with people -- something he had historically not been the best at.

As is frequently the case with crime and addiction, it was never enough. He continued to rob houses and convenience stores, often acting as the getaway driver. All in all, he wound up serving 15 years in and out of prison. Which is pretty harrowing, because when you spend that kind of time in that scene, it’s incredibly difficult to break the cycle.

But when Dahl was released in 2004, he desperately wanted things to change. He started working in his family’s bakery, the one he’d grown up working in, and began devising some new recipes. A few months later he developed Dave’s Killer Bread, looking to make his criminal past toast (heh). The name, the story and the taste all gave his bread virtually instant success.

“Buy my bread. Eating it is healthy. Not buying it is … not.” *Wink*

People not only loved the fact that it had organic ingredients, but that it tasted better than ... well, other bread, we guess. They also became invested in Dave’s story, given his tumultuous past and the success he managed to achieve despite it. His face was printed on the front of every bag and his story was on the back. The black sheep of the family became its biggest money-maker, and in 2005 the name of the company was even changed from Nature Bakes to Dave’s Killer Bread.

Dahl soon became an almost cult-like figure and a local celebrity, which is kind of incredible, given no one in the history of the universe has ever reached such fame and fortune because of exactly bread. Hell, even Betty Crocker’s likeness is just made up by marketers. But this actual man sold his company for $275 million in 2015.

Former Drug Dealer Becomes A High Profile Chef

Jeff Henderson, at one point in his life, was hauling in some $35,000 a week making and selling cocaine. He even claimed that he once held 40% of the nose-candy market in his area of San Diego.

We assume Henderson’s life was like a ridiculous music video with fast cars and exotic dancers and literally all the bacon-wrapped shrimp you can eat. He was basically living the American dream, albeit one that had prison sentences attached to it. Eventually, however, that whole prison thing punched him square in the throat.

Henderson was inevitably caught and sentenced to ten years. But instead of cursing the gods for the system delivering justice, he realized that he was (duh) actually responsible for his own actions. So when he was assigned kitchen duty, he found himself able to take sincere pride in the work. He read all sorts of cookbooks and even landed some study materials from the Culinary Institute of America, determined to hone his craft. Upon release, he started working as a dishwasher and swiftly rose up the ranks, eventually becoming the first African-American executive chef at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas.

Just don’t make any powdered sugar jokes. He hates that.

After that, he went on to become a legit celebrity chef, producing several popular cookbooks and the New York Times best selling book Cooked. Nowadays, he’s probably best known as the face of three TV shows on The Food Network: The Chef Jeff Project, Family Style with Chef Jeff and Flip My Food with Chef Jeff. And now, pretty much anything with his name attached to it is instant gold.

Teenage Killer Becomes A Best Selling Author

Juliet Hulme was only a teenager when she and best friend Pauline Parker killed Parker’s mother. Wait, maybe we need to back up a bit.

The girls were from different social backgrounds, but had really bonded like sisters. Or murder accomplices. Is that a bonding thing? OK, we’re just going to admit that we don’t know what kind of connection warrants killing someone.

The story goes that Hulme was going to be sent to live with an aunt in South Africa, and the two couldn’t imagine being separated from one another. So, they decided upon the only logical solution to this conundrum: They’d kill Parker’s mom because she was the one who wouldn’t let Parker move to South Africa with Hulme. We guess that seems like a — no, it’s absolutely horrifying.

The case became one of the most notorious in New Zealand’s history, and the girls were convicted and imprisoned for five years, after which Hulme then changed her name to Anne Perry, moved to Scotland and started writing books, eventually becoming a best selling author. She’s now perhaps best known for her long-running, wildly popular Thomas Pitt and William Monk detective series.

Wait, really? She’s like … everyone’s aunt, ever.

She often finds herself on The New York Times Best Seller list and has sold over 10 million books worldwide. She’s even won numerous awards including an Edgar for her short story Heroes. Despite a successful career made in part by hiding from her past, her real identity was eventually revealed. In 1994, Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures was released, a film based on the Parker and Hulme case. After its success, everyone was wondering what had become of the two protagonists, and Perry was soon ousted as the actual Juliet Hulme.

But by that point, she was already writing her nineteenth book and people really like crime novels so whatever.

A Former Thief Is Now A Successful Daytime TV Judge

Certainly, there are certain things you can be proud of accomplishing at a young age — joining a gang at eleven probably isn’t one of them. But Greg Mathis didn’t think he had any choice. He lived in the projects in Detroit and believed that joining a gang was his best chance for survival. By the time he was 16, he was guilty of breaking and entering, shoplifting and vehicle theft.

He was even the leader of a gang of forty other like-minded hooligans, and at 17 he was tried as an adult for carrying a concealed weapon. Life as a criminal in and out of jail seemed inevitable, but his mother’s tough love ultimately saved him. When she visited her son in prison for the first time, she made him realize how much his life of crime had hurt her, and that if he wanted to be a stand-up sort of dude and make her proud he had probably better do it posthaste, because she was dying of colon cancer.

So he did — by way of going to college and getting a law degree, then becoming a district judge, then landing his own TV show. In fact, it was because of his opponent’s attacks on his past while running for the position of Superior Court judge that executives contacted him and offered him the role. He went from dishonor to “Your Honor,” whom you can now watch on the television show Judge Mathis.

He should replace that gavel with a morning star.

It’s now on its twentieth season, making it one of the longest running courtroom shows on daytime TV. Hell, the former street thug has even played a part in a musical “Been There, Done That,” where he judges infidelities and family quarrels, backed up by a choir of singing angels.

Murderer Finds Success As A Soap Star

While serving in the British Army, Leslie Grantham was stationed in Germany and trying to rob a taxi driver when things went horribly wrong -- he ended up shooting and killing the driver. He said he didn’t know the gun was loaded at the time, but ... dude, still. He spent just ten years behind bars instead of the life sentence he was given, and while doing so began embarking on his lifelong dream of acting, by way of plays in prison. Which are things that exist, apparently.

After being released, he landed some small television roles including a small part on Doctor Who. But being locked up and having to come off as a “tough guy” is probably what helped shape what would become his most iconic role: The hardass “Dirty” Den Watts in the enormously popular British soap opera EastEnders. And by popular we mean that over 30 million viewers watched the episode where Den handed his wife Angie divorce papers. For perspective, more people tuned in for that than any of the royal weddings.


That’s him on the right. And also the left. They are collectively him.

He had all of the experience to pull off Den’s aura of danger, but also the charisma to be someone the audience wanted to watch. Grantham was actually very instrumental in the show’s early success. After being written out of the show, some 14 years later he came back, with 16 million people tuning in to see their beloved bad boy return.

So see, even committing the most horrible atrocities doesn’t mean you can’t turn your life around. Though we do recommend not doing stuff like that in the first place.

Like this article? Check out “5 Millionaires Who Started Out Homeless And Broke” and “4 Philanthropists Who Pretty Much Gave Away Their Fortunes”.

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