How A Random Caller Persuaded McDonald's Supervisors to Sexually Assault Their Employees.
For over a decade, a man scammed several restaurants and stores across the US, claiming to be a police officer. He was able to persuade managers of these businesses to conduct strip searches on young employees and customers. He was eventually caught, but only after 18 year-old Louise Ogborn was subjected to 4 hours of torture.
*This is not an exact transcript, but rather an outline of my notes.
McDonald's Strip Search Scam was a series of incidents from 1992 to 2004 where a man made phone calls to fast food restaurants and grocery stores pretending to be a police officer, and he would convince managers of the businesses to assist him in investigations by performing strip searches on young female employees, supposedly on behalf of the police. He would often instruct them to perform bizarre acts on these females as well.
He would provide a description of the “suspect”, which the manager would recognize, and he would then ask the manager to search the suspected person.
The caller targeted stores in small towns and rural communities -- areas where managers were more likely to be trusting. Most were fast-food restaurants, where the male and female victims were young and inexperienced, and assistant managers were likely to be working without supervision.
At first, nobody believed store managers when they insisted after the fact that they had just done what they were told to by someone they believed to be police.
But police continued receiving reports that all seemed to follow a pattern and only deviated slightly, leading them to believe that this was all the work of one man.
These reports started in 1992. The earliest reports happened in North Dakota and Nevada. By the end of 2000, there were more than a dozen reports. By the end of 2003, there were nearly 60.
On Nov. 30, 2000, the caller persuaded the manager at a McDonald's in Leitchfield, Ky., to remove her own clothes in front of a customer whom the caller said was suspected of sex offenses. The caller promised that undercover officers would burst in and arrest the customer the moment he attempted to molest her, said Detective Lt. Gary Troutman of the Leitchfield Police Department.
"We asked her why she hadn't called local police, and she said she thought it was local police who had called her," Troutman said.
On May 29, 2002, a girl celebrating her 18th birthday -- in her first hour of her first day on the job at the McDonald's in Roosevelt, Iowa -- was forced to strip, jog naked and assume a series of embarrassing poses, all at the direction of a caller on the phone, according to court and news accounts.
On Jan. 26, 2003, according a police report in Davenport, Iowa, an assistant manager at an Applebee's Neighborhood Grill & Bar conducted a degrading 90-minute search of a waitress at the behest of a caller who said he was a regional manager -- even though the man had called collect, and despite the fact the assistant manager had read a company memo warning about hoax calls just a month earlier. He later told police he'd forgotten about the memo.
In February 2003, a call was made to a McDonald's in Hinesville, Georgia. The female manager (who believed she was speaking to a police officer who was with the director of operations for the restaurant's upper management) took a female employee into the women's bathroom and strip-searched her. She also brought in a male employee, who conducted a body cavity search of the woman to "uncover hidden drugs".
On June 3, 2003, according to a city police spokesman in Juneau, Alaska, a caller to a Taco Bell there said he was working with the company to investigate drug abuse at the store, and had a manager pick out a 14-year-old customer -- and then strip her and force her to perform lewd acts.
In July 2003, a Winn-Dixie grocery store manager in Panama City, Florida, received a call instructing him to bring a female cashier (who matched a description provided by the caller) into an office where she was to be strip-searched. The cashier was forced to undress and assume various poses as part of the search. The incident ended when another manager entered the office to retrieve a set of keys.
In March 2004, a female customer at a Taco Bell in Fountain Hills, Arizona, was strip-searched by a manager who had received a call from a man claiming to be a police officer.
By April 2004, supervisors had been duped in at least 68 stores in 32 states, including Kentucky and Indiana. The targets included a dozen different restaurant chains.
Managers of at least 17 McDonald's stores around the nation had been conned by that time, and the company already was defending itself in at least four lawsuits stemming from such hoaxes.
But at this one McDonalds in Mount Washington, Kentucky, apparently nobody got that memo.
The assistant manager, assistant manager, or the regional manager had heard about the scam.
On 4/09/04, 18 year old Louise Ogborn went to work her shift at McDonalds. Louise was a churchgoer, a former girl scout, and just an all around good girl. She had taken the $6.35-an-hour position at McDonalds after her mother lost her job. She had been working at McDonalds for 4 months and in that time, she did a good job and never got written up or did anything wrong.
McDonalds executives had sent out memos to owners and operators about the hoaxes, but as global security director Michael Peaster acknowledged in one of them in 2003, "It appears the information is not reaching our restaurant staff." So unwarned, Summers said she did the bidding of the man she thought was a cop.
Just after 5pm, a man called the McDonalds store and spoke to the assistant manager, Donna Jean Summers (yes her name is donna summers).
The man claimed to be a police officer named Officer Scott.
Summers said later that "Officer Scott," who stayed on the telephone, giving his orders, sounded authentic. He said he had "McDonald's corporate" on the line, as well as the store manager, whom he mentioned by name. And she thought she could hear police radios in the background.
Officer Scott gave Donna a vague description of a slightly built young white woman with blonde hair, who was suspected of theft.
Donna was like “yea, that sounds like Louise.” Officer Scott gave Donna an ultimatum: Louise could be searched at the store or be arrested, taken to jail and searched there.
But then he demanded that Louise be searched at the restaurant because no officers were available at the moment to handle such a minor matter.
Donna, 51, conceded later that she had never known Louise to do a thing dishonest. But she nonetheless led Louise to the restaurant's small office, locked the door, and -- following the caller's instructions -- ordered her to remove one item of clothing at a time, until she was naked.
Donna then placed her clothes in a bag and took them to her car, as instructed. As Ogborn tried to cover herself with an apron, Summers took her clothes to her car; "Officer Scott" said police would arrive shortly to pick them up. At one point, Summers said later in a court deposition, she asked herself why it was taking so long for police to show up -- the Mount Washington department was less than a mile away. But "when I asked him questions about why," she said, "he always had an answer."
Another employee was present for this, Kim Dockery. "She was crying," recalled Kim Dockery, 40, another assistant manager, who stood by watching. "A little young girl standing there naked wasn't a pretty sight." Kim hugged Louise and tried to console her. At the caller's instructions, she refused to tell Kim, the other assistant manager, what was going on.
Kim left after an hour, and Donna told Officer Scott that she needed to be working at the restaurant's counter. He then told Donna to bring in someone whom she trusted to assist with the investigation.
Donna first asked one of the restaurant's cooks, Jason Bradley, to watch Louise. But when the caller ordered Jason to remove Louise's apron and describe her, Bradley refused. Neither Jason or Kim attempted to call the police or stop the strip search.
By now, Louise had been detained for an hour. Her car keys had been taken away, and she was naked, except for the apron. She would later testify that she thought she couldn't leave. "I was scared because they were a higher authority to me," she said. "I was scared for my own safety because I thought I was in trouble with the law."
Donna then told the caller that she had to get back to the counter, and the caller asked if she had a husband who could watch Ogborn. "She said no, I'm not married yet, but I intend to be," Jason recalled in his deposition, adding that Summers "started laughing like she was talking to a friend." The caller told Summers to bring in her fiance, and at about 6 p.m., she called Walter Wes Nix Jr., at home.
Walter, 42, a father of two and an exterminator by trade, attended church regularly and had coached youth baseball teams in Mount Washington. He is a "great, super guy, a great community guy," his best friend, Terry Grigsby, said later in a deposition. "He was a great role model for kids. … I don't think he'd ever had a ticket."
As his fiancee had requested, Nix showed up at the McDonalds store. "She told me there is a girl in the office who was caught stealing," Nix said in a court deposition. Summers also advised him that "Officer Scott" had accused the girl of dealing drugs -- that police at that very moment were searching her home in Taylorsville.
Donna handed Nix the phone and left the office. The caller told Walter that he was a detective. For the next two hours, Walter later told police, "He told me what to do." And Walter did as instructed. He pulled the apron away from Ogborn, leaving her nude again, and described her to the caller. He ordered her to dance with her arms above her head, to see, the caller said, if anything "would shake out." He made her do jumping jacks, deep knee bends, stand on a swivel chair, then a desk.
He made her sit on his lap and kiss him; the caller said that would allow Nix to smell anything that might be on her breath. When Ogborn refused to obey the caller's instructions, Nix slapped her on the buttocks for about ten minutes until they were red and covered in welts -- just as the caller told him to do, Ogborn testified later.
The caller also spoke to Louise and demanded that she do as she was told or face worse punishment. Recalling the incident later, Louise said: "I was scared for my life."
During the time that Walter was in the office with Louise, Donna, his fiance, walked in numerous times. But every time they heard her walking in, the caller would instruct Walter to give Louise the apron back to cover herself with. Donna says that every time she walked in, Louise and Walter were sitting on opposite sides of the office and Louise was just sitting there with the apron over her.
However, the surveillance footage shows that at least once, Donna walked in before Walter is able to toss the apron back to Louise.
In an interview, Donna is showed the footage and she’s told “it’s clear here that you walk in and Louise is nude, and then Walter tosses her the apron.” and all of a sudden, Donna’s lawyer, who is offstage, gets up and yells “nope, no, we’re not talking about that.” and halts the interview.
Every time she walked in, Louise begged her to let her out. But Donna says that didn’t happen. Even though you can see in the footage that Louise tries putting her head on her shoulder and appears to be crying.
After Louise had been in the office for two and a half hours, she was ordered to kneel on the brick floor in front of Walter and unbuckle his pants and give him oral sex. Ogborn cried and begged Nix to stop, she recounted in her deposition. "I said, `No! I didn't do anything wrong. This is ridiculous." But she said Walter told her he would hit her if she didn't.
At a point, Louise sort of.. Dissociated. She kind of disconnected, like she said her soul kind of left her body and left her there feeling numb. That’s feeling isn’t uncommon in victims of sexual abuse. They kind of disconnect to protect themselves from the pain. Kind of like how Samantha explains it, from the episode I did on Roman Polanski.
Ogborn said the caller sometimes would talk directly to her, demanding that she do as she was told if she wanted to keep her job and avoid further punishment. She said she believed she was trapped. Nix outweighed her by 145 pounds and stood nearly a foot taller. "I was scared for my life," she said.
Like the rest of her ordeal, it was captured on a surveillance camera, recorded on to a DVD. And it continued until Summers returned to the office to get some gift certificates, and Nix had Ogborn cover herself again.
The caller then permitted Nix to leave on condition that Summers would find someone to replace him. Walter left, drove a few blocks to his home and immediately called his best friend, Grigsby, who recalls Nix saying, "I have done something terribly bad."
With Walter having left, and short on staff due to the dinnertime rush, Donna needed someone to take Walter's place in the office. She spotted Thomas Simms, the restaurant's maintenance man, who had stopped in at the restaurant for dessert. She told Simms to go into the office and watch Louise. Thomas Simms, however, refused to go along with any of the caller's demands.
Simms would say in a deposition later that he was shocked by what he saw — a young woman trying to cover herself with a small piece of cloth. Summers insisted it was OK for him to watch her, that "corporate" had approved it.
Summers pulled Simms into the office and handed him the phone. The caller told Simms to have Ogborn drop the apron and to describe her. Simms refused. "He said, `Something is not right about this,'" Summers recalled in her deposition. And finally, she realized the same. She called her manager — Lisa Siddons — whom the caller had said was on the other line. So Donna is thinking that she’s gonna call the manager and they’re going to know all about this “investigation”.
Donna discovered Siddons had been home, sleeping. "I knew then I had been had," Donna said. "I lost it.”
She realized that the call had been fraudulent. The caller then abruptly ended the call. An employee dialed *69 before another call could ring in, thus obtaining the number of the caller's telephone.
Summers was now hysterical and began apologizing. "I begged Louise for forgiveness. I was almost hysterical." Ogborn was so cold she was shaking and so stunned that, as Kim Dockery wrapped her in a blanket, she asked if she had show up for work the next morning. Dockery told her no. "Take as much time off as you want," she said.
Louise (shivering and wrapped in a blanket) was released from the office after three and a half hours. The police were called to the restaurant; they arrested Nix on a charge of sexual assault and began an investigation to find the perpetrator of the scam call.
"I was bawling my eyes out and literally begging them to take me to the police station because I didn't do anything wrong," Louise said later in a deposition.
Again, she only took the $6.35-an-hour position after her mother lost her job. "I couldn't steal -- I'm too honest. I stole a pencil one time from a teacher and I gave it back."
Later the same night, Donna watched the surveillance footage and saw everything that her fiance, Watler had done, and called off their engagement. She hasn't spoken with him since, according to her attorney.
The lone detective on the Mount Washington Police Department, Buddy Stump, had worked only a few weeks as an investigator when he got the call.
He was furious when he saw the store surveillance video. "It burned me up that this had happened to an 18-year-old girl," he said.
Mount Washington police found out that this wasn’t an isolated incident when they did a quick search on the internet and found only the most recent in a series of incidents that occurred over the past decade. But none of those incidents had continued as long, or with as many people involved, as the one in the Mount Washington McDonald's.
They initially suspected that the call had originated from a pay phone near the McDonald's restaurant (from which the perpetrator could see both the police station and the restaurant), but police later determined that the call had originated from a supermarket pay phone in Panama City, Florida using a pre-paid calling card.
Having learned that the call was made with an AT&T phone card and that the largest retailer of such cards was Walmart, they contacted the police in Panama City.
The Panama City police gave Officer Stump a bit of interesting news — an officer from West Bridgewater, Mass., was hot on the same trail.
Detective Sgt. Vic Flaherty had been assigned to lead a task force investigating the crimes after the caller hit four Wendy's in the Boston suburbs on one night in February 2004. Flaherty had traced a calling card used in some of the hoaxes to one of the Panama City Wal-Marts, but that store's surveillance video only captured customers entering and exiting—the cameras had been trained on the store's parking lot and not on the cash registers. Stump and Flaherty worked together and were able to locate the surveillance footage showing the purchase of the calling card, and this time, the cameras were focused on the registers.
It was purchased at 3:02 p.m. at another Wal-Mart in Panama City on April 9, 2004 — just hours before it was used to call the Mount Washington McDonald's. The camera footage showed the purchaser was a white man, about 35 to 40, with slicked-back black hair and glasses. He was wearing a correctional officer's uniform of the kind used by Corrections Corporation of America, a private security firm. The same man could be seen on Flaherty's video entering the other Wal-Mart, where he was wearing a similar black jacket with small white lettering, so they were able to produce front-and-back composite images of the suspect.
When they showed it to the warden at the company's Bay Correctional Facility, he identified the man as David R. Stewart, 38, a guard on the swing shift.
David R. Stewart was a married father of 5 who worked as a mall security guard and a prison guard. He was working as a prison guard for 11 months before his arrest.
Stewart denied making the calls, but when confronted, he started to "sweat profusely and shake uncontrollably," Flaherty wrote in a report. Stewart also asked, "Was anybody hurt?" and said, "Amen, it's over," according to the report. Stewart insisted he'd never bought a calling card, but when detectives searched his house, they found one that had been used to call nine restaurants in the past year, including the Idaho Falls Burger King on the day its manager was duped. Police also found in Stewart's home dozens of applications for police department jobs, hundreds of police magazines, and police-style uniforms, guns, and holsters. This was thought to indicate that the suspect had fantasized about being a police officer.
Mount Washington became the first department to charge Stewart. Stump drove to Panama City to arrest him on June 30, 2004.
Stewart eventually was brought to Bullitt Circuit Court, where he pleaded not guilty to solicitation to commit sodomy and impersonating a police officer, both felonies, as well as soliciting sex abuse and unlawful imprisonment, both misdemeanors. He was released on $100,000 bond pending his trial Dec. 13. His bond was posted by his brother, C.W. Stewart — a retired police officer from Cheektowaga, N.Y.
Stewart was extradited to Kentucky (which was the only state to charge him) to be tried on charges of impersonating a police officer and solicitation of sodomy. If convicted, Stewart faced up to 15 years in prison. On 31 October 2006, he was acquitted of all charges.
Both the defense and the prosecution attorneys speculated that a lack of direct evidence, such as a recording of the caller's voice, might have led to the jury finding him not guilty. Police stated later that since Stewart's arrest, the scam calls had stopped. Stewart remained a suspect in similar cases throughout the United States.
Louise Ogborn, the victim, underwent therapy and medication to address post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. She began suffering from panic attacks, severe insomnia and nightmares about "a guy attacking" her, according to a court deposition from her therapist, Jean Campbell. Riddled with anxiety and depression, Ogborn was forced to switch from one antidepressant to a second, then a third and a fourth, before she finally found some relief. "I can't trust anyone," she testified in a lawsuit she filed in August 2004 against McDonald's, alleging it failed to warn employees about the hoaxes. "I push people out of my life because I don't want them to know what happened." She graduated from Spencer County High School, but was too shaken to enroll at the University of Louisville, where she had planned to study pre-med, Campbell said. "She was dealing with a lot of issues of shame, feeling contaminated, feeling dirty, questioning herself," and “and had difficulty making and maintaining friendships because she wouldn't "allow anyone to get too close to her" Campbell said in her deposition. "When anything like this happens, it destroys our illusions."
Kim Dockery was transferred to another location.
Walter Nix pleaded guilty to sexual abuse, sexual misconduct and unlawful imprisonment. The judge agreed to a plea deal for Walter in exchange for his testimony against David Stewart. Due to the level and length of his involvement in the physical crimes, Walter was sentenced to five years in prison.
Donna Summers initially was suspended, then later fired, for violating a McDonald's rule barring nonemployees from entering the office. A couple of weeks later, she was indicted on a charge of unlawful imprisonment, a misdemeanor.
Three years after the incident, still undergoing therapy, Louise Ogborn sued McDonald's for $200 million for failing to protect her during her ordeal. Her grounds for the suit were:
In her suit against the $19billion McDonald's company, Ogborn contends it failed to warn Mount Washington employees about the hoaxes even though the company and its franchises were already defending lawsuits in Georgia, Ohio,Utahand elsewhere in Kentucky. "This suit is about failure to warn, failure to train, failure to supervise," said Louisville lawyer StevenYater, who with William C. Boone Jr., is representing Ogborn. Although a McDonald's security executive had sent a 10- to 15-second voice message to every store in the region about hoax calls about a week before the Mount Washington incident, Siddons, the manager there, said in her deposition that it didn't mention stripsearches. The company also failed to execute a plan it had developed to send warning stickers to be placed on the headset and cradle of the phone in every store, Peaster, McDonald's global security director, said in a deposition.
Ogborn's suit also named Summers and Dockery as defendants, saying they "forced Louise to remain imprisoned, in the nude, for over four hours." Dockery declined to be interviewed, although in court papers, she denied wrongdoing and said Summers had kept her in the dark about what was going on. Summers has filed her own claim against McDonald's, alleging that the incident would not have occurred if she had been warned. She declined to be interviewed, but in her deposition, she angrily asked how McDonald's "could have failed to spread the word."
Donna Summers also sued McDonald's, asking for $50 million, for failing to warn her about the previous hoaxes.
"You've destroyed three lives," she said. "Hope you're happy."
McDonalds sued Walter Nix and Summers
Its Louisville lawyer, W.R. "Pat" Patterson Jr., said McDonald's employee manual clearly noted its policy against strip-searches. "The employees didn't read it," Patterson said in an interview. "That is all I can say." The company admits it knew of the earlier hoaxes, but Patterson said it reacted appropriately by sending memos to owners and franchisees. "McDonald's did what every quick-serve restaurant did — maybe more."
In court papers, McDonald's also has blamed Louise for what happened to her — saying that her injuries, "if any," were caused by her failure to realize the caller wasn't a real police officer. Questioning Louise during a deposition, Patterson suggested that although she had no clothes, she could have walked out of the office, but stayed voluntarily to clear her name. "Did it ever occur to you to scream?" he asked. Ogborn declined to be interviewed for this story on the advice of her lawyers, although she agreed to be identified by name. Her therapist said she followed orders because her experience with adults "has been to do what she is told, because good girls do what they are told."
Louise Ogborn won a $6.1 million verdict against McDonald, and the judgment was upheld by the Kentucky Court of Appeals, which said the company’s legal department was "fully aware" of hoax calls to its restaurants, yet its management made "a conscious decision not to train or warn employees or managers about the calls." The jury also awarded $1 million, later reduced to $400,000, to Summers.
The jury awarded Ogborn $5 million in punitive damages and $1.1 million in compensatory damages and expenses. Summers was awarded $1 million in punitive damages and $100,000 in compensatory damages.
The jury decided that McDonald's and the unnamed caller were each 50% at fault for the abuse to which the victim was subjected. McDonald's and their attorneys were sanctioned for withholding evidence pertinent to the outcome of the trial. In November 2008, McDonald's also was ordered to pay $2.4 million in legal fees to plaintiffs' lawyers.
They also awarded $400,000 to Donna Summers.
McDonald's then appealed to the Kentucky Supreme Court. While its petition was pending in 2010, Ogborn settled with McDonald's for $1.1 million and abandoned her claim for punitive damages. After the court decisions, McDonald's revised its manager-training program to emphasize awareness of scam phone calls and protection of employees' rights.
Ogborn, who has married and had a baby, still hasn’t collected the verdict, which McDonald’s appealed to the state Supreme Court.
Stewart (the caller, aka Officer Scott) has always declined to be interviewed, but in a letter responding to Louise’s lawsuit in Bullitt Circuit Court, he said: "I received your notice but I'm in no way responsible. I feel bad for your loss because I am a victim as well. I lost my job, my home and my car all over something I did not do."
His Louisville lawyer, Steve Romines, said his client is not bright enough to have pulled off the hoaxes. "Based on numerous conversations with my client, I don't believe he is persuasive or eloquent enough to convince somebody to do these preposterous things," Romines said in an interview.
Ultimately, of the 70 confirmed locations where the calls triggered strip-searches, 53 were fast-food stores and nine were sit-down restaurants. The caller wasn't always successful; phone records show he sometimes called as many as 10 stores before finding one where managers would take his bait.
Some managers cried as they carried out the caller's orders. But court documents show that others performed with great zeal. At a Burger King in Pendleton, Ind., a supervisor was so intent on finishing a search of a 15-year-old girl in December 2001 that when the girl's father arrived to pick her up from work, he had to jump over the counter to end her humiliation. And in Dover, Del., a Burger King manager who was strip-searching an 18-year-old employee in March 2003 fought off the worker's mother and boyfriend so strenuously that state police had to be called. Court records also show that over time, the demands in the hoax calls grew more perverse.
At a McDonald's in Hinesville, Ga., in February 2003, a 55-year-old janitor was told to put his finger in the vagina of a 19-year-old cashier, supposedly to look for contraband, according to court records. In Joplin, Mo., according to a police report, a caller in May 2004 persuaded a 16-year-old girl who was managing a Sonic restaurant to strip-search and perform oral sex on a 21-year-old male cook — and then got the cook to strip-search the manager.
Chicago lawyer Craig Annunziata, who has defended 30 franchises sued after hoaxes, said every manager he interviewed genuinely believed they were helping police. "They weren't trying to get their own jollies," he said.
Many of the supervisors were fired and some divorced by their spouses, Annunziata said. Others required counseling. But the duped managers have been condemnedby others. "You don't have to be a Phi Beta Kappa to know not to strip-search a girl who is accused of stealing change," said Roger Hall, the lawyer for a woman who won $250,000 after being strip-searched at a McDonald's in Louisa, Ky.
A Fox-TV commentator asked how the managers who went along could be so "colossally stupid." While the incidents were triggered by a "perverted miscreant" wrote a federal judge in Georgia, the managers "still had a responsibility to use common sense and avoid falling prey to such a scam."
Knuckling under: Perceived authority carries much power, studies show
Psychological experts say it is human nature to obey orders, no matter how evil they might seem -- as was illustrated in one of the most famous and frightening human experiments of the 20th century. Seeking to understand why so many Germans followed orders during the Holocaust, Dr. Stanley Milgram, a Yale University psychologist, took out a classified ad in 1960 and 1961, inviting residents of New Haven, Conn., to take part in what they were told was a study of the relationship between punishment and learning. A man in a white lab coat introduced the participants to a student, and told them to shock the student each time he made a mistake, increasing the voltage with each error. In reality, the machine was a prop, and the student was an actor who wasn't shocked. Yet nearly two-thirds of Milgram's subjects gave what they believed were paralyzing jolts to a pitifully protesting victim simply because an authority figure -- the man in the white coat -- had commanded them to do so.
"With numbing regularity, good people were seen to knuckle under the demands of authority and perform actions that were callous and severe," Milgram wrote of his results, which were later replicated in nine other countries. Milgram died in 1984, but his biographer and protege, Dr. Thomas Blass, said in an interview that the behavior of the people duped in the strip-search hoaxes would not have surprised him. "Once you accept another person's authority, you become a different person," Blass said. "You are concerned with how well you follow out your orders, rather than whether it is right or wrong."
*one-third of the participants in Milgram's study refused to shock the subject
Though the Milgram experiment may help explain why supervisors went along with the caller, even Milgram's disciples say it doesn't absolve them of responsibility. Just as one-third of the participants in Milgram's study refused to shock the subject, some supervisors refused to go along, including a supervisor at McDonald's Hillview store, who hung up on the caller the very night of the Mount Washington hoax. "Nobody held a gun to their heads," said Blass, whose book about Milgram is titled, "The Man Who Shocked the World." "They had the critical ability to decide whether to carry out their orders."
In her book, "Making Fast Food: From the Frying Pan into the Fryer," Canadian sociologist Ester Reiter concludes that the most prized trait in fast-food workers is obedience. "The assembly-line process very deliberately tries to take away any thought or discretion from workers," said Reiter, who teaches at Toronto's York University and who spent 10 months working at a Burger King as part of her research. "They are appendages to the machine." Retired FBI Special Agent Dan Jablonski, a Wichita, Kan., private detective who investigated hoaxes for Wendy's franchises in the Midwest, said: "You and I can sit here and judge these people and say they were blooming idiots. But they aren't trained to use common sense. They are trained to say and think,`Can I help you?'"
The caller was unusually persuasive, according to workers across the country who talked with him. He had mastered the police officer's calm but authoritative demeanor. He sprinkled law-enforcement jargon into every conversation. And he did his homework. He researched the names of regional managers and local police officers in advance, and mentioned them by name to bolster his credibility. He called some restaurants in advance, somehow getting names and descriptions of victims so he could accurately describe them later. Summers said "Officer Scott" in Mount Washington knew the color of Ogborn's hair, as well as her height and weight -- about 90 pounds. He even described the tie she was wearing. Around the country, many detectives initially assumed the caller had to be watching the stores from across the street with binoculars. But later officials would say he simply was a master of deception and manipulation. For example, when the 17-year-old victim at the Fargo Burger King started crying, the caller told her to "be a good actress" and "pretend like it doesn't bother you" so the manager wouldn't "feel so bad" about what he was having to do.
Over 60 other people made the same mistake that Donna made.
Stanford University psychologist Philip Zimbardo, who conducted a renowned prison experiment in which college students assigned to play guards became so sadistic that the experiment had to be aborted, said the caller was "was very skilled in human psychology -- he may have even read about Milgram."
Stewart was never indicted for any phone call other than the one in Mount Washington with Donna, Wes, and Louise. Some of the managers of these stores though, the ones who took the calls and followed Stewart’s instructions, were charged with crimes. Because in those cases, they couldn’t directly link Stewart, but they did catch the managers in the act. In most cases, these managers would be acquitted.
Episode 17 of season 9 of the television show Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (29 April 2008) featured Robin Williams as the caller. The character played by Williams identified himself as Detective Milgram, a reference to the famous Milgram experiment, which studied unreasonable obedience to authority.
2012 film Compliance
I’m linking a video to brokenlimelight.com where you can see interviews from Donna Summers and Zimbardo and there’s some footage from that day.
A couple videos actually. There’s an interview where they’re saying to Donna “you can see in the video that she’s crying and pleading with you.” and Donna says “she wasn’t crying or begging when I was in the room with her.”
But you can SEE it on the footage! Donna even hugs and comforts her for a moment.
As always, remember to check out brokenlimelight.com for updates and additional information for each episode, merch, photos, shit like that.
If you want to get me a birthday gift, I would really love it if you would leave me a positive review on Itunes/Apple Podcast or on brokenlimelight.com, or you can send me money for beer at buymeacoffee.com/didiwest.
Editor's note: This story is based in part on depositions and other court documents filed in a pending Bullitt Circuit Court lawsuit, as well as interviews and police reports, court records and news accounts from more than five dozen jurisdictions.
*Didi West is not a journalist or mental health professional, she is simply an entertainer and podcaster who enjoys researching true crime, dissecting conspiracy theories, and sharing stories and unknown facts about people in the limelight. If you are not a fan of profanity, random bursts of singing, or people who laugh at their own jokes, this podcast may not be for you.
*View Episode Page at https://www.brokenlimelight.com/episodes/e29-jennifer-hudson
*Today's episode is brought to you by Hunt a Killer! Go to huntakiller.com and use code BROKENLIMELIGHT for 20% off your first subscription box.
Photos & Videos
Graphic Content Ahead