When you visit a fast food restaurant, chances are you don’t want to think too much about what’s in the meal. Because every dish is so convenient, cheap, and suspiciously tasty, we accept that there might be some unusual ingredients. But a women named Anna Ayala shocked the world when she claimed to find an unspeakable object hiding in her food.
That was back in 2005, though it took years for investigators to put together the truth of the matter. Every time they thought there was a clear answer, the Ayala case provided another twist. But perhaps that’s to be expected when someone finds human meat in their dinner.
It was business as usual for one Wendy’s location in San Jose. The evening rush had a decent crowd chowing down inside, though nearly everyone lost their appetite once they heard a scream.
Photo by Don Feria/Getty Images
It came from Anna Ayala, a 39-year-old woman on the verge of hyperventilation. She caught her breath and shouted, “Don’t eat it!” All of Wendy’s was transfixed as she brought her tray, shaking, to the front counter.
Anna Ayala / Facebook
Moments earlier, Anna sat down with a cup of the chain’s signature chili. She plucked a chunk of food from the top and waved it in the manager’s face. The staff insisted it was a bit of vegetable, but Ayala strongly disagreed.
Anna pointed at the inch-and-a-half-long object and screamed that it was a severed human finger. Indeed, the sauce-covered mystery meat appeared to have a fingernail jutting from the end. The entire restaurant flew into a panic.
That sickening announcement soon had everyone in the Wendy’s scanning each other’s hands for a missing digit. Fortunately for them, no fingers seemed out of place. So how did human remains end up in a cup of soup?
PanzerAmmo / Reddit
Well, in the world of food processing, accidents do happen. An errant slip of the knife or malfunctioning machinery could very well slice off a finger and carry it away before the digit can be recovered. But that wasn’t the only possibility.
Scott Automation + Robotics / YouTube
There were past instances where get-rich-quick artists inserted foreign objects into restaurant meals so they could get a payday in court. As Anna had just retained a lawyer, Wendy’s management feared she was a secret criminal mastermind.
The public sympathized with Ayala, who won further support when authorities began snooping around her home life. She accused them of handling her family “like terrorists.” But before police could dig further into her life, they received a troubling update from the lab.
A San Jose laboratory verified that it was a human finger in Anna’s chili; this was no fake. They were, however, unable to verify any fingerprint or DNA. And no meat-packing plants nearby reported any recent accidents.
Investigators just sensed something off about Anna. She had a history of filing phony lawsuits — including suing Goodyear for a tire “falling off” her car — though this time, no one could figure how she could’ve staged this finger incident.
Artem Plays Toys / YouTube
Looking for an angle, authorities took a closer look at how Wendy’s prepared their chili. Company policy mandated that the dish be cooked “at 170° for three hours.” So if the finger wasn’t planted by Ayala, then it would have to be well-done.
Laboratory analysis revealed that the finger had been cooked — but certainly not to the same extent as the rest of the chili. That meant someone partially grilled and added it later. Then there was the matter of what was found on the remains.
Additionally, Anna claimed that she nearly ate the severed finger, but there were absolutely no traces of saliva on it. All signs pointed to her being a scammer, except police had no ground to stand on until they figured out where the human remains came from.
Ayala and her husband seemed squeaky clean until authorities got in contact with the mother of a man named Brian Paul Rossiter, below. He owed the couple fifty dollars, but had no means to pay the debt. But one fateful accident gave him an out.
Rossiter’s job involved mixing and laying asphalt, but weeks earlier, a mechanical lift tore off the tip of his finger. Rather than take him to the hospital to reattach it, Ayala’s husband offered to settle the debt if Rossiter gave up the inch-and-a-half of flesh.
With all fingers — attached or otherwise — pointed to Ayala, it was time for her to own up to her scheme. She and her husband both pled guilty and received nine and twelve years behind bars, respectively. But the damage was done.
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Even with the chili finger incident revealed as a hoax, Wendy’s and other fast food chains suffered from a steep drop in sales. They’d have to get creative to convince customers they weren’t biting the hand that feeds them, so to speak.
Gabbi Shaw / Insider
While Ayala never saw a penny from her scam, Wendy’s fans reaped the rewards. The chain offered free Frosty shakes nationwide for one weekend to repair its image. That would’ve been the end of the saga if Anna hadn’t resurfaced years later.
Despite an early release, Anna doomed herself to another prison sentence in 2013. After her son accidentally shot himself in the leg, Anna concocted a story about a vicious attack so he wouldn’t be convicted of carrying a firearm while on parole.
When the story fell apart, the mother won herself two more years in the pen. By this point, Anna Ayala may have spun her last lie. But there are professional scammers out there capable of fooling everyone — without even a severed finger to gain attention.
Leonardo DiCaprio usually hangs out with supermodels, but he had a very different companion at The Wolf of Wall Street premiere. The stranger reportedly befriended Leo by gifting him with a Picasso painting and helping fund the movie. But who exactly was this guy?
The Hollywood Reporter
He was a Malaysian financier named Jho Low. Frequenting star-studded parties and carrying out huge real estate transactions, he was a distinguished businessman and self-made billionaire. At least, that’s what Jho wanted everybody to think.
Unsurprisingly, Jho came from money. His father, Larry Low, worked as an executive at an investment company. Though Larry made millions, his business practices were known for having a shady side, and he dreamed of his son joining him in his shadowy pursuits…
Jho attended the prestigious Harrow School in London. From the onset, he sought the approval of his wealthy and powerful classmates. Jho went so far as to throw a party on a friend’s yacht and fill it with family photos so everyone would think the Lows owned the vessel.
At Harrow, Jho continued to befriend people who he hoped to use later, including Riza Aziz, stepson of eventual Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak. Riza, below, aspired to be a filmmaker. He and Jho planned one day to produce blockbuster movies together.
After Harrow, Jho studied at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business. There, he connected with prominent families and convinced them to take him on as a financial manager — even though he had no experience in the field! After graduating, he became a virtual overnight success in the finance world.
Most people would be content with that kind of money, but not Jho. What he really craved was fame and notoriety. Although he was not talented, Jho realized that he could enter Hollywood’s inner circle by paying stars to spend time with him.
Perhaps foreshadowing his eventual friendship with Leo DiCaprio, Jho poised himself as a 21st-century Jay Gatsby. For his 31st birthday in 2012, Jho set out to put himself on the map by hosting one of the most expensive private parties in history.
He offered Britney Spears hundreds of thousands of dollars to jump out of a cake and perform a couple of songs. The odd request shocked the pop star, but how could she refuse that kind of paycheck? Britney was far from the only star that Jho lured into his social life.
In the philanthropic world, Jho donated huge sums of money to cancer research after having a brush with the disease himself. His generosity brought invitations to high-profile charity events, where he rubbed shoulders with more stars, including Alicia Keys.
Shortly after Miranda Kerr divorced Orlando Bloom, Jho leaped to the opportunity to impress the newly single supermodel. He showered her in gifts, including a $4.5 million diamond, cut into the shape of a heart.
Kerr wasn’t the only celeb who caught his eye. Tabloid reporters spotted Jho partying with socialite Paris Hilton on multiple occasions. He wooed her unsuccessfully but certainly enjoyed seeing photos of the two of them together. It easily justified the cost of paying Paris to hang out with him.
To fulfill his teenage dreams, Jho even bought his own yacht. This was no ordinary boat, either. Dubbed the Equanimity, the superyacht was longer than a football field and boasted its own swimming pool and helicopter pad. The vessel cost a staggering $250 million.
Surrounded by so many visible signs of success, Jho felt unstoppable. He became known as a “whale,” a casino term for an especially notable high-roller. But even as his profile rose, Jho held onto a secret that he desperately hoped nobody would discover.
In 2018, his luck ran out. Wall Street Journal staffers Tom Wright and Bradley Hope published a book about Jho, entitled Billion Dollar Whale. They pulled back the curtain and showed that Jho was nothing more than a fraud and a criminal.
Jho played a central role in abusing 1MDB, a wealth fund run by the Malaysian government. He became president of the account and secretly directed public money into projects that fed his own interests. Wright and Hope estimated that Jho siphoned $4.5 billion away from 1MDB.
Bloomberg / Goh Seng Chong
Of course, Jho had friends all the way at the top of the Malaysian government, including Prime Minister Najib Razak. The PM, however, was arrested on corruption charges shortly after leaving office. If the head of a country could not escape such severe consequences, what could Jho do?
The Malaysian Insight / Hasnoor Hussain
He fled. In 2018, Malaysian police, along with authorities from many other countries, were on the lookout for Jho. They believed he was hiding somewhere in East Asia, but he had been apprehended.
If one thing is for certain, it’s that these money laundering allegations have shattered Jho Low’s good standing. Even if he somehow evades legal ramifications, he’ll never return to the quasi-celebrity status that he once enjoyed. That ship has sailed for this pirate.
As of October 2018, Jho was still on the lam. Some experts theorized he may have undergone plastic surgery to evade search parties. Is this disappearing act Jho’s greatest con yet, or is it just the last stand of a desperate man? Only time will tell.
The Straits Times