Usually the cops handle arrests without too much hassle, but every once in a while a perp will manage to get the upper hand and hole themselves up into someplace a little more defensible. And that’s how a standoff gets started. In this feature, we’ll share some absolutely terrifying tales of police standoffs that went way beyond the pale.
Christopher Dorner, 2013
Let’s start this list with one of the most shocking police standoffs in recent memory because the suspect is one of their own. Christopher Dorner was a Navy reservist turned LAPD officer who was terminated from his job after filing an excessive force complaint against a superior. After his firing, he wrote an epic manifesto and embarked on a murder spree, killing several police officers and their family members. A police manhunt finally ran Dorner down in the Big Bear Lake area, and after a shootout at a cabin caused an explosion, a body was found that police claim to be Dorner’s.
Joseph Palczynski, 2000
Baltimore electrician Joseph Palczynski was never a stable dude, with a rap sheet as long as your arm for domestic violence and assault. In 2000, he kicked things up a notch and branched out into serial killing, murdering three people and kidnapping his girlfriend. He managed to evade the police for two weeks, eventually taking his girlfriend’s mother and half-brother hostage in Dundalk, Maryland. Police evacuated the entire neighborhood and attempted to negotiate with him, but it was the hostages who ended the four-day standoff by dosing Palczynski’s drink with Xanax, giving officers a chance to enter the home and shoot him to death.
Balcombe Street Siege, 1975
Let’s take a hop over the pond to one of the most notorious incidents in the war between the IRA and the British government. In the mid-70s, the Provisional IRA was in the midst of a harrowing campaign of terror in London, bombing over 40 sites and assassinating political activists. When the police tracked them down, four IRA members holed up in a flat in Balcombe Street, where they took two residents hostage and demanded a flight to Ireland. Police spent six days negotiating with the bombers, eventually convincing them to surrender.
The Waco Siege
This standoff was bookended by two shootouts. On February 28, 1993, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms attempted to execute a search warrant on David Koresh's Mount Carmel Center ranch. After gunfire broke out, Koresh and his religious group, the Branch Davidians, went on lockdown. 50 days later, the FBI initiated a second siege, resulting in more gunfire and eventually a fire that burned down the entire complex. 76 people died in the fire, including many children and Koresh himself.
Jimmy Lee Dykes, 2013
Standoffs and hostage situations go hand in hand, and one very perplexing recent one started with a terrifying kidnapping. In the Dale City region of Alabama, Jimmy Lee Dykes, a 65 year old Vietnam veteran, stopped a school bus and told the driver he wanted to take two kids. When the driver refused, Dykes shot him four times and snatched one kid, who he took to an underground bunker buried in his back yard. He kept the boy there for a week, allowing police to pass medication for the boy through a ventilation pipe. The FBI eventually stormed the bunker and shot Dykes on intelligence that he was planning to either murder the boy or detonate a number of homemade bombs inside the bunker.
Gustafsen Lake Standoff, 1995
This 31-day siege between the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and members of the Shuswap Indian tribe in British Columbia still stands as one of the biggest Canadian cop operations of all time. The tribe had been using land belonging to a local farmer for an annual sun dance ceremony with his permission, but when some members illegally moved there full-time, it sparked an armed conflict that lasted over a month. 400 policemen took part in the standoff, which cost the Canadian government $5.5 million. Interestingly enough, one of the occupiers fled to the United States and successfully petitioned for political asylum.
Denis Czajkowski, 1999
The workplace is a horrific place on the best of days, but on the worst of days it’s something else entirely. In 1999, a male nurse named Denis Czajkowski was let go from his position at Norristown State Hospital, and two weeks later he returned armed and dangerous. Czajkowski entered the hospital armed and took two nurses hostage, claiming that they’d worked to get him fired. The police were quickly called to the scene, kicking off a three-day siege that ended tragically with police breaching the room he was in just seconds too late to prevent the hostages from being shot.
The late 70s were a hotbed of radical activity in America’s inner cities, and one of the most rebellious groups was Philadelphia’s MOVE. The police didn’t have much patience for the group, which advocated a return to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle and broadcast speeches by bullhorn to unhappy neighbors. When police tried to evict them from their West Philly row house, they fought back, exchanging gunfire and surviving tear gas bombardments. The house had been heavily fortified with scavenged telephone poles and the standoff lasted for hours before the police dropped a bomb on the roof that not only routed MOVE but burned down 65 other houses in the neighborhood.
Donato Corbo, 2011
Down to Australia for one of the most brutal standoffs in that country’s history. One April day at 2:30 in the morning, a mentally deranged man named Donato Corbo forced his way into his neighbor’s house and shot four South African immigrants. When the police arrived, Corbo began opening fire on them with a shotgun, blasting one officer in the face. He then fled back to his own house, where he managed to keep the cops at bay for eight tense hours, repulsing their attempts to breach his position until they finally captured him.
Laurie Dann, 1988
It’s not just men who keep the police at bay in violent standoffs. Enter the case of Laurie Dann, an Illinois killer who wrestled with mental illness for years before murdering a number of children at an elementary school. When fleeing the police, she took a suburban family hostage, gaining access to their home when she claimed she had been raped and shot her assailant in self-defense. The police eventually showed up and Dann shot one of the hostages before fleeing upstairs. When a SWAT team breached the door, she shot herself in the head.
Next: The 10 Biggest Police Scandals
John Joe Gray, 2000
Now here’s a police standoff that has to hold a world record. In 2000, Trinidad, Texas native John Joe Gray was pulled over by the cops and bit an officer when he found assault rifles in his car. Gray was released on bail and fled to his family compound, refusing to leave it and erecting fortifications around the perimeter. All of his family members carry weapons at all time, ready to repulse any attack by the police. Oh, and they have no electricity and running water, so we’re sure they smell great.