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A Seasoning Hell: The great Lansing mustard caper

By Paul Slade
 
 

On Thursday, April 17, 1980, police in Lansing, Michigan, were called out by a North Deerfield resident complaining that there were three naked women enjoying the sunshine in his front yard. When they arrived, the officers saw a UPS parcel truck accelerating away from the complainant’s address, its uniformed driver chasing on foot.
They stopped the truck and found three naked women in the driver’s cab, their bodies smeared with mustard. Doshaline McCuin, Charlene Roper and Sandra Lewis were three sisters, all aged between 25 and 30, who lived next to the complainant’s house. They were arrested on charges of truck theft and indecent exposure.
Questioned by reporters next day, Sergeant John Draganchuk could offer no explanation for the events. He was able to confirm, however, that the substance the trio had coated themselves with was “regular old mustard like you put on food”.
None of the women could come up with the $100 bail set at their initial hearing, so they were consigned to Ingham County Jail to await trial. By this time, an Associated Press wire report had spread the story round the world. Draganchuk found himself besieged by interview requests from radio and TV stations all over the US. Headline writers had a field day too, deploying puns about hot dogs, relish and mustard dressing at every opportunity. Perhaps the tastiest effort of all came from the Indianapolis Star: “Tomatoes in French dressing: Mustard Misses Take Truck”.

“We went out naked because the Bible said we had to get back to the Garden of Eden,” she said.

Dan Poorman, a staff writer on the Lansing State Journal, headed out to the jail to ask McCuin what they’d been up to. “We were reading the Bible and got filled with the Holy Spirit,” she explained. “We may have gone about it wrong, but it wasn’t premeditated. We went out naked because the Bible said we had to get back to the Garden of Eden. We were trying to find God.”
When Poorman asked why they’d smeared themselves with mustard before leaving the house, McCuin referred him to Matthew 13, verses 31-32: “The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs and becometh a tree.” A later LSJ report added that they’d “applied the mustard as a salve against sin”.
“It was a spur of the moment thing,” McCuin said of their decision to steal the truck. “It was just sitting there with the keys in it. […] We couldn’t control our movements. I don’t know if it was the Devil or God – maybe a little bit of both trying to outdo the other.”
McCuin, Roper and Lewis spent six days in jail, then the bail demand was dropped and they were released into their own custody. Their case reached court on May 7, 1980, where the theft charge was replaced with the less serious one of joyriding. Defence attorney John Mertz entered three not guilty pleas on his clients’ behalf, describing their April 17 actions as a religious experience. No crime had been committed, he declared: “They were just worshipping God in their own way”.
The jury disagreed, finding the three women guilty of both joyriding and indecent exposure. Judge Thomas Brown sentenced each of them to eight days in jail, then released them immediately on the basis of time already served.