20 Amazingly Valuable Thrift Store Finds

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Thrift stores are always a treasure trove of vintage clothing items, posters of kittens, and old kitchen appliances—but sometimes a lucky shopper comes across an actual treasure.

1. A BEN NICHOLSON SCREEN PRINT

In November 2014, Jo Heaven was browsing her local “charity shop”—the British term for thrift stores that raise money for philanthropic organizations—in Swindon, England, when she came across a landscape print with stylized livestock. Liking the “quirky” screen print, she snapped it up for 99 pence (just over $1), and it was only once she got it to the car that Heaven noticed a note of provenance on the back, naming the artist as Ben Nicholson, the influential British modernist.

“My mum was an art teacher, so I’d vaguely heard of Ben Nicholson,” Heaven later told the BBC. “I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, what have I found here?’” The screen print turned out to be one of a set of four made from a single piece of cloth in 1938; another print from the set is in the collection of London's Victoria and Albert Museum. After having the print authenticated by the art experts at Bonhams, Heaven sold it through the auction house for £4,200 (about $5500). She donated 10 percent of the proceeds to the charity shop where she bought the artwork, and invested the rest of the money to a charity she runs called Empower, which supports development projects in the Gambia. “I didn’t earn this money so it seems only right to benefit others rather than gain myself,” Heaven told the Swindon Advertiser.

2. VINCE LOMBARDI’S SWEATER

Lombardi west point sweater
Heritage Auctions, ha.com

On a June afternoon in 2014, Sean and Rikki McEvoy were rifling through the bins at a Goodwill store in Asheville, North Carolina, looking for items they could resell through their vintage clothing business. Sean saw an old sweater with “West Point” emblazoned across the front. Thinking it looked like a vintage basketball warm-up, he tossed the sweater in their pile of goods, which they paid for by weight—58 cents a pound. Five months later, he was watching a documentary about Vince Lombardi, the famed coach of the Green Bay Packers, when a black-and-white photo flashed on the screen. The picture featured a young Lombardi during his 1949–1953 tenure as an assistant coach for Army’s football team, wearing a West Point sweater that looked rather familiar. And Rikki had noticed just the night before that the sweater had a name tag sewn into the neck. “It wasn’t Lombardi, was it?” her husband asked. “Yes, it’s Lombardi,” she replied. Sean nearly passed out.

Sean called the NFL Hall of Fame, and when he told them of his find, they tried to convince him to donate it to them—for free. The McEvoys passed, and in February 2015, they sold the sweater to an anonymous collector for $43,020 at a New York City auction of sports memorabilia.

But how did Lombardi’s sweater end up at the Asheville Goodwill in the first place? It was donated by Ann Wannamaker, whose late husband, Bill Wannamaker, had coached with Lombardi at West Point for a single season in 1952 and somehow ended up with the sweater. More than 60 years later, Ann was cleaning out her house and tossed the sweater into a pile of items to donate, leading to a very lucky find for the McEvoys. “It’s like winning the lottery,” Sean said.

3. A FLEMISH-SCHOOL PAINTING

In late 2010, a South Carolina man was browsing his local Goodwill when he noticed an oil painting in an antique frame—a still life of a dinner table. “I figured the oil painting was out of the 1800s because of the frame it was in,” said the man, who used his middle name, Leroy, in the press to maintain his privacy.

A former antiques dealer, Leroy thought the painting might be worth a “couple of hundred” dollars, so he bought it for $3. About a year later, his daughter took it to be appraised on Antiques Roadshow, whose appraisers offered an initial estimate of $20,000 to $30,000. That’s no chump change, but the painting turned out to be worth even more than that. Painted around 1650 by a Flemish school in Amsterdam, the still life sold for $190,000 in March 2012 through an auction house in Massachusetts. Leroy told reporters that he planned to split the money with his son and daughter-in-law. “It’s the biggest find I’ve ever had,” he said.

4. A PICASSO PRINT

picasso print found in a thrift store
Zach Bodish

In early 2012, Zach Bodish, an avid thrifter, was tracing his usual route through the Volunteers of America store in Clintonville, Ohio, looking for items to fix up and sell, when he came across a framed poster for a 1958 Picasso exhibition. Penciled in the lower left corner was the notation “6/100,” suggesting that the print was a numbered edition. Scrawled on the back were a few lines in French, which Bodish couldn’t read, though the word “originale” looked promising.

Bodish shelled out $14.14 for the poster and frame, and once he got home, he started Googling. He soon realized he had gotten his hands on a linocut poster created by Picasso for an exhibition of his ceramics in the French village of Vallauris in 1958, of which only 100 had been produced. And as for that writing on the back, it meant, “original print, signed proof.” A faded red scribble in the corner of the print was Picasso’s signature. “I started shaking a little bit,” Bodish recalled. The poster he had found was not only a limited edition, but an artist’s proof, one of a batch of initial prints that are approved by the artist before printing the other copies for the series. “You could have knocked me over with a feather,” Bodish wrote on his blog. He initially thought the poster might be worth $3000 to $4000, but after having the print authenticated, he sold it for $7000 in a private sale.

After an article in The Columbus Dispatch highlighted Bodish’s thrift shop discovery, a retired English teacher from Columbus named Ed Zettler contacted the paper, saying he was the one who had donated the print, which he thought was simply a reproduction. According to Zettler, a friend had given him the Picasso print as a housewarming gift in the 1960s, and it had sat in his basement for decades before he decided to donate it while clearing out his house. But Zettler had no hard feelings toward Bodish, telling Today, “That’s the risk you take when you bring something to the thrift store.”

5. AN ILYA BOLOTOWSKY PAINTING

When Beth Feeback first saw the big red abstract painting, she didn’t like it. Still, she ended up paying $9.99 for it at the Goodwill in Oak Ridge, North Carolina, because she hoped to reuse the canvas for one of her own paintings, which featured cartoonish cats. Luckily, a friend suggested that Feeback check the labels on the back, leading her to Google the name Ilya Bolotowsky and discover that he was a celebrated abstract painter who had fled Russia for the U.S. as a teenager—a painter whose works command prices upwards of $15,000. Though she originally found the painting unappealing, once she learned its value, Feeback quipped, “This is the most beautiful damned painting I’ve ever seen in my life.” She soon sold the painting, called Vertical Diamond, through Sotheby’s for $34,375, a price that includes an unspecified buyer’s premium (the final gavel price for the painting itself was about $27,000).

So how did this painting by a Russian émigré end up at a Goodwill in North Carolina? On the back of Vertical Diamond, a sticker reading Weatherspoon Art Gallery provided a clue. The registrar at the Weatherspoon Art Museum at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro looked for traces of the painting in museum records and found that Burlington Industries, a North Carolina fabric manufacturer, had loaned the painting to the Weatherspoon for a 1979 show. Burlington Industries presumably sold the painting at some point, or it may have floated around after the company filed for bankruptcy in 2004 and moved out of its headquarters, dispersing much of its art collection. But regardless of how the painting found its way to Goodwill, Feeback was very glad it did.

6. A CHINESE LIBATION CUP

A few years ago, a shopper in a Sydney op shop (“op shop” or “opportunity shop” is the Australian term for thrift store) found an interesting carved cup in the shape of a flower and spent $4 to take it home. The man later experienced quite the windfall when it turned out his purchase was a 17th-century Chinese “libation cup” made from a rhinoceros horn. He sold it through Sotheby’s [PDF] in June 2013 for $75,640.

7. A JAEGER-LECOULTRE WATCH

When Zach Norris saw a diving watch marked LeCoultre at a Phoenix Goodwill in January 2015, he knew he’d come across something valuable—and he didn’t want to let it go. Produced by the Swiss luxury watch brand Jaeger-LeCoultre, whose modern timepieces sell for thousands of dollars, this vintage watch was tagged just $5.99. “I didn’t even want to give it to [the cashier] to scan,” Norris told KTVK. “I was like, you can scan it in my hand if you want to.” Though he knew vintage Jaeger-LeCoultre diving watches were worth thousands to collectors, Norris soon discovered that his watch was particularly special, a model called LeCoultre Deep Sea Alarm. Produced beginning in 1959, the model was one of the first watches with an alarm for divers to use, and less than 1000 of them were ever made.

Norris had the watch authenticated by a local Jaeger-LeCoultre dealer, and after a website for watch collectors called HODINKEE highlighted Norris’s find, he was flooded with questions and offers to buy it. Norris accepted an offer from Eric Ku, a San Francisco-based vintage Rolex dealer and watch enthusiast, for $35,000—plus an Omega Speedmaster Professional worth $4000 (a watch Norris had long desired). In addition to donating a portion of his profits back to Goodwill, Norris earmarked a good chunk of his earnings to pay for his wedding the following fall.

8. AN 1823 EDITION OF THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE

The United States Declaration of Independence
iStock

In March 2006, a music equipment technician named Michael Sparks was looking through the Music City Thrift Shop in Nashville, Tennessee, when he noticed a rolled-up, yellowed document—a copy of the Declaration of Independence. Sparks happily bought the document for $2.48. “I’ve seen Declarations of Independence in thrift stores before,” Sparks later said. “This one was so beautiful I thought it was an engraving.”

When he examined the paper further upon getting home, he noticed that it was marked 1823, and that it said “by order of the government.” Sparks soon learned that his thrift store purchase was an “official” copy of the Declaration, one of 200 commissioned by President John Quincy Adams in 1820 and printed by William Stone three years later. Only 35 such copies had previously been found. Sparks’s Declaration had been shellacked, and the varnish kept the ink dark, making his document one of the best preserved of its kind. Sparks sold the 1823 Declaration through Raynors’ Historical Collectible Auctions in 2007. The winning bid? $477,650.

It turns out the Declaration had been donated to the Nashville thrift shop by locals Stan and Linda Caffy. Stan had bought the document at a yard sale in the mid-1990s for around $2, then hung it for decoration in his garage where he works on bicycles. His wife urged him to get rid of it, and other items, when the couple was cleaning out their garage in 2006. “I’m happy for the Sparks guy,” Stan Caffy told USA Today. “If I still had it, it would still be hanging here in the garage and I still wouldn't know it was worth all that.”

9. A GIOVANNI BATTISTA TORRIGLIA PAINTING

In late 2012, a Goodwill employee in Manassas, Virginia, named Maria Rivera discovered a small portrait in the store’s donation bin. Depicting an elderly woman holding a cup of tea, the oil painting had cracks in its surface and was housed in an ornate gold frame. The painting reminded Rivera of something she’d seen in a museum, so she pulled it from the pile, thinking it seemed potentially valuable. “I didn’t know how much at that time, but I said, we have some money here,” she told NBC News4. A lot of money, it turns out. The painting was authenticated as the work of 19th-century Italian artist Giovanni Battista Torriglia. Goodwill auctioned off the portrait on its website in January 2013. It earned a winning bid of $11,205.

10. AN ALEXANDER CALDER PAINTING

When Karen Mallet saw a lithograph with the signature “Calder” while shopping at a Goodwill outside of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, she didn’t want to get her hopes up. She recognized the name of Alexander Calder—a celebrated American sculptor, painter, and printmaker—and decided she had to buy the print, just in case it was an original. “I thought, I don't know if it’s real or not but it’s $12.99. I’ve wasted more on worse things,” she told the Associated Press.

Her Goodwill loyalty card brought the price down to $12.34, which Mallet forked over happily. Then, when she got home, Mallet started Googling. She quickly found pictures of numerous works by Calder in the same style (a similar painting, the basis for a set of lithographs, is in the collection of MoMA in Manhattan). Soon Mallet felt confident enough to take her Goodwill purchase to an expert for authentication. Jacob Fine Art Inc., in suburban Chicago, verified that the print was an original 1969 Calder lithograph called Red Nose, number 55 of 75 such lithographs. The appraisers set the replacement value at $9000, but Mallet told reporters in late 2012 that she has no plans to sell the print. While she didn’t connect to the piece originally, “It grew on me,” she said. “Now I love it.”

11. A PHILIP TREACY HANDBAG

In February 2012, John Richard was browsing at an Oxfam charity shop in London when he opened a dusty box and discovered an eye-catching handbag. The 73-year-old retired chef was intrigued by the bag’s print—images of Elvis Presley by Andy Warhol rendered in shades of brown—and decided to take it home, though he balked momentarily at the listed price of £20 (about $26). He tried to haggle the cashier down to £15 but decided to make the splurge when she refused to budge. Still, he put the bag aside once he got home and didn’t think about it for several months.

Remembering the bag later that year, Richard examined it and noticed a Philip Treacy label. Treacy is an Irish designer best known for making sculptural hats, including the one Princess Beatrice wore (to much mockery) to the royal wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. A luxury designer handbag—might it be worth some money? Richard contacted the Philip Treacy shop in London and asked them to examine the bag. Store manager Gee Brunet confirmed that it was a hand-sewn, limited-edition Treacy design, of which only 10 were ever made. “It’s a piece of art, not a bag,” Brunet said.

Richard had the handbag appraised at £350,000, and he told reporters that he’d received two offers, for £250,000 ($325,000) and £350,000 ($455,000), from buyers in China. “I’m rather glad I didn’t put it back now,” Richard told the Daily Express.

12. A STADIUM EVENTS VIDEO GAME CARTRIDGE

stadium games video game screenshot
Bandai

On a spring day in 2013, Jennifer Thompson was perusing the $1 DVD section of a Goodwill store in Charlotte, North Carolina, when she noticed a video game sitting behind the glass counter. Tagged for $7.99, it was an NES cartridge for Stadium Events—a name that reminded Thompson of a Yahoo! article she’d read about the rarest and most sought-after games. She drove across the street to use the Wi-Fi at McDonald’s and confirmed her intuition: Stadium Events was a highly-coveted game that sold for thousands of dollars. Returning to Goodwill, Thompson purchased the cartridge, praying the cashier wouldn’t notice the golden egg he was letting go, then she drove to a local used video game store to test the desirability of her latest purchase.

She showed Wilder Hamm, the owner of Save Point Video Games in Charlotte, a few common games she said she wanted to sell, before revealing Stadium Events at the bottom of the pile. “Oh my God!” Hamm blurted out. “Normally in this business, we try not to show our cards,” Hamm explained later, but Thompson had surprised him and he couldn’t hide his excitement. “I felt honored just to hold it,” he told Kotaku.

Thompson auctioned off Stadium Events through the website GameGavel.com, ultimately selling the game to an orthodontist from Bedford, Indiana, for $25,000.

13. A VALUABLE DOG LITHOGRAPH

the brook hill dog painting by Alexander Pope
Public Domain

In March 2015, Floridian Maureen Flaherty attended the grand opening of a local Goodwill store, where she noticed a large lithograph print of a dog hanging on the wall. Two cashiers took the print down and Flaherty handed over $44 for it—adding a 50-cent donation to the listed price of $43.50. But Flaherty hadn’t even made it to her car when a local antiques dealer flagged her down in the parking lot. He told her, “You just walked out with the most valuable thing in there,” and tried to buy the print, but Flaherty declined his offer because she “just loved it” and wanted to keep the lithograph for herself. But the antiques dealer’s offer had piqued her curiosity, and when she got home, Flaherty did some internet research and realized that she’d just bought a print of a 1911 Alexander Pope painting called The Brook Hill Dog, which had been distributed to bars as advertising for distillery brand Friedman, Keiler & Co.’s “Brook Hill” whiskey.

Learning that a similar print had recently been sold for $3300, Flaherty decided to auction off her find for charity. “I foster dogs so I had the idea that since it’s a dog print, let’s auction it off so half the funds will go to a dog fund,” Flaherty told ABC News. The lithograph sold on eBay for $5150 and Flaherty donated half her earnings to a local animal rescue. She kept the remaining money to fund a book she was writing about fostering dogs, which came out the following year.

14. AN 18TH-CENTURY CHINESE CENSER

A woman from Surrey, England, discovered a colorful, gold-rimmed bowl while exploring a charity shop in Somerset. The metal bowl turned out to be an 18th-century Chinese censer, or incense bowl, produced during the reign of the Qianlong Emperor. Created using a technique called cloisonné, the censer is decorated with a scrolling lotus pattern against a turquoise background. Appraisers at the John Nicholson’s auction house estimated the censer’s value at £5000 to £8000 (about $6500 to $10,000)—quite an upgrade from the £2 charged by the charity shop. But the sharp-eyed thrifter who scored the item earned an even greater payday when John Nicholson’s included the bowl in their “Oriental Auction” in March 2017. Only 4.4-inches wide, the censer sold for £21,000 (about $27,000).

15. AN EDOUARD LÉON CORTÈS PAINTING

Workers at a Goodwill in Easton, Maryland, were sorting through donations in March 2008 when they unearthed a painting depicting a street scene of a flower market. Done in an Impressionist style, it seemed to be an original oil painting, not a print, and when store manager Terri Tonelli returned from her vacation, the employees told her they suspected the artwork was valuable. Thanks to Google, Tonelli figured out it was likely the work of noted French Impressionist Edouard Léon Cortès, who produced a number of paintings of flower markets. Goodwill shipped the painting to Sotheby’s auction house in New York, where it was authenticated, cleaned, and auctioned off. “It could have very easily ended up put in a pile, marked for $20,” Goodwill’s regional marketing director told the Associated Press. Instead, Goodwill sold the painting, called Marche aux fleurs, for $40,600.

16. AN AUGUSTA NATIONAL GREEN JACKET

green jacket auctions
Green Jacket Auctions

In 1994, a sports journalist noticed a green blazer in a stack of used suit jackets at a Toronto thrift store. When he unearthed the green blazer, he immediately recognized the patch on the pocket: the logo of the Augusta National Golf Club. While all members of the Georgia club get such jackets, nowadays they are only allowed to wear them at the club (though they were allowed to take them home in the 1950s and 1960s); the only person who can sport the green blazer outside club grounds is the current Masters champion.

Since 1949, the winner of the Masters Tournament—which is one of the most prestigious competitions in professional golf and is held each year at Augusta—receives one of the club’s famous green jackets as a trophy. One of the most coveted golf memorabilia items for collectors, this thrift store jacket was priced at $5. The journalist snapped it up on the spot. While he later tried to trace the provenance of his purchase, the Augusta National Golf Club refused to help. The tag dates the jacket to the 1950s (but before 1957), and otherwise little is known about the blazer’s origin—the name tag had been cut out.

Soon a British golf journalist named Dominic Pedler had convinced the lucky thrifter to sell him the jacket with “an offer he couldn’t refuse.” Then, over 20 years later, the jacket went up for auction in April 2017, garnering lots of media attention, as well as a final bid of $139,349.

17. A MARY MOSER PAINTING

In 2013, Liz Lockyer stopped into the Royal National Lifeboat Institution charity shop in her hometown of Teignmouth on England’s southern shore. She noticed a still life painting of flowers housed in an ornate gold frame. An artist herself, Lockyer thought the antique frame would be perfect for her own work, so she plunked down £5 (about $6.50) to take home the set. It was only later that she realized the painting was something special when she examined the signature.

The painting was by Mary Moser, a celebrated 18th-century English painter and one of only two female founders of the Royal Academy of Arts. Moser was known for her lush depictions of flowers, and the auction house Christie’s confirmed that Lockyer’s thrift store find was indeed one of Moser’s still lifes. The painting is worth at least £1000 (about $1300). “There was a definite risk I was going to rip out the painting and keep the frame,” Lockyer said. “I’m very glad I didn’t, but it’s one of those things—you had to look at it closely.”

18. PHOTOS BY FAMOUS MID-CENTURY PHOTOGRAPHERS

One day in 2016, Kent Shrewsbury stopped by the Habitat for Humanity ReStore in Anaheim, California, with his son, 20-year-old Kenneth Solis. As Shrewsbury wandered the store, Solis went directly to the records. While flipping through the vinyl, he discovered a stack of black-and-white photos between two records. One showed a dog with a giant stick. Another was an artistic nude of a pregnant woman. A third showed a couple dancing. There were 20 others. Solis grabbed the photos and took them over to his dad, who recognized the dancing couple as Marilyn Monroe and her third husband, playwright Arthur Miller. Solis and Shrewsbury purchased the photographs for $23—$1 apiece. Shrewsbury then went about deciphering the signatures on the pictures and Googling the names. That’s when he realized they’d found something more than random antique snaps: the prints seemed to be from famous 20th-century photographers including Eve Arnold, Burk Uzzle, and Elliot Erwitt. The images were gelatin silver prints (a photo process introduced in the 1870s that remained popular with fine art photographers through the 1960s), so maybe they were originals.

A few months later, Shrewsbury took five of the photos to an Antiques Roadshow taping in Palm Springs, where he showed them to appraiser Aimee Pflieger, a photography specialist at Sotheby’s. She authenticated the prints, calling them a “fantastic find.” She estimated the combined value of the five photos as $24,000 to $36,000. Shrewsbury and Solis hope to sell the photos and use a portion of the money to buy Solis a car, with the rest going to Habitat for Humanity of Orange County as a donation.

19. A FRANK WESTON BENSON PAINTING

In 2006, an anonymous donor dropped off a watercolor at a Goodwill store in Portland, Oregon. Employees thought the painting of a couple paddling a canoe looked like an original rather than a print, and its Impressionist style was eye-catching. Goodwill put the painting up for auction on its website with a starting bid of $10, but offers soon spiked when local gallery owner Matthew W. Gerber determined that the watercolor was, in fact, an original work by celebrated American Impressionist Frank Weston Benson.

Benson’s work hangs in museums like the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., and commands prices of as much as $100,000. “Frank Benson is a top-tier impressionist,” Gerber told The Oregonian. “When they put this up, they didn’t have a clue what it was.” A Goodwill spokeswoman suggested that the donor also likely did not know the painting’s value. And that value turned out to be considerable. The winning bid? $165,002.

20. A CHINESE POT

The wooden pot was cracked all over, and its rim and base had been reattached with glue that oozed out and hardened. Sections of the pot were discolored, and it had been donated in a grocery bag alongside various household items. And yet somehow, an employee at St. Peter's Hospice charity shop in Bristol, England, recognized that the pot, which looked very old, might be culturally valuable. In fact, it was a bamboo pot meant for calligraphy brushes that was carved between 1662 and 1722 by the important Chinese artist Gu Jue. Experts believe the pot depicts the poem “The Agreeable Life in a Land of Transcendents” and features the philosopher Lao Tzu sitting on an ox, as well as other figures. The pot generated considerable interest from collectors and ultimately went to a buyer in Hong Kong for £360,000 (about $470,000).

8 Tips for Interviewing a Serial Killer, According to Famed FBI Profiler John Douglas

iStock/Kritchanut
iStock/Kritchanut

Over the course of his career, former FBI agent and behavioral analyst John E. Douglas has interviewed criminals ranging from repeated hijacker Garrett Trapnell and cult leader Charles Manson to serial killers Edmund Kemper (a.k.a. the Co-Ed Killer) and Dennis Rader (a.k.a. B.T.K.). In his new book, The Killer Across the Table, Douglas takes readers into the room as he interviews four very different offenders.

In these conversations, “I'm trying to gain [their] trust [to get] information that I'll be able to apply to current cases,” Douglas tells Mental Floss. Here, he outlines how he prepares for an interview with a killer to figure out what makes them tick.

1. Never go into an interview cold.

“Preparation is the number one factor for a successful interview” of this kind, Douglas says. “Before I go in to do an interview, [I] go back into the files and fully look at the case that got him or her incarcerated to begin with. Which means looking at the police reports, the preliminary protocol that the medical examiner did regarding the autopsy, autopsy photographs, and then looking in the corrections reports as well. You want to be totally armed with the case when you go in.”

2. Memorize everything—don’t use notes or a tape recorder.

Early on in his interviews with killers, Douglas used a tape recorder, which he now says was a mistake. “You're dealing with very paranoid individuals. They don't trust you, they don't trust the [corrections] system,” he says. “If my head is down, [they’ll ask], ‘What, are you taping this? Why are you writing these notes down?’” Memorizing the case is key—when he goes in, he won’t have notes or a tape recorder: “It's going to be key [for] me to maintain some eye contact with them.”

3. Make sure the environment is right.

The key in these interviews, Douglas says, is to make the environment feel open so that the killer feels comfortable and like he’s in control. “When you go into a prison, sometimes you're forced to deal with what you've got,” he says. “But if I have time, I try to [make arrangements] depending on the personality.”

Douglas prefers to conduct his interviews at night, relying only on low table lights to create a soothing, stress-free atmosphere. Douglas will even think about seating arrangements. “If I'm dealing with a real paranoid type of individual, I need to put this person near a window—if there's a window—so that he can look out the window and psychologically escape, or I may have him face a door,” he says. Both Charles Manson and Richard Speck chose to sit on the backs of their chairs so they could look down on him. Douglas’s attitude is: “You hate me. I know you hate me, but go ahead and do it. I'm just trying to get a little bit of information now.”

4. Don’t rely on what a killer tells you.

Douglas never takes a killer’s word for anything, which is why memorizing the case is so important. Typically, he knows the answers to the questions he’s asking, and it allows him to call out the offender if he or she lies. “If you don't look deeply into the material, you don't know who in the heck you're talking to,” Douglas says. “You're talking to somebody who's pulling the wool over your eyes … If [an interviewer relies] on self-reporting, they're going to be filled with a lot of lies coming from the person they're interviewing.”

5. Know that this is not an interrogation.

Once he knows who’s committed a crime, Douglas says, his main goal is to find out what motivated them. The best way to get that out of them is to ask his questions “in a very relaxed kind of a format, making the subject—even if it's a guy like Manson or some of the worst killers you'd ever want to meet—feel real comfortable and feel at the same time that they are controlling me during the interview.”

What Douglas ultimately tries to do is have a conversation with the offender. “That means if they're asking me a lot of questions about myself, about maybe my family, my job, and I'm pretty honest with them,” he says. “They will trust me and open up to me as long as they know that I know the case, backwards and forwards. If they start fudging on the case trying to send me down the wrong path, I will confront them, but not in mean [way]. I'll laugh and say, ‘Look, come on. I know what you did. What are you doing here?’ That’s how you gain their trust.”

6. Be mindful of your body language—and the actual language you’re using.

When he’s in an interview, Douglas isn’t sitting there with his arms crossed, looking uncomfortable. “The body language should be just relaxed, not a defensive kind of posture,” he says. “[It should be] very comfortable—like on a date kind of thing.”

Douglas also avoids words like killing, murder, and rape, and, as awful as it might sound, avoids placing the blame on the killer. “I'm trying to get him to talk so we're going to project the blame," Douglas says. "[Some killers] use this projection, never accepting responsibility, not admitting that it was free will, that they had the ability to make choices and they made the wrong choices in their lives, even though they may have come from a very, very bad background.”

This kind of approach is what helped Douglas gain insights from Ed Kemper. When Douglas asked how Kemper—who was 6 feet, 9 inches tall and 300 pounds—would get young women in his car, Kemper revealed that he would pull up next to them and look at his watch, which would give them the impression that he had somewhere to be. “I’ll go with this guy. He’s got an appointment, nothing’s going to happen to me,” Douglas says. “Just a little thing like that was real helpful to me.”

7. Play it cool, no matter what happens.

Being confrontational is no way to get a killer to open up. “In an interview, whether it's a serial killer or any type of violent offender, I'll never challenge them or be negative toward them,” Douglas says. “I'll never do anything like that. If I feel that they're not being truthful, I'll bring it to their attention. But I’m on a fact-finding mission. There are several shows on television right now where celebrity types are going into prisons doing interviews. They get in the guy's face and they call him a liar. [So] the guy, what does he want to do? ‘I want to go back to my cell. Screw you. I'm out of here.’ And you can't hold him there—he's got to go back. So, you never do anything like that.”

8. Don’t be afraid to feign empathy.

Sometimes getting what you need out of an offender means fudging the truth. Sometimes Douglas will tell the killer that he’s earning points with the warden by doing the interview. “There's still always this glimmer of hope that they'll get out of prison one day, even if they're in there for multiple murders,” he says. “The warden doesn't give a damn about him, but I'm just telling them this to try to get him to speak up.”

Sometimes Douglas will play to his subject's pride and narcissism. “They want to be the big daddy,” he says. "'But I'm the main guy, right? You're doing this research and you guys got the real McCoy here. I'm the best and the worst of the worst.'" And sometimes, he feigns empathy—all with the goal of finding out information that will help prevent and solve other crimes.

"Let the person feel they are in control of the interview,” Douglas says. "Be open with yourself. Give them information about yourself to this person and it should go well."

14 Secrets of McDonald's Employees

Justin Sullivan, Getty Images
Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

While there’s virtually no end to the number of fast food options for people seeking a quick meal, none have entered the public consciousness quite like McDonald’s. Originally a barbecue shop with a limited menu when it was founded by brothers Richard and Maurice McDonald in the 1940s, the Golden Arches have grown into a franchised behemoth with more than 36,000 locations worldwide.

Staffing those busy kitchens and registers are nearly 2 million McDonald's employees. To get a better idea of what many consider to be the most popular entry-level job in the nation—staff members on the floor make an average of $9 an hour—we asked several workers to share details of their experiences with errant ice cream machines, drive-through protocols, and special requests. Here’s what they had to say about life behind the counter.

1. McDonald's employees can't always deliver fast food all that fast.

While McDonald’s and other fast-service restaurants pride themselves on getting customers on their way, some menu items just don’t lend themselves to record service times. According to Bob, an assistant store manager at a McDonald’s in the Midwest, pies take an average of 10 to 12 minutes to prepare; grilled chicken, 10 minutes; and biscuits for Egg McMuffins, eight to 10 minutes. In the mood for something light, like a grilled chicken and salad? That will take a few minutes, too. Bob says salads are pre-made with lettuce but still need to have chicken and other ingredients added.

The labor-intensive nature of assembling ingredients is part of why the chain has more recently shied away from menu items with too many ingredients. “We are trained to go as fast down the line as we can, and if we have to stop to make something that has 10 ingredients, it tends to slow things down,” Bob tells Mental Floss. “Corporate has realized this and has taken many of these items off in recent years, [like] McWraps, Clubhouse, more recently the Smokehouse and mushroom and Swiss and moved to items that can go a lot quicker.”

2. McDonald's workers wish you’d stop asking for fries without salt.

A serving of McDonald's French fries is pictured
Joerg Koch, AFP/Getty Images

A common “trick” for customers seeking fresh fries is to ask for them without salt. The idea is that fries that have been under a heating lamp will already be salted and that the employee in the kitchen will need to put down a new batch in the fryer. This does work, but customers can also just ask for fresh fries. It’s less of a hassle and may even save employees some discomfort.

“People can ask for fresh fries and it's actually way easier to do fresh fries rather than no-salt fries,” Andy, an employee who’s worked at three different McDonald’s locations in the Midwest, tells Mental Floss. “For those, we have to pour the fries onto a tray from the fryer so they don't come in contact with salt. It can get awkward sometimes getting everything into position, especially if you have a lot of people working in close proximity and it's busy, so I've had some scalded hands a couple of times trying to get fries out in a timely way.”

3. McDonald's workers have to pay careful attention to the order of ingredients.

McDonald’s is pretty specific about how their burgers and other items are supposed to be assembled, with layers—meat, cheese, sauce—arranged in a specific order. If they mess it up, customers can notice. “In some cases it has a big impact,” Sam, a department manager and nine-year veteran of the restaurant in Canada, tells Mental Floss. “Like placing the cheese between the patties with a McDouble. If they don’t put the cheese between the patties, the cheese won’t melt.”

4. There’s a reason McDonald’s employees ask you to park at the drive-through.

A McDonald's customer pulls up to the drive-thru window
Tim Boyle, Getty Images

After ordering at the drive-through window, you may be slightly puzzled when a cashier asks you to pull into one of the designated parking spots. That’s because employees are measured on how quickly they process cars at the drive-through. If your order is taking a long time to prepare, they’ll take you out of the queue to keep the line moving. “My store has sensors in the drive-through that actually tell us exactly how long you are at each spot in the drive-through,” Bob says. “We get measured based on something we call OEPE. Order end, present end. [That measures] from the second that your tires move from the speaker until your back tires pass over the sensor on the present window. My store is expected to be under two minutes.” If an order will take longer than that, you'll be asked to park.

5. The McDonald's drive-through employees can hear everything going on in your car.

While the quality of the speakers at a drive-through window can vary, it’s best to assume employees inside the restaurant can hear everything happening in your car even before you place an order. “The speaker is activated by the metal in the car, so as soon as you drive up, the speaker turns on in our headset,” Andy says. “We can hear everything, and I do mean everything. Loud music, yelling at your kids to shut up, etc.”

6. The employees at McDonald’s like their regulars.

Customers eat inside of a McDonald's with an order of French fries in the foreground
Chris Hondros, Getty Images

With hot coffee, plenty of tables, Wi-Fi, and newspapers, McDonald’s can wind up being a popular hang-out for repeat customers. “[We have] a ton of regulars who come into my store,” Bob says. “I'd say at least 75 percent of my daily customers know us all by name and we know them all, too. It makes it nice and makes the service feel a lot more personal when a customer can walk into my location, and we can look them in the eye and say, ‘Hey Mark! Getting the usual today?’ and we've already started making his coffee exactly how he takes it.”

7. McDonald’s staff get prank calls.

Unless they’re trying to cater an event, customers usually don’t have any reason to phone a McDonald’s. When the phone rings, employees brace themselves. In addition to sometimes being asked a legitimate question like when the store closes, Sam says his store gets a lot of prank calls. “Sometimes it’s people asking about directions to Wendy’s,” he says. “A lot of inappropriate ones. Most are pretty lame.”

8. For a McDonald’s worker, the ice cream machine is like automated stress.

A McDonald's customer is handed an ice cream cone at the drive-thru window
iStock/jax10289

The internet is full of stories of frustrated McDonald’s customers who believe the chain’s ice cream machines are always inoperable. That’s not entirely true, but the machine does experience a lot of downtime. According to Bob, that’s because it’s always in need of maintenance. “The thing is, it is a very sensitive machine,” he says. “It's not made to be making 50 cones in a row, or 10 shakes at a time. It takes time for the mix to freeze to a proper consistency. It also requires a daily heat mode, [where] the whole machine heats up to about 130 degrees or so. The heat mode typically takes about four hours to complete, so you try to schedule it during the slowest time.” Stores also need to take the machine entirely apart every one to two weeks to clean it thoroughly.

Bob adds that the machine’s O-rings can crack or tear, rendering the unit inoperable. Seasoned workers can tell if a unit is faulty by the consistency of the shakes or ice cream coming out, and sometimes by the noises it makes.

9. McDonald's employees don't mind if you order a grilled cheese.

Contrary to rumor, there’s no “secret menu” at McDonald’s. But that doesn’t mean you can’t sometimes snag something not listed on the board. Andy says a lot of people order a grilled cheese sandwich. “I've made many a grilled cheese before,” he says. But it’s not without consequences. “Sometimes it can get a bit risky doing it because the bun toaster wasn't designed to make grilled cheeses so sometimes you get some burnt buns or cheese or the cheese sticks inside and it slows down the other buns from getting out on time so that causes more burnt buns.”

Another common request is for customers to ask for a McDouble dressed as a Big Mac, with added Big Mac sauce and shredded lettuce. “I think [it’s] a way more practical way to eat a Big Mac since there's less bun in the way, and it's also way cheaper even if you do get charged for Mac sauce.”

10. McDonald’s workers recommend always checking your order.

A McDonald's employee serves an order
Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

Nothing stings worse than the revelation that an employee has forgotten part of your food order. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not because the employees are being lazy or inattentive. According to Bob, it’s simply due to the volume of customers a typical location has to process in a given day. “We are human,” he says. “Mistakes do happen. We always feel terrible when they do but when we serve 1000-plus people a day, it's bound to happen.”

Bob recommends checking your bag before leaving the restaurant and not taking it personally if there’s an issue. “Be nice to us if you have a problem,” he says. “It's a huge difference between coming to us and saying, ‘Hey, I seem to be missing a fry from my bag,’ and ‘You bastards didn't give me my fries!’” If you want to check your bag at the drive-through, though, he recommends trying to pull ahead so cars behind you can move forward.

11. McDonald's employees don't recommend the grilled chicken.

If a menu item isn’t all that popular, it can wind up experiencing a low rate of turnover. Of all the food at McDonald’s, the most neglected might be the grilled chicken. Because it doesn't move quickly, workers find that it can turn unappetizing in a hurry. “That stuff has a supposed shelf life of 60 minutes in the heated cabinet, but it dries out so quickly that even if it's within an acceptable time frame, it looks like burnt rubber, and probably tastes like it, too,” Andy says.

12. Golden Arches employees aren’t crazy about Happy Meal collectors.

A McDonald's Happy Meal is pictured
David Morris, Getty Images

Happy Meals are boxed combos that come with a toy inside. Usually, it’s tied into some kind of movie promotion. That means both Happy Meal collectors and fans of a given entertainment property can swarm stores looking for the product. “The biggest pain involving the Happy Meals is the people who collect them,” Bob says. “I personally hate trying to dig through the toys looking for one specific one. We usually only have one to three toys on hand. It's especially a pain in the butt during big toys events such as the Avengers one we just had. There was like 26 different toys, and some customers get really mad when you don't have the one that they want.”

And no, employees don’t usually take home leftover toys. They’ve saved for future use as a substitute in case a location runs out of toys for their current promotion.

13. McDonald's employees can’t mess with Monopoly.

The McDonald’s Monopoly promotion has been a perennial success for the chain, with game pieces affixed to drink cups and fry containers. But if you think employees spend their spare time peeling the pieces off cups looking for prizes, think again. Following a widely-publicized scandal in 2000 that saw an employee of the company that printed the pieces intercepting them for his own gain, the chain has pretty strict rules about the promotion. “Monopoly pieces and things like them get sent back to corporate,” Bob says. “We aren't allowed to touch them, open them, or redeem them as employees.”

14. One McDonald's worker admits there have been sign mishaps.

A McDonald's sign is pictured
Tim Boyle, Getty Images

Many McDonald’s locations sport signs under the arches advertising specials or promotions. Some are analog, with letters that need to be mounted and replaced. Others have LED screens. Either way, there can be mistakes. “I've never seen anyone mess around with the letters,” Andy says. “But I do remember one time we were serving the Angus Burgers and the ‘G’ fell off of the word ‘Angus.’ Good times.”

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