Episode 018: Thanksgiving Robberies

November 22, 2021

We’re celebrating turkey day with three Thanksgiving-themed robberies!

Episode Media
D.B. Cooper suspect sketches (FBI)
Episode Sources
Episode Transcript

Welcome back to Bite-Sized Crime! I took a short break last week to recover from a cold, but I’m back with a different type of episode for you this week. My voice is still a little rough, but I hope you’ll indulge me as I share three Thanksgiving-themed robberies to bring a little lightheartedness to your holiday.

Our first case takes place on a brisk morning in Bridgeport, Connecticut. In November 2013, Jimmy Mulligan had plans to eat Thanksgiving dinner with a friend. On Thanksgiving morning, he picked up a turkey and some stuffing at the local market and set out on foot for his friend’s apartment. He was looking forward to a day of food and football. But his day would soon take an unexpected turn.

Suddenly, two men in biker masks came up behind Jimmy and put a gun to his back. They told him to face the wall, give them his wallet, and let go of his plastic grocery bag. Jimmy complied, and the men took off running, Jimmy’s Thanksgiving dinner in hand.

Shaken, but more annoyed than anything else, Jimmy called 911. “I was just robbed at gunpoint,” he told the dispatcher. “They took my turkey.”

On the recording, you can clearly hear that the dispatcher was taken aback. She interrupted Jimmy, asking incredulously, “They took your turkey?”

“Yeah, they took my turkey,” Jimmy confirmed. He could tell that she didn’t believe him, but the dispatcher told Jimmy that she would send an officer to the scene to take his statement.

Bridgeport police officer Daniel Mendez headed out to the scene of the crime and confirmed Jimmy’s story – his turkey dinner had been stolen at gunpoint in broad daylight. But to add insult to injury, the thieves had also taken Jimmy’s wallet, which had $97 in cash and something very special to him – a prayer card from his mother’s funeral service. Jimmy was upset about the turkey, sure, but he really wanted the thieves to return the wallet.

Back at the 911 call center, the dispatcher – a woman named Denny Viera – had been thinking about Jimmy’s story ever since he hung up. She told her colleagues about the situation, and they all agreed that Jimmy deserved a little joy after such a terrible experience. They pooled some money together and Denny started making some calls.

But finding a turkey on Thanksgiving Day was not an easy task. None of the local supermarkets had any turkeys in stock, and Denny was starting to realize that it was getting to be too late in the day to start cooking a turkey anyway. So she called Boston Market and ordered two hot meals for Jimmy and his friend.

Officer Mendez picked up the dinners and made the delivery. When Jimmy saw the police cruiser pulling up to his friend’s apartment, he thought at first that the cops had apprehended the thieves and gotten his turkey back. But he was surprised and touched by what Denny and her colleagues had done.

And so was Bridgeport’s mayor Bill Finch. He issued a statement thanking Denny and her fellow dispatchers. “I can’t say enough about the compassion and empathy shown by the men and women who work in the 911 center. It’s a difficult job. When they answer the phone, usually they are speaking to someone in crisis. Denny did her job well, got police to the scene and then thought, ‘I want to do more.’ She and her colleagues rallied around this man and brightened his Thanksgiving.”

Jimmy’s Thanksgiving Day certainly turned around after a rough start, but he did have one parting shot for the turkey thieves: “I hope your turkey got burnt.”

Now let’s travel to North Carolina, where 30-year-old Fred Ervin was on a mini crime spree in November of 2008. The Sunday before Thanksgiving, Fred walked into a BP gas station on Highway 401 in the town of Garner. He held up the cashier and took the money from the register before running across the road and ending up in the parking lot of the local Harris Teeter grocery store.

Looking for a car to make his getaway, Fred set his sights on Irene Bailey, who was loading groceries into the trunk of her sedan, completely unaware of what had just happened across the street.

Suddenly, Fred was on the attack, hitting Irene repeatedly as he tried to wrench the car keys from her hand. Nearby shoppers heard Irene’s cries and came running, only to find Irene lying on the ground as Fred continued to beat her mercilessly.

The bystanders jumped into action, pulling Fred away from Irene as he continued to fight for control of the car keys. Fred came up swinging, but he wasn’t expecting what happened next. One of the shoppers grabbed the frozen turkey from Irene’s grocery cart and chucked it at Fred, hitting him square in the head.

Dazed but determined, Fred somehow managed to get into Irene’s car and sped off, hitting five other cars in the parking lot during his getaway.

Fortunately, he didn’t get far. Officers responding to the scene found Fred a little while later, driving Irene’s car and suffering from a serious head wound courtesy of one frozen turkey.

Fred was arrested and taken to Wake Medical Center for treatment; he was eventually released and charged with assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill, assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury, robbery, driving with a revoked license, hit and run, and larceny.

Irene Bailey made a full recovery, and I assume, enjoyed her Thanksgiving dinner.

For our final story this week, we’re hopping in the time machine and heading all the way back to 1971, the scene of the most famous Thanksgiving robbery of all time.

On the night before Thanksgiving, a man walked into the airport in Portland, Oregon, and approached the Northwest Orient Airlines counter. He was an average-looking traveler; thin, dark-haired, wearing a suit and raincoat and carrying only an inexpensive briefcase. He purchased a one-way ticket for $20 and boarded flight 305 to Seattle.

Once he settled into his seat, the man ordered a bourbon and soda while he waited for the plane to take off. Then, shortly after 3pm, he casually lit a cigarette and handed the flight attendant a note.


Stunned, the flight attendant did as she was told. The man told her to pass his demands on to the pilot. He wanted four parachutes and $200,000 in twenty-dollar bills. In exchange, he would let the other passengers go once the plane landed in Seattle.

The flight attendant relayed the message. The pilot immediately alerted ground control, who contacted the FBI. Agents on the ground scrambled to organize the swap in time. Once in Seattle, the 36 passengers disembarked, the plane was refueled, and the cash and parachutes were delivered. The pilot then took off again, with only the co-pilot, the flight attendant, and the hijacker on board.

The hijacker instructed the pilot to set a course for Mexico City and to maintain an altitude under 10,000 feet at all times. Not long into the flight, over the Cascade Mountains, the man went to the back of the plane, opened the door, and jumped into the cold November night, parachute strapped to his back and ransom money in his arms.

By the time military helicopters were deployed to search the rugged terrain, the hijacker was long gone. But his story had hit the papers and set off a decades-long search for the man known only as D.B. Cooper.

In the 50 years since that daring Thanksgiving Day escapade, there have been over a thousand people suspected of being D.B. Cooper, including several who made deathbed confessions that they were the mysterious parachute thief. The FBI has investigated every claim – as have many internet sleuths and treasure seekers – but there are very few clues as to Cooper’s true identity or what happened to him after that fateful jump.

In 1980, just nine years after the crime, an eight-year-old boy found three bundles of money on a beach, still wrapped in rubber bands and beginning to rot from water damage. It was less than $6000, but the serial numbers matched Cooper’s ransom. This discovery led many to believe that Cooper did not survive the jump. After all, he had thrown himself from a plane in the middle of the night in a densely wooded area – a challenging jump for even a seasoned paratrooper, much less a man wearing a business suit and dress shoes.

But many hold on to the belief that D.B. Cooper survived and that he may still be identified. When he jumped from the plane, he left behind the black necktie he had been wearing – a tie with his DNA all over it. Thousands of pages of documents exist in the FBI archives, detailing every aspect of this case – they’re free to access if you’re in the mood for a deep dive – but it remains the only unsolved plane hijacking in U.S. history, and the most notorious Thanksgiving robbery of them all.

Thanks for joining me on this Thanksgiving journey – and happy holidays to all who celebrate.