During a sweltering New York City summer, the bees turned red. Little by little, each member of the hive glowed a suspicious crimson, which quickly turned the honey into an unrecognizable bloody syrup. Frankly, it freaked people out. They needed to know the potential environmental ramifications.
So insect experts in Brooklyn set out to find answers. It took beekeepers, small business owners, and the police several years to get to the bottom of why the honey turned red — and all involved were completely blown away by the source of this strange transformation.
A strange miracle of nature cropped up around Brooklyn in the summer of 2010, where beekeepers noticed a reddish hue to the bellies of their bees. Soon enough, their honey yield was just as rosy.
The New York Times / Ozier Muhammad
They worried about what the red color meant for the bees’ survival. Were they suffering the effects of pesticides? Or perhaps this was a climate-induced issue given that New York City was in the midst of its hottest summer on record.
Grist / Gita Nanda
Granted, bee populations globally took a hit from Colony Collapse Disorder, which still has no definable cause. While the beekeepers knew the potential hazards of raising colonies, nobody had ever heard of spontaneously red honey, though the industry was totally new to the city.
Ecology Matters / Wikimedia / Skinkie
Beekeeping in New York City was banned under Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, though there were still several rogue operations carefully disguised on rooftops. In March of 2010, the ban was lifted, quadrupling the number of hives by summertime.
Heritage Radio Network / Brooklyn Grange
So, full-time educator and part-time beekeeper Tim O’Neal suggested the red substance could be ethylene glycol, a toxic chemical famous for its sweetness. He reasoned the bees were drawn to the liquid from MTA bus service depots.
Cerise Mayo, a beekeeper on Governor’s Island, also had bees producing red honey, which meant whatever was causing this anomaly somehow reached across the 600 yards of water separating them from the Red Hook cases.
The New York Times / Ozier Muhammad
To determine if the honey was actually poisoned with ethylene glycol or any other contaminant the keepers hadn’t considered, Tim O’Neal sent samples of his honeycomb off for lab testing at the New York State apiculturist in Albany.
When the test came back, the results showed the culprit: F.D.& C. Red No. 40. The bees were ingesting a food-safe dye somewhere around Red Hook, Brooklyn, and pretty soon, the keepers had a hunch about the source of the color.
Flickr / Mapbox
Dell’s Maraschino Cherries Co, founded in 1948, was a three-generation run family business, and an institution for the neighborhood of Red Hook. It just so happened that a key ingredient in their fruit confections was F.D.& C. Red No. 40.
Murmurs of the Cherry Factory’s involvement turned to hard fact when the New York Times ran the front page headline, “In Mystery (and Culture Clash), Some Brooklyn Bees Turn Red.” Still, some questioned whether it was all joke.
Governor Island beekeeper Cerise Mayo was quoted in the Times article, which some people took as an attempt at humor. They thought her name was fake because “cerise” is the French word for cherry.
Departures / Philip Winn
Most people took the initial article as a story about gentrification. One one side there was Arthur Mondella, the owner-operator of Dell’s Maraschino Cherries Co, and on the other were the modern beekeeping gentrifiers pointing the finger.
NY Post / Buck Ennis / Crain’s New York Business
There was pointedly no comment from Arthur Mondella in the story, and he wasn’t answering calls. He was, however, trying to remedy the problem quietly on his own. Arthur spoke to Andrew Coté from the New York City Beekeepers Association and arranged a meeting.
As to avoid lurking reporters, Arthur met Andrew Coté, at the factory one morning at 5 AM. Arthur was ready and willing to learn “how to put some screens up, make the lids of his bins tighter, control the spills,” as Coté remembered.
The New York Times / Brooklyn District Attorney
When they parted ways, Arthur Mondella paid Andrew Coté for his services — no cherry puddles were going to leak out of the factory anymore. All was well. In fact, the beekeepers were thankful Arthur called one their own rather than an exterminator. This, however, was not the end of the mystery.
Fruit Net / Google Street View
One group spotted the article in the paper and wasn’t as willing to let bygones be bygones: the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office. There was a reason Arthur Mondella was so willing to sweep his cherry puddles under the rug.
Facebook / Dominique Mondella Bidetti
It was a long held NYPD suspicion that Dell’s Maraschino Cherries Co was covering up a criminal operation. On more than one occasion the lingering odor of marijuana was reported beneath the sickly sweet cherry smell.
Postal workers called it in, neighbors noticed, but even a drug-sniffing dog wasn’t able to pinpoint a marijuana scent. Lack of evidence made the DA’s office move the cherry factory to the backburner, until 2013 when Kenneth Thompson was elected.
Under Kenneth Thompson, the DA’s office cracked down on environmental infractions, which brought the maraschino honeybee caper back to the surface. On February 24, 2015, the Department of Environmental Protection, the NYPD, and the Brooklyn DA’s went to Dell’s Maraschino Cherries Co, search warrant in hand.
NY Post / William Miller
From Arthur Mondella’s perspective, this was an ambush. According to the warrant, they were searching for evidence of the illegal dumping of wastewater, which limited the scope of where they could look. That didn’t keep them from a major discovery.
NY Post / William Miller
During the search, they discovered what appeared to be a false wall in Arthur’s office. Things were looking grim. The authorities requested a second search warrant to gain access to the hidden area, and Arthur took a moment to relax in the bathroom.
Daily Mail / Collier County Sheriff’s Office
After a few minutes, Arthur didn’t return. Police officers hammered on the locked door, telling Arthur to open, but he wouldn’t budge. Instead, he requested his sister Joanne come to the door, where he called to her, “Take care of my kids.”
NY Daily News / Joe Marino
Moments later, the sound of a gunshot echoed through the factory. Arthur Mondella took his own life with a .357 Magnum pistol he had concealed in an ankle holster. He must’ve seen no way to reckon with the consequences of what the police were about to uncover.
NY Daily News / Joe Marino
Shifting aside the false wall, police saw a ladder that led them to a sprawling 2,500-square foot basement turned into a substantial growing operation. In total, one hundred plants were recovered, thriving under the L.E.D. grow lights.
Each discovery added to the overtly cinematic narrative: $130,000 in cash, a secret garage full of luxury cars that included a Rolls-Royce and a Bentley, plus many books about plant husbandry and another entitled “The World Encyclopedia of Organized Crime.”
NY Daily News / Michael Graae
In spite of the weird Breaking Bad style tragedy that unfolded at the maraschino cherry factory, the D.A.’s office didn’t go for the jugular. The company’s new owners, Arthur’s daughter’s Dana Mondella Bentz and Dominique Mondella, paid a $1.2 million fine.
Crain’s New York Business / Buck Ennis
No one will know the fear and shame Arthur Mondella experienced moments before his death, but we do know what probably would have happened if he lived. Based on the charges, he could have served maybe one to three years behind bars, but probably would’ve gotten probation.
NY Times / Richard Perry
“He was very private. We’d ask him questions when we were little and his response would be, ‘Whaddya, writin’ a book?’” Dana Mondella told The New Yorker. The sisters picked up the baton of the family business without a hiccup, thanks to their sizeable inheritance.
NY Daily News / Jeanne Noonan Freelance
Other than the book in the basement, there was no evidence of any connection to organized crime. After a lawsuit that the family filed against the city for their handling of the search was dismissed, they argued the judge had prejudicial views of Italian-Americans.
While the chapter of a great mystery was put to rest, and the bees and their honey had long since turned back to gold, the Mondella family grieved. They mourned Arthur and came to terms with why a proud small business owner would do what he did.
Fortune / NY Times / Richard Perry
Investigators can’t be sure how Arthur Mondella went about distributing the drugs, or over how long a period of time he operated. Some people have blamed the bees for narcing out a family man, but it’s not that uncommon for nature to foil crimes.
NY Daily News / Debbie Egan-Chin
As a matter of fact, police in Pembroke Pines South Florida were alerted of a hazardous crater in the middle of a roadway that looked like a sinkhole. Late-night calls seldom bring good news, but this case was stranger than the average.
Biggcstylez / Flickr
A good Samaritan spotted what at first appeared to be a substantial pothole. Though when the motorist got a closer look, they thought, “Yep, that’s a sinkhole alright.” So, they phoned in the proper authorities.
When the road crew arrived on the scene they poked around the “sinkhole” and were baffled. Suddenly they were left with more questions than answers. But there was one thing they knew for sure: this was no sinkhole.
Todd Lapin / Flickr
Peering over the edge, the crew saw a power cord trailing down through the mysterious abyss. Looking in the general direction of where the cord was headed, it appeared to lead off to a nearby line of trees.
So, they rang the Pembroke Pines Police Department. After checking out the initial cause for concern, the cops turned their attention to the tree line, where another discovery thickened the plot.
Hidden amongst the shrubbery was… another hole. They suspected this opening was a tunnel. Examining the area in the darkness, officers found some other items that hinted towards a more nefarious explanation…
Their flashlights caught a small electric generator and more electrical cords kept out of sight in the small patch of trees and bushes. Across the street, in the general direction of the opening, was a local Chase Bank branch.
Taking into account all the clues — the cords, the location of the holes, and the obvious attempts to disguise their tracks — the cops were convinced this was the entrance to a tunnel. It was time to inform the FBI.
By Wednesday morning, Flamingo road was teeming with FBI investigators. That’s when things started getting stranger. In order to determine the intention behind the hand dug passageway, they had to see where it lead.
Fox 5 NY
The 2-foot-by-2 foot tunnel entrance raised countless questions on its own, since the digger had to be awfully tiny to travel through the narrow opening. There was no visible evidence to identify the pocket-sized culprit.
Finally, the FBI investigators confirmed what they had suspected all along. Special Agent Michael Leverock responded to reporters, “We traced the hole from the wood line approximately 50 yards until it hits the bank.”
Like a plot straight out of a heist movie, someone hatched an elaborate plan to burrow underground and break into the bank. Unfortunately for that devious mustache twirling villain, their plans were foiled.
Investigators continued to comb the tunnel for other clues. As luck would have it, the criminal mastermind hadn’t been too careful. They had forgotten to retrieve from the passage an old pair of muddy boots.
Lesley Scott / Flickr
Of course, the identity of the potential burglar was intriguing, but most compelling was how they managed it? Digging half the length of a football field, on a public street surrounded by business and traffic, completely undetected, is master level thievery.
Before they chalked it up to Danny Ocean, they uncovered the secret method for carrying out the dirt. A winch, a mechanical tool used to reel in or release rope, was obscured in the tree line. For such an involved heist, the culprit didn’t do a good job of covering their tracks.
At some point the determined criminal pickaxed their way through the damp Florida earth. Using the winch and a small wagon police found nearby, one haul at a time they carried the dirt out and away.
Marius B / Flickr
Truth be told, the FBI was not sure what the perpetrator was capable of. As a precaution, they enlisted the help of a cadaver dog. Sniffing his way through the trenches, the dog found no bodies, alive or dead.
With zero dollars stolen and zero fatalities, the FBI investigators felt comfortable chuckling over this silly caper. Did they plan on pickaxing through the bank’s foundation? Would they dance through a laser light alarm system like a stealthy cat?
Granted, the tenacity it took to execute the tunnel portion was impressive. Investigators swept the area with detectors, pinging up more ground area with cable laden passageways. In the end, their efforts were thwarted by rain.
Several Florida drizzles softened the earth, causing the tunnel to collapse in multiple locations. The soaked ground resulted in the initial pothole that triggered the phone call. Authorities guessed the cave-ins led the perp to weasel their way out of the scheme.
Still, there was neither hide nor hair to point towards the culprit. While this individual didn’t pull off the caper, plenty of other dastardly criminals have seen their tunneling skills pay off with massive dividends…
Banco Central (Brazil): Three months before heist day, a group of Brazilian thieves made a little investment. They rented a property just a few blocks from their target and set up a fake landscaping business. Then, their plan was ready…
The heist: Disguised as landscapers, the thieves tunneled—complete with wood framework and lighting—from the neighboring property to underneath the bank. Without setting off an alarm, they lifted $95 million, of which authorities only ever recovered $9 million.
Kenya Commercial Bank (Kenya): A police station across the street didn’t stop thieves from targeting this bank. The three perpetrators had their own property nearby—a bookstore—and, in 2017, they used that to their advantage to pull of the unbelievable…
Thika Town Today
The heist: The men tunneled from their bookstore to the vault of the bank next door, using boxes to cover up their work. In the end, the trio swiped 52 million Kenyan shillings, or about $500,000. The men were, however, eventually charged for their crime.
Citizen TV Kenya / Twitter
The Great Train Robbery (England): In 1962, after an informant told him just how much money Royal Mail trains carried, English ne’er-do-well Bruce Reynolds assembled a team of 15 men to rob a 12-carriage train.
The heist: To pull it off, the men fussed with the light signals on the tracks, forcing the train to stop. Then, they knocked out the driver and took about $3.6 million in bank notes. The men were eventually arrested, but most were set free years later on probation.
National Media Museum Collection
West Hartford Wells Fargo (United States): Throughout the Cold War, infamous Cuban ruler Fidel Castro hated America for a number of reasons, including for its exploitation of Puerto Rico. So he hired a Wells Fargo armored truck driver named Victor Gerena to perform a little thievery.
Ninian Ried / Flickr
The heist: In 1983, Gerena, who was part of the Puerto Rican nationalist group Los Macheteros, stole $7 million from one of the trucks he drove. Before Wells Fargo knew what had happened, he fled to Cuba, never to be seen again.
Dunbar Armored Car Depot (United States): Whenever he saw armored cars, Allen Pace III of Los Angeles, California, saw dollar signs. Inclined to launch a heist, the Dunbar security guard knew better than to target the cars. Instead, he set his sights on the depot…
The Rule of Justice / YouTube
The heist: Pace and a team of five men subdued the depot’s employees, slid into the vaults, and loaded $20 million into a rented U-Haul, destroying security cameras along the way. Authorities eventually caught the team, but $15 million still remains at large.
Dunbar / YouTube
Bank of France Toulon (France): In 1992, 10 men had a contact on the inside of a French bank holding millions in assets. After hearing her talk about the money inside, they decided it was time to try and make out like bandits…
Louis Lecompte / YouTube
The heist: The men first kidnapped a bank guard’s family. In case this didn’t do the trick, they also tied explosives to his body. Naturally, he let them into the bank, and they swiped about $21 million. Their inside lady eventually snitched on them, though less than a tenth of the money has been recovered.
Louis Lecompte / YouTube
British Bank of the Middle East (Lebanon): In 1976, Lebanon was in the middle of a vicious civil war, which made banks sitting ducks for people who wanted to, you know, win the war. So members of the Palestinian Liberation Organization hatched a scheme…
The heist: The PLO group blew a hole in the side of the bank, right beside the vault. They cracked open the vaults and stole between $20 and $50 million in currency, jewels, bonds, and anything else of value. Those responsible were never caught.
NY Daily News
Northern Bank (Ireland): On December 20, 2004, a group of unidentified men hatched a plan to steal some cash from Ireland’s oldest bank chain, launching the United Kingdom into a finger-pointing frenzy.
The heist: Late at night, the armed men burst into the home of bank executives and held their families at gunpoint. Their instructions were simple: open up the vaults after-hours and let them in. The executives complied, and the robbers took home about $37 million.
Brink’s-MAT Robbery (London): Under the cover of darkness in November 1983, a guard at the Brink’s-MAT warehouse at Heathrow Airport let six thieves into the highly secured area. Upon entering the target area, however, the thieves changed their plans…
The heist: The thieves planned on taking £3 million, but found an additional three tons of gold in the vaults. So, they took everything, leaving with £26 million ($41 million). Most involved were caught by police and convicted—but none of the money was recovered.
United California Bank (United States): Amil Dinsio (pictured) wasn’t an amateur: he made a living off robbing banks. So, in 1972, he and a team—which included an alarm expert named Phil Christopher—set their sights on a southern California bank.
The heist: After entering the bank, Christopher disabled the alarm systems and the crew blasted a hole in the roof with a stick of dynamite. Once in the vault, they took $36 million—about $176 million by today’s standards, after inflation.
Santa Ana Public Library
Knightsbridge Security Deposit Vault (England): Valerio Viccei saw himself as a bit of a gangster—he had 50 armed robberies under his belt. So he and a partner hatched a plan to swipe big bucks from an English vault. All they needed were award-winning acting skills…
The heist: Viccei and his friend posed as potential clients for this vault and asked the manager for a look at some safety deposit boxes. Once they had access, they pulled out guns and, with additional accomplices they let in from outside, they swiped about $98 million.
Securitas Depot (England): After suffering a career-ending knife injury while protecting his friends, MMA middleweight Lee Murray assembled a team to conduct the largest bank heist in British history. Their plan was surprisingly simple…
The heist: Posing as police officers, Murray and his crew kidnapped the bank manager and his family, holding them at gunpoint while the staff handed over the equivalent of about $100 million. Three months later, the crew was arrested.
Dar Es Salaam (Iraq): In 2007, employees of the large Iraqi investment bank showed up to work, only to find something curious: tons and tons of American money had been filched from vaults. What happened?
The heist: After the money was discovered to be missing, the Interior Ministry and the Finance Ministry set up investigations that proved fruitless. The best theories suggest night guards swiped the $282 million, though the money was never recovered.
Central Bank (Iraq): On March 18, 2003, one day before America invaded Iraq, dictator Saddam Hussein knew his country’s money wouldn’t make it through the war. So he sent his son, Qusay Hussein, to the bank with a signed note. He had one simple job…
Iraq State Television / Wikimedia
The heist: At the behest of his father, the younger Hussein supervised workers filling three massive trucks with metal box after metal box, each bursting with money. After that, he led the trucks with nearly $1 billion away from the scene. One third of it was never seen again.
Thomas Hartwell / Wikimedia