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True Crime: Investigating An Office Fridge Food Theft

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Mar 12, 2015

This week's episode of The Sporkful podcast is up! Listen through the player and subscribe in iTunes.

It's Elkhart, Indiana, 2001. Heather Yun Coleman, a young worker in a call center, goes to the office fridge to retrieve her leftovers -- a personal pizza from Schlotzsky's. One slice is missing.

Not long after, the mystery deepens. Two inches of Heather's turkey club sandwich disappear from the same break room fridge.

UPDATE: Heather's tale of office fridge woe is a true story. Seriously. We don't know how else to say it!

"Food is so personal," she says. "The touching of my food – I really felt violated."


Nut Graf

This week on The Sporkful, I investigate the true story of a series of office fridge food thefts that happened 13 years ago -- and pay homage to the hit podcast Serial in the process. It's the first episode in The Sporkful's four-part, special investigation of office eating.

And be sure to check out Parts 2-4 in our series at the links below:

Office Fridges: What Would the Founding Fathers Do?

Even Spies Hate Stale Bread: Secrets Of The CIA Cafeteria Revealed

Is Free Office Coffee More Valuable Than Healthcare?



Heather (shown above, left, in an old photo) tried to fight back. She left threatening notes on her food. She hid her leftovers behind the salad dressing. The food thief still found it. Each time, only a piece of her food was missing -- not the whole thing.

"Why not eat the whole sandwich? The whole pizza? Because if you were really hungry, you would eat the whole sandwich, not a part of it,” Heather says. "I was just like – what the heck is going on?"


Could the thief be Cheryl, the woman in HR who dismissed Heather's complaint about the thefts? Or was it "Mr. MacGuffin" [not his real name], Heather's supervisor who was jealous of her fast climb up the company ladder. Or a third, more disturbing possibility: had Heather gone insane and begun stealing her own food?

"The starvation, the violation, the anger," Heather admits. "It all culminated with me going slightly insane."


Call Logs

"Being in a calls center, every minute of your time is logged. So you know when people are on the phone, away from their desk, or scheduled breaks," Heather explains. "I was trying to do my own investigations on who would have the opportunity to steal my sandwich."

Our investigation picks up where Heather left off:

-Mr. MacGuffin made calls at 3:21 to Jenn, 3:32 to Nisha, 3:48 to a dude named Phil, and 3:59 to Patrick.

-There are three calls on the call log around this time that all ping towers near Cathy’s apartment. 6:07, 6:09 and 6:24.

-The first two calls are for a little less than a minute, the third call is the longest -- four minutes, fifteen seconds.

Are you following all this?



Later in the show Baron Ambrosia (shown above), host of the Cooking Channel show The Culinary Adventures of Baron Ambrosia, offers some insight into the mind of a food thief.

Baron, an admitted pie thief, tells us why these aren't crimes committed by a hungry person.

"This person was very controlled. This person was very methodical," he says. "If you look at all the facts...this was not about food whatsoever. This was about sex."


The Burrito and The Spork

This food crime spree ends with an enormous chicken burrito and a spork.

"It was brutal. The burrito itself was mangled," Heather recalls. "But you know something – that burrito was the reason that I found out who it was.”

That's right, eaters, we are going to find out who was stealing Heather's food. But you'll have to listen to the episode for the big reveal.


More Office Eating

In the coming weeks as our office eating series continues, we'll hear more stories of food theft -- with harrowing accounts from both victims and perpetrators. And we'll debate the ethics and etiquette of communal refrigerators and office potlucks with Sporkful listeners.

We'll also revisit a legendary incident involving a Kombucha Fairy at our own Sporkful offices at New York Public Radio. Will the true identity of this patron saint of fermented beverages finally be revealed?


Plus, we'll talk to two brave eaters who filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to expose the contents of the suggestion box at the cafeteria at CIA headquarters. Here's my theory: the "jazz salad" mentioned in one employee's complaint may actually be a coded message. But to whom??

The truth is out there, eaters -- listen in.

This week's episode of The Sporkful podcast is up! Listen through the player and subscribe in iTunes.

The Serial theme song was composed by Nick Thorburn.

Interstitial music in this episode by BWN Music:

- "Broken Castle" by Bijou Basil

- "Immobilessence" by Kenneth J. Brahmstedt

- "Private Detective" by Cullen Fitzpatrick

Photos courtesy of Baron Ambrosia and Flickr CC: John FlinchbaughRachel Wente-ChaneyKing County, WAcalamity_haneget directly downDonkeyHotey, GoonSquadSarah

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