Hoax Museum Blog: Law/Police/Crime

Cop Convention at Donutland —

I'm not sure how old this image is, but it must be 15 or 20 years old at least. It's been circulating online for as long as I can remember.

It's one of those images that's become a staple on humor sites, but people don't often pause to ask about the details of it: is the picture real? Where was it taken? And if it is real, what were all those cops doing there? Were they really all on a donut break?

Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find out very much about the picture. Although I was able to locate where it was taken, because a few people recognized it. Both Jenni at ivman's blague and April at strangetalk.net independently identified it as a Donutland that used to be in Cedar Falls, Iowa. But the Donutland closed sometime during the 90s and was replaced by an Italian restaurant that also seems to have closed.

Some googling revealed that there was once a Donutland at 5312 University Ave in Cedar Falls. And here's that address now on Google Maps. The shot is from a different angle, and the Donutland sign is gone, but I think it definitely is the same building.

Jenni thought the police cars in the picture looked like they were from the nearby town of Waterloo, not Cedar Falls. She joked, "obviously Waterloo was suffering from a lack of security that day!"

April (writing in 2001) also recalled some trivia about the Donutland:

that brown building behind is at the RV place next door.. cool yo! another sidenote about that donutland is at night, the DO in the neon sign's lights were out.. so it said 'Nutland'. There's even a picture of it in my senior yearbook and a caption from a kid that went there and wrote a check out to nutland...he was kicked out for good.

Because I can't see any obvious signs of photo manipulation in the picture, I'm going to assume the picture is real. Though why all the cops were there, I have no idea. Maybe it was staged as a joke. Or maybe all the cops really were on a donut break!

Posted: Thu May 03, 2012.   Comments (2)

Scammers vs. lawyers vs. bankers — It's kinda hard to know who, if anyone, to feel sympathy for here. (Thanks, Bob!)
Lawyer falls for Nigerian e-mail scam, sues Wells Fargo

An Edina law firm that lost nearly $400,000 in a Nigerian wire-fraud scam is claiming that Wells Fargo, which handled the fund transfers, should cover its losses. The Star Tribune reports on the lawsuit by Milavetz, Gallop & Milavetz, which three years ago received an e-mail from someone purporting to be a Korean woman who needed the firm's help to collect a settlement... In his suit, Robert Milavetz argues that Wells Fargo & Co. should have recognized the red flags involved.

Posted: Wed Apr 11, 2012.   Comments (0)

UK Legal Urban Legends — Another list of urban legends from the BBC. This time it's legal urban legends. All the following laws, though frequently repeated, are NOT TRUE:
  • It's illegal to die in Parliament.
  • It's illegal to put a stamp on upside down.
  • It's illegal to eat a mince pie on Christmas Day.
  • It's legal to kill Welsh people in the town of Chester.
  • It's legal for a man to urinate in public, as long as it's on the rear wheel of his car and his right hand is on the vehicle. And pregnant women can legally relieve themselves in any public place, including into a policeman's helmet.
  • London taxis have to carry a bale of hay in their boot.
  • If someone knocks on your door in Scotland and needs to use the toilet, you have to let them enter.

Posted: Mon Apr 09, 2012.   Comments (4)

Don’t give me a ticket, Officer. I’m about to give birth! — Judith Anne Holland obviously thought she had a pretty foolproof alibi when she got pulled over for speeding. She told the officer she was in labour and on her way to the hospital. But when she got pulled over a second time, within the same hour, she was accompanied to the hospital, where they discovered she wasn't pregnant.

Home detention for pregnancy hoax

A woman who pretended to be in labour twice on the same day after she was caught speeding and driving while disqualified was yesterday sentenced to home detention when she appeared in Invercargill District Court...

Posted: Wed Apr 04, 2012.   Comments (0)

The Great Tide Crime Wave — M.L. Nestel, writing for thedaily.com, reports that Tide detergent has become the hot new item targeted by thieves. He calls it a "Grime Wave." Nestel writes:

Theft of Tide detergent has become so rampant that authorities from New York to Oregon are keeping tabs on the soap spree, and some cities are setting up special task forces to stop it. And retailers like CVS are taking special security precautions to lock down the liquid.
According to Nestel, Tide has become a form of currency on the street, where it's known as "liquid gold." People trade it for drugs. A recent drug sting turned up more Tide than cocaine.

Apparently, thieves brazenly go into supermarkets, load up shopping carts full of Tide, and then dash out the front door, into waiting getaway cars.

Nestel's story has been picked up by lots of other news outlets. So far I can only find one, NPR, which is doubtful about it. Their reporter, Jacob Goldstein, asks, "is this for real, or is this a ginned-up trend story?"

If it is a ginned-up trend story, where did Nestel get the idea for it? One source is an article that ran in the Twin Cities Pioneer Press on Feb. 16, about Patrick Paul Costanzo, who's been accused of stealing $25,000 worth of Tide from Walmart. It wasn't the only thing he was stealing, but it was the most unusual. Police Lt. Matt Swenke was quoted as saying, "Obviously, somewhere in our Twin Cities area there was a market for that (detergent). No one can use that much detergent."

Patrick Costanze, accused Tide thief

And back in Dec. 2011, the gazette.net (Maryland community news) reported the theft of $15,000 worth of Tide from a local Safeway. But again, this article noted that Tide was just one of a number of common consumer products that were being stolen in large amounts. Other products popular among thieves included razor blades, infant formula, and diapers.

So there's two legitimate sources for Nestel's story. In other words, he's not making this up out of whole cloth. But perhaps it would be more accurate to say there's a crime wave targeting common household products, rather than a crime wave targeting Tide specifically.

Update: Looks like the Great Tide Crime Wave was a ginned-up trend story, as many suspected. According to an article on foxnews.com, theft of Tide has long been a problem in the retail industry, and there's nothing new about this. Nor has the problem been getting worse recently.

Lt. Shannon Smith of the Somerset Police Department explains that thieves steal Tide, because it's a widely recognized brand-name household product, and then they sell it to small retail stores for half-price. This has been going on for ages.
Posted: Tue Mar 13, 2012.   Comments (6)

Clay iPads — At least 10 people in Vancouver who bought iPad 2s have reported opening up the packaging only to discover it contained a slab of modeling clay, not an iPad. It's an old strategy for thieves to conceal their crime by replacing the item in the box with something of lesser value. Reminds me of the case from 2006 of the Hawaiian boy who opened an iPod box on Christmas Day, only to discover it contained a package of meat. Link: Yahoo!
Posted: Fri Jan 20, 2012.   Comments (1)

Manhattan School Employees Behaving Badly — Two stories have been in the news recently about Manhattan school employees who were somewhat derelict in their commitment to the truth.

The first was Joan Barnett, a parent coordinator, who, in order to get two-and-a-half weeks of vacation, claimed her daughter "Xinia Daley Herman" had died. Her mistake: she submitted a death certificate with weird, misaligned fonts. When busted, she initially claimed her daughter really had "died of a heart condition." But eventually she broke down and pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor. It's not clear from the article if she really had a daughter with that name. Link: National Post

The second is teacher Mona Lisa Tello, who submitted a fake jury duty letter to get out of class for two weeks. Her mistake: the letter was full of misspellings ('trail' instead of 'trial,' 'manger' instead of 'manager'). Link: NY Daily News

Both Barnett and Tello lost their jobs. So now they have all the vacation time they could possibly want.
Posted: Thu Jan 12, 2012.   Comments (0)

Parents of Balloon Boy receive their sentence — Richard Heene is going to have to serve 90 days -- 30 in jail and 60 in a work-release program. Mayumi Heene has 20 days in jail. Prosecutors have asked that they also pay $47,000 in restitution. They're also barred from making any money from the incident. So no money from book deals. Link: LA Times
Posted: Wed Dec 23, 2009.   Comments (6)

The Snail in the Ginger Beer — Two weeks ago I linked to a BBC article by Clive Coleman about the case of the carbolic smoke ball. He must be doing a series on interesting legal cases, because he's back with a great article about the legal case of the snail found in ginger beer. Quick summary — In 1928 May Donoghue claimed to find a snail in her bottle of ginger beer. Her complaint eventually helped bring about modern consumer protection laws in the UK. The catch: "to this day, no-one knows for sure if there ever really was a snail in May Donoghue's bottle of ginger beer."

I should add this case to my list of Gross Things Found in Food.
Posted: Fri Nov 20, 2009.   Comments (2)

Should privacy laws protect murderers? — From wired.com:

Wikipedia is under a censorship attack by a convicted murderer who is invoking Germany’s privacy laws in a bid to remove references to his killing of a Bavarian actor in 1990.
Lawyers for Wolfgang Werle, of Erding, Germany, sent a cease-and-desist letter demanding removal of Werle’s name from the Wikipedia entry on actor Walter Sedlmayr. The lawyers cite German court rulings that “have held that our client’s name and likeness cannot be used anymore in publication regarding Mr. Sedlmayr’s death.”

Occasionally I receive requests from people I've posted about, in regard to some hoax or fraud they committed in the past. They want me to remove or anonymize their name, because any google search for them immediately brings up MOH as the top link. They complain that it's become impossible for them to escape the stupid thing they did in their past. Depending on what they did (for instance, if it was a prank or petty crime), and how long ago they did it, I will consider anonymizing their last name by reducing it to a single letter. After all, I think people do deserve a second chance, and I don't want to be the one responsible for single-handedly casting a shadow over the rest of their life. But in the case of murder I think it's going too far to expect to have the slate wiped entirely clean.
Posted: Fri Nov 13, 2009.   Comments (11)

Rescue Dummy, Get Robbed — What you get for trying to be a hero nowadays:

A man was attacked and robbed after he jumped into a lake believing a boy was drowning, only to find it was a dummy.
The dog walker was approached by a "distressed" couple in Foxes Forest, Portsmouth, who said their son had been attacked by a swan in nearby water.
When the 48-year-old jumped into the lake and discovered the dummy he saw the man going through his coat pockets.

Link: BBC
Posted: Fri Nov 06, 2009.   Comments (0)

Man Sues Over Lack of Axe Effect — A news story is circulating claiming that an Indian man, 26-year-old Vaibhav Bedi, has sued Axe deodorant (aka Lynx in Europe) because he failed to land a single girlfriend after using their product for seven years. It's in The Australian and the Daily Record, among other news sources.

This is an example of satire being mistaken as news. According to Asylum.com:

Axe spokesperson Heather Mitchell sent Asylum this statement:
"We've been following the news reports from India where a man was allegedly planning to take legal action for the Axe Effect not working for him personally. We can confirm this is a hoax. In fact the story originated from TheFakingNews.com. While the story is not true, we have to admit that it's pretty funny and the joke itself is very much in line with our brand tone -- playful, with a wink and a nudge. While Axe grooming products can help guys look, smell and feel great, there is only so much we can do; the rest is up to guys themselves."

Posted: Mon Nov 02, 2009.   Comments (2)

Perverted Big Brother — Nine Turkish women thought they had signed up to participate in a reality show. Instead, they had fallen into the clutches of a pornographer, who kept them imprisoned for two months while selling naked photos of them on the internet. "The women were not abused or harassed sexually. They were told however, to fight each other, to wear bikinis and dance by villa's pool." Turkish police finally realized what was going on and freed them. [msnbc.com]
Posted: Thu Sep 10, 2009.   Comments (1)

Thieves steal fake phones — Not the brightest thieves in the world:

Employees at a Telefonica Movistar cell-phone store in Morelia, Mexico say they arrived Tuesday morning to find that the store had been broken into.
An examination of the shop revealed the only items missing were hollow replica phones for display that are completely useless for making calls.
Employees say the clueless thieves overlooked real cell phones and cash in another part of the shop.
[Associated Press]
Posted: Wed Jul 08, 2009.   Comments (2)

Hello Kitty Taser — The Hello Kitty Taser raised the ire of Justin Yu at CNET who wrote:

The existence of this Hello Kitty taser gun makes me want to open it up and point it at my head. You have to question the intentions of these designers...is the gun supposed to make little girls less fearful about attacking their in-store competition? Maybe it's meant to fool criminals into thinking their victims are unarmed, only to be met with 50,000 volts of adorable electricity.

Only subsequently did he realize that it was simply "a Photoshopped picture of Taser's "Metallic Pink" version of the C2 gun."

Hello Kitty guns seem to be a popular meme.
Posted: Tue Jul 07, 2009.   Comments (9)

Fake Chinese ‘Made in India’ Garments sold in Nigeria — The commerce department of India is considering filing a formal diplomatic complaint against China because of Chinese garments being sold in Nigeria with fake "Made in India" tags. I'm sure it's a serious diplomatic matter, but if you could just somehow add a Russian gangster and a Spanish prisoner into the mix, you'd have a perfect storm of scam artists. [Economic Times]
Posted: Wed Jun 24, 2009.   Comments (4)

The Jiffy Prank — Apparently there's a tradition of past employees of Jiffy Lube breaking into the store and stealing the bleeder valve on the compressor, thus rendering the machine useless. It's called the "Jiffy prank." At least, that's the excuse Paul Marvella is giving to explain why he took the valve. He later returned it, but nevertheless the store is charging him with felony commercial burglary. [Hernando Today]
Posted: Wed Jun 24, 2009.   Comments (3)

Honesty Cafes — As part of an ongoing effort to battle a culture of corruption, the Indonesian government is opening Honesty Cafes, designed to teach people the value of honesty. Snacks and drinks are available, and you pay on the honor system, putting your money into a clear plastic box. From the NY Times:

The attorney general’s office says the honesty cafes will nip in the bud corrupt tendencies among the young and straighten out those known for indulging in corrupt practices, starting with civil servants. By shifting the responsibility of paying correctly to the patrons themselves, the cafes are meant to force people to think constantly about whether they are being honest and, presumably, make them feel guilty if they are not.

It's a cute idea, but I think the reasoning behind it is flawed, because even if people behave honestly in the cafes, that doesn't mean the behavior is going to transfer to other contexts.
Posted: Thu Jun 18, 2009.   Comments (5)

Barbecued Cats? — After receiving a complaint that some residents of a Houston apartment complex were barbecuing stray cats, the Bureau of Animal Regulation and Control investigated but determined the complaint was a hoax. But their conclusion isn't that reassuring, because after analyzing bone fragments from nearby dumpsters, the bureau did find that "There are animals that have been consumed that are similar to the size and structure of a cat."

So, if not cats, what were these animals that were consumed? Small dogs? Giant rats? Chupacabras?

Also, this is news to me. According to Texas Penal Code 49.02, it's legal to cook and eat cats "as long as it's a wild or stray cat and was not killed in a cruel manner." But you're not allowed to cook your pet cat.
Posted: Thu Jun 18, 2009.   Comments (11)

Burglar chews through steel bars — A news story (credited to the Chongqing Business Daily) is circulating about a recently apprehended burglar whose method of operation was to gain access to homes by chewing through steel window bars. From Ananova:

Detectives in Nanjimen region, Chongqing, were puzzled by continuous reports of break-ins through caged windows.
"Through our investigations, we found the grids had been cut but with deep tooth prints," a local police spokesman told the Chongqing Business Daily.
Eventually, their inquiries led them to interview a man who revealed he was sharing a hotel room with a man who could crack walnuts with his teeth.
Police brought in the man, Xiong, 23, for questioning and he confessed that he was behind the burglaries.
He revealed that he had turned to crime after failing to find a job and could not even remember how many houses he had broken into over the last two years.
Xiong told police he had grown up in a mountain town and had developed strong, sharp teeth by using them to open the walnuts which grew there in abundance.
He had found that he could chew open any steel bars up to 1cm in thickness, by prising open welding spots with his teeth.
"I only failed once in the past two years. Once I bit on a 2cm thick steel grid, and the first bite nearly dislocated my jaw," he said.
"I never take other tools with me when breaking in. That's why I never got stopped by patrolling officers at night."

Biting through steel bars was a stunt performed by strongmen back in the 1920s. Shorpy.com has a picture of Siegmund Breitbart, who claimed he could bite through steel chains. And steelworker Gust Lessis (pictured) claimed to be able to break a railroad spike with his teeth.

Still, Xiong's claim sounds pretty farfetched. I'm going to list it as undetermined.

Thanks, Ferret!
Posted: Wed Jun 17, 2009.   Comments (1)

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