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.

12 Intriguing Facts About the Intestines

When we talk about the belly, gut, or bowels, what we're really talking about are the intestines—long, hollow, coiled tubes that comprise a major part of the digestive tract, running from the stomach to the anus. The intestines begin with the small intestine, divided into three parts whimsically named the duodenum, jejunum, and ileum, which absorb most of the nutrients from what we eat and drink. Food then moves into the large intestine, or colon, which absorbs water from the digested food and expels it into the rectum. That's when sensitive nerves in your rectum create the sensation of needing to poop.

These organs can be the source of intestinal pain, such as in irritable bowel syndrome, but they can also support microbes that are beneficial to your overall health. Here are some more facts about your intestines.

1. The intestines were named by medieval anatomists.

Medieval anatomists had a pretty good understanding of the physiology of the gut, and are the ones who gave the intestinal sections their names, which are still used today in modern anatomy. When they weren't moralizing about the organs, they got metaphorical about them. In 1535, the Spanish doctor Andrés Laguna noted that because the intestines "carry the chyle and all the excrement through the entire region of the stomach as if through the Ocean Sea," they could be likened to "those tall ships which as soon as they have crossed the ocean come to Rouen with their cargoes on their way to Paris but transfer their cargoes at Rouen into small boats for the last stage of the journey up the Seine."

2. Leonardo da Vinci believed the intestines helped you breathe.

Leonardo mistakenly believed the digestive system aided respiratory function. In 1490, he wrote in his unpublished notebooks, "The compressed intestines with the condensed air which is generated in them, thrust the diaphragm upwards; the diaphragm compresses the lungs and expresses the air." While that isn't anatomically accurate, it is true that the opening of the lungs is helped by the relaxation of stomach muscles, which does draw down the diaphragm.

3. Your intestines could cover two tennis courts ...

Your intestines take up a whole lot of square footage inside you. "The surface area of the intestines, if laid out flat, would cover two tennis courts," Colby Zaph, a professor of immunology in the department of biochemistry and molecular biology at Melbourne's Monash University, tells Mental Floss. The small intestine alone is about 20 feet long, and the large intestine about 5 feet long.

4. ... and they're pretty athletic.

The process of moving food through your intestines requires a wave-like pattern of muscular action, known as peristalsis, which you can see in action during surgery in this YouTube video.

5. Your intestines can fold like a telescope—but that's not something you want to happen.

Intussusception is the name of a condition where a part of your intestine folds in on itself, usually between the lower part of the small intestine and the beginning of the large intestine. It often presents as severe intestinal pain and requires immediate medical attention. It's very rare, and in children may be related to a viral infection. In adults, it's more commonly a symptom of an abnormal growth or polyp.

6. Intestines are very discriminating.

"The intestines have to discriminate between good things—food, water, vitamins, good bacteria—and bad things, such as infectious organisms like viruses, parasites and bad bacteria," Zaph says. Researchers don't entirely know how the intestines do this. Zaph says that while your intestines are designed to keep dangerous bacteria contained, infectious microbes can sometimes penetrate your immune system through your intestines.

7. The small intestine is covered in "fingers" ...

The lining of the small intestine is blanketed in tiny finger-like protrusions known as villi. These villi are then covered in even tinier protrusions called microvilli, which help capture food particles to absorb nutrients, and move food on to the large intestine.

8. ... And you can't live without it.

Your small intestine "is the sole point of food and water absorption," Zaph says. Without it, "you'd have to be fed through the blood."

9. The intestines house your microbiome. 

The microbiome is made up of all kinds of microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoans, "and probably used to include worm parasites too," says Zaph. So in a way, he adds, "we are constantly infected with something, but it [can be] helpful, not harmful."

10. Intestines are sensitive to change.

Zaph says that many factors change the composition of the microbiome, including antibiotics, foods we eat, stress, and infections. But in general, most people's microbiomes return to a stable state after these events. "The microbiome composition is different between people and affected by diseases. But we still don't know whether the different microbiomes cause disease, or are a result in the development of disease," he says.

11. Transferring bacteria from one gut to another can transfer disease—or maybe cure it.

"Studies in mice show that transplanting microbes from obese mice can transfer obesity to thin mice," Zaph says. But transplanting microbes from healthy people into sick people can be a powerful treatment for some intestinal infections, like that of the bacteria Clostridium difficile, he adds. Research is pouring out on how the microbiome affects various diseases, including multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's, and even autism.

12. The microbes in your intestines might influence how you respond to medical treatments.

Some people don't respond to cancer drugs as effectively as others, Zaph says. "One reason is that different microbiomes can metabolize the drugs differently." This has huge ramifications for chemotherapy and new cancer treatments called checkpoint inhibitors. As scientists learn more about how different bacteria metabolize drugs, they could possibly improve how effective existing cancer treatments are.

15 Unique Illnesses You Can Only Come Down With in German

iStock.com/monkeybusinessimages
iStock.com/monkeybusinessimages

The German language is so perfectly suited for these syndromes, coming down with them in any other language just won’t do.

1. Kevinismus

At some point in the last couple of decades, parents in Germany started coming down with Kevinismus—a strange propensity to give their kids wholly un-German, American-sounding names like Justin, Mandy, Dennis, Cindy, and Kevin. Kids with these names reportedly tend to be less successful in school and in life, although some researchers have suggested this could be due to a combination of teachers’ prejudices toward the names and the lower social status of parents who choose names like Kevin.

2. Föhnkrankheit

Föhn is the name for a specific wind that cools air as it draws up one side of a mountain, and then warms it as it compresses coming down the other side. These winds are believed to cause headaches and other feelings of illness. Many a 19th century German lady took to her fainting couch with a cold compress, suffering from Föhnkrankheit.

3. Kreislaufzusammenbruch

Kreislaufzusammenbruch, or “circulatory collapse,” sounds deathly serious, but it’s used quite commonly in Germany to mean something like “feeling woozy” or “I don’t think I can come into work today.”

4. Hörsturz

Hörsturz refers to a sudden loss of hearing, which in Germany is apparently frequently caused by stress. Strangely, while every German knows at least five people who have had a bout of Hörsturz, it is practically unheard of anywhere else.

5. Frühjahrsmüdigkeit

Frühjahrsmüdigkeit or “early year tiredness” can be translated as “spring fatigue.” Is it from the change in the weather? Changing sunlight patterns? Hormone imbalance? Allergies? As afflictions go, Frühjahrsmüdigkeit is much less fun than our “spring fever,” which is instead associated with increased vim, vigor, pep, and randiness.

6. Fernweh

Fernweh is the opposite of homesickness. It is the longing for travel, or getting out there beyond the horizon, or what you might call wanderlust.

7. Putzfimmel

Putzen means “to clean” and Fimmel is a mania or obsession. Putzfimmel is an obsession with cleaning. It is not unheard of outside of Germany, but elsewhere it is less culturally embedded and less fun to say.

8. Werthersfieber

An old-fashioned type of miserable lovesickness that was named “Werther’s fever” for the hero of Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther. Poor young Werther suffers for the love of a peasant girl who is already married. Death is his only way out. A generation of sensitive young men brought made Werthersfieber quite fashionable in the late 18th century.

9. Ostalgie

Ostalgie is nostalgia for the old way of life in East Germany (ost means East). If you miss your old Trabant and those weekly visits from the secret police, you may have Ostalgie.

10. Zeitkrankheit

Zeitkrankheit is “time sickness” or “illness of the times.” It’s a general term for whatever the damaging mindset or preoccupations of a certain era are.

11. Weltschmerz

Weltschmerz or “world pain,” is a sadness brought on by a realization that the world cannot be the way you wish it would be. It’s more emotional than pessimism, and more painful than ennui.

12. Ichschmerz

Ichschmerz is like Weltschmerz, but it is dissatisfaction with the self rather than the world. Which is probably what Weltschmerz really boils down to most of the time.

13. Lebensmüdigkeit

Lebensmüdigkeit translates as despair or world-weariness, but it also more literally means “life tiredness.” When someone does something stupidly dangerous, you might sarcastically ask, “What are you doing? Are you lebensmüde?!”

14. Zivilisationskrankheit

Zivilisationskrankheit, or “civilization sickness” is a problem caused by living in the modern world. Stress, obesity, eating disorders, carpal tunnel syndrome, and diseases like type 2 diabetes are all examples.

15. Torschlusspanik

Torschlusspanik or “gate closing panic” is the anxiety-inducing awareness that as time goes on, life’s opportunities just keep getting fewer and fewer and there’s no way to know which ones you should be taking before they close forever. It’s a Zivilisationskrankheit that may result in Weltschmerz, Ichschmerz, or Lebensmüdigkeit.

This list first ran in 2015.

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