Baked Goods Behaving Badly

Remember the case a few years back, where a jail’s tailor smuggled in hacksaws and other tools in meat for two prisoners to escape? It was full on Shawshank Redemption style too (if not, here’s an article). While using the meat was bad enough, the tailor had also used cookies and other baked goods to “bribe” prison guards into getting favors for the pair. Such baking blasphemy! Delectable treats are only supposed to bring happy sighs of contentment, not prison sentences!

Of course, files in cakes, knives in pies, and keys in cookies have formed the basis of many fictitious plots for escape. But besides the one mentioned above, how often does it really happen? Apparently, more than one might think. Or at least possibly so. A fun article in Smithsonian magazine lays out a few of these half-baked “jailbreaks” as far back as 1804 including the revolver hidden in two cakes (cut in half apparently), the prison wedding cake and mince pie with the knockout drug for the guards as well as the metal file hidden in gingerbread. However, as the author cautions, there were never follow-up articles to verify these incidents, so the truth of these remains unproven.

While using sweets, even allegedly, as bribes and transport vehicles is bad enough, there are even worse abuses of innocent baked goods. Specifically, using them as the murder weapon! Most of these cases, and there are a lot of them, involve poison, naturally. The following are just a sample of cases still unsolved:

Poisoned Pie Plotters

During the summer of 1922, at least six people died (and over 50 sickened) from eating pie from the popular Shelburne Restaurant on Broadway in New York City. The pie dough was laced with enough arsenic to kill 100 people. The police determined it was a deliberate act and not an accident, but were at a loss for motive or suspect. As the restaurant’s flour and other supplies were deemed clean, it appeared the arsenic was added sometime during the pastry making process. The manager, chef and assistant were questioned to no avail. However, the assistant (unnamed and no description) disappeared without a trace (see here for the newspaper account). One theory was that the case was linked to the arsenic poisoning deaths of two people the previous October (1921) at the Postal Restaurant in New York City. The employees disappeared in that incident as well. (see article here). Yet another theory was that the arsenic poisoning was connected to a plot in 1916 to poison guests at a dinner for the new Bishop Mundelein in Chicago. At that event, over 100 guests fell ill from arsenic in the soup (not really a baked good, but connected). Turns out, the missing cook for the Mundelein dinner was an Italian anarchist named Nestor Dondoglio. He was also never caught (see article here). Both the Postal and the Shelburne Restaurants were put out of business by the incidents.

Death by Wedding Cake

Yet another unsolved poisoning case involved the Steretts, a husband and wife who lived in Devon, Pennsylvania. Around October 1922, the couple received a neatly wrapped parcel post package containing two large slices of wedding cake. Although it is not known why the couple decided to eat an anonymously received cake, they did and became ill soon after. Mr. Sterrett died, but Mrs. Sterett eventually recovered. Although a nationwide investigation was launched, the case was never solved (here is page 1 and page 2 of the article.

Other Misuses of Blameless Baked Goods

Besides possibly hiding escape tools and murder weapons, some baked goods have also been said to house razor blades, bits of glass/metal or other objects designed to maim or kill. Most of these “incidents” over the years have probably been more urban legend than truth (or someone looking for a quick payday or some attention), but who knows? A few have definitely warranted attention.

In 1984, reports about razor blades and pins in Girl Scout cookies were making the rounds. The FBI and FDA took it seriously enough to investigate dozens of complaints nationwide and even bake a few cookies themselves in the process. Some local troops were so concerned that they had their cookies x-rayed before selling them. Luckily, most complaints turned out to be false (articles here and here). It’s sad though that everything is exploitable, even the Thin Mint!

I know these are probably just the tip of the icing and hundreds (if not thousands) more examples of baked goods behaving badly exist including some real doozies. I’ll keep looking and please feel free to share any you might know as well. And, in the meantime, well, you might want to refrain from biting into that luscious piece of devil’s food cake that you just received anonymously by overnight express. Unless, of course, you don’t mind becoming the next “Death by Chocolate” cliche.

Happy Baking!



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