16 Of The Weirdest Criminal Cases Involving Food

food crimes

Okay — we’ll admit it. We’re always hungry for a bizarre murder mystery or whacky crime story. We blame Carolyn Keene (aka author of the Nancy Drew series), tbh. The more twists, turns, and strange-but-true clues, the better. And heck, if there’s food involved, we’re diving down that rabbit hole faster than you can say, “Who fed JonBenét the pineapple?” We’ve gathered together some of our favorite food crimes that will give you chills and make you scratch your heads.

We can’t say you’ll be particularly hungry after reading about these food-centric crimes. But hey, at least you’re satisfying your appetite for mystery, right?

From tales of black widows to shady cults, and murders that have yet to be solved, these crimes will give you goosebumps and perhaps make you want to hire a food-tester. You’re positive this isn’t poisoned, right? There are forums dedicated to some of the below mysteries, so if you consider yourself an amateur sleuth, feel free to get to work to devise your own theory regarding who, what, where, when, and why did JonBenét eat pineapple in the middle of the night???

After reading these food-related true crime stories, you’ll absolutely be convinced that the truth is stranger than fiction — and also that pineapple may just be an omen. To be determined.

1. The Carbolic Acid Cocktail Murder

In 1965, Mary Marrs Cawein, a 39-year-old housewife living in Lexington, Kentucky, died after a night out with her husband, Dr. Madison Cawein III, and two friends, Sam and Betty Strother. She was found slumped in her chair, with an empty cocktail glass on the table next to her. Her autopsy revealed she had been poisoned with carbolic acid, which had burned her stomach and caused fatal gastritis. Any one of Mary’s several drinks from the night could have been laced — however, injection marks found on her legs suggested she was sedated before she was forced to drink the acid-laced cocktail.

On the evening before her death, the entire group had each consumed about ten drinks each. They had ended their night out at the Strother household, where Mary reported she wasn’t feeling well. Sam Strother took Mary home, which is where they each had another drink. Sam left and rejoined Madison and Betty at his own home, where they continued drinking. Madison ultimately spent the night.

[fm_youtube url="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m1UNphlCEY0&list="]

It’s believed that Madison, who was involved in two affairs at the time, was behind Mary’s murder. Being a doctor, he would have access to both the carbolic acid and the needles. Police also theorized that one of the women Madison was seeing — a doctor, herself — could also be involved, or maybe it was the doctor husband of Madison’s other flame. Due to a lack of evidence, the case was never solved and no one was indicted.

2. Rudy Kurniawan’s Wine Forgery

Rudy Kurniawan — “the Gen X Great Gatsby” — was a young, rich, avid wine collector who stockpiled valuable Burgundies that he ultimately auctioned off for $35 million in 2006. However, the bottles of Domaine Ponsot Clos Saint-Denis included in the lot, dated 1945, 1949, and 1966, which had been authenticated by “some of Burgundy’s most discerning (and difficult) connoisseurs,” rose concern. As The New Yorker writes, the proprietor of the estate pointed out that Domaine Ponsot did not begin making Clos Saint-Denis until 1982.

[fm_youtube url="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hPUYuwSRwB8"]

This, among other clues, led the FBI to raid Kurniawan’s lavish home and stash of wine in 2012. What they found were used corks, brand new labels ready to be attached to bottles, and wines that had been altered to taste like the real deal. Kurniawan had been producing the “rare” wines in his collection himself and fraudulently selling them for millions. He’s now serving a 10-year prison term for his counterfeiting crimes, and his story is documented in the Netflix documentary Sour Grapes.

3. The Great Maple Syrup Robbery

In 2016, Canadian maple syrup was valued at $1,300 a barrel — far more expensive than oil. It’s liquid gold, and because of that, people will do crazy things to get their hands on a piece of the profit. In 2012, 540,000 gallons of maple syrup were hijacked from a Quebec warehouse controlled by the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producer (FPAQ). The value of the stolen goods totaled over $13 million. It was one of the biggest mysteries to hit Canada, and the story still dazzles people today.

“Syrup is heavy. And sticky,” a Montreal resident told Vanity Fair in 2016. “How do you hide it? Who do you get to smuggle it? Where can you sell it? It’s like stealing the salt out of the sea.”

It was assumed to be an inside job by someone who was renting space in the same warehouse, and later that year, three men were arrested and a major portion of the stolen syrup was recovered. Somehow the crooks were able to leach syrup out of the barrels it was stored in and scatter it over the border. Word on the street is that a movie about the heist is currently in the works, and we can only imagine it will be exactly like Oceans 11… except Canadian.

4. The Murder Of JonBenét Ramsey

There are a lot of factors at play in the unsolved JonBenét Ramsey case, including a mysterious and rambling ransom note and the undigested pineapple in JonBenét’s stomach. The pineapple has always been a puzzling clue for investigators working on the 1996 murder case. Her mother, Patsy Ramsey, told police she didn’t feed JonBenét pineapple the night she was killed, and yet a bowl of pineapple sat on the kitchen counter when police arrived the next day. Twenty years later, the question still remains — who fed 6-year-old JonBenét the pineapple in the middle of the night?

Many speculate JonBenét’s brother Burke prepared the pineapple, and perhaps accidentally killed his little sister when fighting over the pineapple snack. Investigators think Burke perhaps hit JonBenét with a flashlight after she stole a piece of pineapple from his bowl. However, even though other theories have seemingly been ruled out, the evidence to prove the pineapple story true is simply not there.

5. The 2009 Peanut Butter Salmonella Outbreak

Nine people died from a Salmonella contamination in peanut butter between 2008 and 2009. Another 714 Americans got sick across 46 states. The Salmonella peanut butter outbreak of ’09 was one of the deadliest Salmonella outbreaks in U.S. history, and resulted in the recall of over 3,900 products from over 360 companies.

Upon investigation, the Food and Drug Administration found out that employees at Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) plants were ordered to ship out peanuts with samples that tested positively for Salmonella in a first test and negatively on a second test.

And yet, it wasn’t until 2014 that PCA CEO Stewart Parnell was finally sentenced on more than 70 criminal charges and received 28 years in prison. This is the longest sentence for any food-related crime to date. As of 2018, all appeals related to the peanut butter outbreak case have been denied in court.

6. The Jonestown “Kool-Aid” Mass Suicide

Seriously, don’t drink the Kool-Aid. Jim Jones, an influential church leader and would-be cult leader, founded the Peoples Temple in California in the early 1960s. His charismatic personality gained him a massive following, whom Jones ultimately brainwashed into believing that if they left his “church,” they would be put into government-run concentration camps.

When public attention toward the People’s Temple became too much, Jones moved his organization to Guyana and established Jonestown. However, America was still fascinated and wary of Jonestown’s goings-on. So, in 1978, U.S. Congressman Leo Ryan traveled to Guyana to investigate what exactly was happening at the compound.

However, Ryan never returned home. Just before boarding his plane back to the U.S., on which he would be transporting several Jonestown members back home, he was attacked by another group of Temple members. Five people, including Ryan, were killed in the attack, and another 11 were wounded.

Knowing this was the end of Jonestown, a paranoid Jim Jones ordered a mass suicide in which all Temple members would drink a Kool-Aid knockoff laced with cyanide and tranquilizers. Over 900 people died — 300 of whom were under the age of 17. Jones himself died of a gunshot wound, and less than 100 Temple members survived to tell the tale. Only one person was charged for his involvement in the events, and was found guilty of conspiracy, and aiding and abetting in the murder of Leo Ryan.

7. The Strawberry Needle Scare

Australian woman My Ut Trinh was charged with seven counts of contamination of goods in 2018, after she inserted sewing needles into strawberries at an Australian supermarket. Trinh, who was a former employee at the supermarket, faced up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

However, Trinh’s act of revenge inspired copycats to do the same in supermarkets across Australia. Over 100 reports of sewing needs and pins found in strawberries plagued Australia in early 2018, as did reports of metal fragments being found in other produce like bananas, apples, and mangos.

The Queensland Strawberry Growers Association (QSGA), although grateful Trinh was arrested, demanded the copycat crimes also be investigated. The fear of the needle epidemic hugely affected the country’s fruit industry as large quantities of strawberries were recalled from supermarkets nationwide and consumers simply stopped buying them. In fact, a social media campaign called #SmashAStrawb was created in an attempt to support local strawberry farmers during the crisis.

8. The Case Of The Deadly Cheesecake

In 2016, Viktoria Nasyrova of Brooklyn, New York, served her friend, who looked like she could have been her sister, Olga Tsvyk a slice of poisoned cheesecake. The dessert had been laced with phenazepam, a Russian tranquilizer. Her motive? To steal Tsvyk’s identity.

After Tsvyk passed out from the poison, Nasyrova assumed she was dead and staged her death to look like a suicide, scattering pills around Tsvyk’s unconscious body. Nasyrova then took off with Tsvyk’s passport, employment authorization card, gold ring, and loose cash. Another friend of Tsvyk found her about a day later, and she later recovered from the overdose.

[fm_youtube url="https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=6jhzGjeqfz4"]

When authorities tested the cheesecake, they uncovered the poison and were eventually able to track Nasyrova down. She was charged with attempted murder, burglary, assault, and reckless endangerment.

And this wasn’t the first time Nasyrova was suspected of murder. She reportedly escaped to the U.S. as a suspect in the Russian murder of Alla Aleksenko, whose burned body was found in a shallow grave. Nasyrova supposedly seduced the detective investigating her involvement before fleeing the country where she lived a luxe life financed by rich New York men, some of whom she drugged and robbed.

9. Powdered Sugar Or Cocaine?

Jonathan Harrington, a student at the University of Miami, thought he’d have a bit of fun with administration who came to search the college dorms, as is commonplace throughout the year. The students are notified ahead of time, so they have an opportunity to clean up their act before school officials arrive. However, Harrington thought he’d do the opposite on purpose.

When inspectors arrived to Harrington’s dorm in 2015, they found lines of white powder and rolled up dollar bills left out on his desk. Harrington had staged the scene with powdered sugar to make it look like he casually left his cocaine out in the open. But what was intended to be a practical joke ended with Harrington in prison, charged with felony cocaine possession.

“It was indeed powdered sugar — 23.7 grams of the finest you can buy at Publix. I know the amount from the police report,” Harrington told Miami New Times. “I doubt they’d believe me. To them it is more plausible that I left $1,500 worth of cocaine strewn around my apartment.”

The “powder” initially tested positive for cocaine. But after the crime lab retested the substance, they realized it was just powdered sugar and the charges against Harrington were dropped.

10. The Soggy Bread Scam

Takashi Ishimoto of Tokyo was accused in 2015 of making fraudulent complaints about soggy bread, which resulting in him illegally obtaining 30 million yen, equal to $251,000. Ishimoto, who the Japanese media dubbed a “full-time hustler,” would call a store and complain that the bread he recently bought there was soggy. He would then call the store again, this time posing as someone from the head office, and demand they give Ishimoto “some replacement bread and all the cash they took in for the day as an apology to the customer,” as SoraNews24 reported in 2015.

It’s unknown how Ishimoto convinced store employees he was calling from the headquarters, but he did nonetheless. He admitted to his crimes when Tokyo Police arrested him, and further investigation into Ishimoto has linked him to several other Tokyo-based cons.

11. The Rat-Poisoned Spaghetti

In 2008, Heather Mook of York, England, was sentenced to five years in prison after she was found guilty of feeding her husband, John Mook, spaghetti tainted with rat poison and anti-depressants. She did so in order to keep her husband in a constant state of confusion while she leached £43,000 from her mother-in-law’s bank account — money set aside to help pay for her elderly care.

According to BBC, John Mook made a full recovery from his poisoning and told the media that he hopes his wife is given proper treatment. “I think she needs some serious help and I hope she gets it,” he said.

Before her marriage to John, Heather had also stolen money and jewelry from a previous husband (one of four Heather had), and she had also faked a terminal illness for monetary gain. Heather Mook had even poisoned her 6-year-old daughter with anti-depressants in 1982, however she seemingly never served time for doing so.

12. The Nacho Cheese Trail

Francisco J. Munoz thought he had successfully robbed an Iowa City convenience store in 2015. However, like Hansel and Gretel leaving breadcrumbs, Munoz conveniently left a trail of stolen snack foods and lottery tickets for police to follow. Officers found Munoz about 100 yards away from the store, carrying two cases of beer and covered in nacho cheese.

Munoz ultimately caused about $1,000 worth of damage and faced third-degree burglary charges, along with second-degree criminal mischief and public intoxication charges.

Sadly, Munoz isn’t the only one who unknowingly left a trail of goodies after leaving the scene of the crime. One New York man dropped bits of macaroni salad after robbing a Build-A-Burger & Ice Cream. And a British car thief stole a milk truck and left bottles and loafs of bread in his wake.

13. The Janie Lou Gibbs Case

In 1966, tragedy struck the Gibbs household in Cordele, Georgia. Janie Lou Gibbs’s husband Charles passed suddenly, promptly after eating one of Janie Lou’s meals, from what doctors believed was undiagnosed liver disease. Then, nine months later, Janie Lou’s 13-year-old son Marvin died in a similar way. And then 16-year-old Melvin Gibbs died months later from what officials thought was hepatitis.

It all seemed to be a bad string of luck, but things turned around when Janie Lou’s eldest son Roger married and had a child. But a month after the baby’s birth, he died from a supposed heart condition. Three weeks later, Roger died of kidney failure.

The number of deaths surrounding Janie Lou Gibbs were suspicious for obvious reasons. So, authorities exhumed her family’s bodies and they were reexamined. All tested positive for arsenic. Janie Lou had poisoned her entire family by feeding them rat poison to collect insurance money — $31,000 worth. She ultimately received five life sentences, and passed away from Parkinson’s disease in 2010.

14. The $1,000 Banana MoonPie

Councilman John Givens from Baker, Louisiana, stole a banana cream MoonPie from the Ragusa’s Meat Market convenience store in 2014. Surveillance footage shows Givens unwrapping the MoonPie in the store, eating it, and shoving the wrapper into his front pocket.

When Givens approached the counter to pay for his other items, the clerk asked him if he was also going to pay for the MoonPie. Upset, Givens pulled out his councilman badge and told the cashier, “You must not know who I am.”

A warrant went out for Givens’s arrest, and Givens turned himself in the next morning. He was booked and his bond was set at $1,000 — about $999 more than the cost of that MoonPie.

15. The “Magic Cheese” Scam

74-year-old Gilberte Van Erpe most likely didn’t look like a scammer. But nevertheless, she scammed thousands of Chileans into buying $400 kits with which they could make “magic cheese.” This cheese, Van Erpe said, could then be sold to cosmetic companies for big bucks to be used in luxury beauty products.

Van Erpe’s swindling was part of a large pyramid scheme she crafted in 2005. She and her cronies first gave kits away for free and paid people for their first batches of “magic cheese,” to gain trust with the Chileans and prove that the kits were the real deal. Over 5,500 people in Chile bought into Van Erpe’s scam, which made Van Erpe and her team multi-millionaires (they shared a sum of over $16 million). The scheme finally collapsed in 2006.

As of 2016, Van Erpe had just gotten caught and was standing trial in France alongside her three accomplices.

16. The Codfather’s Fish Ring

The Codfather, aka Carlos Rafael of New Bedford, Massachusetts, was a self-proclaimed pirate. Owning a fleet of more than 40 fishing boats, and having several run-ins with the law for tax evasion, price-fixing, and illegally netting oversized fish, the Codfather sat on a whopping $175 million business (a worth eight times more than what he told the IRS). He specialized in selling fish under the table, and had his boat captains misreport their catches so he could send falsified reports to NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). Basically, the Codfather was the king of laundering money and frauding the fishing industry out of millions.

Rafael was finally caught by undercover IRS agents in 2016.

He was indicted on 27 counts of fraud as well as other charges covering more than 800,000 pounds of fish, Mother Jones reports. In 2017, Rafael was only sentenced to 46 months in prison.

Do you have a favorite food-related crime? Please tell us all about it. We’ll get the popcorn ready.

Did you like it?

How useful was this post?

Click on a star to rate it!

Average rating 4.7 / 5. Vote count: 363

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Enjoy Your $19.99 FREE Copy of Our Digital Cookbook!

Enjoy our FREE Digital
Cookbook as Our Way of
Saying Thank You!

I agree to the storing and processing of my personal data by So Yummy as described by the Privacy Policy.

Get your So Yummy Cookbook digital copy - for Free!

Enjoy surprising, smart and absolutely gorgeous home cooking recipes & tips

Thanks for subscribing!

Your Cookbook Awaits in Your Inbox