6 Crimes That Were Solved With the Help of Pizza

Photo illustration by Mental Floss. Images: istock.com/Michael Burrell (crime scene tape), istock.com/littleny (pizza)
Photo illustration by Mental Floss. Images: istock.com/Michael Burrell (crime scene tape), istock.com/littleny (pizza)

Sometimes criminals are done in by greed. Sometimes it's forensic evidence. And sometimes it's a large extra cheese. These perpetrators were delivered to justice as a result of the irresistible allure of pizza.

1. The Grim Sleeper Investigation

In 2010, when Los Angeles detectives became interested in Lonnie Franklin Jr. as a possible suspect in the “Grim Sleeper” investigation—the then-unidentified Sleeper had killed at least 10 women from 1985 to 2007—they began to track Franklin’s whereabouts. The lead had come from a search of familial DNA, which identified crime scene samples as being genetically similar to that of Franklin’s son. But in order to conclusively prove Franklin was their man, they needed a sample of his DNA.

They got their DNA when Franklin stopped for a slice at a pizza place in Orange County. After the suspect ate some pizza, an undercover detective grabbed Franklin's crust, plates, and napkins to "throw away"—but they were actually collected for testing. The judge ruled the pizza-related evidence admissible; according to the Los Angeles Times, Franklin was sentenced to death in 2016.

2. The Case of the Fugitive Vegan

Restaurateur Sarma Melngailis was once the toast of New York City, hosting celebrities in her Pure Food and Wine vegan eatery. But Melngailis and her husband, Anthony Strangis, were allegedly less than responsible financially, spiraling into a wave of reckless spending that saw them take around $2 million of her investors’ money and use it for travel and casino gambling. In 2014, she purportedly took $1.6 million from her commercial account and transferred it to her personal account, crippling her employee payroll. Melngailis and Strangis spent over a year running from authorities before being cornered in a Sevierville, Tennessee hotel in May 2016. According to The Daily Beast, Strangis made the fateful mistake of ordering a Domino’s Pizza delivery and used his real name for the order—which was non-vegan and included a side of chicken wings.

Melngailis (who later denied sharing in any of the pizza order—she claimed to have eaten vegan Chipotle bowls instead) entered into a plea deal and was sentenced to four months for grand larceny, tax fraud, and a scheme to defraud. Strangis took a plea deal and spent a year behind bars. The two entered an amicable divorce in 2018.

3. A Delivery Driver Robbery

Late one Friday night in July 2016, a Papa John’s delivery driver stepped out of his car in Odenton, Maryland. At his destination, a man emerged, pointed a gun, and demanded the driver hand over both his cash and the pizza. The driver consented. When police responded to the call and arrived on the scene, they found an empty pizza box nearby. The box was sent to the forensics lab of the Anne Arundel County Police Department, where technicians retrieved evidence and examined eyewitness interviews. By the following Wednesday, police arrested Bershaun Bertram Elijah Wheeler, 19, and charged him with armed robbery, first-degree assault, second-degree assault, use of a firearm in a violent crime, and two counts of theft under $100. According to the police, while in custody, Wheeler confessed to his involvement in the robbery—and presumably to eating the pizza.

4. The Delinquent Parent On the Pizza Box

Cynthia Brown, then-head of the Butler County Child Support Enforcement Agency in Butler County, Ohio, ordered a pizza in 2006 and noticed that a few coupons were stuck to the box. That gave her an idea. If the pizzerias could attach coupons, why not photos of parents who were delinquent with their child support payments? Brown got three area pizza shops to collaborate with the agency on the campaign, with information about the 10 most wanted parents going out to thousands of customers in Butler County. It didn’t take long for Brown to catch her first financial fugitive. “We caught him within one day,” she told Reuters in 2007. “Someone saw the picture on the pizza box, called our tip line, we forwarded the information to the sheriff’s department and they picked him up.”

Solicited for comment, Karen Willis of Karen’s Pizzeria told the Associated Press that customers didn’t find anything wrong with the pizza shaming, with some remarking they’re “glad they’re not on it.” But fathers’ rights advocacy groups and attorneys criticized the practice, saying it unfairly stigmatized fathers who might not be able to afford child support payments due to economic problems. Some protestors even picketed outside Karen’s to voice their disapproval.

5. A Hedge Fund Kidnapping

In January 2003, ESL Investments president Edward Lampert spent around 30 hours being held hostage by a trio of kidnappers who attempted to wrangle a ransom out of their wealthy captive. Renaldo Rose, the mastermind of the operation, and three accomplices kept Lampert bound in a Hamden, Connecticut hotel before Lampert was able to convince them to let him go. (The multimillionaire apparently promised to give them $5 million if they released him.) In the interim, one of Rose’s underlings had taken Lampert’s credit cards and handed them out among his own circle of friends. Seemingly oblivious to the suspicious nature of using a missing man’s credit card, the friend ordered a pizza using the plastic. (Some reports attributed this gaffe to one of the kidnappers themselves.) FBI agents stormed the address soon after and eventually tracked down Rose, who was sentenced to 15 years in prison. After an early release, the Jamaican-born Rose returned to Jamaica.

6. A Franchise Scheme

The allure of corporate recognition was too much for Donatos Pizza store manager Kim Hericks to resist. According to a 2001 Associated Press report, Hericks ordered 400 pizzas through fake accounts she had set up in the names of two local hospitals and a nearby school district. Her plan was to move enough cheesy inventory to get her name mentioned in a Donatos franchisee newsletter. Hericks proceeded to damage computer and fax machine equipment in an effort to cover her tracks and was also alleged to have taken over $38,000 from the business in total.

As is often the case for purloined pizza perpetrators, she failed to consider the finer details of her caper. Not long after her scheme, the store’s owner went over to her house to help her move. There, he discovered hundreds of rotting pizzas in her garage. Hericks was indicted on charges of theft, forgery, vandalism, and passing bad checks. Ultimately, Hericks was placed in a pre-trial diversion program and the case was dismissed.

6 Strange Maritime Mysteries

Neville Mountford-Hoare/iStock via Getty Images
Neville Mountford-Hoare/iStock via Getty Images

The oceans cover over 70 percent of our planet, so it's little wonder that their seemingly impenetrable depths have provided a series of fascinating mysteries, from missing ships to eerie monsters. Below are six mysteries of the deep—some of which scientists think they've at least partly explained, while others remain truly puzzling.

  1. The Mary Celeste

On December 5, 1872, the crew of the British ship the Dei Gratia spotted a vessel bobbing about 400 miles off the coast of the Azores. They approached the Mary Celeste to offer help, but after boarding the ship were shocked to find it completely unmanned. The crew had disappeared without a trace, their belongings still stowed in their quarters, six months' worth of food and drink untouched, and the valuable cargo of industrial alcohol still mostly in place. The only clues were three and a half feet of water in the hold, a missing lifeboat, and a dismantled pump. It was the beginning of an enduring mystery concerning what happened to the crew, and why they abandoned a seemingly sea-worthy vessel.

Numerous theories have been suggested, including by crime writer Arthur Conan Doyle, who penned a short story in 1884 suggesting the crew had fallen victim to an ex-slave intent on revenge. A more recent theory has pointed the finger at rough seas and the broken pump, arguing they forced the captain to issue an order to abandon ship. Since the missing crew have never been traced, it seems unlikely that there will ever be a satisfying answer to the enigma.

  1. The Yonaguni Monument

An underwater area known as the Twin Megaliths at the Yonaguni Monument
An area known as the Twin Megaliths at the Yonaguni Monument
Vincent Lou, Wikimedia // CC BY 2.0

In 1986, a diver looking for a good spot to watch hammerhead sharks off the coast of the Ryukyu Islands in Japan came across an extraordinary underwater landscape. The area reportedly looked like an ancient submerged village, with steps, holes, and triangles seemingly carved into the rocks. Ever since it was first discovered, controversy has surrounded the site that's become known as the Yonaguni Monument, with some researchers—such as marine geologist Masaaki Kimura—arguing it is a clearly manmade environment, perhaps a city thousands of years old and sunk in one of the earthquakes that plagues the region. Others believe it's a natural geological phenomenon reflecting the stratigraphy (layers) of sandstone in an area with tectonic activity. The area is open to scuba divers, so the really curious can strap on air tanks and decide for themselves.

  1. The Bermuda Triangle

The Bermuda Triangle has probably spawned more wild theories, column inches, and online discussion than any other ocean mystery—more than 50 ships and 20 aircraft are said to have vanished there. Although the triangle has never officially been defined, by some accounts it covers at least 500,000 square miles and lies between Bermuda, Florida, and Puerto Rico.

The mystery first caught the public imagination in December 1945 when Flight 19, consisting of five U.S. Navy TBM Avenger torpedo bombers and their 14 crewmembers, were lost without a trace during a routine training operation in the area. Interest was further piqued when it was later reported that one of the search-and-rescue planes dispatched to find the missing team had also disappeared. Articles and books such as Charles Berlitz’s The Bermuda Triangle, first published in 1974 and having since sold over 20 million copies in 30 languages, have served to keep the mystery alive, providing potential theories both natural and supernatural. Scientists—and world-renowned insurers Lloyd’s of London—have attempted to debunk the myth of the Bermuda Triangle, offering evidence that the rate of disappearance in the vast and busy triangle is no higher than other comparable shipping lanes, but such is the power of a good story that this is one story that seems likely to continue to fascinate.

  1. The Kraken

A model of a giant squid on display at the Natural History Museum in London in 1907
A model of a giant squid on display at the Natural History Museum in London in 1907
Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

For hundreds of years, sailors told tales of an enormous sea creature with huge tentacles known as the Kraken. Stories around the mythical kraken first started appearing in Scandinavia in the 12th century, and in 1555 Swedish cartographer Olaus Magnus provided an account of a sea creature with “sharp and long Horns round about, like a Tree root up by the Roots: They are ten or twelve cubits long, very black, and with huge eyes.” The stories persisted, often mentioning a creature so large it resembled an island. In his 1755 book The Natural History of Norway, Danish historian Erik Ludvigsen Pontoppidan described the kraken as “incontestably the largest Sea monster in the world."

Scientists have proposed that these stories might derive from sightings of giant squid (Architeuthis dux), although evidence for an even larger, yet extremely elusive, colossal squid (Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni) has also come to light. The colossal squid is found in the deepest part of the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica, and is thought to be up to 46 feet long and 1100 pounds. The problem is that the animal is so rare very few specimens have been found intact, and no live specimen has ever been observed, which means that estimating its exact size is difficult. Researchers have also noticed that sperm whales have been observed with large scars, and have suggested that these could be the result of violent encounters with the colossal squid, which is known to have sharp rotating hooks on the ends of their tentacles.

  1. The Treasure of the Merchant Royal

The remains of the Merchant Royal are known as one of the richest shipwrecks ever. The ship set sail from the New World in 1641 laden with 100,000 pounds of gold, 400 Mexican silver bars, and thousands of precious gems—in total, a haul thought to be worth $1.3 billion today. The ship got caught in a storm and was thought to have gone down somewhere off the coast of Cornwall, England. The lost wreck became known as the “el Dorado of the seas” due to the enormous value of its cargo, and over the years numerous treasure hunters have searched fruitlessly for its final resting place, which remains undiscovered. In 2019 fishermen snagged what is thought to be the anchor from the Merchant Royal, but to date the dangerous conditions and extreme depths at which the wreck is thought to lie have meant it has remained unclaimed.

  1. Attack of the Sea Foam

In December 2011, residents of Cleveleys, England, awoke to what appeared to be a soft blanket of snow. But as locals ventured out into the streets it soon became clear that this was no snowstorm, but instead something far more puzzling. Trees, cars, roads, and houses were all wrapped in a thick, white layer of foam. The Environment Agency were quickly deployed to take samples of the sea foam, since residents were understandably concerned as to the origin of the strange, gloopy substance, fearing it might be caused by pollutants.

The dramatic images of the foam-soaked town soon had journalists flocking to the region to investigate the phenomena, but as quickly as it appeared the foam disappeared, leaving behind only a salty residue. Scientists analyzing the foam confirmed it was not caused by detergents, and instead suspected that it was caused by a rare combination of decomposing algae out at sea and strong winds, which whipped up the viscous foam and blew it into land. The phenomena has apparently occurred at other times before and since, and researchers are now working to try and understand the exceptional conditions that cause it to form so that residents can be warned when another thick blanket is set to descend.

Bonus: The Bloop—Mystery Solved

Over the years, the oceans have produced a number of eerie and often unexplained sounds. In 1997, researchers from NOAA listening for underwater volcanic activity using hydrophones (underwater microphones) noticed an extremely loud, powerful series of noises in the Pacific Ocean. The unusual din excited researchers, who soon named it “The Bloop” in reference to its unique sound.

Theories abounded as to the origin of the bloop—secret military facility, reverberations from a ship’s engine, or an enormous sea creature. The most fanciful suggestion stem from H. P. Lovecraft fans who noticed that the noise came from an area off South America where the sci-fi writer’s fictional sunken city of R’lyeh was supposed to be. They proposed that the bloop might have originated from Lovecraft’s “dead but dreaming” sea creature, Cthulhu. In 2005, however, scientists found that the mysterious sound was in fact the noise made by an icequake—or an iceberg shearing off from a glacier.

10 Clever Stranger Things Season 3 Easter Eggs You Might Have Missed

Dacre Montgomery as Billy Hargrove in Stranger Things.
Dacre Montgomery as Billy Hargrove in Stranger Things.
Netflix

Warning: This story includes spoilers for all aired episodes of Stranger Things.

After waiting nearly two years for the latest season of Stranger Things, most fans couldn’t help but binge all eight episodes in a row. But now that we know how it all went down, with Billy Hargrove being taken over by the Mind Flayer and Jim Hopper’s tragic (maybe) death, it's time for us to reprocess the season ... and rewatch it all over again.

While giving the season a second watch, keep an eye out for all the clever Easter eggs sprinkled into each episode, including several references to classic 1980s movies, earlier Stranger Things episodes, and unexpected connections we had never imagined were possible.

1. Peter Gabriel could be hinting at a major plot twist.

Arguably the most heartbreaking scene in Stranger Things history came in the final episode of season 3, “The Battle of Starcourt,” when Eleven reads the scrapped letter Hopper wrote for her and Mike. Viewers at home cried along with Millie Bobby Brown's character as she prepared for life without her “dad,” but one element in the scene might be a hint that Hopper isn’t really dead.

The song that starts playing just as Eleven finishes up reading the letter is Peter Gabriel’s cover of David Bowie’s “Heroes,” which is the same rendition of the song that played in the season 1 episode “Holly, Jolly,” when it was believed that Will had been killed. Of course, he turned out to be very much alive, meaning the same could (hopefully) happen for Hopper.

2. Jim Hopper is channeling Martin Brody.

Stranger Things has never shied away from paying homage to classic movies. And Redditor LucasLeArtist noticed that one of Hopper's season 3 lines was a direct quote from Jaws. When Hopper is about to leave Enzo’s after Joyce stands him up, he’s told he can’t take the alcohol with him, to which he drunkenly responds, “I can do anything I want, I’m chief of police.” This mimics a scene in Jaws where Chief Brody said the same line before taking a swig of his drink.

3. Murray Bauman’s phone number is real.

Brett Gelman, Natalia Dyer, and Charlie Heaton in Stranger Things
Netflix

One of the more eccentric characters in Stranger Things, Murray Bauman, turned out to be extremely helpful this season, as he served as translator for Hopper and the Russian scientist Alexei. In one scene, Murray’s phone number is shown—and it turns out that it's a working phone number ... which does indeed belong to Murray. As CNET reported, when you dial 618-625-8313, you get a lengthy, and hilarious, answering machine message from the character.

4. Billy Hargrove’s nod to Stand By Me.

While Billy Hargrove surprisingly turned into a character you felt sorry for by the end of season 3, his scenes in the first episode proved he was still just as much of a bully as he was in season 2. One example of this is when he’s lifeguarding and yells at a kid for running by the pool. Billy calls him a “lard-ass,” which doesn’t just remind you of how mean of a person he is, but is also a borrowed line from Rob Reiner's classic 1986 film Stand By Me. As IndieWire pointed out, that particular insult was famously used in the movie during the scene in which Gordie tells his friends a memorable story about a pie-eating contest.

5. Dustin Henderson is crushing on Phoebe Cates.

When Dustin returns to Hawkins from camp, he shocks everyone with the reveal that he now has a girlfriend. Of course, the first reaction from his friends (Steve included) is that she isn’t real. Dustin keeps the story going, however, telling everyone that her name is Suzy and that she's better looking than Phoebe Cates—as in the actress best known for her role in 1982’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High. In the season’s final episode, we learn that Suzy is indeed real. And when Robin is trying to get Steve a job at the video store, he falls into a cardboard cutout of Cates as Linda Barrett (her Fast Times character) before stopping to admire it.

6. Dustin and Robin recreated a scene from 1992's Sneakers.

A Twitter user pointed out an unexpected callback to the 1992 River Phoenix film Sneakers, as Dustin and Robin recreate one of its scenes when getting the “complete blueprints” of the Starcourt Mall. It's almost word-for-word, with the only difference being that in Sneakers, they’re looking at the Playtronics Corporate Headquarters.

7. Eleven visits the house from A Nightmare on Elm Street.

During Eleven’s scariest venture into the Void this season, she tries to find the missing lifeguard Heather. As she approaches Heather's home, the red door is reminiscent of the house that belonged to Nancy Thompson’s family in 1984’s A Nightmare on Elm Street. A Twitter user claimed the number on both doors was the same, but Stranger Things changed it by one number, as Heather lives at 1438. We’re not sure if they had to change it because of legal matters or if was just a coincidence—but in a show full of horror movie references, the similarity would seem a little too coincidental.

8. Steve Harrington can't keep his Michael J. Fox projects straight.

When Dustin, Erica, Steve, and Robin manage to escape the Russians in the seventh episode, “The Bite,” they end up in the movie theater at the mall, which is showing Back to the Future (1985). Steve and Robin soon leave, and while very high—and trying to analyze what they just watched—Robin hilariously says she’s pretty sure “that mom was trying to bang her son,” referring to Marty McFly and his mom, Lorraine. A confused Steve replies, “Wait, wait, the hot chick was Alex P. Keaton’s mom?” Alex P. Keaton, of course, was the name of Michael J. Fox’s character in the hit NBC series Family Ties, not Back to the Future.

9. "Weird" Al Yankovic's Reality Bites link.

In episode 2, “The Mall Rats,” Winona Ryder's Joyce ends up ditching Hopper to go find the kids’ science teacher Mr. Clarke, only to find him jamming out to "Weird" Al Yankovic’s parody song “My Bologna.” A Twitter user pointed out that this could be a nod to 1994’s Reality Bites, which features a memorable scene of Ryder dancing to the original song, “My Sharona.” Ethan Hawke is also in the scene, who is the real-life dad of Maya Hawke, who plays Robin in Stranger Things.

10. The post-credits scene that hints at Hopper's survival.

Perhaps the most important detail in the entire season comes during the post-credits scene, which includes another major hint that Hopper is still alive. Viewers are taken to the Russian base, where prisoners are being fed to the Demogorgon. One soldier then says, “No, not the American,” before moving on to the next person held captive. Fans are convinced the American would have to be Hopper, although there are plenty of theories floating around about other Americans that character could be. Now we’ll just have to wait until season 4, which has not been announced yet, to know who it is for sure.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER