A Brief History of Popsicle Crime and Mayhem, 1935 to the Present

Summer is hot, which makes it prime time for two things: popsicles and anger. That they will, on occasion, combine and combust in popsicle-related crime is perhaps inevitable.

This type of crime began in the 20th century. Popsicles, as you may be aware, date only to the 1920s. It is not relevant to the nature of popsicle crimes that I tell you the story of how they were invented, but it is amusing, so: a San Francisco 11-year-old named Frank Epperson left a mixing-stick in a glass of soda outdoors overnight. It froze solid, and so haunted was he by the deliciousness that six years later he began marketing the product commercially.

He could not have known what future mayhem he'd inspire. Consider the following cases, which are mostly mid-century. (I would theorize that they dropped off thereafter because of the miracle of air-conditioning.)

Philadelphia, 1935

An item ran in the Philadelphia Tribune of June 13, 1935, with the following headline:

A Brief History of Popsicle Crime and Mayhem, 1935 to the Present

Evidently two men were arguing. One had leant the other a dime. The borrower, a popsicle vendor, refused to pay. The lender demanded payment in kind: two popsicles. The borrower refused, so the lender shot him. Fair enough. It was the Depression, after all.

Washington, D.C., 1950

A man was accused of embezzling $34.50 from the Goody-truck he ran in Washington, D.C. He tried to explain to the judge:

A Brief History of Popsicle Crime and Mayhem, 1935 to the Present

The judge was unsympathetic about this profession of popsicle generosity and sentenced the man to pay a $100 fine. One also learns from this item in the Washington Post that "popsicle butcher" was once the name of this proud profession, which has overtones of violence.

Birmingham, 1952

The victims of these crimes were of course not all adults. 1952 saw a roving gang in Birmingham, Alabama, hold up a popsicle wagon run by a 13-year-old boy. The group of 14-to-16-year-olds brandished knives and a nickel-plated revolver.

A Brief History of Popsicle Crime and Mayhem, 1935 to the Present

They took $4 and six dozen ice cream sandwiches from him. That seems wasteful, if you ask me; they cannot possibly have consumed all of those ice cream sandwiches before they melted.

Los Angeles, 1952

One fine day in August, a young boy named Marvin tried to take a couple popsicles to the local swimming pool at the Seminole Hot Springs resort. But Eddie, the 11-year-old son of the resort's owners, was manning the pool turnstile, and he would have none of it. Both Eddie's and Martin's mothers got involved. Grown adults apparently threw popsicles at each other.

It seems the police declined to lay charges, but the dispute did reach the attention of the courts when Marvin's parents sued Eddie's for damages totally $40,500:

A Brief History of Popsicle Crime and Mayhem, 1935 to the Present

It took the jury 8 hours of deliberation to reach that verdict.

Washington, D.C., 1955

A 14-year-old stole a popsicle from a corner store and fled on a bicycle. The storekeeper, determined to catch the thief before he got away with his 5-cent bounty, hopped in his car. He managed to run the thief off the road and called police. But then it turned out that the storekeeper didn't have a driver's license.

A Brief History of Popsicle Crime and Mayhem, 1935 to the Present

Moral of the story: Popsicle vigilantism is risky.

East Hampton, 1975

12 popsicles were reported stolen from a local school kitchen, with no sign of a forced entry. The Hartford Courant went pun-wild:

A Brief History of Popsicle Crime and Mayhem, 1935 to the Present

Miami, 1991

Two expert burglars tripped up when police noticed one of them was visiting pawn stores with fair regularity. The police followed them to the next house with their . Per the Miami Herald:

The two detectives radioed for help. Twelve squad cars arrived. Six lined up on each side of the street. Baker and Reilly drove out of the garage, eating chocolate Popsicles they took from a refrigerator, Davis said.

The police cars converged on them. The pair, Popsicles in mouths, were arrested, said Lewis.

Hilton Head, SC, 2014

I'll let the Island Packet take this one away:

Deputies responded to a home on Pinecrest Lane on Saturday evening after a mother reported that her 17-year-old son was eating all the popsicles in the home and started a fight with another person when asked to share, according to a Sheriff's Office report.

No injuries were reported in the incident and the mother did not want to pursue charges, according to the report.

In short, be safe this summer, everyone. Although popsicle-related crime has abated in recent decades it is not yet extinct. Follow the New York subway rules: Do not display cellphones, other personal electronic devices, or frozen sugary treats.

[Image by Jim Cooke.]