6 Crimes That Were Solved With the Help of Pizza

Photo illustration by Mental Floss. Images: istock.com/Michael Burrell (crime scene tape), istock.com/littleny (pizza)
Photo illustration by Mental Floss. Images: istock.com/Michael Burrell (crime scene tape), istock.com/littleny (pizza)

Sometimes criminals are done in by greed. Sometimes it's forensic evidence. And sometimes it's a large extra cheese. These perpetrators were delivered to justice as a result of the irresistible allure of pizza.

1. The Grim Sleeper Investigation

In 2010, when Los Angeles detectives became interested in Lonnie Franklin Jr. as a possible suspect in the “Grim Sleeper” investigation—the then-unidentified Sleeper had killed at least 10 women from 1985 to 2007—they began to track Franklin’s whereabouts. The lead had come from a search of familial DNA, which identified crime scene samples as being genetically similar to that of Franklin’s son. But in order to conclusively prove Franklin was their man, they needed a sample of his DNA.

They got their DNA when Franklin stopped for a slice at a pizza place in Orange County. After the suspect ate some pizza, an undercover detective grabbed Franklin's crust, plates, and napkins to "throw away"—but they were actually collected for testing. The judge ruled the pizza-related evidence admissible; according to the Los Angeles Times, Franklin was sentenced to death in 2016.

2. The Case of the Fugitive Vegan

Restaurateur Sarma Melngailis was once the toast of New York City, hosting celebrities in her Pure Food and Wine vegan eatery. But Melngailis and her husband, Anthony Strangis, were allegedly less than responsible financially, spiraling into a wave of reckless spending that saw them take around $2 million of her investors’ money and use it for travel and casino gambling. In 2014, she purportedly took $1.6 million from her commercial account and transferred it to her personal account, crippling her employee payroll. Melngailis and Strangis spent over a year running from authorities before being cornered in a Sevierville, Tennessee hotel in May 2016. According to The Daily Beast, Strangis made the fateful mistake of ordering a Domino’s Pizza delivery and used his real name for the order—which was non-vegan and included a side of chicken wings.

Melngailis (who later denied sharing in any of the pizza order—she claimed to have eaten vegan Chipotle bowls instead) entered into a plea deal and was sentenced to four months for grand larceny, tax fraud, and a scheme to defraud. Strangis took a plea deal and spent a year behind bars. The two entered an amicable divorce in 2018.

3. A Delivery Driver Robbery

Late one Friday night in July 2016, a Papa John’s delivery driver stepped out of his car in Odenton, Maryland. At his destination, a man emerged, pointed a gun, and demanded the driver hand over both his cash and the pizza. The driver consented. When police responded to the call and arrived on the scene, they found an empty pizza box nearby. The box was sent to the forensics lab of the Anne Arundel County Police Department, where technicians retrieved evidence and examined eyewitness interviews. By the following Wednesday, police arrested Bershaun Bertram Elijah Wheeler, 19, and charged him with armed robbery, first-degree assault, second-degree assault, use of a firearm in a violent crime, and two counts of theft under $100. According to the police, while in custody, Wheeler confessed to his involvement in the robbery—and presumably to eating the pizza.

4. The Delinquent Parent On the Pizza Box

Cynthia Brown, then-head of the Butler County Child Support Enforcement Agency in Butler County, Ohio, ordered a pizza in 2006 and noticed that a few coupons were stuck to the box. That gave her an idea. If the pizzerias could attach coupons, why not photos of parents who were delinquent with their child support payments? Brown got three area pizza shops to collaborate with the agency on the campaign, with information about the 10 most wanted parents going out to thousands of customers in Butler County. It didn’t take long for Brown to catch her first financial fugitive. “We caught him within one day,” she told Reuters in 2007. “Someone saw the picture on the pizza box, called our tip line, we forwarded the information to the sheriff’s department and they picked him up.”

Solicited for comment, Karen Willis of Karen’s Pizzeria told the Associated Press that customers didn’t find anything wrong with the pizza shaming, with some remarking they’re “glad they’re not on it.” But fathers’ rights advocacy groups and attorneys criticized the practice, saying it unfairly stigmatized fathers who might not be able to afford child support payments due to economic problems. Some protestors even picketed outside Karen’s to voice their disapproval.

5. A Hedge Fund Kidnapping

In January 2003, ESL Investments president Edward Lampert spent around 30 hours being held hostage by a trio of kidnappers who attempted to wrangle a ransom out of their wealthy captive. Renaldo Rose, the mastermind of the operation, and three accomplices kept Lampert bound in a Hamden, Connecticut hotel before Lampert was able to convince them to let him go. (The multimillionaire apparently promised to give them $5 million if they released him.) In the interim, one of Rose’s underlings had taken Lampert’s credit cards and handed them out among his own circle of friends. Seemingly oblivious to the suspicious nature of using a missing man’s credit card, the friend ordered a pizza using the plastic. (Some reports attributed this gaffe to one of the kidnappers themselves.) FBI agents stormed the address soon after and eventually tracked down Rose, who was sentenced to 15 years in prison. After an early release, the Jamaican-born Rose returned to Jamaica.

6. A Franchise Scheme

The allure of corporate recognition was too much for Donatos Pizza store manager Kim Hericks to resist. According to a 2001 Associated Press report, Hericks ordered 400 pizzas through fake accounts she had set up in the names of two local hospitals and a nearby school district. Her plan was to move enough cheesy inventory to get her name mentioned in a Donatos franchisee newsletter. Hericks proceeded to damage computer and fax machine equipment in an effort to cover her tracks and was also alleged to have taken over $38,000 from the business in total.

As is often the case for purloined pizza perpetrators, she failed to consider the finer details of her caper. Not long after her scheme, the store’s owner went over to her house to help her move. There, he discovered hundreds of rotting pizzas in her garage. Hericks was indicted on charges of theft, forgery, vandalism, and passing bad checks. Ultimately, Hericks was placed in a pre-trial diversion program and the case was dismissed.

Amazon’s Big Fall Sale Features Deals on Electronics, Kitchen Appliances, and Home Décor

Dash/Keurig
Dash/Keurig

If you're looking for deals on items like Keurigs, BISSELL vacuums, and essential oil diffusers, it's usually pretty slim pickings until the holiday sales roll around. Thankfully, Amazon is starting these deals a little earlier with their Big Fall Sale, where customers can get up to 20 percent off everything from home decor to WFH essentials and kitchen gadgets. Now you won’t have to wait until Black Friday for the deal you need. Make sure to see all the deals that the sale has to offer here and check out our favorites below.

Electronics

Dash/Amazon

- BISSELL Lightweight Upright Vacuum Cleaner $170 (save $60)

- Dash Deluxe Air Fryer $80 (save $20)

- Dash Rapid 6-Egg Cooker $17 (save $3)

- Keurig K-Café Single Coffee Maker $169 (save $30)

- COMFEE Toaster Oven $29 (save $9)

- AmazonBasics 1500W Oscillating Ceramic Heater $31 (save $4)

Home office Essentials

HP/Amazon

- HP Neverstop Laser Printer $250 (save $30)

- HP ScanJet Pro 2500 f1 Flatbed OCR Scanner $274 (save $25)

- HP Printer Paper (500 Sheets) $5 (save $2)

- Mead Composition Books Pack of 5 Ruled Notebooks $11 (save $2)

- Swingline Desktop Hole Punch $7 (save $17)

- Officemate OIC Achieva Side Load Letter Tray $15 (save $7)

- PILOT G2 Premium Rolling Ball Gel Pens 12-Pack $10 (save $3)

Toys and games

Selieve/Amazon

- Selieve Toys Old Children's Walkie Talkies $17 (save $7)

- Yard Games Giant Tumbling Timbers $59 (save $21)

- Duckura Jump Rocket Launchers $11 (save $17)

- EXERCISE N PLAY Automatic Launcher Baseball Bat $14 (save $29)

- Holy Stone HS165 GPS Drones with 2K HD Camera $95 (save $40)

Home Improvement

DEWALT/Amazon

- DEWALT 20V MAX LED Hand Held Work Light $54 (save $65)

- Duck EZ Packing Tape with Dispenser, 6 Rolls $11 (save $6)

- Bissell MultiClean Wet/Dry Garage Auto Vacuum $111 (save $39)

- Full Circle Sinksational Sink Strainer with Stopper $5 (save $2)

Home Décor

NECA/Amazon

- A Christmas Story 20-Inch Leg Lamp Prop Replica by NECA $41 save $5

- SYLVANIA 100 LED Warm White Mini Lights $8 (save 2)

- Yankee Candle Large Jar Candle Vanilla Cupcake $17 (save $12)

- Malden 8-Opening Matted Collage Picture Frame $20 (save $8)

- Lush Decor Blue and Gray Flower Curtains Pair $57 (save $55)

- LEVOIT Essential Oil Diffuser $25 (save $5)

Sign Up Today: Get exclusive deals, product news, reviews, and more with the Mental Floss Smart Shopping newsletter!

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

13 Facts About Se7en for Its 25th Anniversary

Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt in Se7en (1995).
Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt in Se7en (1995).
Warner Home Video

While the 1980s were all about the cinematic mass murderer as a mute, emotionless entity, the 1990s were a good time to peddle screenplays about high-IQ serial killers: The Silence of the Lambs started the decade by becoming one of the few thrillers to ever receive a Best Picture Oscar. But with audience fatigue setting in, few expected that 1995’s Se7en—from a first-time screenwriter and an as-yet-unproven director—would turn out to be a modern genre classic.

1. Se7en came from the mind of a record store employee.

Screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker was a graduate of Penn State’s film program. Several years later, however, he was no closer to achieving his goal of working in the industry. Making ends meet at a New York City Tower Records store, Walker was so depressed that he wrote a bleak and oppressive script about the hunt for a killer who uses the seven deadly sins as inspiration for his crimes.

Satisfied with the outcome, he sent the script to professional writer David Koepp, then followed up with a phone call. Koepp agreed to send it to his agent, who found a buyer in New Line Cinema. (After reading it, Koepp also advised Walker that he "needed professional help.")

2. David Fincher signed on to direct Se7en because of a mix-up.

Getty Images

With only the disappointing experience of Alien 3 under his feature directing belt, David Fincher knew he wasn’t going to get too many more chances to impress Hollywood. He chose Se7en because of its unconventional approach to the genre—particularly the finale, which featured Brad Pitt’s detective character finding that the killer, “John Doe,” had beheaded his wife and stuffed her cranium into a box. Producers wanted the ending changed so that the wife lived, but when Fincher expressed interest in the film, he was accidentally sent Walker’s earlier, more intense climax. Fincher told the studio that was the draft he intended to shoot; they agreed, although producer Arnold Kopelson continued to argue against it throughout filming.

3. Brad Pitt worked himself to the bone on Se7en.

Brad Pitt in Se7en (1995).Warner Home Video

During a scene in which Pitt’s character, Detective David Mills, is chasing the killer through a perpetually rainy backdrop, Pitt slipped and drove his arm through a windshield. The resulting injury (a severed tendon) was so deep it went down to the bone. Pitt had to wear a cast for the rest of filming, which was written into the script; for scenes that had to be shot that took place earlier than the chase, the actor had to conceal his arm as best he could.

4. Se7en’s "Sloth" was a very, very underweight young man.

Warner Home Video

To cast the role of a victim who was chained to a bed and starved, producers had only two criteria: the ability to lay down for long periods of time and a very slight frame. At 98 pounds, actor Michael Reid MacKay fit the profile. Mostly. “They asked if I could lose a little more weight,” he said. “I didn’t.”

5. Se7en’s “Greed” didn't know what he was in for.

Actor Gene Borkan answered a casting call looking for a smarmy lawyer type. It wasn’t until he arrived on set that he realized he was going to spend his time naked, covered in blood, and acting like a corpse. "Right there and then I renegotiated," he said, asking for (and getting) five times the Screen Actors Guild day-scale fee of $522, as well as a pair of underwear.

6. Most of Se7en’s violence happens off-screen.

Warner Home Video

Despite extended examinations of tortured, bloated, or insect-infested corpses, virtually all of the actual bloodletting in Se7en takes place before Detectives Somerset (Morgan Freeman) and Mills arrive on the scene. The film’s lone on-camera murder happens only when Mills kills Doe for murdering his wife.

7. Even Se7en’s title sequence was revolutionary.

Fincher originally intended to open the film with scenes of Detective Somerset visiting a home in the country and taking the train back. But when Fincher had to screen a rough cut for studio executives, he needed some filler. That’s when he called Kyle Cooper, a Yale graduate who created a kinetic opening montage of John Doe’s journals set to a Nine Inch Nails song. The New York Times hailed Cooper’s work as a step forward in filmmaking; the designer would go on to high-profile projects including the Spider-Man series and Dawn of the Dead. His work was so compelling, director Zack Snyder once said that some directors refuse to use him because he “makes title sequences better than the movie.”

8. Se7en opened against Showgirls.

Gina Gershon in Showgirls (1995).Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

Se7en opened in theaters September 22, 1995, the same day as director Paul Verhoeven’s critically reviled Showgirls. While the latter was not the complete commercial disaster it’s often remembered as—Se7en made $13 million in its first weekend, compared to $8 million for the NC-17 film—it came nowhere near Fincher’s worldwide take of more than $327 million dollars.

9. Morgan Freeman was supposed to shoot the killer in Se7en.

Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman in Se7en (1995).Warner Home Video

Walker and Fincher toyed with the idea of having Freeman’s Detective Somerset shoot John Doe after finding his partner’s wife’s head in a box, but Pitt vetoed the idea: he figured anyone who found their loved one like that would put a bullet into the perpetrator without a second thought.

10. Brad Pitt made sure Gwyneth Paltrow's head stayed in the box in Se7en.

After a bad experience where studio heads intervened on Legends of the Fall, Pitt was determined to make sure Se7en didn’t suffer the same fate. When he signed on to the film, he insisted that the original “head in a box” ending stayed intact. New Line agreed, but after testing the film, Pitt found himself having to put his foot down. “They go, ‘You know, he would be much more heroic if he didn’t shoot John Doe—and it’s too unsettling with the head in the box,’” Pitt recalled in 2011. "'We think maybe if it was the dog’s head in the box ...'"

11. Audiences swore they saw Gwyneth Paltrow’s head in Se7en.

As with Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and its legendary shower scene, audiences believed they were shown more than they were. Viewers came out of the film believing the severed head of actress Gwyneth Paltrow, who played Pitt’s wife, appeared onscreen. It did not. “The thing I appreciated about it and what I thought Andrew Kevin Walker’s script did so well was that it got your mind in overdrive,” Fincher told Playboy in 2014. “It worked on your imagination … we were in great shape and didn’t have to show the head in a box.” Despite his protests, Fincher has gotten into at least one argument with someone who swears they saw it.

12. Se7en inspired a comic book.

In 2006, Zenescope Entertainment acquired a license to produce a seven-part limited series based on John Doe’s fascination with the seven deadly sins. “Pages” of the journal glimpsed in the film were included. The title lasted seven issues.

13. Naturally, the studio wanted a sequel to Se7en.

Despite the closed nature of the film’s ending—Pitt’s character is probably headed for either prison or a mental institution—New Line wanted to build on what they thought could become a franchise. The studio took a spec script titled Solace about a psychic investigating a serial killer, and had it retrofitted for Freeman’s Detective Somerset. The project never moved forward with Freeman; Solace was eventually released—with former Hannibal Lecter Anthony Hopkins—in 2015.

This story has been updated for 2020.