Wendy's offers $100,000 reward for "chili finger's" original owner
Somewhere out there is a woman, dead or alive, who is missing part of a well-manicured finger about 1 ½ inches long. Authorities know where the...
Somewhere out there is a woman, dead or alive, who is missing part of a well-manicured finger about 1 ½ inches long.
Authorities know where the finger ended up — in a bowl of Wendy's chili in San Jose, Calif. — but the owner is a mystery.
Anna Ayala's claim that she bit down on the finger in a mouthful of chili March 22 initially drew sympathy. She hired a lawyer and filed a claim against the Wendy's franchise owner, Fresno, Calif.-based JEM Management. But the 39-year-old Las Vegas woman, formerly of San Jose, dropped the lawsuit threat after reports that she has a history of filing claims against corporations and Las Vegas and San Jose police searched her home and began questioning family and friends.
Her story has become a late-night punch line.
"She went back there for lunch today — she's trying to collect all five," David Letterman quipped.
"Instead of a spoon, they serve it with nail clippers," Jay Leno joked.
For executives at Dublin, Ohio-based Wendy's International, the matter is anything but funny.
Sales have dropped at Northern California franchises, resulting in layoffs and reduced hours, the company said. Wendy's also has hired private investigators, set up a hotline for tips and doubled its reward yesterday to $100,000 for information leading to the finger's original owner.
"Our brand reputation has been affected nationally. We are determined to find out what really happened," said Tom Mueller, the president and chief executive. He said Wendy's employees have passed polygraph tests, and "there is no credible evidence that Wendy's is the source of the foreign object."
Meanwhile, possible leads are coming in from across the country, from "folks who either have lost a finger, or know somebody who lost a finger," San Jose police Sgt. Nick Muyo said.
The most encouraging lead yet came this week when a caller to Wendy's hotline revealed that a leopard had bitten off the fingertip of a Pahrump, Nev., woman. The victim, Sandy Allman, lost part of a middle finger in February when bitten by a spotted leopard, one of several exotic pets she kept around her mobile home.
Allman says doctors at a Las Vegas hospital told her the fingertip could not be reattached because of the risk of infection from an animal bite. She said she left the finger at the hospital. As she explained Thursday, "What would I want it for?"
San Jose police Sgt. Nick Muyo discounted an Associated Press report that San Jose authorities have ruled out Allman's finger as the one in the chili.
Nye County District Attorney Bob Becket said Thursday that county officials are waiting for San Jose police to provide a print of the Wendy's finger. Nye County has on file prints of all 10 of Allman's fingers. (She was charged in a spate of pet thefts, but authorities later dropped the case.)
"We asked them to send [the Wendy's fingerprint], and they said they would," Beckett said.
DNA tests also are being conducted, but authorities have not taken a DNA sample from Allman.
Allman, 59, initially said the Wendy's finger could be hers, but now isn't so sure.
Her attorney said Thursday that Allman based her initial assumption on a televised photo of her severed finger — not a picture of the Wendy's finger.
Earlier Thursday, Allman had told a visiting reporter: "I think it is, but we don't really know."
Even if she ultimately isn't the owner of the Wendy's finger, the folks in Pahrump seem to enjoy the story.
In her left hand, the one with the missing fingertip, the sandy-haired woman clutched a cordless phone that didn't stop ringing with calls from neighbors, friends and reporters.
"You walk into any bar, or any store, and it's what people are talking about," said Doug McMurdo, managing editor of the twice-weekly Pahrump Valley Times.
Back at the Wendy's where the chili was served, customers seem convinced the tale of the finger was a scam.
"There's too much in this country today with people trying to get things by conning them out of it. Wendy's has been good for years," said longtime customer Ralph Woodman, 81. "How the hell would you get a finger into the pot without seeing it in there when you're stirring it? It had to be some sort of screwball ruse."