On March 22, 2005, Anna Ayala claimed she found a finger in a bowl of chili at a San Jose Wendy’s restaurant. The finger became the talk of the Internet and late-night talk shows, spawned numerous bizarre tips and theories about the source of the finger, and led to dozens of copycat claims. Wendy’s lost tens of millions of dollars.
Turns out the finger belonged to a co-worker of Ayala’s husband who severed it during a construction accident and was planted in the chili in a misguided attempt to extort money from Wendy’s.
In Jan. 2006, Ayala, 40, was sentenced to nine years; the hubby got more than 12 years.
NPR revisited the chili-finger story last week as part of its history of human fingers found in fast food.
Among those making the list:
A Michigan teen says he found a finger in his Arby’s sandwich last week. "The piece appeared to be the back of a finger, including the pad and extending beyond the first knuckle.”
An Ohio man bit into his Arby’s sandwich in 2004 and reportedly found "a piece of flesh about three-fourths of an inch long." When health investigators spoke with the manager, they saw a bandage on the manager’s thumb. Turns out, he had sliced his thumb skin while shredding lettuce but reportedly didn’t throw away the bin of lettuce.
In 2005, Clarence Stowers found a finger in his custard at Kohl’s Frozen Custard in Wilmington, N.C.. But not before eating all the ice cream off the finger, first. (He reportedly thought it was candy and didn’t realize it was a human appendage until later.) Turns out a worker had lost part of his finger in the custard machine and Stowers was unfortunate enough to find it. Later, Stowers kept the finger for evidence for so long that the it was too late for the employee to get his finger reattached.
A California inmate, Felipe Rocha, was eating dinner in March 2005 when he "chewed on a crunchy object" in his cornbread and discovered a fingertip, according to the lawsuit he later filed and obtained by the AP. The inmate’s attorney said Rocha is a vegetarian and lost 15 pounds in six days because he couldn’t eat after the incident.
In 2006, an Indiana diner found a finger on his TGI Friday’s burger after a restaurant employee accidentally cut it in the kitchen, according to an AP story at the time. "The manager didn’t even know it happened until he got to the hospital," the TGI Friday’s spokeswoman said.