More than 3.5 million people visit Yellowstone—the jewel in the United States's national park crown—every year.
They gawk at the geysers, crisscross the canyons, bond with the bison, and take selfies with the scenery. So far no one, as far as I know, has ever gone to Yellowstone to commit murder, murder most foul. But it's not a bad spot for it! (If you're a murderer—and we don't advocate that you become one.)
The park actually contains a narrow corridor less than two miles wide where evildoers could do literally anything, and the law couldn't touch them. Beware when you enter…the Yellowstone Murder Zone.
Yellowstone is too big for any one state to contain.
Yellowstone National Park is a wilderness area the size of Rhode Island, so vast that it's the only national park that includes part of three different states (Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana). The bulk of the park is in Wyoming, and so Congress has given Wyoming's federal court district jurisdiction over the entire park, even the tiny slivers in Idaho and Montana. It's the only court district in America that covers multiple states.
How to get away with hiking, and murder.
But here's the problem: The Sixth Amendment to the Constitution requires that criminal cases be tried "by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed." That's called the vicinage clause, and assembling a local jury is usually no problem.
But what if you went on a crime spree in the 50 square miles of Yellowstone that's part of the state of Idaho? Your jury would need to come from both the state (Idaho) and district (Wyoming) where the crime was committed. It turns out there aren't 12 permanent residents of the Idaho wilderness that's part of Yellowstone. In fact, there isn't even one!
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Washington refuses to address this lawless No Man's Land.
A Michigan State law professor named Brian Kalt discovered this loophole in 2004. He wanted to write a scholarly article about it, but was worried that killers who subscribed to the Georgetown Law Journal would use his research to commit the perfect crime. So Kalt reached out to state and federal attorneys and even Congress before he published.
He figured the problem could be solved with a three-sentence legislative fix. But nobody ever even wrote him back.
Disclaimer: Please do not use the Yellowstone Murder Zone for actual murders.
I'm telling you about the Yellowstone Murder Zone with a clear conscience, because in reality, it would be very hard to get away with murder there. The entire crime would have to be committed in the jurisdiction: You couldn't drive up to Billings, Montana, to buy a gun, or email a hired killer from home, or anything. And anybody testing out the Murder Zone would have to be willing to serve up to six months on lesser charges, since those wouldn't require empaneling a jury.
But still, Kalt has refused to enter the Idaho portion of Yellowstone since writing his article. "I'm not going there for a million dollars," he said. There's a guy who's not taking any chances.