America's Most Infamous Criminals That You May Not Know Are Out Of Jail

Justice is blind. You can't escape the long arm of the law. The mountie always gets his man. Some of us may prefer to think of the law enforcement system as infallible — catching the bad guys, rehabilitating some, and locking the truly dangerous ones away forever — but unfortunately, that's often not how it works in the real world. Mistakes, questionable judgments, and legal snafus happen all the time. Sometimes innocent people get punished, sometimes crimes go unsolved, and sometimes the deeply, dangerously guilty walk right out the doors of their prisons.

It's that last one in particular that keeps us up at night. As bad as failing to solve crimes and punishing the innocent are, you can usually chalk them up to honest mistakes. But when people are convicted of heinous, horrifying crimes, and then serve a short sentence and walk free? That's horrifying in a whole different way: It means someone at the top said, "We know what you did," and then shrugged and added, "but you're free to go."

Steven 'Clem' Grogan, the Manson Family's 'Scramblehead'

Charles Manson famously lead a "family" of killers who committed some of the most heinous murders California ever saw. The Manson Family (according to member Susan Atkins' Grand Jury testimony, posted at Cielo Drive) believed Manson to be Jesus, preaching a coming race war. Instead of starting said race war, though, they mainly murdered Hollywood celebrities.

Steven "Clem" Grogan, who worked at Spahn Ranch (which became the Family's headquarters), fell in with them and helped them murder ranch foreman Donald Shea, whom Manson suspected had helped orchestrate a police raid on the ranch (via Manson and fellow Family member Bruce Davis, who were convicted of the murder along with Grogan, received life in prison, but Grogan received a death sentence; however, this was later commuted to life in prison by a judge writing that "Grogan was too stupid and too hopped-up on drugs to decide anything on his own" (via "The Last Charles Manson Tapes").

There's considerable debate about whether Grogan, whose nickname was "Scramblehead" (via actually was as "stupid" as he seemed, but he didn't behave stupidly once incarcerated. In 1985, after serving only 15 years, he helped the authorities find Shea's body in exchange for parole. Grogan, these days, is living a quiet life in California as a musician (via and posted on YouTube).

Karen Severson: murderer turned motivational speaker

In October of 1985, Karen Severson, together with her accomplice Laura Doyle, murdered her childhood best friend, Michelle "Missy" Avila. The motive: jealousy. Severson was convinced that Avila was attempting to "steal" her boyfriend, and arranged for her friend Laura Doyle to pick Avila up and bring her to Colby Canyon trail, where the two girls proceeded to berate her, torment her, cut off her hair, and then drown her in a creek, holding her down with a 100-lb. log (via The Mirror).

It took three years to crack the case, but at the age of 22, Severson and Doyle were both convicted of second-degree murder, despite the fact that the whole thing really seemed premeditated. Severson and Doyle each served just over 20 years, and are both now free. Doyle has stayed pretty quiet, but Severson managed to parlay the whole thing into a public speaking and writing career, touring schools to give talks about the dangers of "bullying," and publishing a book cleverly titled "My Life: I Lived It." Public outcry over the book — specifically, that Severson was essentially profiting from the murder she'd committed — was loud enough that the publisher opted to give the book away for free (via KABC-TV). The California legislature also passed "Missy's Law," which requires publishers of crime memoirs to notify the families of victims.

Mitchell Johnson, the only school shooter currently walking free

On March 24, 1998 , just over a year before the Columbine school shootings, 13-year-old Mitchell Johnson and 11-year-old Andrew Golden pulled the fire alarm at their Jonesboro, Arkansas, middle school and waited for the students and teachers to file out. Then, hiding in the woods, they opened fire, killing a teacher and four students and wounding 10 more.

Most mass shooting events are murder-suicides — killers will shoot at others for as long as they can, and then pull the trigger on themselves — but Johnson and Golden were both apprehended alive. The police found them hiding with an enormous stockpile of weapons and ammunition, including a crossbow. Despite charging both the boys with five counts of first-degree murder, however, the State of Arkansas could only incarcerate them until age 21 under the law at the time, due to their status as juveniles.

By 2007, both Johnson and Golden had been released from juvenile detention, but seemingly neither one of them made any sort of attempt to clean up their acts. Johnson was arrested again that same year, for possession of a firearm in presence of a controlled substance; while out on bond from that arrest, he was arrested yet again (via ABC News). Golden, meanwhile, attempted to get a concealed carry permit under a fake name; he later died in a car accident in 2019 (via History).

Lynette 'Squeaky' Fromme was another loyal Manson follower

Another Manson protégé, Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme, allegedly got her nickname from the sound her smooth thighs made when Spahn Ranch owner George Spahn would run his hands over them. Manson never hesitated to push his female Family members into performing sexual favors for the people he needed to keep happy.

The product of an unhappy childhood, Fromme couch-surfed for a while after high school before falling in with Manson in Venice Beach in 1967, finding him captivating. In 1969, when Manson was arrested, Squeaky became the de facto head of the family, going so far as to carve an "X" into her forehead to mirror Manson's swastika. In 1971, when Manson was sentenced to life in prison, Fromme began following him around, moving whenever he was transferred to a different facility.

In 1972, Manson apparently decided he was bored of sex and race wars, and recruited Fromme to his new cult, the celibacy-and-environmentalism-focused "Order of the Rainbow," christening her a "nun" and tasking her with saving the redwoods (via ThoughtCo.). Desperate to impress Manson, Squeaky pulled a gun on President Gerald Ford in 1975 and was promptly arrested, tried, and sentenced to life in prison (via History).

Despite some pretty awful behavior in prison — she once attacked a fellow inmate with a claw hammer, and in 1987 escaped in an attempt to visit Manson — Fromme was paroled in 2009. She currently lives in rural New York in a home decorated with skulls (via Fox News in 2019).

Laurie Tackett and Melinda Loveless murdered a girl, then went out for McDonald's

On January 10, 1992, a car driven by Laurie Tackett, age 17, pulled up in front of the home of Shanda Sharer in Madison, Indiana. In the car were two other girls who reportedly thought they were going to a concert — and one more, hiding with a knife under a blanket.

That "one more" was Melinda Loveless, age 15, who believed Sharer, 12, had "stolen" her girlfriend. Sharer, for her part, believed Tackett was picking her up to take her to see said girlfriend in secret. Instead, when she got into the car, Loveless sprang from underneath the blanket and held a knife to her throat, demanding she confess to stealing her lover (via the Los Angeles Times).

Tackett drove the car to a garbage dump, where she and Loveless proceeded to beat Sharer, choke her, sodomize her with a tire iron, and stab her multiple times in the chest for seven hours straight (via IndyStar). When she was thoroughly unconscious, they wrapped her in a blanket and drove her to a different location, where they doused her in gasoline and set her ablaze. The four girls then drove to McDonald's for breakfast, where they reportedly joked about how the sausages looked like Sharer's burned body.

The prosecuting attorney sought the death penalty for all four girls, but they all accepted plea bargains instead. Tackett and Loveless were each sentenced to 60 years in prison, and as of 2019, were both out on parole (via WLKY).