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Dumb Criminals

updated 07/04/2005 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/04/2005 01:00AM

CONSPIRACY OF DUNCES

The plan seemed foolproof: To avoid having Clayton Daniels go to jail relating to a sexual assault charge, he and his wife, Molly, plotted to dig up a body, burn it in a car crash and pretend it was him. Then Molly would pocket the $110,000 in life insurance—and Clayton would return to his family under a new identity.

Not surprisingly, the plan went awry. Investigators noticed that there were no skid marks at the crash site, and the car was not damaged the way it might have been in such an accident. And then there was the matter of Molly's "new boyfriend." Soon after the strawberry blond Clayton supposedly died in the crash, Molly introduced her young son Caleb to a dark-haired guy named Jake. "There's Daddy!" Caleb exclaimed upon seeing the man who looked just like his stepfather. Molly quickly corrected him. "No, Daddy is in Heaven," she said. "That's Jake." But a little dye—and beard, sunglasses and baseball cap "Jake" always wore—didn't fool Caleb. Nor did it fool the Texas Rangers. Six months after the crash, DNA evidence showed the person in the car wasn't Clayton; it was the body of 81-year-old Charlotte Davis. By then, however, investigators had been tipped off about the mysterious Jake. Cops arrested Clayton and Molly at a Taco Bell on Dec. 3. In May Molly, 22, pled guilty to insurance fraud and hindering her husband's apprehension. She was sentenced to 20 years and a $10,000 fine. Clayton, 24, had his probation revoked and received a 20-year sentence. He still faces charges for arson and insurance fraud. Caleb is living with Molly's mom. Says the couple's former neighbor Julie Regier: "I just don't think they had the wits to get away with it."

CARJACKER PHOTO FINISHED

Darting into the tiny Pembroke, N.C., post office to pick up her mail on May 18, second-grade teacher Lucy Hunt didn't expect a problem leaving her 5-year-old granddaughter asleep in the back seat. Then she bumped into the parent of one of her students, who briefly blocked her view. Next thing she knew, her Jeep Grand Cherokee was pulling out—with Bethany still inside. While Hunt was reporting the incident to police, a liquor store called to say that a little girl had been dropped off. "It was only about 10 minutes," says Hunt, 48, who was quickly reunited with the unharmed child, "but it seemed a lot longer."

When police recovered Hunt's car, her camera was still inside. And when Hunt got back the prints, there was a bigger surprise: photos of the apparent joyrider at the wheel, taken by a friend he later picked up. What's more, Hunt recognized the alleged carjacker—28-year-old Shawn Lee Jones—as a former student. He was quickly arrested. "I'm kind of surprised," says Pembroke Police Chief Royal Travis Bryant of Jones, who is being held on $45,000 bail pending a June 24 court date. "People don't usually give themselves away like that."

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